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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Fava Beans: They’re Worth It!

I have many food weaknesses. Ice cream, gummy bears, white bread with lots of butter. I share this as a form of therapy. My public declaration will give me the strength to keep on the righteous path of wellness. Won’t it?

But not all of my culinary longings involve large amounts of sugar, fat and refined grains. Every spring I get to indulge my nutritionally acceptable desire for….fresh fava beans! And just in time for Mediterranean Diet Month.

Fava beans.

As I understand it, they were brought to this continent thousands of years ago from countries located near and around the Mediterranean. Sadly, they haven’t made great inroads into our eating consciousness. Probably because they’re, er, a little labor intensive. They actually have to be shelled and then peeled. Which is why maybe it’s a good thing that the growing season is a short one. I’m quite happy to do all the work (with help) until, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill.

Here’s what you do:

1.  Shell the beans in the same manner as you would peas. This happens to be a perfect job for the kids. They’ll love it, really.

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2.  Of course, you aren’t done yet. There’s still that second coat that has just got to come off. Some people claim that they’re fine left intact, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Boil a pot of salted water, and toss them in for a minute or less. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

3.  The next job is for adults or older kids with good motor skills. You must delicately pinch a hole in the light outer skin before popping out the fava bean with your fingers. It’s actually not that hard but, again, time-consuming. Better yet, do it with your kids as you talk over their day. Family bonding time.

At this point, they’re ready for anything. I feel about fava beans the same way I do about strawberries. They’re so delicious I only want to eat them plain–without a lot of adornment. This means I usually just saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Just long enough to ensure that they are tender throughout.

Dinner tonight?

I toasted slices of whole wheat sourdough and spread on a thin schmear of olive tapenade. Next came a slightly thicker schmear of hummus (yes, we’re embracing the Mediterranean theme) followed by a generous sprinkling of the pan cooked favas and fresh ground pepper.

first layer, olive tapenade

first layer, olive tapenade

Simple dinner

Simple dinner

If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few good ones.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodle and Fava Bean Salad from Food52.

Fava Bean and Radish Bruschetta from the Kitchn.

Grilled Fava Beans from 101 Cookbooks.

Remember a little hard work never did anybody harm. And since favas are a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorous and folate, they will only do good things for your body. Enjoy some this season!

8 Easy Ways to Go Mediterranean

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As my husband, Vegan Man, likes to say, “It’s a Lifestyle–not a diet.” The same is true of the Mediterranean Diet.  And while this way of eating developed in a certain part of the world, far from our home in California, its increasing popularity is a result of its remarkable health benefits and delicious flavors.

A study conducted in Spain, with results published by the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that a Mediterranean Diet is responsible for a 30% risk reduction for heart attacks and strokes. It proved far more valuable than just eating a low-fat diet. They even had to stop the study early because the health benefits were so ridiculously clear that to continue would have been unethical.

Here’s the lowdown, eight simple ways to bring the flavors of the Mediterranean to your own family’s table without having to cross an ocean:

1. Eat lots of vegetables. With every meal. Fresh salads with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese, garlicky greens, roasted cauliflower, healthy veg topped pizzas. Vegetables are an important part of going Mediterranean.

2. Change your relationship with meat. Become acquaintances instead of best friends. Think of meat as a side as opposed to an entrée. Reduce red meat to no more than a few times a month.

3. Eat breakfast. Start your day with fiber rich foods including oatmeal and other whole grains, fruits/vegetables and a protein source.

4. Enjoy seafood once or twice a week. Fresh or water packed tuna, trout, salmon or mackerel are all good choices. Just nix the deep-fried variety.

5. Eat vegetarian one or more nights a week. Build your meals around beans, grains and vegetables. Experiment with herbs and spices to enliven your evening meal.

6. Use good fats. Olive oil is a good replacement for margarine and butter. Try olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar as a delicious dip for crusty french bread. Mashed avocado spread on toast is quite nice as well.

7. Enjoy dairy products in moderation. Eat plain yogurt with fruit and nuts. Use Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream. Try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

8. Choose fresh fruit for dessert. Look for what’s in season. Limit sugary treats for special occasions.

And since it’s a lifestyle, not a diet, don’t forget to include other healthy practices like daily exercise and enjoying meals with family and friends. If you’re a wine drinker, you have the green light to enjoy a glass with dinner on occasion for its heart protective properties.

Cheers!

Cheers!

5 Surprising Foods to Keep in the Freezer

You’ll save money and waste less with the freezer as your friend.  These five foods are handy to have on hand:

1. Tomatoes  When you find a great source for tasty tomatoes (your garden?), and you want to preserve the flavor of summer, it’s a simple matter to pack them clean and whole in a freezer bag.  When needed, simply rinse under warm water, and the skin peels right off.  Core and chop to the desired size while still semi-frozen.  When thawed they will be comparable to canned tomatoes.  Use in soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.

All that's left from last summer's garden.

All that’s left from last summer’s garden.

2.  Avocados  Simply wash, slice in half and peel.  Pop them into a freezer bag just like this.  Alternatively you could mash them up with a little lemon juice and freeze.  The texture of this fruit does change from its fresh state, but previously frozen avocado makes a great guacamole.  I like to use mashed avocado on my sandwich as a replacement for mayo.

Peel and freeze!

Peel and freeze!

3.  Grains  When you have time, make an extra-large batch of your favorite grain.  Let them cool thoroughly, spread out on a baking sheet before freezing.  Then divide grains into small portions in freezer safe bags.  Squeeze out all extra air in bag to avoid ice crystals and freezer burn.  Keeps in freezer for two to three months.  Use as the basis for a quick dinner, an addition to casseroles or soups, or as a breakfast cereal.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

4.  Milk  When I started buying organic milk on a regular basis, it was a shock to the pocketbook.  But then I found out that I could buy it on sale and stick the extra jugs in the deep freeze.  Yes, the texture does change.  It may be slightly “grainier” and needs to be shaken before use to blend the fat back into the milk.  Not great for drinking a glass with cookies but fine for cooking/baking, and I happily use it on my cereal.

