Thursday, April 22, 2010

Work Smarter, Not Harder, and Please Pass the Gravy!

Hello! It's "random stuff" today:

First, I'm always looking for ways to make kitchen work easier, my reasoning being that if it's
easy, we'll be more inclined to do it. My friend, Patty, shared these helpful tips with me and I
thought in case there's something new here, I'd pass them on:
·         Cover cookbooks with clear plastic report covers while you cook.  Spills can be wiped off more easily.
·         Wash utensils as you go instead of constantly reaching for new ones. 
·         Line baking sheets or jelly roll pans with aluminum foil to save scrubbing later.
·         Turn a metal colander upside down over the skillet when frying food.  This allows the steam to escape but keeps the fat from splattering.
Next: We have this running joke in our family built around my husband, Rich. He says (and he's not kidding) that GRAVY is one of the cornerstones of life! The guy could eat shoe leather if there was enough tasty gravy slathered over it. I feel bad for him--I wasn't raised with a gravy ethic like he was, so I don't come into my cooking role as a naturally inclined gravy maker. In fact, to be honest, I don't even LIKE the stuff.  

Oh sure, I buy the 3/$1.00 packages at the grocery store (that you just add water to), and good sport that he is, he'll eat it. But I can see that wistful look in his eyes that says, "Where's my mom when I need her?" So I want to improve in the gravy-making department--I love him and want him happy. If it takes gravy, so be it!


So why am I sharing this little bit of family laundry? I need your help. Are YOU a gravy enthusiast? Do YOU have expertise with it? Do YOU have a good, foolproof gravy recipe you could share? I look forward to any help you can give, and until next time, here's to passin' the gravy and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Let's Have a Soiree!


My daughter, Roxy, and I had afternoon tea at the Beehive Tea Room today. Talk about fun! The decor was eclectic, the food was amazing, and the ambiance was dreamy. I had a bowl of vegetarian split pea soup and the house specialty cocoa. Roxy had spinach quiche, a salad, and also the cocoa. (I know, not exactly TEA; next time.)


As we chatted, Roxy was telling me about her frustration at the lack of dating going on in her life and amongst her circle of girlfriends.
Being the proactive gal that she is, she's decided she's going to hold monthly "soirees," and the qualification for anyone invited (males that is), is to BRING A DATE! (In case you don't know--I didn't--a soiree is a party where guests are carefully chosen. The name is what makes the whole thing so hoity toity.) Very cool idea, huh? 


I think this plan has all sorts of possibilities and we talked about a couple--one being a Soiree How-To book with recipes included. So with my interest piqued, I went online to look for soiree-appropriate recipes, because I think it would be really fun to hold a family soiree from time to time. All invited guests would be asked to contribute something to the refreshments table. 

Here are a few ideas I found that were reported to be very popular (not just because they are tasty, but they are also easy to prepare):
  • For warm weather soirees, fresh raspberry lemonade with ice cubes made with pureed raspberries.
  • Mango, strawberry, grape, kiwi fruit cups.
  • Following the latest trend in treats, CUPCAKES of all sorts and sizes--the more decorated and gooey, the better.
  • And in keeping with the sophisticated name of the event--soiree--all sorts of exotic cheeses and crackers.
 These are just a few ideas to get us started. But the one thing I know, if we serve things the family doesn't typically see at our table, the more of a WOWEE! impact we'll have and the more memorable the evening could be. Do you have special party recipes or ideas? If so, let us know--we're all in this together, so let's share. Spring ought to be celebrated, and a soiree could be just the way to do it! So until next time, here's to one awesome soiree, and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cookin' With the Grandkids!

I spent this past weekend with my three grandchildren, and we had SO much fun! Things have been a little stressful (Earthlife 101 stuff) for them lately, so it was nice to just laugh and play for a few days.

