Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BREAKING NEWS!


We all know how important it is to have breakfast, and as hard as we sometimes try our hectic schedules require that breakfast becomes a “Grab-and Go”. For the record, a pop tart or a doughnut is not really a healthy breakfast item; they are treats and high calorie ones at that.

Start thinking about the numerous options that are healthy and tasty that will take up only a few minutes of your time. I will give you few ideas that necessitate a little planning ahead, but once they are done they as still a “grab and go” item.

I am sure that some of you just can’t stand the thought of eating breakfast and some of you feel like you can’t move until you have something in your stomach. The ideal situation is that you sit down at the table and eat a healthy, filling breakfast. Remember that the word breakfast implies that you are breaking a fast. After a night of sleep, fuel for your body is very important. Since a sit down breakfast doesn’t always happen it’s nice to know that you can still get some of the right kinds of foods into your body that will help sustain your body and brain throughout the morning and keep you from over indulging in the afternoon.

Some people have even suggested that skipping breakfast can help them lose weight. WRONG! If you don’t eat breakfast you get so hungry in the late morning or early afternoon that you end up eating way more food and probably higher calorie foods that you wouldn’t have indulged in if you would have taken that minute to eat something nutritious that morning. When I haven’t eaten breakfast and I get really hungry and usually go for the fastest, yummiest unhealthy carbohydrate I can get my hands on and then I feel the effects about 2 hours later.

In the morning we really need three things to get us going; a healthy carbohydrate to give us fuel for our activities of the day, fiber to keep our bodies regular and a protein and fiber help to keep us from feeling starved.

Sugar cereals are a big hit with the kids but they come down from the sugar high really quick. The more sugar you eat the hungrier you get and the more you crave unhealthy foods.

There are plenty of ideas for quick on the fly healthy breakfasts. If you just can’t get your self to eat before you have to leave in the morning, make it a habit to bring a little something healthy with you. If you are a real last minute person in the morning bring a few healthy items to work and keep them in your desk drawer that will help sustain your body until lunch time and help you make healthier lunch choices, such as wheat bread and peanut butter, or a healthier cracker and some cheese or a can of V8 juice or dried fruits. If you have a refrigerator at work your in even better shape. I guarantee that you will feel much better during the day and you won’t pig out at lunch time if you take care of your body’s nutritional needs in the morning.
Banana Flax Seed Shake

1 cup skim milk
1 whole fresh or frozen banana
2 Tablespoons Flax seed meal

Mix well in blender and enjoy. You can also throw in some strawberries or peaches but this taste great just with the banana.

Breakfast Burrito

Scramble eggs with sausage or whatever you like can be wrapped in a flour tortilla then wrapped in plastic wrap then lay them in a gallon bag and freeze. Microwave for one minute and off you go! I have grandsons that love these and often grab them other times of the day as needed before a sports activity.

Try and make sure you have some protein a carbohydrate and a fiber to stave off the hunger monster before lunch.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Attention to Details Always Pays Off!

Jeanne is tending grandbabies while her son and daughter-in-law are having a baby! We'll keep you posted on the happy news. So it's just Alice talking today.

I'm in New York City for 10 days playing with my daughter, Sarah. Last night we had dinner at a famous pizza restaurant, Grimaldi's--under the Brooklyn Bridge. Have you heard of it, or eaten there yourself?

The pizza was wonderful--thin crust with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. It was baked in a fired brick oven and done to perfection. Fresh ingredients, in the right amounts, and placed properly on the crust--all this ended up in a superb dish. Isn't it interesting how attention to details, big or small, can make all the difference in the end results of our cooking?

For instance, did you know that when you buy celery, you should always SMELL it first? Jeanne taught me this. If it has a strong smell, it will have a strong taste. If it has a mild smell, it will have a mild taste--the best for celery. This explains why I've ended up with a lot of annoying celery over my cooking lifetime--I've never bothered to smell it first. Now I do.

Also, did you know it's really important to measure liquids in a glass "liquid measuring cup?" I always thought measuring cups were measuring cups. Not so. There are 2 types: one for measuring dry ingredients (usually metal) and the other for measuring liquids (usually glass so you can see the level of your contents). If you measure liquids in a dry measuring cup, you'll end up with as much as 15% MORE liquid than the recipe calls for because of  surface tension. This extra % will definitely affect the outcome of the recipe.

Likewise, if you measure dry ingredients in a glass liquid measuring cup you'll end up with 10-15% more than the recipe calls for because the rim of the measuring cup goes above the measuring lines (so liquids don't spill over). And because the rim is higher than the measuring lines, you can't level off whatever you're measuring (flour, for instance). And so again, this extra % will affect the outcome of your recipe.

Then there's the issue of sifting dry ingredients. Sifting is called for because of the even dispersion it provides. Why does that matter? Well, when you add your liquids, they react with your leavening agent (baking powder, baking soda, etc.), and you want as thorough a reaction as possible. Without sifting, there may be more concentrations of the leavening agent in parts of the ingredients than in other parts and so the reaction won't be even and again, this affects the outcome of your work. For instance, muffin batter is a prime example of what I'm talking about. They can be persnickety about their rising, so you want to be sure the leavening agent is dispersed well and evenly throughout the batter. Sifting dry ingredients before adding the liquids ensures even distribution and perfect rising.

Cooking and baking are fun when we get the results we want. Not so much fun when things end up so-so or fail. So it'll be worth your while to follow the example of great cooks everywhere (like our guys at Grimaldi's) and pay attention to details--it always pays off. Until next time, here's to family dinner made easy and to a new baby in the Wolfley family!

