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Archive for February, 2009

I’ve tried some really fantastic ones from around the blogosphere lately and thought I should spread the wealth.  In no particular order:

 

Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sage Sauce

from Simply Recipes

Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sage Sauce

(Photo taken by Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and used here with permission.)

This is one of the best meals I’ve ever prepared — rich, savory, addictive, tender, melt-in-your-mouth good.  Whenever I bring it up as a possible idea for dinner, J’s eyes widen and sparkle while he rubs his tummy and moans his enthusiasm.  I’m pretty sure he starts salivating too.  Fortunately for both of us, this is also a shockingly easy meal.  Just a few chops of the knife and a bit of sauteing, and I’m done.  (Fresh sage is a must, by the way.  Don’t even attempt it with dried.)  I served it with Tinkyada rice pasta and steamed green beans with a side salad the last two times I made it, but tonight I’m going to try replacing the pasta with mashed potatoes.  I can’t wait!

 

Braised 7 Hour Leg of Lamb

from The Nourishing Gourmet

Talk about a slam dunk!  This was another make-J-moan meal.  Kimi posted the recipe on Friday, and I was so taken with it that I fired up the oven on Saturday.  The only changes I made were using a boneless leg (only $3.99 per pound from Costco!), reducing the carrots to 3 large ones, and reducing the cooking time to 5 1/2 hours to suit my 5 lb leg.  We spooned pieces of lamb, carrot, potato, and onions into soup plates and covered them with the cooking liquid, then ate it all like a stew.  Whew, I’m starting to get hungry again.  It was so fabulous that I rushed out to buy another leg to prepare the dish again for my mother-in-law’s visit this week.  The best part?  It’s easy, easy, easy — always a plus with in-home guests.  Especially when you have painters swarming your home to prepare it to go on the market next week.  Eek!

 

Chipotle Chicken Salad Tacos

from Serious Eats

This recipe really hit the spot last night, although I didn’t plan ahead very well.  Yesterday morning, I threw a half-frozen chicken into my crockpot and left it to cook on high for a few hours.  In the evening, J helped me pick the meat off the bones, and I whipped up the dressing described in the recipe above.  It consists of chipotle peppers en adobo, shallots (I used them instead of the red onion), apple cider vinegar, oregano, and salt — all of which I happened to have on hand.  We served the chicken over organic baby greens with avocados.  J had some brown rice too.  It was super-fast and very tasty.  I’ll definitely add it to my what-to-make-in-a-pinch folder.  (Beware if you don’t like heat; this chicken salad burns.)

I just love blogs!  I feel like I learn so much and discover so many exciting things to try every day. 

What about you?  Do you have any newly-discovered healthy recipes you’re really jazzed about?

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mayo-compressedMy friend entertains a theory that the world consists of two kinds of people: mayonnaise people and mustard people.  It seems condiment preference indicates personality.  Mayonnaise people, she argues, are bland, pasty, and boring.  Mustard people, on the other hand, are zesty, fun, and interesting.

Generally speaking, I count myself among the mustards.  I’ll almost always choose mustard over mayonnaise.  Yet, for some tasks, like my new favorite salmon melt recipe, only mayo will do.  I don’t know what that means for my personality, but it does present me with a bit of a predicament in the kitchen.

Most commercial mayonnaise blends are prepared with soybean oil, sugar or high fructose corn syrup, “natural flavors” (i.e., hidden MSG), and preservatives like calcium disodium EDTA.  Blech.  Even so-called healthier options use canola oil, another problematic ingredient.  I have occasionally prepared my own mayonnaise (and here’s a recipe from one of my favorite blogs that looks great), but we eat mayo so infrequently that it’s usually not practical to make an entire batch.  We never finish it before it spoils.

That’s where my interest in Wilderness Family Naturals’ mayo started.  After being referred by a friend from church, I browsed the WFN websiteand stumbled across their new product, an organic mayonnaise made with Mary Enig’s signature oil blend of raw extra virgin olive oil, raw unrefined sesame oil, and raw extra virgin coconut oil.  Even without preservatives, it boasts a shelf life of 1 year.  Excited and motivated by their introductory price (no longer available), I ordered one jar along with my many bags of coconut flour.