I taught them how to play Chinese Checkers and they beat the pants off me more than once. But best of all, we worked in the kitchen together. First I taught them to make homemade Tootsie Rolls, and they were fantastic! How cool to have this favorite old timey treat without all the chemicals and other junkie additives! Here's the recipe:

HOMEMADE TOOTSIE ROLLS
3 C powdered sugar
1/2 C Karo syrup
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C baking cocoa
1/2 C instant milk powder (powdered milk)

Mix Karo, butter, and vanilla together well. Add cocoa and dry milk. Mix well. Add powdered sugar, little by little. This mixture will get stiff and seem dry. Now it is time to knead it. Just be patient and keep kneading. When we made it, we slipped into a panic over the dryness and added a couple Tbsp extra butter. It didn't hurt the taste at all, but the result was a very soft candy. I recommend you stick with the recipe, be patient and work it out. When all the sugar is mixed in, divide the candy in balls, refrigerate for an hour or so, then roll each ball into ropes and snip candy into desirable sizes. Have fun! 

(My granddaughter is going to make another batch and take it to her home-ec teacher. I think it'll be a big hit.)

The next day my other granddaughter and I poured over a fun cookbook (Smokey Valley Recipes--a Nevada book) looking for something for Saturday night dinner. We settled on "Oooey Gooey Nachos" and homemade strawberry shortcake. Then we took a walk to the store to get the ingredients. It was so much fun slicing and chopping and mixing with these darling granddaughters. And let me tell you, dinner met with rave reviews! Here's the nacho recipe:

OOEY GOOEY NACHOS (serves 6)
1 container (16 oz) sour cream
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
2 C shredded Swiss cheese, divided
2 C shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 can (13 oz?) chili
1 jar (13 oz) salsa


Mix sour cream and cream cheese together until smooth. Add 1 C Swiss cheese, 1 C Cheddar cheese and mix well. Put in microwavable serving dish (2 qt) and heat through. Serve over tortilla chips with remaining shredded cheeses and all your other favorite additions. We had chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped green onions, sliced black olives, diced avocado, and shredded lettuce. We inhaled this and I can see it becoming a family favorite. 


And can I just brag? My oldest granddaughter (she's 13) was in the kitchen doing the dishes, wiping the counters, mopping the floor--getting the kitchen all ready for the next morning. I commented to her that I just love working in a clean kitchen and she told me how much she loved waking up to a clean kitchen--a clean house! My grandkids are adorable and I am so proud of them--and especially proud of the wonderful job their mamma is doing with them.


Anyway, I just wanted to share my joy tonight--family is what it's all about, isn't it? And don't you love how meals together make the sweetness in life that much more sweeter? I hope you like these recipes, and I hope you'll share YOUR family stories and recipes with us. We're all in this together and there's nothing nicer than the inspiration we gather from one another. So until next time, here's to having a blast with YOUR grandkids, and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible!




Monday, April 19, 2010

Bring on That Family Reunion!


