Friday Feature: Avocado 10 Ways

There are lots of great ways to eat an avocado–one of the superstars of a Mediterranean Diet. Easy to peel, they contain good fats and are linked with a reduced risk for chronic diseases. Here are ten ways to enjoy their buttery, creamy flavor and vibrant color:

1. Mash a quarter of an avocado on toast for a quick breakfast or lunch.

2. Top chili with chopped avocado and cilantro.

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3. Use chopped avocado in place of tomatoes in salsa or add to a tomato based salsa, homemade or store-bought, to create a tasty dip for chips.

4. Slices of avocado taste great in sandwiches or wraps.

5. Try adding chopped or mashed avocado to pasta. I like the looks of this dish from Inspired Taste. Simple enough for a quick dinner.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

6.  Add chopped avocado to salads–both green and grain varieties.

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7. Add to eggs or omelets before cooking.

8. Coarsely mash with a lemon juice and salt as a dip for chips or crackers. Or spread on sandwiches as a healthy alternative to mayonnaise.

9. Feed it to your baby! Avocado is recommended by baby expert, Dr. Sears, as a great first food for its healthfulness and versatility.

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

10. Make an avocado butter by mashing a ripe avocado with one tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper and use a topper for a baked potato.

And remember, if you find a good deal on them at the store, they can be frozen! (Best used in mashed form.) Stock up!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

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Eat Like an Egyptian

For thousands of years, the people who lived along the Mediterranean coastline have been eating one of the healthiest diets on the planet–one rich in plant foods and healthy fats. This includes the ancient Egyptians who feasted on plenty of the same tasty foodstuffs that we eat today–including hummus, a popular dip, both then and now, made from garbanzo beans.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great dip for pita or other breads as well as vegetable crudites such as carrot sticks, cauliflower florets and cucumber chips. It usually comes packaged in small plastic tubs found in the refrigerated section of just about any self-respecting grocery store. But, as with a lot of foods, it’s better homemade.

It’s a lot cheaper too!

A while back I cooked up a big pot of garbanzo beans. We eat a lot of hummus so I portioned these beans into bags slated for the freezer. I like to have them on hand so I can whip up a batch of hummus on a whim (or a request).

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There are tons of recipes out there. You can easily mix it up by adding other ingredients such as roasted red peppers, jalapenos, roasted garlic or olives.

Here’s the basic recipe that we use:

Hummus

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
  • 2 T. tahini
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 clove chopped garlic (or more if you are so inclined)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • paprika

Place all ingredients, except paprika, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add additional water by the tablespoonful if needed until hummus is easy to spread and dip.  Sprinkle paprika generously over the top.

Can’t get much simpler.

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Popular with the kids!

3 other ways to enjoy garbanzo beans:

1.  Add them to salads.

2.  Make soup.  Try this very simple Marcella Hazan recipe for a traditional Italian soup.

3.  Use as a vegetarian sandwich spread.

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Hummus. Fit for a Pharaoh!

Friday Feature: Powdered Peanut Butter(?)

The other day I read an article about a professional bodybuilder who declared his greatest weakness to be peanut butter.  As in he can’t keep it in the house, or he’ll simply eat it–all. In one sitting. Hard to believe that someone with the grit and fortitude to work out like this can’t control himself where his favorite food is concerned.

I think I like him.

There are definitely some things that I like so much that I purposely don’t buy. Like Haagen-Dazs bars, for example.  Or gummy bears. But fortunately for me, while I do truly love peanut butter, I like it in moderation.

But back to the bodybuilder. When the cravings become too strong, when it’s the difference between a pound of muscle or five pounds of fat, he turns to…..powdered peanut butter.

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I know, right? At the time, I was mildly surprised to find that such a product exists.  I was even more surprised when, three days later, I happened upon it at a local store.  Sitting right alongside all the other nut butters. Like it belonged there.

I checked the ingredients, naturally. I’m a dedicated label reader. Here’s the list:

organic peanuts, organic coconut sugar, sea salt

organic peanuts, organic coconut sugar, sea salt

Hmmm…  You can actually mix the powder with water to make a low-fat peanut butter of sorts.

Here’s what the maker, Betty Lou’s Inc. has to say:

Just Great Stuff Peanut Butter is a healthier alternative to traditional peanut butter. We use perfectly roasted, premium peanuts for superb flavor. Enjoy this Low-Fat product as a post-workout snack! Make delicious, healthy sandwiches for your kids’ lunch. Great in shakes! Take it camping or on picnics. Great with honey!

Here’s what I make of these claims:

Healthier alternative to real peanut butter?  Real peanut butter doesn’t have added sugar (at least the kind I buy). Yes, it has fat, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you’re not consuming it a jar at a time.

Healthy sandwiches for your kids’ lunch?  Mornings are crazy enough as it is. I don’t particularly want to mix up sugar laced peanut butter from a powder (a gram of sugar is a gram of sugar, natural or not) when I can simply use the real deal straight from the jar.  There’s nothing wrong with some naturally occurring fats in your child’s lunch.