Monday, April 23, 2012

TRADITIONAL MEAT PIES


Long, long ago in a land far away, okay, okay! I am getting a little carried away, but many years ago, back when people took their lunches out to the fields or to school in an old tin pail with a handle, a robust lunch was often served consisting of a Pasty Pie.

These pies contained meats and vegetables. The meat and vegetable mixture was placed into a round pie-shape crust and generously filled. They were then folded into a semi-circle and the edges dampened with a little water, so they could be sealed by pinching or crimping to hold the mixture in place.

Pasty pies are still served in many European countries and greatly enjoyed in Australia using lamb meat. Most of the recipes I found called for rutabagas or turnips. Not being a big fan of either of these vegetables, I always use potatoes and carrots. I think most of us would prefer our meat pies served hot but diehard pasty enthusiasts will eat theirs cold with ketchup.

A few years back, we had a little café that served beef pasty pies twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, chicken pasty pies were served. Lunch was served with gravy on the side and a little cup of coleslaw. I really felt deprived when the café left. They were scrumptious! These types of pies can easily be made at home with homemade or store-bought pie crust and leftover meat and vegetables.

Actually, you can make any kind of pasty you want. Traditionally, the pies were made with coarsely ground beef, ground-up pork or lamb but I prefer chicken or turkey. Originally these pies weighed approximately two pounds. Now that’s a hearty meal! Talk about super-sizing!

Really, this is a great way to use up leftovers and everyone loves getting their own little pie.


Traditional Pie Crust
3 cups flour
1 cup cold butter (cut into small bits)
6 Tablespoons water
1 ½ Teaspoons salt

Blend the flour, salt and shortening together. Crumble with fingers or pastry blender until the mixture looks somewhat like coarse cornmeal. Then add the very cold water and mix quickly. Do not over mix. Wrap pie crust in wax paper and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pasty. If you are making one the size of a dinner plate it will take 1 hour to cook. Little pasty’s take about 40 minutes. If you’re using pre-cooked meat and vegetables cooking time will be about 20 to 25 minutes.

There are lots of pie crust recipes. Feel free to use your favorite!


Beef and Pork Pasty
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground sausage
4 carrots (chopped)
2 cups of chopped onion
2 large potatoes (peeled and diced)
½ Teaspoon pepper
½ rutabaga or turnip (optional)
2 Teaspoons Salt

Cook the meat in a little olive oil or use already-cooked, leftover meat. Add the vegetables to a medium pot and cook with water for 5 minutes, drain and mix with meat. Divide the dough into equal portions and fill with mixture. Pile it high but leave enough room on the edge of the semi-circle to be able to seal. To seal, use a little water and a pastry brush on the outer edge of the circle, using a fork to crimp the edges.

Bake pasties on a lightly buttered baking sheet and cut several slits on the top. Bake for 20 minutes and then put one Teaspoon butter in one of the slits for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

It is also important to note that I precook my meat. Originally this was not the case and many people still cook the meat pie with raw meat. If you use raw meat just make sure you cook the pasty pie long enough to cook it thoroughly.


Chicken Pasty
1 pound (cubed) chicken
2 large potatoes (cubed)
1 medium onion (diced)
1 Teaspoon salt
½ Teaspoon pepper
¼ cup water
1 chicken bouillon cube

Dissolve bouillon cube in hot water. Add all ingredients together in a large bowl. Fill each pie crust with mixture making sure it is piled high, but leave enough room on the edges for sealing the crust together.

If you have leftover meats and vegetables, pasty pies are a great way to use them up. Your family will feel special and you'll be able to get dinner on without to much prep work.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

HEALTHY NAAN BREAD


Naan is a bread made in India and it is delicious. Typically this bread is made with a loads of butter (ghee which is clarified butter) which makes it very high in calories. This recipe is a healthy version. Instead of butter this recipe uses olive oil and some whole wheat flour. Many think that the wheat adds to the flavor.  Isn’t it fun to try something different once in awhile. When we first made this bread we were thrilled with the ease of this recipe. It was also a great surprise that it was so delicious and much healthier than the original Naan bread. This is a great bread to serve not just with Indian food but also with soups and stews.   
  • 2 cups flour (I use 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup white because I like the flavor best that way while still maintaining some of the whole wheat goodness)  
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder 
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin seeds 
  • 1 Teaspoon salt 
  • ⅔ cup warm water 
  • 2 Tablespoons flaxseed oil 
  • 1 cup plain yogurt at room temperature 
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and knead until dough has a soft, smooth consistency like pizza dough. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for ½ hour.

Dust a working space with flour and then take a piece of dough about the size of a tennis ball. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape about 7 – 9 inches long and 4 – 5 inches wide at the widest point. It should be about ¼ inch thick.

You can then cook it either on the BBQ or in the oven.

To Cook on BBQ
Heat the BBQ to medium. Place the Naan on the BBQ and cook, turning occasionally until there are brown spots on each side. To keep it moist, rub the bread with a drop of flaxseed oil (or just use butter if you want to splurge).

To Bake in Oven
Preheat the oven and a Pizza Stone to 425 degrees. Place the Naan on the Pizza Stone and cook, turning occasionally until there are brown spots on each side. Rub in the oil or butter to keep it moist. You can also use a greased cookie sheet in the absence of a stone.


This recipe is taken from the book "Every Day Indian." We hope you enjoy making this recipe as much as we did. This just might become one of your family's all time favorites.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Look Who Thinks Family Dinner is a BIG Deal!

