Four Thanksgiving resolutions, plus cranberry sauce

cranberries, orange, jalapeño, ginger

Want to freshen that cranberry sauce? Try adding some orange peel (left), crystallized or candied ginger (right) or a bit of chopped jalapeño pepper (top). Or perhaps a blend of all three. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Thanksgiving oughta be when we make life-altering resolutions, not the new year. I think we have a lot better chance of achieving new goals when they’re food-based, not regret- and hangover-based. So I offer my Thanksgiving resolutions:

1) Have lots of food. I attended two dinners with a hostess who doled out the Continue reading

Consolation in the kitchen

My husband likes to say that when his wife gets upset, she starts cooking, so he can’t lose. He exaggerates, of course; but when things go topsy-turvy, I admit I do find some solace in kitchen duty.

So when I recently received sad news of a friend’s passing, I found myself consulting cookbooks, looking for something to bring to the family.

In a cookbook from my early days as a bride, I found a recipe for Rhubarb Nut Bread. This friend was originally from the Midwest, so a Midwestern pie and dessert staple like rhubarb seemed somehow fitting. And I had rhubarb in the Continue reading

Didn’t seed that coming: A new way with pomegranates?

pomegranate seeds on salad

A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds adds a bright touch to this simple green salad. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Cheery, colorful pomegranates are in season and ready to brighten our tables. Pomegranates are especially touted for their antioxidant properties these days, plus they are high in Vitamin C and a good source of fiber, says the POM Council.

But before we start cooking and eating, let’s decorate!

The fruits keep for a long time without refrigeration, so use them in a colorful display on your table or kitchen counter. Feature them in a large bowl or basket, and tuck in greenery, pine cones, cinnamon sticks or the like. Or mound them in a bowl with silver or gold round glass ornaments.

Now let’s talk juice. The flesh-covered seeds, called arils, are beautiful Continue reading

Make the ‘Bean Scene’ in Encinitas this Saturday!

crowds at the lima bean festival in Encinitas, California

The bean scene was lively at the 2013 Lima Bean Festival held at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas, Calif.

Time once again to make the bean scene! I’m referring to the sixth annual Lima Bean Festival and cooking competition put on from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 27) by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum at 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, California. Folks, when other tasting events can run you upward of $35 a pop, this is a nicely priced alternative at $15 adults and $5 kids (for advance tickets) or $20 adults on event day. Buy them at www.sdheritage.org/limatickets.php.

And the cuisine on call isn’t just lima beans — other legumes are in play, in

Continue reading

Two simple tips to keep your pantry (or fridge) cleaner

Repurposing lids of various types and depths underneath jars and bottles that tend to drip will help keep your pantry shelves cleaner. Photo by Laura Groch

Repurposing lids of various types and depths underneath jars and bottles that tend to drip will help keep your pantry shelves cleaner. Also, note rubber band around oil bottle, second from left. Photo by Laura Groch

Labor Day now having come and gone, it’s fitting to post something about reducing one’s labors in the kitchen. So, time for a thrifty/nifty pair of hints:

Next time you are ready to toss a jar or container with a sturdy, fair-sized and relatively deep lid, wash it and hang onto it for a while. (Note: Do not save more than three. Just saying.) These make great “coasters” for various bottles and jars that tend to drip and make a mess in the fridge or pantry. Yes, olive oil bottle, I’m talking to you. And also to your pals vinegar and pancake syrup. 

In my pantry I’ve got the aforementioned bottles nestled in leftover lids. They keep my pantry shelves clean and are easily cleaned themselves.

Also, being able to hold onto bottles and jars prevents slips and spills. I routinely slip a rubber band (or two, depending on thickness) over bottles and jars that might tend to slip out of my hand. This especially works for refrigerated bottles, as they tend to start getting wet and slippery with condensation as soon as you remove them from the fridge.

The rubber-band trick also helps give you a bit more grip when you need to unscrew stubborn caps.

And if you enjoy visiting bars and breweries and wineries and have a collection of coasters that you’re not using, this is a good way to put them into action, too. They won’t contain a drip the way a lid can, but they can help keep a pantry or fridge or bathroom counter surface clean. (Um, hair spray can that rusts on the bottom?) Plus, you get to see them and enjoy them, for a while anyway, instead of shoving them in a drawer and having them get in your way when you’re really after batteries or adhesive tape or thumbtacks (what’s in YOUR junk drawer?). So use them and enjoy them, that’s my philosophy these days. ;<)

Creamy (and low-fat!) ranch-style dressing, with a surprise ingredient

Low-fat and loving it: Creamy faux-ranch dressing recipe from the NYTimes uses beans, yogurt and in this version, garlic. I loved it!

Low-fat and loving it: Creamy faux-ranch dressing recipe from the NYTimes uses beans, yogurt and in this version, garlic. 