I wanted to love this mayonnaise.  I really did.  But it had to grow on me.  Although the WFN description doesn’t mention this one tiny detail, the mayonnaise tastes quite sweet — almost more like Miracle Whip than traditional mayonnaise.  Boo.  Over time, however, my taste buds adjusted, and I learned to “cut” the mayo with some plain yogurt, Dijon mustard, or lemon juice to reduce the sweetness.  That helped tremendously, and, thanks to that recent salmon melt kick, I just ran out of the stuff.  (Something else that proved delicious was making chicken salad with the WFN mayo and tarragon.  That played up the sweetness in a really pleasant way.)

I haven’t decided whether or not to order another jar.  The mixture of convenience plus nutrition is awfully tempting.  I may buy one to keep on hand for emergencies and once more try my hand at making my own mayo regularly.  Now that we’re eating more canned fish thanks to our Costco membership and an effort trim our grocery budget, we may actually finish a batch before it goes bad. 

So, here’s the bottom line on WFN mayonnaise:

Pros: Nutrition (excellent blend of healthy fats), texture, richness, color, convenience, good company (I love supporting entrepreneurs who run quality businesses well!)

Cons: Sweet taste (only a problem if you don’t enjoy products like Miracle Whip), price

If you’d like to give this product a try yourself, you can order it online here.

*Note: WFN did not supply me with this product to review.  I purchased it myself.

What do you do about the mayonnaise issue?  Do you have a favorite healthy, store-bought mayonnaise?  Or a favorite recipe that you use?

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Loving Costco

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I mentioned yesterday that I recently bought a Costco membership, and Juanita asked whether I find that I really save money, considering the way we eat.  This is such a good question!  I actually avoided a Sam’s or Costco membership for a long time because I thought it couldn’t possibly save me more than a few pennies.  Shortly after I married, I visited a Sam’s to do some reconnaissance.  I ran away, disgusted by the endless processed convenience food.  It was rows and rows of absolute junk.  After repeatedly hearing about Costco, however, both on The Nourishing Gourmet and Keeper of the Home, and after reading a fascinating article in Fast Company about what a great company Costco is, I decided to give them a chance.  I am so, so glad I did!  Even though we eat virtually no convenience foods, I’m finding Costco a real treasure trove.  Here are a few finds I’m saving lots of money on:

  • Nuts — Can I say “wow”?  Costco’s prices on raw pecans, walnuts, and almonds (though I suppose the latter are irradiated now) are fabulous.  If I remember correctly, I bought pecans for $4 or $5 per pound, when they’re $8 to $10 per pound to buy them in bulk at my grocery store.  I also procured almond butter at a steal of a price.
  • Canned Fish — I love that I can buy wild caught Alaskan salmon and light tuna for much better prices than in the grocery store.  I know that canned fish is not as good as fresh or frozen, but this is our version of convenience food.  I think it beats Hamburger Helper in the nutrition department any day.
  • Frozen Fish — Okay, now this I’m really, really excited about.  I’ve been buying wild caught Alaskan salmon, wild caught cod, and wild caught halibut for significantly less than at my grocery store.  What has shocked me the most is how good this frozen fish tastes.  I grew up under the tutelage of a food snob, so I’ve always scorned frozen fish.  Only fresh for me.  But that’s changed now.   Yes, fresh is better, but this stuff is awfully close — especially the salmon.  I can lightly season it and brown it in a pan, and it’s awesome.  The halibut is probably the fishiest tasting of the three, and it’s still very tasty.  I adore that the portions are individually vacuum-packed, which means I can throw 2 wrapped pieces into a bowl of warm water at the last minute and be eating dinner 30 minutes later.  Sweet.
  • Produce— Yes, really.  Organic apples for roughly $1 per pound.  One pound boxes of prewashed, organic baby spinach for $4.  Ten pound bags of organic carrots for $5.  The list goes on and on.  I save on mushrooms, English cucumbers, garlic, and bell peppers too, though none of these are organic.  (I can’t afford a 100% organic diet since we don’t have the luxury of filling up on the ever-so-thrifty grains)  The produce offerings vary from week to week, but I’ve seen great prices on pineapples, oranges, grapefruits, grapes, and everything in between.  In the past 2 years, I could have saved somuch on entertaining costs if I had owned a Costco membership.  Argh.
  • Spices and Seasonings — I saw vanilla beans for a very good price, and I picked up some whole black peppercorns at a significant discount.  The other basics are available too.
  • Household Products— I just bought recycled paper towels for a great price.  I also restocked our toilet paper there, as well as massive bottles of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.  I’ll buy bandaids here in the future, and if I need disposables for some kind of party, I’d buy those at Costco too.
  • Organic Tortilla Chips — One of the few processed foods we buy regularly.  My husband loves these things, and the Costco price is unbeatable.  I think it’s about $4.50 for a 2.5 pound bag of organic corn chips. 
  • Lamb — I haven’t seen any grass-fed beef or hormone-free chicken, but I did buy a leg of lamb for $3 per pound.  Nourishing Traditions says that it’s just fine to buy lamb from the grocery store because almost all lamb is grass fed.
  • Gluten-Free Novelties— Again, a rare indulgence.  I bought some gluten-free crackers that turned out to be delicious.  I intended to save them for communion and for those times when we go out to eat (I can use them for hummus and other dips when restaurants only provide pitas or bread), but they were so good I ate the whole bag already.  Oops.  I also bought some Mrs. May’s snacks to keep in my purse for blood sugar emergencies.  They’ve come in handy several times.
  • Miscellaneous— I bought a pair of Mary Jane-style Crocs to replace the ones I left behind in New Mexico over Christmas.  Get this: $15.  I paid $40 for my original pair.  Gah!  I snagged some cute pajamas for J for next to nothing (one of his Valentine’s gifts) and got a really good deal on a set of cordless phones.  I’m also secretly eyeing the deeply-discounted Movado watches.  Not that it’s ever going to happen.  Still, they’re fun to look at.  😉 

