What’s For Dinner


Thinking up new, healthy, creative dinners sometimes poses a challenge.  Last night I stood in the pantry door, looked around, went to the refrigerator to see what I already had available.  Although the vegetable combination is not unusual for me, I decided to use farro instead of pasta or rice.  Farro, a staple in ancient Rome,  has been called “the mother of all wheat”. I buy pearled, organic farro. It is chewy, a good source of fiber, and high in protein.  I do not follow the directions on the bag. Here is how I cook farro for two servings:

1 cup farro

3 cups water

1 Tsp. Better Than Bouillon

Avocado oil

Cover the bottom of a sauce pan with the oil, pour in the farro.  Turn heat on high, constantly stirring, saute the farro in the oil for a couple of minutes, then pour in the water.  Add the bouillon and stir thoroughly.  Turn the heat down but keep the farro boiling.  Do not cover.  Stir at regular intervals.  Do not let it go dry.  It should take about 1/2 hour for the farro to become tender.  Test and if needed, add more water.  Cook until the water is absorbed and farro is tender.

 

Last night’s vegetable sauce:

Cover the bottom of a pan with olive oil.  Add five cloves garlic, coarsely chopped and one medium sized beet, cut into medium sized pieces.  Saute until tender.  Add five to six sliced Brussels sprouts.  When Brussels sprouts are partially cooked, add one large poblano pepper, coarsely chopped, seeds removed.  Saute until pepper is tender but still bright green. Last night I used berbere, an Ethiopian spice, to jazz up the sauce.  Sometimes I use basil or other Italian spices.  I vary the vegetables, sometimes using sliced carrots, broccoli, kale.  Be creative.  Use vegetables you like.  If you want something non vegetarian, add chopped chicken or cod loins.

IMG_4691

Above is a photo of the cooked vegetables ready to serve.

IMG_4692

The vegetables served over the farro.  If you are not vegan, you can grate asiago or parmesan cheese over the top.

 

More Creative Cooking


Experimentation and creativity while cooking become really important when you are home and going out and about does not seem a very safe option.  Here are some photos of two recent dishes I created for dinner.

IMG_4653

Many people do not like certain vegetables, two of which are my favorites, beets and Brussels spouts.  I remain convinced that people do not like them because no one has ever cooked them in a way they find palatable. These two vegetables keep well in the refrigerator so they are good for buying in this time when many do not want to go to the grocery often.

To create the above dish, I sautéed several chopped garlic cloves in olive oil with the chopped beets.  Cook these until nearly done, then add the sliced Brussels sprouts.  It takes longer to cook the beets and garlic than the Brussels sprouts.  You want the Brussels spouts to be tender but do not over cook.  This particular day I added basil essential oil to taste and served the dish over pasta from Italy.  When I want something more spicy, I sprinkle berbere (Ethiopian spice) over the vegetables instead of using basil or other Italian spices.  Sometimes I serve this over rice instead of pasta, e.g. when I use berbere.  This provides a delicious vegan meal and is easy to prepare.

IMG_4656

One of my favorite dishes includes cod loins.  I create many different versions by changing the vegetables used and the spices. For this one, I first sautéed garlic in olive oil until golden, added chopped beets and sautéed until they were tender.  Then I added the cod loin and chopped red bell pepper and chopped poblano pepper.  At the last minute I added a handful of frozen green peas and sautéed only until they were hot.  Once again I used basil and added lemon essential oil.  The pasta is bucatini from Italy.  If you like cheese, grate fresh parmesan or asiago over the dish.

Stuffed Acorn Squash


Winter squash, butternut and acorn, are two vegetables I like and think are under used.  Because I became tired of peeling butternut, I decided to invent something for acorn squash.  Much to my surprise, it is now one of Martina’s favorite foods.  She has even sent photos to her mother in Italy to see if the squash is sold there so her family can try it.  The following recipe is for two. Obviously, just buy more squash and fill if you want to make it for more people.  This is a perfect recipe for vegetarians because no meat or fish is used.

 

1 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds removed

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

Olive oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon honey for each half

Pepitas or any chopped nut of your choice

Saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil until translucent.  Stir in approximately one handful of seeds or nuts.  Rub olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish or pan and cover the flesh of the squash with a thin layer of olive oil.  Place squash in the pan, fill deseeded center with the onion mixture.  Place honey on top of this mixture.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the squash halves.

For a totally vegetarian meal, serve with salad.