Great in shakes? When I make a shake, I typically use a blender. Real peanut butter works just fine in shakes. Is there a problem here?

Take it camping or on picnics?  Again, all that mixing seems messy and destined to create more work than it’s worth. Unless you have to lug a heavy jar ten miles to your camping spot. But then you’re going to need those extra fat calories in order to have the energy to get back.

Great with honey?  It’s already sweet. Are you supposed to sprinkle it on the honey?

 Bottom line: According to another blogger, powdered peanut butter is easier on the stomach if you have gastric problems.  Perhaps there are other good reasons as well.  All I know is that when you start removing things from healthy, whole foods, then other ingredients will have to be added to replace what’s missing. You really end up with a different animal all together. And who knows what that might be.

Is it Real?

Is it Real?

Friday Feature: Bulgur, It’s What’s for Breakfast

This afternoon, shortly before picking Sam up at school, I was in the kitchen cooking up…breakfast.  It’s true, I’ve been a little preoccupied with breakfast lately, but I’m not completely disoriented.  In fact, my sense of timing has never been better.  I’m ahead of the game.  Tomorrow’s breakfast is done.

Lucky for Sam breakfast bulgur makes a great after school snack too.  Admittedly, he regarded my offering warily at first.  But in the end, he scarfed it down in record time.

Not an especially mouth-watering name, but bulgur is really quite tasty and versatile. Bulgur, wheat that has been hulled, dried and ground, is a quick cooking grain frequently used in a middle eastern salad called tabbouleh.  But it is so much more than that.

020Turns out that bulgur (as well as many other grains) makes a great addition to the breakfast scene and is a simple and delicious alternative to oatmeal. The following recipe uses another handy kitchen tool, the rice cooker.  If you don’t have one, you can cook bulgur the traditional way, but the rice cooker gives you especially tender, fluffy results.

This useful machine is fitted with a round, removable, aluminum bowl.  A simple button turns it on, and it goes off by itself when your grain has absorbed all the added liquid.  It cooks basic grains in lots of different ways including risotto, pilaf, paella, and breakfast porridge (among other things).

Of course, you can cook grains without one–a pot with a lid will suffice, but the rice cooker makes perfectly cooked grains every time.  And clean up is about as easy as it gets. Keep your eye out for a rice cooker at yard sales or thrift stores.

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Breakfast Bulgur

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. butter

Add bulgur to the bowl of the rice cooker.  Then add the rest of the ingredients–stirring to combine.  The butter will melt during cooking.  Cover and cook.

When machine switches to “OFF”, let bulgur steam on the warming cycle for 10 minutes.  Fluff with wooden spoon and serve nice and hot.

If you don’t have a rice cooker, don’t fret.  All you have to do boil two cups of water, add bulgur and other ingredients.  Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Check for water absorption at about 10 minutes.

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I like eating mine with yogurt, apples and walnuts.  Sam enjoyed his with milk, blueberries and cinnamon.  It is lightly sweetened, but a drizzle of honey or syrup can be added if desired.

Leftovers?  Put them in a container in the fridge and heat them up as needed all through the week!

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Family Project: Bagels

Kitchen Disaster.  Yes, capital “D”.  I was attempting to make yogurt—with the last 1/2 cup of starter yogurt when I was distracted by a conversation we were having about lime juice and fish.  Long story.  I had just taken the milk off the burner to cool.  Only I forgot to cool it down.  I immediately poured a nearly boiling cup of milk over the starter yogurt.  It curdled. That was that.

It happens, OK?  I’m not going to cry over spilt or curdled milk.  But it was a disappointment.  Especially because my real interest was making yogurt cream cheese for the bagels we baked today.

Kitchen disasters are a dime a dozen—at least at my house.  I’ve learned that it’s all about improvisation and just plain making do.  So, that’s what we did.  On with the show!

*Note: This recipe uses a food processor that can accommodate 4 cups of flour. Alternatively, it can be made using the traditional method of proofing yeast in water, mixing in flours and kneading by hand.

Bagels

  • 4 cups flour (I use 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda

Step 1:  Add flours, yeast, salt and brown sugar to the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse or stir with spoon to mix dry ingredients.

Step 2:  Put honey and water in a small pitcher.  Heat in microwave (or on stove top) until approximately 115-120 degrees.  Microwaves vary.  Ours takes about 40 seconds.  Mix until honey is incorporated in water.

Step 3:  While processor is running, pour honey/water into intake tube in a slow stream.  Process is complete when dough is balled up into one glob.

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Step 4:  Remove dough from processor.  Briefly hand knead for a few seconds and form round ball.  Place dough in bowl and cover with plastic.  Place in warm location to rise for approximately one hour.  (I heat a cup of water to boiling and shut the bowl in the microwave with it.)