Welcome to Friday. Alice's daughter, Mary, gave her a neat recipe book for her birthday, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, by Laurie David. As we were thumbing through it, we were impressed with not just the terrific recipes, but the inspiring and validating quotes regarding family dinner. Here are a few, in case, like us, you need a little inspiration and validation once in awhile:

Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon, host of The Dr. Oz Show
"Food has to be sacred. There is something very unique about sharing the nourishment of food with your loved ones. I fear we are forgetting that." 

Ruth Reichl, former editor-in-chief of GOURMET Magazine
"I don't think there is one thing more important you can do for your kids than have family dinner."

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma
"People say they don't have time to cook, yet in the last few years we have found an extra two hours a day for the Internet."

Marisa Weiss, MD, president and founder of Breastcancer.org
"One of the most powerful medicines against breast cancer is family dinners. It's the single most potent way to improve your nutrition, manage your weight, feel support, find love, have fun, and create a family legacy of healthy eating."

Ellen Weiss, senior vice president for news, NPR
"In my house growing up, you basically had to have a note from your doctor not to show up for dinner!"  

Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals
"If we want our kids to lead healthier lives, we should eat with them more often."

Marshall P. Duke, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Emory University
"Life is uneven and unpredictable. Rituals help stabilize and anchor us."

Finally, Katie Couric, broadcast journalist
"My idea of perfect happiness is sitting at the kitchen table laughing [and we would add, eating] with my daughters."

There are many more wise and famous folks we could quote, but you get the idea! Feel validated? We do. Now, since it's Friday and we're on the doorstep of yet another busy weekend, here's a quick dinner idea that's helped us make more than one family dinner possible:

FRITOS BANDITOS (serves 4-6, and everyone can help get this meal on)

1 bag Fritos
1 or 2 cans chili
shredded cheese
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
diced green onions
sliced black olives
cilantro

sour cream
diced avocado

Heat the chili. Set out each ingredient in its own serving bowl and set up a buffet-type spread. To build a Frito Bandito, pile chips on your plate, top with chili, then cheese, then lettuce, then tomatoes, then all the other stuff. Actually, the order of arrangement doesn't really matter. Just build a stack and enjoy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Clever Condiments!

Keeping with the theme of outdoor grilling and eating, let’s expand the talk from savvy sidedishes (yesterday’s topic) to clever condiments. Who doesn’t want to add a dollop of mayonnaise to their just-grilled hamburger, or dip their baked not fried onion rings in a little ketchup?

And keeping with the theme of healthier foods, let’s keep at it as we talk about mayonnaise and ketchup. Did you know you can make your own? It’s quick and easy, and the end result is so much healthier—omit the chemicals, food colorings, preservatives, and other mystery ingredients, and you’ve got a very good product. And when you also leave out the sugar, well, you’ve got an excellent product!

But if you come up with something that still tastes good after all this omitting, well, then you’ve hit the jackpot. And we did. Here are recipes for mayonnaise and ketchup that we love, and think you will too!

Do you have a healthy condiment recipe? Share—we all want to know about it. Meanwhile, here’s to family dinner made easy as we serve up still more healthy alternatives with our clever condiments!

AUNT ANNIE’S HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE (yield: slightly under 2 cups; prep time: 5 minutes)

1 large egg
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a processor or blender, blend egg and lemon juice. While processor is on, slowly add oil until mixture thickens to a white pudding texture (as mayonnaise is supposed to look). Stop processor; add salt and pepper, then pulse 5 times.

You can add roasted peppers, garlic, herbs or other ingredients for more savory flavor.

BRAG-WORTHY HOMEMADE KETCHUP (yield: 1½ cups; prep time: 10 minutes)

6 to 10 oz tomato paste
1/3 C Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
5 Tbsp water
1 tsp stevia powder (we like Sweetleaf brand) OR 3 Tbsp agave (sweeten to taste)
2 Tbsp minced onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp pepper

Put everything in your blender and run it until the onion disappears. Simmer in saucepan for 5 minutes. Let cool, then store in tightly covered container in the refrigerator.NOTE: If you don’t have a blender or food processor, you can substitute 1 tsp onion powder and 1 tsp garlic powder for the fresh ingredients.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

SAVVY SIDE DISHES

The weather is warm, the sun is shining and the aroma in neighborhoods firing up their grills for the traditional backyard cooking is a longed for and remembered experience. We all get the hankering for grilling once we have had that first whiff of a summer barbecue. There isn’t anything much better than dinner from the grill. A few recipes for some savvy side dishes can make for an awesomely delicious dinner.


Baked Cornflake Onion Rings


2 cups finely crushed cornflakes
1 Tablespoon sugar
¼ Teaspoon seasoning salt
¼ Teaspoon garlic salt
2 eggs
2 sweet Vidalia onions
A pinch of Cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the crushed corn flakes, seasoning salt, garlic salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cut the onions into ½ inch slices. Separate the rings. Reserve the very small ring for a different recipe. In a shallow dish, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Dip the onion rings into the egg mixture and coat them with the cornflake mixture. Place on a cooking sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees until the rings are tender and coating is crisp.


Seasoned Tomato Slices


1 cup canola oil
? cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh minced basil
2 Teaspoons sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
½ Teaspoon pepper
½ Teaspoon dry mustard
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 sweet Vidalia onion (thinly sliced)
6 tomatoes (thinly sliced)


In a shallow dish, layer the tomatoes and onions. In a small mixing bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and whisk until well blended. Pour the marinade over the tomatoes and onions and refrigerate for several hours.