20190124_200840

If you want to add more protein to the meal, add black or garbanzo beans to the salad.  Sometimes we also add chopped hard boiled eggs and feta cheese.

 

 

 

Cod Loin with Fennel and Lemon


This recipe, one of my favorites, will appear in my soon to be released cookbook full of family and life stories about food, family, and friends.  I made this tonight around eight.  As usual, I made enough for leftovers for another meal. Makes it easier if you work or are really busy.

Two small cod loins or one large cut in half

3 gloves garlic, chopped

1 poblano pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped

Fennel essential oil

Lemon essential oil

Vegetables of your choosing cut into bite sized pieces

1 small handful of pepitas

Olive oil

I vary this by using different vegetables, e.g. spinach, Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, beets, carrots.  Tonight I used Brussel sprouts.

Saute garlic in olive oil until golden.  If you use beets or carrots, sauce them with the garlic until nearly tender.  If you use spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, add them last.

Add the cod loins to garlic mixture and sprinkle each one with several drops of lemon and fennel essential oil.  If you do not use essential oil, sprinkle with ground fennel and add deseeded lemons.  If using Brussel sprouts, cut them in slices and add at the same time as the cod.  When the cod is half cooked, add the poblano peppers and cook only until cod is done and the peppers are cooked but still bright green.  If using spinach, etc., add them just before cod and peppers are done and stir until wilted.  Sprinkle pepitas over the rice and vegetables.  Serve over pasta or rice.

Note:  I have also used fresh fennel for this recipe.  If you decide to do this, saute it along with the garlic.

IMG_3474

Almost done.

IMG_3475

Served over Basmati rice.  Salad is red bell peppers, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, radishes, and scallions with roasted sesame seed oil for dressing.

Overweight and Poorer


Today I planned to post a lovely poem.  However, I was so engrossed by an article on the Internet that I decided to discuss that topic instead.  Why are so many people in this country overweight?  Why do people complain about being poorer?

The article in question, which I could not download and post here, claims that the biggest item on which people in the United States overspend is eating out at restaurants.  It is also a major cause of obesity.  On average when a person eats in a restaurant they eat 200 calories more than if he or she ate at home.  If that person eats out three times a week, that adds up to more than 30,000 extra calories a year.  Even if he or she eats fast food, which probably adds even more calories, the extra expenditure at even a low 8.00 per meal, would  add to nearly 1300 dollars per year.  If it is a family, multiply that by the  number of people in the family.  For 8 dollars, they could go to the grocery here in Texas and buy a delicious already roasted chicken that would feed at least four.

Personally, I find few restaurants that can actually create a meal better than one I can cook myself.  Others say who wants to cook for oneself.  I live alone and I cook for myself all but a couple of times a month.  Being a bit of a health nut and not much of a meat eater (I eat quite a lot of fish, usually cod or salmon), that 8 dollars would turn into much bigger amounts.  Plus I do not want to waste the time eating out.  I can create a much healthier meal, cheaper, quicker at home.  Restaurant food tends to be much saltier with fewer herbs and spices than I prefer as well.

I am curious to find out why others eat out all the time.  It mystifies me.

 

PS.  Curious as to what sorts of foods I create, what spices I use?  I have posted lots of recipes here on my blog.  Take a look.

 

IMG_1430

 

 

SAM_1568

Don’t eat This or Else…


This title showed up as an article in my latest “Yoga Journal”.  We hear warnings all the time about various foods so much so that sometimes I wonder just what I should eat.  The article details research on three foods which may be dangerous to ingest.

The first one is rice which really frightened me at first because I really, really like rice and eat it multiple times a week.  The problem with rice is arsenic, yes, arsenic.  Everyone knows that arsenic is not good.  Due to arsenic containing herbicides and pesticides, harmful levels have been found in rice.  Why?  Rice grows in water and therefore absorbs ten times more arsenic than other grains.  This not only means humans need to be careful about eating rice but also other products such as brown rice syrup found in infant food and energy bars.  Is organic safer?  No.  And forget eating brown rice because it contains 80 per cent more arsenic than white rice.  These rice warnings also apply to products made from rice including crackers, pasta, cereal, even rice milk.

Does this mean eliminate all rice?  Not necessarily.  Some rice has much less arsenic than others.  The safest rice from the arsenic standpoint is white basmati from India, Pakistan, and California.  Lundberg is one company that tests for arsenic so their rice should be safe as well.  Rinsing rice thoroughly helps.  You can also cook it in extra water and drain like you would pasta.  Boiling leaches out the arsenic.