Step 5:  After an hour, check “doneness” by depressing dough with a fingertip.  If it springs back easily, let it rise a bit longer.  If it doesn’t, it’s ready to go.  I wrench the dough into two pieces with a twisting method.  Then I twist those two pieces into two more and so on until there are 16 total.  Don’t worry about weights and measures.  They’ll all be refreshingly different from one another.

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ready to go

Step 6:  Put a large pot of water with the baking soda on to boil while you are forming the bagels.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Step 7:  Form each small piece of dough into a smooth ball, pinching together on the bottom.  Turn over to the smooth side and punch out a hole.  I actually use the top of an old extract bottle but use your finger or whatever else is handy.  These “bagel holes”, as they are affectionately known in our house, are the most sought after and highly coveted bits.

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Step 8:  Add dough bagels to the pot 5 or 6 at a time.  They should sink, then float to the top.  Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side.  Approximate.  Don’t worry too much about exact timing.  Then remove them to a clean smooth kitchen towel to drain.

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Step 9:  Place bagels and bagel holes (don’t forget to boil them too) on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes and check for doneness–golden tops and lightly browned bottoms.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes or more if needed.

Step 10:  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool.  Try not to fight over the bagel holes.  When cool, you’ll probably just gobble them plain, but later on, you’ll definitely want some yogurt cream cheese.

029Kids love this project.  Give them some dough and let ’em go.  They could be any kind of shape after all.  Have fun with it!

Family Movie Night: 3 Food Movies to Watch Now!

It’s Friday and that typically means movie night at our house.  Dinner and a movie that is.  At home.  We gave up cable a few years ago when we realized that, although we were paying for 250 channels, we could never find anything worth watching.  What’s up with that?

We currently rely on Netflix and library DVDs for our viewing pleasure. There are some limitations but, on the other hand, we finally have a choice.

And since we’re concerned about food and family nutrition, we’ve seen quite a few really good movies/documentaries about those very subjects.  Just thought I would share a few of our favorites in case you’re looking for a good movie tonight.

They can all be found on Netflix. The first one is an animated, Disney movie.  Perfect for the younger set and, er, those of us who are young at heart.

Ratatouille  If you haven’t seen this movie, you must.  Remy, the hero, is a foodie–and a rat. For him, it’s all about creating and savoring real food. Definitely a one-of-a-kind rodent. And in the scenes that take place in a commercial kitchen, kids are exposed to professionals with job titles like sous-chef and saucier.  It provides an opening for talking about how these types of kitchens require many people to make a great meal happen. Maybe you can even make some ratatouille, which is a delicious vegetable based dish.

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Oliver’s Twist  Jamie Oliver is a British cookbook author, restaurant owner and food activist advocating for healthier food.  In this show we get to watch Jamie driving around London on his sporty motorbike visiting market stalls and butcher shops to select the freshest real ingredients for the dishes we get to see him prepare back in his kitchen.  Our family enjoys his banter and drools over the finished dishes.  He does drink alcohol in some episodes but in moderation, of course.

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Super Size Me  This movie is more appropriate for teens.  There’s some strong language, sexual references and a pretty graphic stomach stapling scene, but if you have a fast food addict in the house, this could be the antidote.  America has an obesity epidemic on its hands.  The question here is who’s responsible.  This documentary is humorously dead serious.

51T82FS9Y8L._AA160_I’m looking around for a new one for tonight.  Have any recommendations for me?

Friday Feature: Is It Spaghetti Or Is It Squash?

I bought a spaghetti squash at the market.  It sat on the counter for a couple of weeks, more as a fall decoration than a potential food item.  But then Thanksgiving came and went, and it was still there.  I figured it was do or die.  If I didn’t deal with the darn thing, I might end up throwing it over the bank in the backyard like I did with the one last year.

Using Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I found out just how ridiculously easy it is to create a delicious low-calorie replacement for angel hair pasta.

Step 1:  Throw the whole thing into a roasting pan and put into a hot 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin with a fork.  Bake for about 1 and a half hours or until a knife easily pierces the skin.

Hot out of the oven.

Hot out of the oven.

Step 2:  After it cools a bit (don’t want to burn your fingers), slice lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and the pulp.

ready to be seededStep 3:  Now the fun begins!  I used a large salad fork to literally rake out the “spaghetti” onto a plate.

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Now you’re ready to dress it up for dinner…

scrumptious

  • Top with pasta sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Stir in a little butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Pour on a little cream and stir in some  grated cheese.

Other suggestions include serving it with chili or in a casserole or stir-fry.  I like the idea of using it in place of lasagna noodles.

We had leftover squash which ended up in Jim’s vegetable soup the next day.  You can also cook and then freeze the “spaghetti” for use at a later date.

Lots of possibilities here!

I’ll be back the Monday after Christmas.  Have a Happy Holiday everyone!!!