Crispy Potato Wedges


6 medium potatoes cut into wedges
2 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 ½ Teaspoons salt
½ Teaspoon garlic salt
½ Teaspoon dried basil
½ Teaspoon dried oregano
1 Teaspoon dried parsley


In a large bowl, combine oil, melted butter, garlic salt, oregano, basil, salt, pepper and parsley. Add potato wedges and toss to coat. Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes.



Lime Butter for Corn on the Cob


1 ½ Tablespoons butter (melted)
¼ Teaspoon grated lime zest
1 ½ Tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ Teaspoon of salt
¼ Teaspoon crushed red pepper


Mix all the ingredients together and brush onto cooked corn. Don’t try to roll this butter into a log. The lime juice and butter have a tendency to separate a bit. This is enough butter to use on 8 ears of corn. 


We are loving this warm weather are looking for some savvy side dishes to go with our grilling. Do you have a favorite savvy side dish? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

FOOD SAVER Feedback & HEALTHY Desserts

Via FaceBook we've received lots of feedback re: yesterday's questions on the FOOD SAVER--thank you everyone for taking the time to comment. Today we thought we'd share some thoughts from Alice's niece, Nichole (who lives in Australia), on how she uses this amazing vacuum sealer:


"This tool is so worth it! I even food-saved my breast milk...It's also a convenient marinader: Flash freeze your meat in your marinade, in an unsealed bag, upright in your freezer, once frozen, vacuum the bag, and when you are ready to thaw, your meat thaws in the marinade. My mom also vacuum seals stuff she sends here to Australia. This way she can send it in smaller containers, saving on postage. Also, before vacuuming your bags, try to flatten them (make them as thin as possible) so that all your frozen goods stack nicely in the freezer. Think of those chubby pounds of hamburger--flatten them as much as you can before vacuum sealing them--this will save tons of space."

Great ideas here, but to you young moms, don't you think that vacuum-sealing breast milk is brilliant? THANK YOU Nichole!

Now let's look at a HEALTHY dessert idea. We share this because we've heard from lots of moms whose children are dealing with ADD and ADHD as well as weight gain. There's conclusive evidence that diet plays an undeniably huge role in these issues, so here's a start to healthier desserting that will leave no one feeling deprived.

It's fresh fruit puddings thickened with either cornstarch or arrowroot. The natural fruit sugars make it possible to omit sugar. Almost any fruit can be pureed in a blender or food processor, thickened by cooking and using either cornstarch or arrowroot, garnished, and served as a delectable dessert.

Here's a family favorite that we've also used for pie filling, in cobbler, and for freezing into popsicles. Try this and let us know what you think. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made easy as we use our FOOD SAVER to save grocery $$ and as we look for ways to remove sugar from our desserts!

FRESH PEACH PUDDING (serves 6)

Pudding:
6 C chopped peaches (about 10, peeled and pitted)
1/4 C cornstarch or arrowroot
Cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

Topping:
1/2 to 1 pint heavy cream
1 C lightly chopped pecans

Put half of the chopped peaches in a blender or food processor and blend with cornstarch or arrowroot until smooth. (Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste, if desired.) Pour mixture into the top of a double boiler; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken.

Add remaining chopped peaches and cook just until tender. Spoon into individual small serving dishes and chill. Shortly before serving, whip cream (add dash of stevia if a sweeter cream is wanted) and spoon over pudding. Top with chopped pecans or garnish with reserved thin slice of peach, and serve immediately.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Beat the High Cost of Groceries with the FOOD-SAVER

We have a neighbor, our friend Holly, that is an avid user of the FOOD-SAVER. Have you heard of or do you use this tool?

She's so sold on it that she could be doing infomericals for the company. She says it's her #1 tool for beating the high cost of groceries.

We're listening to her closely, because we've been tossing a lot of food lately that's picked up freezer burn. (Ugh, ugh, ugh--freezer burn is so nasty, and we've never figured out a way to overcome that horrid taste.) And of course, we realize that along with throwing away food, we're throwing away money! (Ugh, ugh, ugh to that one as well!)

So, we're wanting to know what  you think as well. Where's the best place to buy it, what tips do you have for using it, etc.? Bottom line, what do we need to know before we head off to shopper-land?

And along with FOOD-SAVER information, do you have tips on freezing food in general? What are your favorite freezer containers, for instance? Let's talk more about this--we all want to save some money and still have tasty food to put on the table. So that said, here's to family dinner made easy as we look to smart ways to freeze our food safely!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Making a Meal Out of Nothing (Almost)!


A few years ago we found a super article on eHow and someplace called barbiecrafts (we don't remember now what that was) that was all about making a meal out of nothing, or almost nothing. We considered ourselves masters at this skill since we'd raised large families on sometimes skimpy incomes. But we weren't far into the article when we discovered things we hadn't thought of.

 

Here are the article's ideas in a nutshell. You may find this handy on the day you find yourself staring at the fridge or pantry, wondering what's for dinner. See if there's any you hadn't thought of.


First, you always want an ace up your sleeve, dinner-wise. [We call this "dinner insurance."] eHow says this ace is basic and versatile meal-makings on hand along with ideas on how to use them to create a decent meal. The article says to "note the word decent"--it doesn't suggest we'll be making company fare or anything to razzle-dazzle the family--just something to fill the bill and tide us over until better is available.