5.  Ginger  We love cooking with ginger.  Unfortunately, it always seemed that we didn’t use it up before it went bad.  Then I stumbled on a tip in my Cook’s Illustrated magazine that changed my despair to, well, if not joy, then satisfaction…  Peel and freeze.  Easy.  Frozen ginger makes grating simple.  Also, check out this page from Lunch In A Box for more ideas about freezing ginger.

What do you find that works well coming out of the freezer?

Friday Feature: Asparagus (+ one more hard-boiled egg)

Nothing says Spring like asparagus. We eat as much as we can from March to May–or as long as our supplier offers it. Eating seasonally is like that.  We gorge on the stuff for the few months it’s available. And when we can’t possibly eat any more,  the season is over.  It’s amazing how it always seems to work out that way.

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Asparagus is extremely versatile. Great roasted, grilled, stir-fried and steamed. Hot or cold. Just right for soups, salads or sides. Nice addition to risotto and other grain dishes.  I even had it on a sandwich last week at Outer Aisle’s new cafe.

How to select asparagus:

  • Purchase as close to harvest as humanly possible for best flavor.
  • Choose firm, dark green spears, thin or thick, and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Check the bottoms.  If they’re dried out looking, chances are they’re old.
Looking good!

Looking good!

One of the simplest ways to prepare asparagus is by roasting.  And if you have at least one hard-boiled egg left from your Easter egg hunt, you can whip up a dish you’ll be proud to serve to guests.

Roasted Asparagus with Chopped Egg and Vinaigrette

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 T. olive oil, or a little less depending on preferences
  • fresh ground salt/pepper
  • vinaigrette, homemade
  • hard-boiled egg, diced small (dice yolk and white separately for nice contrast)
  • parsley, chopped

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim bottom ends off asparagus since they can be “woody”. One method is to hold each end of a spear and gently bend until it snaps at its point of tenderness. I’m afraid I don’t have the patience for this process.  I simply chop off a quarter or so from the bottom.

Place trimmed spears in a single layer in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt and grind on fresh pepper. Toss in the pan and spread out evenly.

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Roast for approximately 15 minutes.  Could be more.  Could be less.  Check with a fork for tenderness. Some of the tips may get a little crispy.  Don’t worry.

Let cool in pan a bit before plating them. Top with diced egg and drizzle with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with parsley.  Serve.

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3 Ways to Build a Better Breakfast

We know that breakfast is an important meal, especially for children.  But what we eat is equally important.  Turns out the best morning meal is one that’s composed of three types of foods:

1. Whole grains

  • whole grain hot cereals like oatmeal
  • Whole grain toast
  • Whole grain rolls, bagels, tortillas
  • Leftover grain based salads
  • Cold breakfast cereals that follow the Rule of 5:  no more than 5 grams of sugar and no less than 5 grams of fiber.
Heritage Flakes cereal follows the Rule of 5!

Heritage Flakes cereal follows the Rule of 5!

2. Lean protein

  • Peanut or other nut butters
  • An ounce or two of whole nuts
  • Eggs
  • Fish or chicken
  • Yogurt/milk or non-dairy milk (check the label for protein)

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3. Fruits and vegetables

  • Fresh, seasonal sliced fruit
  • Leftover dinner vegetables/salad
  • Frozen fruit

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Simply choose 1 or 2 food items from each category to create a breakfast that will not only taste good but will keep your brain sharp and your belly comfortably full until your next meal or snack.  You want a breakfast that will provide complex carbs, fiber, protein and a little fat.

Eat separately or combine foods to create a meal that not only feeds you nutritionally but pleases the palate as well.

  • Scrambled egg on an english muffin and a side of strawberries
  • Chopped hard-boiled egg and fresh spinach stuffed into a whole wheat pita pocket
  • Bean and rice tostada salad, for breakfast, really!
  • Oatmeal with fruit and milk
  • Smoothie with fruit, peanut butter and toasted wheat germ
  • Grilled chicken with lettuce and bell pepper strips on whole wheat bread

Obviously there are lots of options.  It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…  What are your favorites?

Who knew breakfast could be such fun.  Kiwi, yogurt and whole grain toast.

Who knew breakfast could be such fun. Kiwi, yogurt and whole grain toast.

The Secret to Packing School Lunch

In a word?  Leftovers.

On occasion, I show glimpses of a type A, “Mother of the Year” persona and whip out lunch box specialties, but honestly, it’s usually about what’s handy.  And what’s at hand is what we ate for dinner the night before.

Soups, spaghetti, grilled chicken, even salad.  It all goes in if I’ve got it in the refrigerator.  If it’s meant to be hot, I might warm it up before packing so it isn’t stone cold.  Sam is happy to eat normally hot foods at room temperature (and so am I).  It’s along the same line as cold pizza.  Sometimes it’s just as good that way.

One family dinner that translates well to school lunch is the slow cooker Hoisin and Ginger Shredded Pork from the Kitchn.  It’s great on so many levels: easy to make (love my crockpot), flavorful and super lunch friendly.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

I always sleep easier knowing that lunch is practically made.  And with a whole wheat tortilla, some leftover salad and few sprigs of cilantro, this pork wrap comes together in a minute.

006Add in leftover pan cooked broccoli, a sliced blood orange (Jim brought them home from a colleague’s tree) assorted nuts and, voila, a healthy lunch from home.

The lunch that prepares itself!

The lunch that prepares itself!

Do you send leftovers for lunch?  Which ones pack well for school?