So.  That’s a quick overview of a few things I’ve been buying.  I realize that in an ideal world, I would buy all my produce from local farms and that I would never use canned foods or frozen fish.  I might also scour the internet for even better deals on some of these items (like the vanilla beans or the phones).  I am, however, human, and Costco meets my needs.  It’s a good mix of savings and convenience for us.  Combined with my farmers’ market and regular grocery store shopping, I’m very satisfied.

What about you?  Do you have a Costco membership?  Do you find that you save money, even when eating a healthy diet?  Do you know of any alternatives?

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salmon-melt-1

I didn’t grow up eating tuna melts.  I heard of them for the first time in the cafeteria line at Hillsdale College.  If you could have seen them, I’m sure you’d understand why I didn’t hazard a first try on those greasy, mass-produced mounds of goop.  I new that if I had a fighting chance of ever liking the dish, I couldn’t experience it for the first time under those conditions. 

Recently, however, I joined Costco (hallelujah!) and bought a bunch of canned tuna and wild caught Alaskan salmon — and found myself at a bit of a loss.  What to do with so much canned fish?   Eventually, the tuna melt idea floated through my mind, so I decided to try it on my own terms.  After a little experimentation, I came up with the following recipe that J and I both really enjoy (my mom just approved it too).  To accommodate my gluten allergy, I use bell pepper halves instead of bread.  It works equally well for tuna or salmon, and I love it as a last minute dinner.  Spiked with dijon mustard, dill, and lots of black pepper, it offers lots of flavor for almost no effort.  Especially these days, amidst the hustle and bustle of preparing our home for the market (can I just say that home ownership is overrated?), that kind of ease is priceless. 

 

Salmon or Tuna Melts in Bell Pepper Halves

Serves 4

2 to 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
12 ounces canned wild-caught salmon or light tuna (albacore contains higher mercury levels)
1 to 2 stalks celery, finely minced
1/4 cup shallot or onion, finely minced
4 to 6 tablespoons mayonnaise (I’ve been using Wilderness Family Natural’s mayo)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried dill or fresh amount to taste
cheddar cheese, grated or thinly sliced (I prefer Organic Valleys extra sharp raw cheddar or my local raw dairy’s offerings)

Core the bell peppers and cut in half lengthwise.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the fish, celery, shallot or onion, mayo, Dijon, black pepper, and dill.  Divide evenly among bell pepper halves.  Top with cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  The fish mixture should be warmed through, the cheese melted, and the bell pepper tender but still with some bite to it.