1) Staples: oil, sugar or other sweeteners, cornstarch, spices, herbs, butter, flours (biscuits and gravies are good meal fillers)


2) Bread--especially good as toast (baked beans on toast, boiled egg on toast, creamed tuna on toast, French toast variations, toasted cheese sandwich)


3) Eggs--can be boiled and mashed with mayo and a mustard dab. Use this to stuff hollowed-out tomatoes, atop toast, or even atop salad. And omelets and scrambled eggs make a good dinner once in awhile.


4) Ramen Noodles--endless possibilities here. Consider: Boil as usual, drain off water, add olive oil and seasoning packet. Then toss in whatever leftovers you have. A smidge of soy or Worchestershire sauce blends flavors even better.


5) Tortillas--Think quesadillas. Besides cheese, add leftover meat, veggies, and a few spices or hot sauce and you have a fajita. You can also spread them with sandwich spreads, roll them up, and slice them into little pinwheels. They also do well with mashed avocado + a dash of garlic and any leftover salad rolls into them. What else do you do with tortillas?

6) Ground beef--boatloads of books have been written on what to do with hamburger--you might even have one. But just in case you don't: Add tomato based product (soup, ketchup, tomato sauce or paste) and you have the foundation for Sloppy Joes. Or add cream of mushroom soup and ranch dressing or sour cream and you have a beef stroganoff that's yummy on top of rice, spuds, or noodles. Or use it to add volume to a can of soup.


7) Apples--Bake them and top them with cinnamon sugared biscuits. Then there's the Waldorf Salad approach--along with the apples and mayo add celery, raisins, nuts, carrots, grapes, etc. We've even added leftover pineapple chunks. Experiment with this one.

8) Rice or Pasta--besides tossing in leftover meat or veggies, you can melt cheese into them or add a white sauce. If you have a tomato, dice and toss it in as well. And remember olive oil and basil--always a pasta winner.

Do you have more ideas on how to make a meal out of nothing (or almost nothing)? Readers would love to hear from you--we're all in this together, so let's share! Meanwhile, no more wandering and pondering as to what we're going to fix--here's to family dinner made easy thanks to a few "aces" (dinner insurance) up our sleeve! 





 











Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bullying and Dinner Time--The Time and Place to Talk About It!

(Alice talking:) Today a friend of mine, Anji Sandage, posted something on her Facebook that was so poignant for me that I feel I need to share it. Take a look and see how you feel about it, and if you can relate in any way:

When I was a little girl in Ellensburg, WA, (maybe 3rd through 5th grades), I was bullied. I came from a fractured family (my parents threatening divorce, lots of screaming and contention, financial strain, etc.) and I was left on my own--my mom was in survival mode (I realize this now).

I was a chubby, buck-toothed, scraggily-haired little girl that couldn't have bought a friend if I had the money. NO ONE would play with me on the playground during recess and the name the kids gave me was Fat Bucky Beaver.

Can you imagine what that daily school experience was like for a little girl that went to bed every night hearing her folks screaming ugly things at each other? Waking to a new day with yet another painful school experience in front of me was often more than I could handle.

So when I read this post I got teary and my heart ached. But I thought, HAH! We're bringing the family back to the dinner table, and that's the best time and place to talk about this ugly social malady. Your children adore and emulate you and hang on your every word. So you are the most effective teachers and influences in their lives. This said, let's have some meaningful conversation around this topic while enjoying good meals together.

Let them know how you feel about this, ask if they've been (or are being) bullied. Ask if they are the bullies. Encourage them to reach out to the loner, the one that doesn't seem to have a friend or isn't fitting in. And if they are being bullied, talk to the right people (you'll be inspired as to whom that is) and address it NOW.

Here's to family dinner made easy, and meaningful, as we use this sacred time to do what we can to make the world better and safer for our kiddies. We can do this, one meal at a time!

Why You Should ALWAYS Make Extra Rice

When we're pressed for time, tired, or just not in the mood to cook, dinner can still go on, if there’s extra rice in the fridge—it’s just a really smart idea! Rice is affordable, healthy, freezes well, and the possibilities are endless. So here are a couple recipes that really show off this versatile food:

CASHEW (or Walnut or Hazelnut) & PINEAPPLE FRIED RICE

4 cups of leftover rice
3 Tbsp of oil (sesame, canola, olive, coconut, or another oil that can withstand high heat)
2 Tbsp of minced garlic
1 Tbsp of minced ginger
3 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos)
1 C frozen, canned (and drained) or fresh pineapple tidbits
1 - 2 C chopped nuts

Veggies - frozen or fresh.  Try:
2 carrots - diced into small pieces
1 cup frozen peas
Other great additions: scallions, celery, corn, broccoli, zucchini, mung bean sprouts etc.

RICE PUDDING (serves 2 or 3, unless Alice is at the table, then it serves 1!)

(Some folks believe this is the way God intended for man to eat rice…)

2 1/2 cups of whole milk or plain or vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup of uncooked long or short grain white rice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, combine milk, rice and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the rice mixture - a tablespoon at a time - beating to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10 minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. This is delightful served warm or cold.

Do YOU have favorite rice recipes you turn to? Please share if so--we're all in this together and it's so nice to have one another's help. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we take the smart step to keep some extra rice in the fridge!

 


 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SPARKLING PANS

It’s very easy to stain a pan or cookie sheet. If it were only as easy to clean them and have them return to their original shine. My pots and pans are more important to me now than they used to be because, once I decided on the type of pans I wanted to cook with, I invested a good chunk of change in them. Over the years I have learned a few tips on how to keep them looking new and, in some cases, save the pan from the garbage.