If I told you I’d found a creamy, ranch-style dressing with LOTS less fat than the original, perhaps you would be more inclined to give those healthful salads a chance.
Well, since my last post on the topic of eating more healthfully, I’ve experimented with a neat salad dressing recipe seen in The New York Times that fits the bill.
It’s a creamy ranch-style dressing made with white beans and yogurt. The recipe says you can also use milk, and I suspect fat-free cottage cheese would also work. I’ll try it next time I’ve got cottage cheese in the house.
More often, though, I’ve got yogurt, so that’s what I used.
The dressing came out creamy, delicious, and on the thick side, so use it on a sturdy salad rather than on delicate greens. (If you thinned it with milk, though, it would probably work.)
I think it would also make a great veggie dip.
We tried the basic garlic recipe, but plan to give the cilantro and some other variations a whirl (get it, whirl, you use the food processor … ). If you’re trying to boost the flavor of your basic salad greens, or to add a bit more fiber to your diet, this is a painless way to do it. Let me know what you think!

This is the version I made and liked:

CREAMY FAUX-RANCH DRESSING

1 small garlic clove, halved, green shoot removed

1/2 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed if using canned beans

1/2 cup whole milk or 2 percent Greek yogurt or regular yogurt

1 ice cube, if using Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced chives

1 teaspoon each minced tarragon and dill (optional)

Process garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until the minced garlic is adhering to sides. Stop processor and scrape down. Add beans, yogurt and ice cube and process until smooth. With the machine running, add lemon juice, salt, and olive oil and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in chives, tarragon and dill.  Makes 1 cup

Per serving (6 servings): 73 calories; 4 g fat;  3 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrates; 1 g dietary fiber; 7 mg sodium; 3 g protein

More variations are suggested at the website. Have fun!

 

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

Go healthy: Five (OK, six) ways to trim the fat

pizza, half slice of pizza

Half a slice of pizza is better than none. (And you can also ask that half the cheese be used on it!)

Sorry for the hiatus! Been settling down to my new job. … :<)

So the doctor just told you it’s time to adjust the food intake: Cut the fat and cholesterol, tone down the salt, increase the fiber. But if you love burgers and pizza and ice cream, what’s a person to do?
Well, let’s face it — we know what we must do. But we can make adjustments to help the “medicine go down” a little more easily — and still keep eating (some of) the foods we love.
For most of us, changing our diets isn’t “all or nothing.” Being diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes or whatever doesn’t mean NEVER again having a chimichanga or brownie. But it does mean rationing some foods and making them treats, rather than daily fare. Thinking of those forbidden foods as occasional rewards (emphasis on “occasional”) will make whatever “deprivation” you’re facing much more bearable.
With that in mind, first take a deep breath, then tell yourself, “Yes, I can still have the occasional pizza slice or ice cream or french fries. But first I need to be eating my oatmeal/salad/applesauce/beans religiously. (And exercising more.) THEN I can reward myself.”
Here are a few ways to go:
Go low, not no. When it comes to fat, low-fat versions are preferable to non-fat versions, IMHO. Nonfat is often full of sugar and chemical filler. I think reduced-fat cheese tastes better and cooks better than the nonfat stuff. And reduced-fat ice cream (try that slow-churned version that’s less fat) is pretty good. Just don’t think you can now eat twice as much.
Go slowly (if your condition allows). A good way to transition from whole-fat versions to low-fat is to blend them until everyone is used to the new flavor. Here’s a way to wean yourself from whole milk to skim (our preference), for example. Instead of your usual gallon, buy a smaller container each of whole milk and 2 percent milk. When you use it on cereal or in coffee or for recipes, pour a mix of half whole milk, half 2 percent. That way everyone gets used to the lighter milk taste. When you buy milk again, get 2 percent and 1 percent this time and repeat the process. Last, buy 1 percent and skim, and then transition all the way to skim. Not everyone likes skim milk, though, so if your diet allows it, stop at the 1 percent level. You’ll still be “skimming” off a lot of fat. (Read the label.)
Go halves, Part 1: When you’re ready for that reward, go halves with someone. Half a chimichanga or a dessert is better than none. So when it’s time for a treat, share it with a pal or spouse. Eating solo? Ask that half the order be wrapped to-go by the kitchen, which puts it a little more out of your reach. Then stash it in the fridge — or better yet, the freezer — for another time. (Like after you’ve eaten a bunch more salads.)
Go halves, Part 2: Did you know you can order pizza with just half the cheese? Well, you can. And remember, half is always better than none.
Go “easy.” My eyes were opened to “easy” when I asked a waitress whether I could get a spinach-bacon omelet with just a little bacon in it. “Sure, just ask for ‘easy bacon,'” she told me. Surprise — you won’t be the first person to try to cut some of the fat or salt out of an entree. And most kitchens will be glad to accommodate reasonably “easy” requests.
Go naked. And by that I mean — skip the sauces, which are usually mayo-based. Like when you order that burger (occasional, remember!): Hold the cheese, hold the mayo and especially hold the special sauce. Get reacquainted with ketchup and/or mustard. Or, if it’s a high-end burger, eat it with just the lettuce, tomato and onion (raw, not grilled), so you can actually taste the meat. Fish tacos? Hold the sauce. Add lots of onions and chopped cilantro. Etc.
Not all these hints will work for everyone, but perhaps you’ll find some of them useful. My philosophy is, every little bit helps — and a lot of little bits add up.
It’s not easy changing dietary habits, but when needs must, I hope you’ll find success. Remember, people love you and want you to be around for quite a while longer.

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014