With the approach of summer comes the opportunity for a family reunion. And some of us are talking "family reunion" on my side of the family (my husband's side has a cousins' reunion every year). I would be the organizer and I'm a little daunted by the idea, so I've been talking to folks and doing my research. I found a really helpful website, Family-Reunion.com, that demystifies the whole thing. Here's what I've learned so far:
"Creating a family reunion committee is the first step to putting it all together. If you are planning a small reunion (25 people or less?), then it can be one person. You. If it’s bigger, then make the committee bigger.  The committee should create a planning binder with lists of subcommittees, guests, assignments, resources, financial status, and anything else that seems important at the time. Here's what to do after you have your committee:
  1. Select a reunion type
  2. Choose a date
  3. Locate the family (a little research may be needed)
  4. Set a budget
  5. Decide on a theme
  6. Decide on fun activities
  7. Spread the word--advertise
  8. Get everyone involved during the event
  9. Feed the masses
  10. Enjoy yourself
  11. Wrap it up (use an evaluation form, update family information, thank the volunteers)
"Providing food and refreshments for your family reunion crowd can be handled in a number of different ways, none any better than the rest. It all depends somewhat on the type of reunion you are planning and quite a bit on how many pennies you plan on pinching.  The big question to answer will be just who exactly is going to be providing the food.  Will you do it yourself or have someone else do the cooking? Mister Spiffy can’t cook worth beans, so he doesn’t have a problem there, but you might.  The answer may very well be tied to the expense since a caterer or restaurant meal usually costs a lot more than preparing the reunion meals yourself. 
“If your reunion will take place over several days, you may find that a combination of choices could work out best.  For example, each family could be responsible for finding their own breakfast, with everyone getting together for a casual potluck lunch, followed by an elegant dinner at a fancy restaurant. Don’t be afraid to mix-and-match; Mister Spiffy (the helpful website I mentioned earlier) does it all the time. A family reunion is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
“What is a "reunion" food, you ask?   First, it has to taste good.  Second, it has to be filling (at least if it's a main course).  Third, it can't cost a fortune.  And most importantly, it has to be fairly easy to cook in a large quantity. Some suggestions are hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, potato bar, spaghetti, chili cookoff, sloppy joes, s'mores.”
Now, all this said, I conclude with a couple recipes that have stood the Family Reunion Test-of-Time. And if you have any family reunion tips and/or recipes, please share. We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out (I need all the help I can get!). And until next time, here’s to family and the fun of reunions, and of course, here’s to making family dinner hour possible!
A WELCOME BREAKFAST: This recipe works well for an assembly line process—so you can involve lots of people in preparing it.
SUNNY BREAKFAST EGGS (serves 8)
3 Tbsp butter
8 eggs
½ C milk
2 Tbsp chopped pimiento
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 English muffins, split, toasted
8 thin slices Cheddar cheese, cut in half diagonally
Melt butter in skillet over low heat; add combined eggs, milk, pimiento, parsley and seasonings. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until eggs are cooked. For each sandwich, spoon eggs onto muffin half. Top with two cheese triangles. Broil until cheese melts.
 DESSERT TIME:
PRALINE CHEESE BARS (20-25 servings)
1 ½ C graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbsp sugar (or 1 Tbsp Stevia or 1 Tbsp agave nectar; if using agave, you’ll need a bit more graham cracker crumbs)
3 Tbsp butter, melted
4 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
1 ½ C packed dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp flour
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 C finely chopped pecans
Maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crumbs, sweetener and butter; press onto bottom of greased 9x13-inch pan. Bake for 10 min.
Combine cream cheese, brown sugar and flour, mixing at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in vanilla and nuts. Pour mixture over crumbs. Bake for 35-40 min. or until knife inserted comes out clean. Chill. Brush with maple syrup before serving.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Depression: We Are What We Eat

First a comment from a reader, then on to today's topic. Yodasmith commented on the post about Stevia and I wanted to pass her suggestion on and thank her for taking the time to write:
yodasmith said...
I like to use SweetLeaf brand of stevia, and it has 0 calories, 0 carbs, and a 0 glycemic index!
NOW, just a short post today, on a topic I never thought I'd be addressing here, as this space is intended for encouragement, and concrete helps to making family dinner hour possible (hence the blog title). But today I received a message that Amanda Rose is following me on Twitter and I think you might really appreciate knowing about her.

Amanda Rose is a  mom, a Phd, a political scientist, and an author of a book titled Rebuild from Depression. I'm sharing this information because I have struggled my entire life with depression--it's affected my marriage and most especially the kind of mom I was (and it wasn't good--maybe we can talk about that another day).

In exploring her blog, "REBUILD--the Blog", I read that her focus to healing from depression is a natural one--through diet, something I've discovered by trial and error on my own and am a radical believer in. Her approach is through natural, whole, REAL food (replacing nutrient-deficient foods with nutrient-dense foods). She's been depression-free for four years, and shares her research (she keeps up on  what stuff does to us--arsenic in foods, for instance, shares recipes, recommends other good books to read, etc. etc. etc.). Her blog is a goldmine of important and useful information!

Depression is a common malady today, and I have a hunch that some of you coming to "Making Family Dinner Hour Possible" either struggle with it yourselves or know someone who does. So along with talking about quick and easy meals, we need to talk more about quick, easy, and healthy meals, don't you think? 

This is a case where my closing lines, "We're all in this together, so let's help each other out..." likely has yet another application. Let's check out her blog, take a look at her book, and seriously consider her nutrition advice. And if YOU have experience with depression, know of other good sites, books, etc., or have nutrition tips you could share, please do. "...let's help each other out!" Until next time then, have a great weekend, and here's to making family dinner hour possible (and a source of healing along the way)!



Friday, April 16, 2010

Another GREAT Alternative to Sugar!