Burning food in the skillet is not something that takes place everyday. But when it does, it can seem like a monumental task to clean it. If the burned food is not too severe, put a few drops of dishwashing liquid and some water into the pan. Bring to a boil and allow it to set until cool. That should do the trick. It’s also possible to remove the burned food with salt applied to a damp pan.

Cast iron is another story as you don’t want to have the pan sitting in water. The water will rust the pan. If you have already made that mistake you can still salvage it by using a stainless steel scrubbing pad, rinse it out well and re-season it. If you have burned food in a cast iron (or other type) pan, it can be cleaned by adding a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and ½ cup of vinegar, bring to a boil for a few minutes. Make sure you rinse the pan out well. If it is cast iron then you need to re-season it.

If you are trying to get rid of the build-up on your cookie sheets or muffin pans, apply a paste of baking soda and water. Leave it on overnight and then wash it off. Sometimes you still have to use a little elbow grease.

To clean enamel pans, any oxy product with a little water works very well. Let it soak overnight. Never scrub enamel pans with anything abrasive as it will scratch the pan and it will never be the same. I know this from experience!

For a shiny stainless steel pan, ammonia works well. I actually clean my oven racks by placing them in a large plastic bag and adding one cup of ammonia. Let it set outside or in the garage overnight and then wash them with soap and water. Be careful when you open the bag as the fumes are potent. You can use this process with a stained stainless steel pan too. They get sparkly clean! Never use this process on aluminum pans. They will never look the same!

For those of you who have copper pots a little salt and vinegar will give the copper back its brilliance. A half a lemon dipped in salt will also do the trick.

The latest and greatest new tip for burned on food, appears to be the simplest. I haven’t personally tried this process. So if you do, I would enjoy knowing what you think. Simply take a dryer sheet and lay it in the pan with just enough water to cover the dryer sheet. Let it set overnight and the burned on food is released without a lot of scrubbing. That would make short work of it!

These tips can make a big difference on how your pans look. I hope you never have to use the tips for burned-on foods, but if you do, it might save you from having to replace a pan.  Keeping your kitchen tools in prime condition will keep a smile on your face when you go to use them and makes getting dinner on the table all the more enjoyable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cook'n Magazine and Salad Spinners

Hoo boy, time can sure get away from us. Where's the month going already?

Hope you checked out the Cook'n Magazine and are considering a subscription? Someone said to us, "Wow, it's expensive isn't it?" And we agreed. There are reasons for this though:

1) There's very little advertising compared to other magazines, which naturally boosts its cost--ads pay publication costs; Northridge Publishing is committed to minimal ads so you have maximum reading and resources, and

2) the photography is the highest end possible--art gallery worthy; we know pictures speak thousands of words--cooks and foodies the world over place high value on a gorgeous picture of what they're trying to create, and lastly

3) Cook'n was purposely designed to be counted amongst your "coffee table" displays--it's reading you'll want to keep on display and handy for ready reference. It will never go out of style, never become passee, never wear weary on your sensibilities, so to speak.

4)  All submitted recipes are tested and reviewed before appearance in Cook'n, so you KNOW you're getting the best-of-the-best recipes! This process is expensive and time-consuming. But it's how we hold to the highest standards possible for our readers.

So all this said, we hope you join our family of devoted readers and consistent recipe sharers. We're excited to see your favorite fall recipes (for tomatoes, squash, apples, lunch box ideas, the slow cooker, for example). Just send them to alice@northridgepublishing.com or jeanne@northridgepublishing.com. Won't it be exciting to have one of YOUR recipes and gorgeous pictures of it in such a lovely magazine--a timeless record of your talent and expertise to share with family and friends!

And in closing, and on another note: spring and warmer weather tend to bring a change in our eating patterns--we include more fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu. So have you found that having a good salad spinner is necessary? It makes prepping those greens so much quicker and easier. One we like that earns its keep is the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner. While on the more expensive side ($29.99 on average), it does show up on sale and it's durable--you'll have it around for a very long time. DO you have a favorite spinner you'd recommend? We'd love to hear about it, so please share. But whichever brand you choose, get yourself a salad spinner. It's one kitchen tool that deserves the space it takes up. We wonder how we lived so long without one!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cook'n Magazine Sneak Peak!

 It's time to show you what we've been working on and talking about for so long now. The Cook'n Magazine is off to the press and you get to have a sneak peak before it appears in bookstores and Sam's Club!

AND, for your, our esteemed readers, Northridge Publishing is offering a nice discount on the subscrition of this beautiful magazine. If you prefer, you can also subscribe to this as a download.

This reader-based magazine is all about YOU, what you are cooking and what you're interested in. So send us your favorite fall recipes (for tomatoes, squash, apples, lunch box ideas, the slow cooker, for example).  We'll test recipes we receive in the Cook'n test kitchen and upon board review, YOU just might be one of the magazine's next contributors!

This high-end, drool-worthy magazine, replete with award-winning photography, will take center stage on your living room coffee table. Cook'n will become one of your best friends in the making-dinner-hour-possible department! So take a look, send this to your family and friends, and send us your recipes!
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Dinner is Quick and Easy Thanks to "Gravel!"

So sometimes we just don't have dinner planned; sometimes we just don't get into the kitchen until right before dinner ought to be on the table. Ever have days like that? What to do when lack of planning has you by the jugular, or your day has run away from you?

