healthy eating – easy quinoa

I have a good friend in MN that blogs daily about food, wine, tea, music, life. Lots of things, and she is truly a professional writer. Author of a few books, including Chin Deep in Bubbles, Melissa has the corner covered on all things delicious and pampering. And beautiful. She’s a peach – visit her blog: http://www.chindeep.com/.

She could probably give you a thousand recipes on quinoa, or point you to her many friends in the culinary world that have their versions, but I’ll keep it simple and give you my little quick take.

I will admit right now that I do avoid carbs, and that’s not good. I know I need to consume more, especially with my workout schedule now. So I’m getting back to incorporating them, but focusing on the HEALTHY ones. Healthy, as in, less processed, not fried or packaged. Love me some tortilla chips and multi-grain crackers, but quinoa is a great source of protein as well, and pretty simple to prepare.

ingredients

This morning, I added one cup organic quinoa to a small saucepan and put the heat on high.

before toasting

I stirred my little pearls til they popped and crackled and turned a bit darker colored. If you like, you can add a little oil to the pan for this stage. Toasting the quinoa helps bring out the nutty flavor. If you are unsure, you CAN skip this step!

after toasting

After about 5 minutes of dry toasting, I added 1.5 cups low sodium vegetable broth and stirred.

adding broth

Then I turned the heat to medium-low and put the lid on. I simmered the quinoa for 10 minutes, gave it another stir, replaced the lid and turned the heat off, leaving the pan in place. I had to take my daughter to school :).

put the lid on and leave it alone

When I came home, about 10 minutes later, it was done. Nice and fluffy, although admittedly needing salt.

done - so fluffy!

Quinoa can be used in place of rice or couscous. You can use it with stir fry or fajita vegetables, and it’s great with fish (if you eat fish). Squeeze a little lemon over it. Add different herbs. Be creative and try a different flavor profile, or add veggies to make a pilaf.

If you make it with water instead of broth, you can also make this into sweet applications. Add raisins and apples, cinnamon and treat it like a hot morning cereal. Or almonds, blueberries and maple syrup. It’s quite versatile. And tasty. 🙂 enjoy!

Juicing the fruit

I had to share this, because it just makes so much sense! When I lived in Phoenix (and after I moved, before shipping was too expensive), my mom would bring me (literally) suitcases full of citrus fruit from the trees in their backyard. I love it, especially since I was eating so many grapefruits. But I didn’t eat all that many lemons…

So my mom told me a secret. OK not so much a secret as a hint, but it’s stuck with me and helped me save on my grocery bill. I was at Kroger the other day buying a few produce items and noticed the sale rack tucked in the corner. It was packed full of bags of overripe fruits. And each bag was marked at $1. HELLO!!!!!!!

So I bought 12 bags: 1 bag of limes, 2 bags of lemons and 9 bags of oranges and tangerines. When I got home everyone thought I was nuts and asked, “WHAT are you going to do with all THAT??”

So I showed them. I started with the oranges and tangerines, cutting each one in half. Then I pressed the juice with my hand-squeezer (I should have used the larger countertop model my mom got for me, but I worked my hands out instead) into a large measuring cup. Don’t throw out the squeezed fruits yet…

Then I poured the juice into ice cube trays of any size and shape I had on hand. I overfilled them a bit, so I used an old cookie sheet as a base in the freezer so the juice wouldn’t spill over. I let the cubes freeze overnight and then popped them out into large zipped top bags and stuck them back into the freezer.

Ever need a teaspoon of orange or lemon zest for a recipe, and find you have to run to the store to buy just one so you can finish making your meal, just to end up throwing the fruit out afterwards? No more! Before descarding the fruit halves that you’ve already squeezed, cut the peel off, and then use a sharp knife to remove the pith. Or you can use a zester, but you’ll have better luck with that PRIOR to squeezing them. The best news is my lemons were all organic, so I know my zest will be the best possible!

Out of all this I have all the citrus juice and zest I need for anything. I have freshly squeezed lemon juice for lemony green beans (or chicken if you eat it), fresh lime juice for salsa fresca or guacamole, orange zest for cashew cream (all my vegan friends will understand) and fresh orange/tangerine juice to complement a tall glass of soda water. Making lemonade is as easy as adding a cube to a half-glass of water with some sweetener and stirring.

There are infinite possibilities of what I can do with my new stash. If you find the opportunity to save yourself some time and money, join me in this venture! I look forward to hearing new ideas! Enjoy!

