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

Fair time, and it’s free with food

It’s Fair Time in San Diego County! Did you know that if you take part in some of the one-day contests offered at the fair, you can get free entry that day? These contests are especially for amateurs, and several of them involve FOOD! Here’s a rundown of what’s going on and when. You will need to download an entry form, plus a form on which to write your original recipe, at http://www.sdfair.com/entry. Bring everything to the Home and Hobby Area on the second floor by 12:30 p.m. on the day of the contest. Your entry and entry contest form will admit you free!

The Great American “Spam” Championship,  Saturday, June 7: OK, short notice on this one, but if you’re used to whipping up your Spam specialty, you might be able to enter it in time! This year’s Spam contest is seeking Amazing Appetizers. Recipes are judged on Creativity, Taste and Presentation. The National Grand Prize is a trip to the 2015 Waikiki Spam Jam Festival in Hawaii (ages 18 and up). Fair prizes are $150, $50 and $25. Make your appetizer with at least one 12-ounce can of Spam products (Classic, Lite, Less Sodium, Hot & Spicy, or other) and up to 10 other ingredients. (Salt, pepper, cooking oil, water and garnishes do NOT count.) One National Spam Kid Chef of the Year (age 7 to 17) will be selected out of all 26 first place recipes, and will win a $2,000 cash prize.

All You Need Is Pie” Baking Contest, June 14: It’s just pie, folks! For ages 18 and over. Disposable plates are requested. Pies can be dessert or savory, and will be judged on filling (flavor and consistency) and crust (texture and flavor, appearance, uniqueness of product). First place winner in each class will receive $25.

“Jer’s” Chocolate Contest, June 21: Make a bite-size dessert recipe (amateurs only) using peanuts or peanut butter with chocolate. Chocolate prizes await the top finalists: First place, a Best of Jer’s Chocolates Gift Tower; second, Jer’s Chocolates Trio Tower and third, $25 Gift Certificate to Jer’s Chocolates. Entries will be judged on appearance, taste and creativity.

Bisquick Family Favorites Recipe Contest, June 22 (Ages 18 & Up).  Use Bisquick mix (1 cup or more) and make any   brunch, lunch, snack, dinner or dessert-type recipe. Amateurs only. Just make your recipe easy and spectacular! Recipes judged on ease of preparation, taste and overall appeal. First place is now $200 and there’s a New Entrant Award! Second is $100 and third is $50. Winners also receive a ribbon, award certificate and apron.

“Ringo’s Rockin Barbeque Sauce” Contest, June 28 (Ages 18 and over). Just the sauce, ma’am, just the sauce is the focus here. Judging will be on flavor, creativity, appearance and texture. Three categories: Hot and Spicy, Mild and Sweet, and Most Unusual Ingredients. Winner in each category gets $25.

“Sgt Pepper’s Salsa” Contest, July 1 (Ages 18 and over) Create your favorite salsa, and bring your favorite chips, crackers, pita chips, etc., that go best with your salsa for judging.  Categories are Most creative ingredients; Best tasting; and Most unusual. Salsas will be judged on flavor, creativity, and appearance and texture. Winners get $25.

Gold Medal Flour Cookie Contest, July 4 (Ages 18 & Up) Calling all cookies, any style, size or shape. Just be sure to use at least 1 cup of Gold Medal flour to create them! Cookies will be judged on Appearance, Flavor and Texture.  Prizes are $200, $100 and $50, plus a “New Entrant” Award. And all winners receive a ribbon, award certificate and apron.

Find more info at http://www.sdfair.com/pdf/2014_exhibits/home-hobby/one_day/2014ONEDAYADULTCONTESTS-Home-Hobby.pdf. And good luck!


(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014



Look out for loquats


Loquats are delicate, delicious and a bit difficult to find. (Photo by Laura Groch)

A community church group was selling loquats recently, five yellow, larger-than-a-grape-but-smaller-than-an-apricot fruits for a dollar. So I took home a bag.

They seemed ripe enough, softish to the touch, but I really didn’t know much about them. Taking a knife to them, I was able to pull off the fuzzy peel without much difficulty, but when I sliced into the fruit, oh my! Three large, hard seeds awaited, and not much room for fruit left around them. Still, we ate, we liked, we waited for the next sale.