I promised the other day in my post on the sugar alternative Stevia, that I'd tell you about another GREAT sugar alternative. It's Agave nectar (or agave syrup, as it's sometimes called) is a plant-based sweetener derived from the agave cactus, native to Mexico. 
Used for centuries to make tequila, agave juice produces a light golden syrup with a sweetness 1-1/2 times that of sugar, so you can use less in cooking. The light variety (there are also amber and dark grades) has a mild taste that won't alter the existing balance of flavors in your recipe as honey or maple syrup might do. It also won't crystallize with age. And it's got only 20 calories per teaspoon!

As with maple syrup, agave juice is extracted from the plant by tapping into it, pouring it off, then putting it through a filtering and heating process. The slight heat allows excess water to evaporate and activate enzymes that convert the existing carbohydrates into fructose, resulting in a sweet taste.

Like honey or maple syrup, agave is considered a "natural" sweetener because it doesn't contain any added chemicals as part of processing. This means that agave is a great, safe sweetener for children.

Many brands of agave are also considered to be "raw", or virtually unprocessed. The raw label benefits those on living foods diets, which require that foods are never heated above 118 degrees F. Anything higher and the natural enzymes in food (which help you digest the food and also provide immune system and other benefits) are denatured and begin to deteriorate. Another bonus: many kinds of agave are available in organic varieties, too.

Finally, agave is considered to be a low-glycemic sweetener, which means it doesn't spike blood sugar levels the way refined cane sugar does. The syrup is about 90% fructose, the same natural sweetener found in most fruits. Fructose is processed more slowly in the body than is glucose (sugar), providing a gradual, steady supply of energy to the body.

Agave's GI, considered low, ranges from 28-32 (honey's is 58). This also means that agave is suitable for type II diabetics, the only all-natural sweetener besides stevia, an herbal sweetener, to gain this privilege. It's also often recommended for anti-candida yeast diets. Some brands even bear the Glycemic Research Institute's "low glycemic" label as well.

Agave is delicious on its own, as a syrup wherever you'd use honey or maple syrup. A huge advantage, though, is agave's lighter texture. It's less sticky than either honey or maple syrup, so it pours easily out of the jar (even those last few drops!).

Drizzle agave directly onto pancakes or waffles, onto frozen desserts or into smoothies, cereals, coffee or tea, or use the darker grades when you wish to add a touch of sweetness to a savory dish, such as some curries, baked tofu, or Thai foods. In baking, agave is a suitable substitute for sugar, with a few small adjustments.
If you substitute agave for sugar in a recipe, use 2/3-3/4 the original amount of sweetener since agave is sweeter than sugar. Also, be sure to decrease the original liquid in the recipe by about 25 per cent and up to one third (so if a recipe calls for one cup of sugar and one cup rice milk, add only 2/3-3/4 cup agave and only 3/4 cup rice milk). Note also that agave, like honey, will burn more easily than sugar, so decrease the oven temperature by about 25 degrees.

As you experiment with your existing recipes, and you'll find that it doesn't take long to determine just the right amount of agave to produce a delicious end product. With agave nectar, you can still enjoy your sweets—and good nutrition, too.
Are you convinced? I've been using it for several months now and can't say enough good about it. If YOU have agave experience, please share--especially any recipes you really like. I'll close with a GOOD recipe now, and until next time, here's to trading out the sugar for the good stuff (Stevia and agave), and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible (and healthier to boot)!
BLUEBERRY COFFEE CAKE 

 TOPPING:
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 C whole spelt flour
1/4 C whole rolled oats
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp light agave nectar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or high oleic sunflower oil
 BATTER:
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or high oleic sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup light agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup soymilk
  • 2 tbsp. ground flax seed or flax meal
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup light spelt flour
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, drained 

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x9" square baking pan or spray with nonstick spray.

Prepare topping: in a small bowl, blend the nuts, flour, oats, and cinnamon. In another small bowl, mix together the oil and agave nectar. Pour the agave mixture over the dry ingredients and toss until crumbly. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the 1/3 cup oil, 1/2 cup agave nectar, soymilk, flaxseed, lemon rind and vanilla. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and baking powder. Pour wet ingredients over dry in bowl and stir just to blend (it's okay if a few small lumps remain). Gently fold one cup of the blueberries into batter. Spread batter in pan.

Sprinkle the top of the cake with the topping mixture, then sprinkle the remaining blueberries over all. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Lovely warm or at room temperature. Makes 9 large or 16 small squares.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Hot Tip Plus Herb Cooking!