Roasted Organic Beets

Sprouts had a sale, and I was there. Their golden and red organic beets were on sale, so I loaded up and excitedly got to work on them as soon as I returned home. Not a fan? Try this recipe. It is not only simple, but roasting the beets brings out their natural sweetness, which compliments that wonderful earthy flavor.

I bought 6 medium-sized beets, three of each color (of course you can use all red beets if that’s what is available). I rinsed off the dirt and peeled the beets, cutting off the bottom and top ends. Then I cut them into approximately 1″ chunks, placing them on tin foil.

Once I was finished cutting, I drizzled the beet chunks with olive oil and sprinkled sea salt and fresh cracked pepper over the whole lot. I transferred the tin foil full of delight into a glass baking dish and baked them at 375 until they are tender, stirring a few times for even cooking.

NOTE: I have had better results by using clay baking dish, so if you have one of those, I recommend using it. The foil is not necessary, but keeps clean up to a minimum.

If you aren’t a beet fan, I hope you will give it a try, even with just one beet. I have made believers in my household (children and skeptical men included). Happy cooking!

Z BEST PIZZA EVER!

ZBQ Pizza

Heard that before? Ha, I’m sure you have. With the countless pizza chains and local pie shops to choose from, it’s inevitable that everyone has at least one personal favorite that they can’t imagine anyone else surpassing. But I really think this is it.

Once upon a time, I lived in the great state of Washington, and there was a road along Hood Canal through Seabeck that was one of my favorite Sunday drives. The town of Seabeck wasn’t really a town, more of a few buildings clustered together. But there was a pizza joint there, aptly named Seabeck Pizza. We stopped there once to try a slice, and never went to another pizza place after that. 

I can’t tell you specifically what it was about that pizza that I so much enjoyed. I just remember the proportions of wood-fired crust to fresh tangy sauce to melty creamy cheese being perfect. Or maybe it was just the view.Hood Canal and Olympic Mountains from Scenic Beach State Par

Then we moved. A few times.

Upstate New York is beautiful. The small town of Saratoga Springs is packed with visitors to the races in spring, but during the other months, it’s wonderfully quiet and serene. Going downtown is like stepping back in time, with street lamps along the sidewalk and shops and restaurants side by side standing tall and narrow, inviting you into the warmth within their doors. There were two establishments in particular that caught my fancy there: one was Mino’s Sushi and the other was the pizza place.

D’Andrea’s Pizza was amazing. This place was a single entity, i.e. non-chain restaurant, offering a wide variety of slices and in an eccentric environment, which was part of it’s charm. Once you entered, this place definitely didn’t seem like it fit in this little upscale town, but every time we went in, we left with a box of many slices and eventually had an empty box.

Fast forward about 10 years to Dallas, and a recent discovery of The Pure One. Yep, THE one. I’d actually tried their pizza before and honestly I was not really impressed. But then… Joey and I went there for something different for dinner, and have never considered any other pizza.

Their menu has a variety of choices. I chose the gluten free crust, not because I had to for dietary reasons, but because I wanted to try it. What they served me was an amazing, crunchy bottom, chewy top, slightly sweet, cornmealy crust which was perfectly fired. My topping choice was a menu selection: “Berkeley Vegan”.

Joe had the Thai pizza.

He said his was the best but I thought mine was better. I’d say that is a pretty good sign of good eats.

Their offerings are not limited to delicious pies on varying crusts. They also dish up salads, appetizer plates (I am really eager to try the Mediterranean plate), which includes olives, hummus, feta and more.

They also serve have pasta and warm and cold sandwiches as well. Just take a look for yourself! www.zpizza.com.

We have had them deliver since; Joe ordered the American, while I enjoyed the Napoli. I can’t wait to go back again and have another small pie all of my own; there are so many intriguing flavor combinations to try!

I truly apologize for tantalizing your tastebuds if you are so unfortunate as to have no Z nearby. But if you have your own pizza heaven, please share your favorite slice spot! Happy munching my friends!

Baking. Well, sort of…

I’m not truly much of a baker. While I am meticulous about certain things being just so, that’s not at all the case when I’m in the kitchen. Countless times I’ve been asked to share a recipe that I cannot recreate because I didn’t measure anything when I was making it.

Regardless, I make my efforts and do love to create in the kitchen. So when I found this blog I was immediately HOOKED! I actually stumbled across it on Facebook somewhere, but perusing through her recipes is a daily delight. Please, give yourself a treat and check it out!