First, let's back up. We've been banging the "gravels" drum for these very reasons. (BTW: Our Editor in Chief at the Cook'n Magazine prefers we call these "freezer prepped ingredients," so we will from now on.) Anyway, these are our dinner insurance. Having 1) pre-cooked ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, shredded chicken, and shredded roast beef, and 2) pre-chopped onion, celery, bell peppers, 3) pre-ground bread and cracker crumbs, and 4) grated cheese waiting for us in the freezer means we pretty much have dinner ready--no matter what.

Here's an example of a meal you can get to the table quickly and easily because of those blessed "freezer prepped ingredients:"

SPEEDY HAMBURGER SOUP (prep time: 10 minutes; serves 4-6)

1 C pre-cooked, frozen ground beef (or Italian sausage for a nice flavor change)
2 large cans diced tomatoes (juice included)
1 1/2 C water
1/2 C pre-chopped, frozen onion
1/2 C pre-chopped, frozen celery
1/2 C pre-chopped, frozen bell pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pepper to taste
Anything else you might want to add according to your family tastes and preferences (beans, other veggies, etc.)

Put all ingredients in large pot and cook over medium heat until everything is nice and hot. Ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese (which you already have grated and in your freezer). Garnish with croutons, if desired. (Little touches like this are fun for the family and send the message that dinner matters enough to go the extra mile!) Serve with buttered crusty bread and voila, a quick and easy dinner in 10 minutes or less.

Being the clever cooks that you are, you'll come up with all sorts of tasty dishes using freezer prepped ingredients. The point is though, start NOW to get some stocked up. As the weather gets consistently warmer, chances are good more and more days will run away from you, so having dinner covered through this dinner insurance is just smart planning (even when there's been no planning!).

Do YOU have ideas, too, on how to get a quick and easy meal on the table? Please share--we're all in this together you know. Meanwhile, until next time, here's to dinner made easy as we plan for non-planning by getting some freezer prepped ingredients into the freezer!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Other Uses for that "Penny Saved"

We know today's post has nothing to do with food, dinner, or easier kitchen work, but we thought these were such good ideas, that we ought to pass them on anyway. Forgive our digressing...

So we all know "A penny saved is a penny earned." But did you know a penny can do more than add to your savings account? Here are 4 smart ideas we found in an old issue of Real Simple Magazine:

1) Prevent algae from growing on your birdbath. Add a few copper coins to the water and watch how nice and clear it stays, and how many more birds clean water attracts. For this to work, though, the pennies need to be pre-1982. (Not much copper is left in pennies after this date.)

2) Who doesn't deal with a wobbly table or chair leg once in awhile? Stabilization can come from a penny! Just slide a cent or two under the too-short leg. This looks much better than a wadded-up piece of paper or folded chunk of cardboard.

3) Get dancing! Glue pennies to the soles of old pairs of shoes and enjoy a no-commitment tap tryout. You, your children, grandpa, heck, get the whole family involved! Talk about some cheap fun... Hey, we might have a cool idea here for those upcoming summer family reunions!

4) A Lincoln-head penny can be a good indicator of tire wear. Insert the penny into a groove with Lincoln's head pointing inward. If you can clearly see his whole head, it's time to invest in new tires.

Do YOU have other ideas for penny use? If so, please share. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we cleverly come up with new uses for the common, everyday stuff filling our lives!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MAKE YOUR OWN ROSE WATER!

Roses are red, violet are blue, sugar is sweet and … all of these things are edible! There are really two reasons why we are excited about roses, actually three. Of course they are beautiful; they are also used for aromatherapy and skin care; and, can even be used to cook with! You may gain a whole new appreciation for the ever romantic, fragrant rose.
A few years ago, Jeanne worked in a health food store where she could buy rose water.  It was actually used as an astringent for your complexion, but boy did it smell good. Many people can’t handle the smell of store-bought perfumes. Strong perfumes make many people sneeze and wheeze. Rose water is so mild and smells so fresh and clean that I have given it to my little granddaughters to use.
Roses actually have an anti-bacterial, antiseptic property in them. You can spray it on your hands after you wash. Rosewater also makes a great “take me away” bath time experience. (Please make sure pesticides were not used on the roses before using.)
Rose water is easy to make and can even be used in cooking. It is often used in Middle Eastern or Asian dishes. Some recipes either infuse rose water in the meat or use it as a sauce.
Storing rosewater in the refrigerator can keep it fresh longer. Dark bottles are another good idea for preserving freshness. On a hot summer day, a splash of rosewater straight from the refrigerator onto your face makes you feel like the Queen of Sheba.
There are only a couple of things to watch for – bugs and dirt being the primary items! This is easily remedied by washing the petals in cool water before making your spray.
There are two recipes I would like to share with you when using roses for a spray and one for a recipe to eat.

My Favorite Rose Spray
1 cup distilled water
1/2 to cup of fresh rose petals
2 Tablespoons witch hazel
Clean, sterile bottles (dark if possible)
Heat the water and rose petals just until the water starts to boil. Put a lid on the pot and let it sit for 5-8 minutes. Strain petals out with a strainer and let cool; add witch hazel and put in jars. I stores. If you don’t want to spray, use a bottle that you splash with. Witch hazel is also an astringent, found at any health food store. This is so great on a hot day!




Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance...

Have you discovered this book yet--Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Saving, and Sharing? We couldn't put it down--read it cover to cover in just a couple days. And now we're re-reading it.

We thought today we'd just share a random list of some very cool things we've learned, in case you haven't read this inspiring book:

1) visit freecycle.org--check it out and see why this is one of the neatest sites around!

2) go to barterquest.com, JoeBarter.com, SwapThing.com, U-Exchange.com, and of course there's tried and true Craigslist.com--more wonderful sites to visit. Why pay for something, or for services, if you can barter?