Then a friend called: Her husband had acquired several grocery bags full of loquats. Would I like some? Of course. (Hey, free …)

And as my husband and I ate our way through the ripest ones, we grew to like these little fruits even more. The taste is light, sweet, a bit tart but not overly so. They are botanically related to apples, but to me they are similar to apricots in taste and texture, down to the fuzzy peel (but certainly not the seeds). A look online told me the seeds are emphatically NOT edible, and are even toxic.

My friend was cooking hers down into jam. I blanched my fruits and peeled them, preparatory to freezing, then thought better of it and decided to cook mine also.

I added about a half-cup of sugar to about three cups of peeled, sliced fruit and a splash of lemon juice, and simmered it over medium heat for about 90 minutes, mashing the fruit a bit to help break it up.  The fruit exuded quite a bit of liquid, though, so by the time I was done, I had more of a fruit topping than a jam.

No matter. It still tasted great over waffles and pancakes, and probably would have been equally good over ice cream or as a smoothie ingredient. But it didn’t last that long. ;<)

I looked up loquats in my cookbook collection, but came up empty. A trip to the library also proved fruitless, pardon the pun, yielding only one recipe for loquats as part of a shish kebab recipe from a book on Turkish cuisine.

That recipe made me think of Vista’s Kitty Morse (www.kittymorse.com), an expert in Middle Eastern and especially Moroccan cooking. Her most recent book is “Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories,” and her best-seller, now in its ninth printing, is “Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes From My Moroccan Kitchen.”

So I emailed Kitty. “Do I know about loquats?” she responded via email. “We had to get rid of our tree, it was so prolific. You don’t make much with them except eat them out of hand.

“What I love about the fruit is its name in Moroccan Arabic: ‘lamzeh,’ which means ‘joke.’”

Kitty added that in Algeria, large loquats are stuffed and baked as a dessert, somewhat like baked apples, with a brown sugar and cinnamon mixture.

You can find information about growing your own trees at the California Rare Fruit Growers website (http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/loquat.html). According to the CRFG, loquats come in several varieties, but you won’t see them at big commercial markets because they are difficult to harvest. Farmers markets and ethnic markets may have them in small quantities, though, so keep an eye out. The season lasts roughly from March through June.

The USDA National Nutrient data base lists loquats as being high in Vitamin A and potassium, and about 70 calories per cup of fruit.

Loquats have a high sugar, acid and pectin content, according to the CRFG, making them similar to apples for jam makers. The flesh is more delicate, though. Try them in fruit cups or anyplace you’d use an apricot. Loquats have a short shelf life, too, so when you do find them, eat up!

P.S. Kitty Morse has a presentation and book signing coming up from 2-3 p.m. June 14 at the La Mesa Library, 8074 Allison Ave.: “A Taste of Morocco” with sampling; book signing to follow;  e-mail: jsexton@sdcounty.ca.gov; call 619-469-2151. Thanks again, Kitty!


(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014







For moms, and the other mothers, too

Mother's Day, mothers, aunts

Not everyone who mothers you is a mom, but they deserve saluting today too. Pictured: Mom, me and my godmother/aunt Rita.


Happy Mother’s Day: Mom, me and my godmother/aunt Rita.

Yes, today is Mother’s Day. You all know what to do about that, I hope. ;<) I’d like to also salute those women who were stand-ins or surrogates or subs or whatever to us. We’ve all had them in our lives: aunts, sisters, cousins, godmothers, neighbors, co-workers, neighbors, friends’ moms, teachers, etc. Not all of them are mothers, but they each serve that role in a small or large way. Give them a thought, a prayer, or if they’re still with you, a call or email. If they’ve been like moms to you, please include them in this day, too. And to all of you reading, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.


(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

Lots of causes this weekend, and Mother’s Day too!

letter carriers food drive

Don’t forget the food drive this Saturday! (Courtesy http://www.nalc.org)

Some fun happenings in our area and beyond for Mother’s Day weekend:

– Food for the needy will be collected by mail carriers around the country on Saturday, May 10, during the annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Just place nonperishable or canned goods in a bag and leave it near or in your mailbox. The letter carriers will pick them up and deliver them to local food banks and other organizations that help battle hunger. So please, reach into that pantry and fill a bag. (It’s a nice way to do some nurturing on  Mother’s Day weekend!)