I’ve also discovered another bake shop, only this one deals with fabric, not flour. It’s a fun place to play, shop and find new things to make. The Moda Bakeshop has a bakery, measurement charts, free patterns for just about any fabric project, tips and even options to submit your own recipe! It’s a fun place to look through and you may find yourself wandering around the site like a culinary specialty store, unable or unwilling to leave.

Happy browsing my friends!

CORN COB JELLY

Yep, that’s right, corn cob jelly. Never heard of it? I’d bet you could find it in some really old journals or cookbooks, maybe from the early American frontier days, when people really had to use everything they had to get by in life.

The funny thing is, this doesn’t taste like it is a nourishment bourne out of necessity. It tastes like smooth honey, with overtones of corn and a hint of citrus at the finish from the pectin. If you have never tried making it, I recommend you do, or at least find some to taste. You would likely be tasting something from our ancestor’s day.

It’s crazy simple, and starts with you buying corn. Fresh = better, so if you have a local farm, get it from ‘that guy’. But waste not: blanch your corn until the kernels are bright, cool your cobs and cut the corn off. Freeze it, can it, eat it, whatever you want. Just don’t toss it. Don’t toss the cobs either; follow along my friends!

CORN COB JELLY:

Ingredients:

  • 10 corn cobs
  • 4 cups water (use the water you blanched your corn in)
  • 1 package pectin
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp butter (or oil if you’re vegan)
  • 2 drops yellow food coloring

Directions:

Break cobs in pieces, throw back into blanching water and bring to a boil for 20 minutes. Cool and strain (if you want more corny flavor, you can actually squeeze the liquid from the cobs prior to discarding). If you want, you can put the little corn pieces into the jelly liquid for some texture and appearance value. Totally a personal decision.

Measure the liquid you boiled the corn cobs in; save 3.5 cups. If you need to add water to come to that quantity, do so. Put that liquid back into your put, and add your packet of pectin and butter. Bring your liquid to a slow boil for one minute, then add sugar SLOWLY! NOTE!! Add 1 cup, stir and taste. From here, add sugar to taste. Adding too much sugar will mask the natural flavor coming out of the cobs and make your jelly taste too sweet.

Once you have added all the sugar you want, add your food coloring to make the color less blah and return to a full boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Fill your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe rims, cover and process for 10 minutes.

The only tricky thing about this jelly is that when it cools (as you fill your jars), it will get that weird film layer on the top. Just be wary and quick filling your jars.

OTHER NOTES: I actually had 37 cobs when I made this batch :). I filled the pot with the cobs and as much water as I could add to the blanching liquid to fill the pot. It ended up giving me about 14 cups so I used about 2.5-3 times the pectin and I think 5 cups of sugar.

After I boiled the cobs, I let them cool and squeezed all the milk from the cobs. I strained ALL my cooking liquid (and that milk) through a fine seive lined with cheesecloth, so there aren’t any chunks, but the liquid is opaque.

This jelly may take up to a week to set. You can ensure you have hit the jelling point by taking a spoonful of the jelly from the pot on your last boil and sticking it in the fridge for a minute. When you take the plate out, run y our finger down the middle. If the jelly doesn’t come back together, it will set. You can also judge by the boil – the bubbles look like they are boiling up through some liquid thicker than water (which they are), almost like slow motion.

 

So when winter rolls around (in this heat I know I can barely wait for it to get here!), throw some wood on the fire, grab yourself some fresh-from-the-oven cornbread and slather this on top, letting it melt just slightly. Close your eyes as you take the first bite, just listening to the crackle of the fire, and find yourself in a wonderful place.

Happy canning my friends.

Rustic Vegan Creamy Mushroom Soup

rustic vegan mushroom soup

I LOVE mushrooms. All of them, every single type. So when I started eating vegan, I was sad to be missing out on all the soups I used to make with Cream of Mushroom soup as a base. Today I have erased every bit of that yearning by creating this relatively easy-to-create soup.

I began with my basic method for “sauteeing” mushrooms. I bought 2 8oz packages of sliced baby portabellas, put them into a glass dish, sprayed them lightly with Bragg Amino spray and microwaved the dish on high for 5 minutes, uncovered. Soy sauce works well as a substitute, just don’t overdo it because your mushrooms will be too salty.

Any juices from the glass dish can go straight into a large saucepan. I added 5 carrots chopped in half, 5 stalks of celery chopped in half, an onion chopped in quarters, 6 cloves of smashed garlic, 1 tbsp dried thyme, 2 bay leaves and about 4 cups of water. I was roasting veggies, so I used the tough stalks from my asparagus as well. You can really use any veggies you have around, or stalks from them that you won’t eat. I also squeezed half a lemon into the pot.