The verdict is still out regarding GMOs.  Some countries have banned GMO foods totally.  According to the article in “Yoga Journal”, the only GMO crops commercially grown here currently are soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and some summer squash.  The FDA has approved an apple that does not turn brown and a potato that produces less carcinogenic compounds when cooked at high temperatures.  If you want to avoid GMO, look at the list above.  Some farmers are growing non-GMO soybeans.  However, they usually go to foreign markets which do not want GMO products, e.g. China.

For me, the worst on the list, carrageenan, remains the most hidden because most people do not even know they are eating it.  Where is it?  In ice cream, yogurt, nut milk, canned whipped cream, cottage cheese, salad dressing.  Why care?  New evidence indicates it may cause all sorts of health problems from gastro-intestinal inflammation to cancer and diabetes.  The only way you will know if this is in a food product is to carefully read the label.  Some zero fat yogurt contain it and some do not.  Silk brand nut milk does not contain it whereas several other popular brands do, e.g the ones that are not in the refrigerated section at the grocery. Some companies are fazing it out of all their products; this includes Horizon and Silk.

The only way to eat for good health and be safe it seems is to keep up on the latest research and read the labels.  Know what you are eating.  Bon appetit.

IMG_1430

Note:  the rice used here is basmati from Pakistan.

Long Life


If you believe in averages and want to live long, don’t live in the United States of America, a country that failed to make it to the top ten for either men or women.  Some countries appear to be better for one gender than another.  A few countries remain in the top ten for both genders:  Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Italy, and Luxembourg.  Iceland’s the place to be if you are a man, Spain for women.  Worldwide the mean for men is 68.1 and for women 72.7. Sadly, the discrepancy from country to country is immense.  Nine countries still show a life expectancy less than 55 years, all in sub-Sahara Africa.  War and AIDS take their toll.

Blue Zones remain the place to grow up and live if you desire a long healthy life.  Where are they?  Okinawa, a peninsula in Costa Rica–I’ve been close, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California–Seventh Day Adventists, to name a few.  Genetics, according to some experts, predicts only twenty per cent of longevity.  Then why do people in these places live long and healthy?  What do they have in common:

-healthy diets with lots of vegetables and fruit

-activity–the people there get a lot of exercise, e.g. climbing up and down the mountains of Sardinia

-a sense of community–people get together often

Some communities in the US plan to become Blue Zones.  Fort Worth, Texas, even has a Blue Zone project which includes encouraging restaurants to provide healthier options, a bike share program, and an initiative to combat childhood obesity.  My guess is that the United States will lag further and further behind unless the obesity epidemic can be controlled.  So far, I don’t see that happening.

What can you do to prolong your own life:

-don’t smoke

-eats lots of fruit and vegetables

-avoid sugar

-eat less meat and more fish

-eat less–Okinawans quit eating when they are 80 per cent full; they even have a saying for this

-spend time with friends and family

-find ways to increase your exercise even if it is as simple as throwing away your TV remote control

If I live the average of my parents and grandparents, I have a long way to go so I must take care of myself to stay healthy.

Curried Vegetables with Quinoa


This recipe originated out of my desire to learn to like quinoa.  Except for some quinoa cakes at a local restaurant, I had never eaten quinoa that I thought delicious.  Actually, I found it a dreadfully boring food.  Nevertheless, I became determined to find a way to like it.  Why?  Nutrition.  It is good for you.  So let’s start with how I learned to cook quinoa so it is actually tasty.

Quinoa

Olive oil

1 cup quinoa

1 3/4 cups water

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic–I am lazy about garlic and buy it by the giant jarful, already chopped

1 heaping teaspoon vegetable or chicken base–I use Better Than Bouillon

Rinse quinoa thoroughly–it requires an extremely fine strainer.  Pour enough olive oil in a medium sauce pan to cover the bottom.  Place the chopped garlic in the olive oil and sauté a minute or so at medium high heat. Add the quinoa, stir quickly to mix with the garlic and oil mixture.  Add the water and base.  Stir thoroughly to combine the base with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low.  Cook approximate 20 minutes or until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid and is fluffy.  Quinoa reheats well in a microwave so you can make extra for meals later.

Curried Vegetables

1/2 medium purple onion, chopped

1 large poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

3-4 portabella mushrooms, sliced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 small beet, sliced and cut into smaller pieces

1/2 cup coarsely chopped butternut squash

Olive oil

1/2 tsp. curry powder–I used Malaysian Seven Seas Curry by Spice Appeal

1/2 tsp. masala–I used Chana Masala by Spice Appeal

Use whatever curry you prefer.  This curry is a mite hot.