– Buy Bowser a beer? Not quite. But this fundraiser for the Escondido Humane Society donates $1 of select pint sales to the EHS. Pints for Pets has been pouring since Wednesday, but continues through Sunday, May 11, at Offbeat Brewing Company, 1223 Pacific Oaks Place, Suite 101 in Escondido (760-294-4045). Bring in two or more items from the EHS Wish List (http://offbeatbrewing.com/sites/default/files/WishList_0.pdf) and get a special thank-you gift. Meet pets available for adoption from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 10. Visit http://www.offbeatbrewing.com.

– Yes, Mother’s Day is Sunday. But why wait? You can take Mom to Mother’s Day Tea at Weidners Gardens in Encinitas on Saturday and/or Sunday. “We’ll provide the tea and cookies and you bring the love,” say the folks at weidners.com. Sounds like a deal to us. The gardens are open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily at 695 Normandy Road. Call 760-436-2194.

– Among the many restaurants offering Mom a lovely day is Vincent’s at 113 W. Grand Ave. in Escondido. No, they’re not paying me to say this, but we had a wonderful meal there just last weekend (I sampled my first Negroni, and it was sublime!). A three-course prix-fixe lunch will be from noon to 4 p.m. ($34) and a four-course prix fixe dinner from 4 to 7:30 p.m. ($46). Visit vincentsongrand.com for details. Reserve to 760-745-3835.

– And coming up:  Award-winning Chef William Bradley of Addison at the Grand Del Mar will be a part of the new Bijou French Bistro opening mid-June in La Jolla at the former site of Amaya La Jolla. Bradley will serve as culinary director, while Shaun Gethin, former sous chef of Addison, will be chef de cuisine of the new spot. Bijou will serve French food with California style for lunch and dinner daily and offer live music in the lounge. Bijou French Bistro is at 1205 Prospect St. Call 858-750-3695; visit http://www.bijoufrenchbistro.com.


(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

Thrifty/Nifty: Salad and sandwich makers, here’s a way to get it together

thrifty, nifty, consumer help, techniques, time-savers, veggies

All together now: Keep your sandwich/salad players in one container to speed your kitchen preparation. (Photo by Laura Groch)

I make a lot of sandwiches, and a lot of salads. Besides your basic greens, I add a lot of veggies to both: onions, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, radishes. I was forever searching in my fridge for each ingredient, which I had thoughtfully stored in its own little ex-cream cheese or hummus or butter tub.

One day I bought some new containers on sale (of course), in a larger size. And the next time I went to make a sandwich, rummaging in my fridge for every single little veggie container, the great light dawned: Why not corral these players all together?

One of my new containers was perfect for holding that started onion, sliver of tomato, chunk of green/red/yellow pepper, and half a cucumber. (Add your favorite salad/sandwich veggie here.) Having them all in one container helped lessen the refrigerator clutter, organized the ingredients and saved me some kitchen prep time.

Maybe everyone else has been using this hint for years, but it was a breakthrough for me.

Now, obviously you can’t keep ALL your salad/sandwich veggies together. Some things, especially in small pieces, like olives or leftover chopped broccoli or beans for a salad, deserve their own containers. Others could be pretty messy, like guacamole for a sandwich. (But a half avocado, still in the shell, would work.)

Also, be careful with started tomatoes, as they will tend to drip. I keep them on the bottom, cut side up. I also tend to use less-drippy Roma tomatoes, anyway. A separate container might be better if you favor something juicier, like a beefsteak tomato.

And hey, sometimes you just won’t be able to fit everything in one container. So use two! It’s still better (and faster) than fishing around for a half-dozen little tubs when it’s salad- or sandwich-making time.


(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

Winners and winners

gluten-free breakfasts, gluten-free cooking, cookbooks, Linda J. Amendt

Murrieta, CA, author Linda J. Amendt’s book on gluten-free breakfasts recently won two awards.

The winners of the CLIF Bar giveaway held in March 2014 were Pam W. of Escondido, Karen B. of New Albany, IN, and Leah S. of Minneapolis. Each one received a box of CLIF bars for posting a comment at the contest page on my blog, http://www.beyondbites.com. Keep watching for the next giveaway, as you might be a winner!

Another winner was Murrieta author Linda J. Amendt, author of “Gluten-Free Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond” (Taunton Press, $19.95, 2013), who was featured in the blog in September 2013. (Read the interview at


.) Her cookbook recently won two honors: a Gold Award in the Cooking, Food & Wine books category from the Mom’s Choice Awards, and the Best Cookbook award from the London Book Festival.

Congrats to everyone, and thanks for playing!


(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014