3) with the warm weather coming, plan on saving your empty ketchup and condiment bottles (some lotion and shampoo bottles as well); rinse them out and turn them into highly efficient SQUIRT GUNS!

4) stop spending money on dryer sheets; form into a ball all those bits and pieces of aluminum foil you've been saving (or just take a new sheet and roll it into a ball), then toss it in the dryer with the wet laundry. It removes static and never has to be changed!

5) turn stained tablecloths and old cotton clothes into dinner napkins; you don't even need to sew, just cut the fabric to the size you want then fray the edges; tres cool and such a smart way to go green!

6) avoid debt like the plague; Amish Bishop, Jakob, says "Buy now, pay later doesn't really work. Making interest payments is like paying for a dead horse."

7) consider their wonderful and inspiring philosophy: Chasing after money and things is meaningless, because the best things in life are free. Throughout the book you can read about folks who say over and over, "We have everything we need right here." We think they've found bliss!

We know you likely already knew much of this, and like us, if you read this book you'll be saying to yourself, "Oh, we do that; or Oh, I believe that, or Oh, I was taught that too." But we wanted to pass this title on with our encouragement to read it, if you haven't. It's inspiring, motivating, heart-warming, and validating. We can learn so much from each other, so we ask if you have a book you'd recommend too? Let us know; and until next time, here's to family dinner made easy as we seek and find inspiration from good books such as Money Secrets of the Amish...!

Monday, April 2, 2012

4 Fantastic Light Desserts!


You may be thinking the same thing we have in the past, “Is there really a light dessert that tastes luscious?” Well, there are and we'll share four with you using low fat ingredients or applesauce for sweetener. There are lots of fat- and sugar-alternatives recipes in specialty books and on the Internet nowadays--good news!

One caution we offer before proceeding: Just because these recipes are considered “light” doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to eat more than ONE serving. While light desserts are an aid to help us have an occasional treat without feeling guilty, you know the old saying: “Moderation in all things.”  So for the “light” in the recipe to work, we have to be careful how much of it we eat.

One helpful tip is to be sure to eat desserts slowly. Pacing yourself and learning to savor your dessert can satisfy that sweet tooth without over indulging.  Let’s face it, even if you are being careful what you eat, you may still have someone around you that couldn’t care less, which in turn may increase your temptation! That being the case … if we are watching our calorie and sugar intake, we need to be prepared by telling ourselves ahead of time “one piece.”

This light lemon cupcake recipe is a good one to freeze. That way you don’t have to feel obligated to eat them all up all at once--you know, so that they don't dry out and all (ha ha). The brownie recipe is a great one for feeding a crowd--they'll never know this is a light dessert. And the apple dessert is mostly apples with just a bit of flour and sugar. And, last of all, the banana cake can be served with fresh fruit.

We hope you find these a helpful way to interest the family in gathering to the table. And we hope you'll share your light desserts with us and tell us how you keep you manage your sugar intake. We want to hear from you! Sharing these recipes give us a good source to go to when we are in celebration or want to have a family treat. And as always, here's to family dinner made easy as we serve up end-of-the-meal treats that are not just fantastic, but LIGHT!
Healthier LOW FAT Brownies

This recipe from Food.com was given a high rating. They said you would never guess that they were low fat and suggested using a higher quality cocoa for an even richer flavor. It has been our experience, that the type of cocoa being used in a recipe really does make a big difference. In our opinion, DUTCH cocoa is the very best! It’s one ingredient that we don’t mind spending more money on because it’s taste is so superior.

½ cup cocoa                             
1 cup flour                                  
1 teaspoon baking powder         
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt                         
2 Tablespoons butter
1¾ cup white sugar                    
2 egg whites                                  
¾ cup applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together using a hand mixer. Add egg whites, applesauce and vanilla. Mix all other ingredients in a separate smaller bowl and add to wet ingredients in the large bowl. DO NOT over mix! Spray 8x8 inch pan with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes.  
                                    
Light Lemon Cupcakes

1 cup all purpose flour                            
¼ cup instant dry milk
5 Tablespoons softened butter              
½ white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder                     
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda                        
1 large egg
¼ cup not fat milk                                 
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
½ cup nonfat lemon yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the muffin tin with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and egg. Add milk, flour, dry milk, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon extract. Fold in yogurt. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins ¾ of the way full and cook for 25 minutes. Toothpick should come out clean. Remove from muffin pan and let cool completely.

To Frost with lemon icing: Mix 1 cup powdered sugar, two teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water and ¼ teaspoon lemon zest.                       
                                    
Light Apple Dessert

6 apples (sliced)                       
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt                         
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup brown sugar                   
¼ cup water
¼ cup all purpose flour              
⅓ cup butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Peel and slice apples. Toss the apples in the cinnamon, lemon juice, salt and water. Lay them in the casserole dish.

Mix the brown sugar, flour, and butter together. Spread this over the apples and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Banana Cake with Strawberries

1 cup mashed bananas
¼ cup canola oil
2 eggs                                                   
⅓ cup plain yogurt
1½ cups all purpose flour                       
2 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon vanilla                                 
2-3 cups strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the mashed bananas, oil, eggs, yogurt and vanilla until creamy. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and beat well. Spoon batter into two 8 inch cake pans that have been sprayed with cooking spray. Smooth batter out evenly as it is thick.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Slice strawberries and spoon over first layer of banana cake. Add second layer of cake and add more sliced strawberries and non-fat whipped topping.