I always wonder if what I'm sharing is of any worth, and I worry that I'm treating my readers as "stupid" sometimes. The "hot tip" I have today might just be the case--you may already know this, but in the off-chance you don't, I'm forging ahead:

HOT TIP: To protect  your grain products and cupboards from weevil infestation, always put new packages in your freezer for a few hours after you bring them home from the grocery store. If by any chance your products ARE housing the little creeps, freezing snuffs the life out of 'em. Not a pleasant subject to talk about, I know. But the reality is that most food on today's grocery shelves has the strong potential of carrying weevil. Knowing this, I always freeze our cold cereals, flours, pastas, couscous, oatmeal, cornmeal, etc. etc. for at least 3 or 4 hours before placing them in the pantry or cupboard.

NOW, on to a more comfortable topic: Cooking with herbs. First, let me suggest we think seriously about growing our own. Now's the time to be planning a kitchen herb garden (outside or in the windowsill--both work). Fresh herbs open up a whole new dimension to cooking. Used sparingly, they bring an interesting subtlety and spizazz that is just not there without them.

It's fun to experiment using an herb or combination of herbs. Eggs are especially satisfactory for experimentation. By adding a pinch of something to an omelet or scrambled eggs, an entirely new flavor emerges. Just think of the fun we can have with the family, as together we try a new flavor combination while guessing which herb is the star of the meal!

The general rule for cooking with herbs is to use twice as much of a fresh herb as its dried counterpart. Herbs lose their strength with age, which is especially true if not stored properly (in the small cupboard above the stove isn't such a good idea, for instance). It's best to keep them no more than a year and store them in a cool, dark place. Picked, fresh herbs keep about a week if stored upright (stems down) in about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water in a glass kept in the fridge.


But the most important thing is to experiment. Herbs are pretty, pack lots of nutrients, add sparkle to food, and are easy to grow. So let's think about this. And to get us started in the herb-cookery department, here are a few herb-specific recipes to try. And of course, I'm always hoping you'll share with us--do YOU have herb tips or recipes we ought to know about? We're all in this together, so lets' help each other out. And until next time, here's to discovering great new tastes via fresh herbs, and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible.


BASIL: Tomato dishes would be unthinkable without basil, and a fresh pot of basil in your window is not just fragrant, it's known to repel flies!


SLICED TOMATOES WITH BASIL (serves 4)
4 large tomatoes
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp chopped fresh basil, OR 1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 C buttered bread crumbs
1/2 C grated Swiss cheese
A few grindings of fresh pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice tomatoes in half, season with salt, pepper, and basil. Sprinkle bread crumbs then cheese on top of each slice. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 min.


CHERVIL: Although not well known here, it is as common as parsley in France. Its flavor is delicate--a really versatile herb.


SPINACH SALAD (serves 2)
1/2 lb fresh baby spinach, well washed and drained
1 small onion, sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp fresh chopped chervil, OR 1/2 tsp dried chervil
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pinch of sugar
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese


Wash and drain spinach. Mix oil, lemon juice and herbs. Toss with spinach. Sprinkle egg, finely chopped, over the top. Finish by sprinkling cheese atop all.


MARJORAM: One of the most fragrant and versatile herbs. The colonists used it (because of its pleasant odor) to aid in polishing furniture. Great idea, don't you think?


MARJORAM STROGANOFF (serves 4)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 C chopped onion
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh chopped marjoram, OR 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 can (6 1/2 oz) water chestnuts
1 pint sour cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of celery soup
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, OR 1/2 C canned
Salt and pepper to taste


Saute fresh mushrooms in butter; set aside. Saute onions and garlic in oil; once onions are soft, add beef and brown. Add herbs, salt and pepper, soup, chestnuts and mushrooms; simmer for 5 min. Add sour cream, bring back to simmer. Serve over hot rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes. 


ROSEMARY: Another delightfully fragrant herb with so many uses!


CHEESE AND SPINACH CASSEROLE (serves 4; this is a wonderful side dis)
2 lbs fresh baby spinach, or 2 boxes frozen
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 C cream
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary, OR 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 C grated Swiss cheese


Steam spinach, drain thoroughly if needed, and then place in buttered baking dish. Cover with cheese, cream and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Place under broiler until cheese is completely melted and begins to brown.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sugar Free the Healthy, Natural, and YUMMY Way!