In a large glass measuring cup, I heated 3 cups of water with 2 large vegetable bouillon cubes and soaked 1 small package wood mushrooms and 1 small package shitake mushrooms. Feel free to use any mushrooms you can find (fresh or dried), I just used what I happened to have.

Once the mushrooms were soft, I poured the remaining liquid into the saucepan and combined the mushrooms with my other bowl of mushrooms. Now I boiled my vegetable broth until the veggies were soft and it smelled awesome. Then I strained it and tossed the vegetables. EASY VERSION OF BROTH = POUR IT OUT OF A BOX. Season to taste.

I combined the broth and the mushrooms in the saucepot. I didn’t like so many large mushroom pieces, so when I put my little 12.3 oz box of firm tofu in the blender, I added some of the mushrooms and broth from the pot. This created a creamier texture. I heated it through, added a few shakes of cayenne and topped it with chopped green onions and a squeeze of lemon to serve. I only stopped at one bowl because I should have waited for dinner to eat it in the first place! Happy cooking!!

State Fair Winnin’ Corn Relish

Being that I am a complete and total carb lover, I like to experiment with my starchy vegetables so that I can manage to work them into every dish. In particular, the sweet, tender kernels of corn on the cob have long been something I’ve treasured. But knowing that the longer the kernels sit on the cob after picking, the less sweet the corn kernels become. So when, one year, I bought a slew of corn from a farm stand, I knew I needed to cook all my corn and find other ways to use it besides eating it straight off the cob.

I started with the basic recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Canning, and changed it a little to meet my tastes. The liquid is outstanding, as is the corn, which improves over time. The recipe here is my concoction, so feel free to adjust the taste to fit you!

Ingredients:

  • 18 cobs of corn
  • 1/2 head small green cabbage, chopped finely
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1 green spicy pepper (I used pasilla, but have used jalepeno), finely minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced
  • 2 cups sugar (less if your corn is really sweet)
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar (I use organic with “the mother”)
  • 1 c water
  • 2 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp celery seeds
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

Cook the corn only until it turns bright yellow (I steam mine for about 3 minutes). DO NOT overcook your corn at this point, it would be better raw than mushy! Then I quick roast it, either by broiling it in the oven, putting it on the grill or just over a stove burner, to color some of the kernels. That will give your corn a crunchy texture, as well as a sweeter, smokier flavor. Once the corn is cool, cut the kernels from the cob.

corn after roasting

Add all the ingredients into a very large bowl and stir together. Actually you could just add them all straight to the pot. There you will stir while your relish is cooking and flavors are melding for the next 15 minutes or so. It is now ready for canning!

Ladle the relish into jars (having a funnel REALLY helps). I don’t use a funnel, so my corn ends up all over the place.

relish into jars

Ensure your jars are full to the bottom of the neck with the veggies, and liquid leaving headspace of only 1/4 inch. Wipe your rims clean with a wet cloth, place the lid and screw top and when all your jars are ready, place them in your BIG pot/boiler water canner, and process for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars to cool and seal, and let them sit for 24 hours. If you can let them sit for that long without digging in. Happy eating!

TIPS for making jam

This is essentially part two of “How to make great jam”. I have included a slew of pictures that show step by step what you may experience, in order of the experience.

I would like to mention that although the recipe provided yesterday was for strawberry jam, it can be adjusted for ANY berry! Different fruits have different natural pectin levels, but as far as berries go, they are all similar in that, as well as the fact that they vary in natural sugar content. So if anyone tells you to measure EXACTLY, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT! Don’t put that pressure on yourself. If you have really sweet fruit and you use the exact amount of sugar, your jam will be too sweet.

There is an easy way to fix your jam if you end up with syrup instead of jam. Reprocess the jars. Or dump them back into the pot and cook it a bit more. That may result in a darker jam, but it will firm up. But before putting yourself through that, you can do a jelling test. When you are finished boiling up your jam, give it a few minutes and put your metal spoon in there. If the jam is slow to come down your spoon and drips off more in globs than thin drips, then it will set. If it’s still runny, just boil it for another minute and then jar and process your batch.