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Valentine’s Day Anticipation

I’m positively giddy over Valentine’s Day this year.  Perhaps that’s because it’s my first holiday with my husband when I haven’t had school deadlines eclipsing everything else.  For once, I’ve had time to brainstorm about what I wanted to do for J, go buy the gifts early, find a card before the day of the holiday (shocking concept!), and wrap everything.  I may have gone a wee bit overboard…

2009-02-11_0272_edited-1-compressed

But, somehow, I don’t think he’ll mind.  I’m so excited about what I got for him.  I would reveal the secret here, but J has the maddening habit of inadvertently ruining surprises.  And he would pick tomorrow to check my blog for, oh, the fifth time ever.  I just know it. 

I’ve just got to hold it together until Saturday night.  It’s killing me.  I begged J tonight to open his gifts early, but we sweetly refused.  <sigh>  So now I wait.

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slice-compressed

Making dessert for special occasions always intimidates me, and the prospect of preparing a gluten-free one away from home at high altitude this Christmas really had me in a tizzy.  Last holiday season, I settled for a citrus fruit salad with ginger yogurt, which, while delicious, seasonal, and GF, didn’t exactly feel like Christmas dinner dessert.  So I jumped outside my comfort zone this year and attempted a GF, high-altitude version of my very favorite kind of cake, carrot cake.  Lo and behold, against all odds (including an ever growing baking aversion), it turned out fabulously–ultra moist, fragrant, and studded with pineapple, coconut, and walnuts.  Everyone loved it, and no one would have guessed it was gluten-free.  Really. 

My father-in-law even emailed me after the holidays to thank me for the cake:

I also wanted to thank you for my Christmas dessert. Your gluten-free-low-sugar-high-altitude-altogether-successful-experiment carrot cake was about 90% of the dessert that I ate this season, and the memory still causes my taste buds to turn toward the mountains and ask, “Is there any more of that cake left?” It pained me greatly to leave for Las Cruces knowing that there was still a slab of cake languishing in the kitchen, but I just couldn’t squeeze in a farewell bite around the breakfast casseroles.

What a nice man!  I’m sad to say that my turkey brother refused to try the cake because it contained cream cheese. 

austin-and-gift-compressed

Hater. 

(I know.  He’s adorable, isn’t he?)

Anyway, I am so glad finally to have a go-to traditional dessert for special occasions that I can eat along with everyone else, without anyone feeling deprived. 

I won’t pretend this is health food or even a “nourishing” dessert.  It’s not.  White rice flour  (in the Pamela’s mix) and even–gasp!–powdered sugar in the frosting plunk it squarely in the occasional indulgence category.  But what’s life without a walk on the wild side?

Recipe Notes:

  • I made this with sweetened coconut, but you could probably replaced it with unsweetened and increase the Sucanat or Rapadura to compensate.  Doing so might affect the moisture level (sweetened coconut tends to be more moist than unsweetened), but it’s worth a shot.  I’ll do this myself next time I prepare the cake.
  • Since I baked this cake at 7,000 feet, I used less baking soda and baking powder.  So if you’re baking it close to sea level, you may want to add a bit more of those two ingredients.  Just don’t overdo it because Pamela’s already contains some.
  • I buy Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix at Whole Foods or HEB, so check in a health food store if you’re not sure where to start looking for it.  You may also purchase it in bulk through Amazon here.  I really love having Pamela’s around because it’s great for dredging chicken breasts or thickening a sauce.  It even produces a great cream gravy.  Score!
  • We all thought this tasted even better the second day, so it makes a great do-ahead dessert.  (No need to refrigerate it either.)

carrot-cake-3-edited

Heavenly Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

Adapted from this recipe.

2 cups Pamela’s baking mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup Sucanat or Rapadura (unrefined sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3 eggs (preferably free range)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

12 ounces cream cheese ( 1-1/2 packages), softened (Organic Valleys makes a real cultured variety)
6 tablespoons butter, softened (I like to use Organic Valleys or Kerrygold)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Cake

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Fold in carrots, coconut, walnuts, and pineapple.

Divide evenly between 2 greased 9-inch cake pans.  Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool.  (At normal altitude, bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.)

At this stage, I prefer to wrap my cakes and freeze them for 24 hours.  This makes them easier to frost and, in my opinion, moister.  This step is optional.  If you choose to follow it, allow the cakes to partially defrost before icing them.

Frosting

Cream softened butter and cream cheese until smooth in a mixer or with hand beaters.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar.

Frost cake, spreading 1/3 of the frosting between the cake layers.

Serve with love.  🙂

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