Most of us crave sweets. Food processors daily exploit this craving by adding highly refined sweeteners to processed foods (high fructose corn syrup to name just one). Today we're one of the most sugar addicted countries in the world. And by now we're well acquainted with the health issues that go along with this addiction.

Thank goodness there's an answer, and it isn't artificial sweeteners--we all know the health risks of aspartame, saccharin, cyclamate,  acesulfam potassium, neotame, or even sucralose (also known as Splenda). Nope, one terrific answer is STEVIA--Stevia rebaudiana. (I'll discuss the other answer, Agave syrup, tomorrow.) 300 times sweeter than sugar, this herb has a negligible effect on blood glucose, so it's a great alternative for folks with blood sugar issues (diabetics, for instance).


Like anything, it should be used in moderation--not because of any side affects or health risks, but because that's the prudent way to live. Stevia has undergone numerous toxicity tests and none have shown any harmful effects (few substances can make this claim). The real test though, is centuries of continuous use by South American natives. In addition, thousands of tons of stevia extracts have been consumed over the last twenty years in many countries with NO harmful effects ever reported.


And look at these other amazing benefits:
  • Stevia's calorie count is almost zero (due to its unique molecular construction).
  • Research is showing that long term use is producing mild strengthening of the heart and vascular system.
  • Research is showing Stevia can be an effective digestive aid.
  • Research shows many strains of dental bacteria do not thrive in the presence of stevioside--unlike sugar, scientists think Stevia may actually be good for our teeth! 
This healthy alternative to sugar is a great way to provide those wonderful desserts we all love--what would family dinner hour be without them? So here's how to use it:
  • Approximately 1 tsp Stevia extract powder (there are several brands out there now) or 3-4 tsp Green Stevia powder (directions for exact substitutions are on labels) = 1 C sugar.
  • It stores well, so we can buy in bulk if we like. It should be kept in a sealed jar--no refrigeration needed.
  • It may not brown as well, but browning can be improved through use of other ingredients such as fats or milk.
  • For baking with it, use either slightly less liquid or slightly more flour than would be used in recipes with sugar.
  • Stevia is fluffier than sugar so it scatters with the slightest disturbance. Thus recipes call for thoroughly mixing it with either dry or liquid ingredients.
  • To sweeten raw fruits, first dissolve it in a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or water and then stir it into the fruit.
  • Use stainless steel or oven-proof glassware if the food is to be left in the pan after baking.
If you're as convinced as I am, then let's go forward with a couple delicious desserts to get us started on a healthier sweets track. And if you have experience with Stevia or recipes you could share, please comment. We're all in this together, so let's help each other out! And until next time, here's to having our sweets and eating them too--going sugar free the healthy, natural, and yummy way, as we make family dinner hour possible!
APRICOT PINEAPPLE PIE (a chilled pie that's easy to make)
1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1 can (16 oz) sugar free apricot halves OR 2 C fresh apricot halves, simmered in 1/2 C water for 5 min.
1 can (8 oz) sugar free crushed pineapple OR 1 1/2 C fresh pineapple chunks simmered in 1/3 C water for 5 min.
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 C + 1 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
3/4 tsp Stevia extract powder
1/2 C unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
Whipped cream (sweetened with Stevia, of course)
Unsweetened coconut, toasted


Drain appricot halves and reserve 1/2 C juice. Pour remaining juice into medium saucepan and cut apricots into small pieces. Add apricots, pineapple with its juice, and salt to saucepan. Bring to a boil. dissolve cornstarch in reserved 1/2 C juice and stir into heated fruit. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens.


Dissolve Stevia in applesauce and add to filling. Stir in vanilla. Cool to room temperature, pour into crust, and chill until surface firms. Cover with plastic and chill several hours. Top with sweetened whipped cream, then sprinkle toasted coconut over all.