So if you decide strawberry isn’t your thing, or maybe you feel like trying blackberries because they’re super cheap right now, just substitute the same amount of berries! That is truly it – that simple. I made 4 berry jam this morning (pix below) and used about 2c strawberries, 1c blueberries, scant 1c raspberries and 1c blackberries. It was probably more like 2.5c strawberries because I was scooping it in with my measuring cup, rather than really measuring. But it turned out fabulous.

Please take a moment to click on each picture for more details. Happy canning!!

How to make great JAM!

I met the most wonderful woman when I lived in Bremerton WA (the second time). It was 2001 and I had just popped out my second little beauty and was working nights at a local retail store. My routine consisted of coming home just in time to take my older daughter to preschool at the local Lutheran church, and then go home and sleep until she needed to be picked up. Generally I needed more sleep than that so both girls went to daycare for a while.

I had noticed a lady that walked to the church, pushing a baby girl in her stroller, to pick up her daughter from preschool. One day we started chatting and she invited me to come over to her house to chat. Being somewhat shy (most of my friends will say this is not true, but it is), I declined and after she asked me three times, I had to say yes. So over we went.

Long story short, or at least less long, she taught me how to make jam. I used a recipe until two years ago. Ha! That first year I entered my jams in the Kitsap County Fair, and lo and behold, won three first place ribbons! Since then I have expanded what I can, beyond jams. Last year, I entered my goods in the Texas State Fair and won 3rd place for my dilly green beans, 2nd place for my corn relish, and 1st place for my whole blackberries and whole blueberries. OK so now that you have my credentials, let’s get to the good stuff!

There are 3 easy ways to make jam (real jam, not freezer jam): 1. Look online for recipes. 2. but the Ball Blue Book of Canning. 3. Use the little fold out inside the pectin box.

If you just want to make good ole’ strawberry jam, just use the booklet inside the pectin. I would recommend the book if you are looking to expand beyond basics, and looking online if you really want to get creative. But there are a few secrets that those sources won’t tell you…

Let’s start simple: Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:

  • 3 quarts strawberries, hulled and chopped (should be 5 cups)
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1 box pectin (I prefer Ball or Kerr, the basic stuff, or all natural)
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp butter

Tools:

  • soup pot
  • big spatula for stirring
  • small plate
  • metal spoon (like dinner spoon)
  • ladle
  • clean jars, and the lids and screw caps
  • big BIG pot, half filled with water
  • small rack to fit inside the BIG pot (if you have one) so the jars don’t rest on the bottom
  • tongs
  • towel
  • wet washcloth

OK, to prep, put all your stuff out on the counter. Your BIG pot with water is how you’ll seal your jars, so you may want to see how many will fit in there. When the jars are full, you’ll need the water to come an inch over the top of the tallest jar. To the side of the stove, put the towel on the counter and your jars atop the towel. Put your jar tops and screw bands to the side. Put the wet cloth nearby the jars.

Put your strawberries, lemon juice and pectin in the soup pot and turn up the heat. Stir with your big spatula and ensure the pectin dissolves. Add butter (it reduces foam). Once your fruit starts to boil, turn your heat down to minimize foam and stir constantly for about a minute. Begin adding the sugar. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DO NOT ADD ALL THE SUGAR AT ONCE! THIS WILL CREATE TONS OF BUBBLES WITHIN YOUR JAM! Either use your ladle or sprinkle it straight in from the bowl, but only add as much as you can stir in. Once it is all incorporated, turn your heat back up and get it to a boil again, continuously stirring. Once it boils constantly, turn the heat down and count to 60. Take the pot off the heat. Use your metal spoon to skim foam off the top and onto your little plate. Go ahead and turn up the heat under your BIG pot of water.

Now, you will want to ladle the jam into the jars, and you can do it all at once or one jar at a time. How do you know when it’s full? Well, you need to leave “headspace” so the vacuum can be created inside your jar, so don’t fill it all the way up. You need to leave about 1/4″ headspace in the jar. If you have a little extra that doesn’t fill a jar, just stick it in the fridge and use it first.

Once you get your jars “full”, use your wet cloth to wipe the rims. They won’t seal if the yummy jam is in the way. Screw on the lid, but not tight, then the air won’t be able to excape to seal the jar. Be careful – your jar will be hot at this point. Repeat this with all your full jars.

Use your tongs (or if you have a jar lifter, even better) to carefully put the jars into the water. Once the water boils, count ten minutes and turn off the heat. Use your tongs again to remove the jars from the water and place them back on the towel. Don’t worry if any water stays on top of the jar. Now comes the hard part. You have to leave the jars alone for 24 hours.

This should get you on your way my friends! Happy canning!