Saute the onion, mushrooms, squash, and beets in olive oil until slightly tender.  Add spices and peppers and sauté until tender but still slightly crisp.  Serve over the quinoa or rice.

Regarding olive oil:  I use it to make nearly every kind of food from all over the world.  I use a lot because I really like it.  I have even made pie crust out of olive oil.  It is one of those few oils you can use and know it is good for you.

SAM_1426

Holiday Break Fun and Recipes


Because of my job, I am on the last day of a two week holiday break.  What a productive and fun time it has been.  Christmas Eve, my friends, my daughter, and my grandson came over.  For the first time ever, I made ham in a big Crock Pot and it melted in our mouths.  They requested I make my signature Refried Black Bean Cassserole and roasted vegetables so I did.  Other food requests included chocolate spiders for dessert–they are cookies.

Ham in the Crock Pot

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a 1/2 inch thick layer of brown or turbinado sugar mixed with 2-3 T tapioca. Place ham on top of the sugar.  Cover the top of the ham with preserves of your choice.  I used homemade pineapple/apricot preserves I had made several years previously.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Note:  I used spiral sliced ham precooked.  You do not need to add any liquid, it will make its own.  If you wish, once some liquid has accumulated, you can periodically baste the ham.

SAM_1400

Christmas Eve dinner, eating and relaxing at the dinner table.

SAM_1398

At the bar before dinner while I am still cooking.

SAM_1405

Lingering and relaxing around the dinner table.

These same friends came over about 1 1/2 weeks later.  The special request that time was for another round of Refried Black Bean Casserole.   This is one of those recipes I invented but never measure anything, just make to taste.  This last time I decided to work at paying attention to what I used so I could share.  It may or may not be exactly what I do every time, but it is close.

Refried Black Bean Casserole

2 cans black beans drained

Enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

3-4 Tablespoons organic ketchup

3 Tablespoons cumin–add or subtract to suit you taste

Tortillas

Grated white cheese–I usually use monterey jack

Heat oil in skillet and add onions.  Cook until translucent.  Add black beans, one can at a time.  Take a regular table fork and mash beans repeatedly until most of the beans are mashed–I like to leave some not totally mashed to add a bit of texture.  This is easier to do if you only add one can at a time.  Thoroughly mix beans and onions.  Add the cumin and ketchup and stir thoroughly and keep mixing until the mixture it thick and heated through.  Use a round slow cooker or casserole dish.  Oil bottom of dish and place one tortilla in bottom.  Place enough of the black bean mixture on top to cover the tortilla, then sprinkle the grated white cheese on top.  Repeat layers, ending with grated cheese.  You may use any kind of tortilla.  However, I prefer whole wheat flour, but anything works.  Heat through until cheese is melted.  You may also make the bean mixture a day in advance and refrigerate.  If you do this, it will take longer to heat the casserole.

In between cooking adventures, one of my best friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM.  We visited our favorites places in Old Town, ate here and there when we felt like it, and stayed someplace new to both of us, Los Poblanos.  We loved this place.  It is located a bit north of downtown and Old Town, off of Rio Grande Blvd. by the river,  and includes 25 acres of lavender fields, a barn, a solar powered swimming pool–not open in the winter, a restaurant, a farm store, an herb garden, paths for strolling here and there, and an impressive tree lined entry drive.

SAM_1421Looking down the entry drive of Los Poblanos.

SAM_1418The barn and other out buildings.

SAM_1420

The lavender field.  They offer many lavender products in the Farm Store as well as balsamic vinegar, cookbooks, and various other items related to what they grow and organic farming and cooking.

SAM_1414

A view of the main house and restaurant area.

SAM_1422

A view near one of the many walking paths.

SAM_1413

The fireplace in our room.

Although I have been to Old Town in Albuquerque many, many times, never before did I go inside the beautiful old church on the square.  They allow photography so I took a photo.  It was all decorated for Christmas with a nearly life sized nativity scene.

SAM_1425

Tomorrow I go back to work.  With friends coming over for Christmas Eve, a trip to the local museum with my friend Roberto Borja, his family coming over for dinner again, the trip to Albuquerque with my friend Zuriash, hanging out with my daughter and grandson, it turned out to be one of the best holiday breaks ever.  Here’s to an equally wonderful 2014.