NO-BAKE PEANUT BUTTER FRUIT BARS (Yields 36 bars)
1/4 C sugar free applesauce
3/4 tsp Stevia extract powder
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 C old fashioned peanut butter
3/4 C chopped dates (I think we could substitute raisins here)
1/2 - 3/4 C chopped pecans
1/4 C nonfat dry milk, or more for firmer bars
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2/3 C old fashioned oats
2 Tbsp butter
1 C sugar free carob chips (or traditional chocolate chips, but be aware you're adding some sugar)


Measure applesauce, stevia, and vanilla extract into a medium bowl and stir with a wooden spoon. Add peanut butter, dates, pecans, dry milk, and 2 Tbsp butter. Mix well.


Toast oats in heavy skillet over medium heat about 6 min. Stir often. Oats will darken only slightly. Combine with applesauce mixture and press into a greased, 8-inch square dish. 


Use same skillet to melt 2 Tbsp butter over low heat. Evenly sprinkle in carob chips and allow to melt about halfway. Do not stir. Slip the partially melted mass atop the bar mixture and spread. Cool. Cut and serve.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Family Dinner Hour--the Glue That Holds Families Together!

Holy Cow there are a lot of things tearing at the threads of family life today. Thank goodness more and more people are realizing what's happening and boldly calling for a return to some tried-and-true family traditions--family dinner hour being one. 


The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University researched the benefits of family dinners and found clear results. Specifically, researchers compared the responses of children who reported having family dinners fewer than three times a week with those who have family dinners five times or more per week. The study concluded that those who enjoy frequent dinners with their family are far less likely to develop substance abuse problems. If a child has family dinner time on a regular basis, he or she is:
  • Half as likely to try marijuana or cigarettes
  • One-third less likely to try alcohol
  • Less likely to have friends who use alcohol or other drugs
  • More likely to say they won't ever try drugs
In addition to avoiding substance issues, children who have regular family dinners earn better grades. They're also more likely to claim their parents are proud of them and less likely to report tension among family members. Furthermore, when asked which adult they would confide in over a serious problem, children who have frequent family dinners typically say they'd go to a parent. Researchers for the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that adolescent girls who have frequent family dinners are less likely to use diet pills or develop eating disorders, such as binge eating or self-induced vomiting.  


Why does family dinner time promote such healthy habits? Experts believe a regular face-time between parents and children facilitates communication, which, in turn, helps parents guide their children's behavior. A meal just happens to be the most convenient opportunity for families to connect with each other on a regular basis--it's the glue that holds families together!


Hence the reason for this blog. My total focus is on helping today's busy busy young moms make family dinner hour possible. A lot has changed since I was a young momma--I think the demands on their time are heavy, and more insistent. And we have more single moms than ever before who are working outside the home, sometimes at TWO jobs. And our economy is such that now, even in two-parent families, mom doesn't have a choice as to whether she'll stay home or not. When you think about it, it's understandable why family dinner hour is slip-sliding away. But we can't let it happen!

So I want to thank you for reading, telling others about this blog, and most especially, for standing up to the busy-ness of life and persisting in what matters most! You remind me of something Annie Swetchine said, "There is a transcendent power in example. We reform others unconsciously when we walk uprightly." Folks are watching.

And this leads me to my usual plea: Please share your tips, thoughts, recipes--anything that will be of help to all the moms out there that really want to gather their families to the table. We're all in this together, so let's help each other along. And until next time, here's a delicious and very easy meal the family will love. And of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible!



ONE-POT EASY CHICKEN (serves 6)
6-8 medium-sized potatoes, quartered
1-2 large onions, sliced
3-5 carrots, cubed
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp pepper
5 lbs chicken (I prefer skinless and boneless, for ease and speed)
1 small onion, chopped
3/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp garlic salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (dried works, just adjust quantity)
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 C lemon juice

Mix together potatoes, sliced onions, carrots, 1 tsp garlic salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in bottom of slow cooker. Rinse and pat chicken dry. In bowl, mix together chopped onions, 3/4 tsp pepper, cloves, and 2 tsp garlic salt. Dredge chicken in seasonings. Place in slow cooker over vegetables. 

In small bowl, mix together oregano, rosemary, and lemon juice. Pour over chicken. Cover. Cook on LOW 6-8 hrs, or until vegetables are soft and chicken juices run clear.

(One of my favorite grandmas uses this all the time when her grandchildren come for an "overnighter." She can play all day with them and come dinner time, it's all ready and waiting.)