Archive for January, 2011

Winter. Once the festivities of the holidays are over with, all we’re really left with is damp, cold, gray days.  And I live in south Texas so I don’t even get snow out of the deal.  The grass is dead, the trees are just sticks, and you don’t breathe in a public place for fear of catching the cold or flu.  It’s not my favorite time of the year, in case you can’t tell.

However, there is always a bright side (or so my mom says, there’ve been plenty of times where I really see no bright side…) to everything.  And winter’s bright side is comfort food.  And snuggling up in bed all day with Mr. T, watching movies and drinking a big mug of cocoa.  Man, that sounds nice.  For those of you who can actually do that I am so stinkin jealous.  That’s the one downside to having a one year old I guess, there is no “stay in bed all day.”  Or the time/energy to sit through a movie.  (Sigh).  So anyway, back to winter comfort food.

Ooey Gooey  Mac n Cheese with a crispy crust, chicken and dumplings, homemade beef stew, chicken pot pie, chili and cornbread – the kind of food that makes you warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.  The kind of food that makes a snowman thaw out into a little boy (I’m hoping you’ve seen that commercial…).  One of my favorite winter comfort foods is not the most common, but it evokes the same sensations.  It’s a stew that Mr. T made for me during our “courting period.”  It’s been a favorite ever since, partly because it reminds me of when we were dating, and partly because it’s delicious and super easy to make.

Spicy Pork and Hominy Stew – I have no idea where he got the original recipe, but we’ve modified it over the years to fit our taste.  It may sound odd to some who are not familiar with hominy, but it is worthy of a chance.  For this recipe you can use either white or yellow hominy or a combination of both.  If you are really anti-hominy you can also substitute corn, but the stew will have a sweeter flavor.  Besides the cilantro garnish, we have also topped it with a dollop of sour cream.  It makes a lot, too, but it freezes well, which means you don’t have to get out of bed to cook the next day.  Enjoy your movies, stay warm, and happy eating!


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It’s the start of a new year, and with that comes the traditional New Year’s Resolutions.  It’s sad, really, that we need something as simple as a calendar change to do the things we should have been doing the whole year before (or whole life before).  Yet every year people worldwide set goals to better their lives.  I’m guilty of it too.  And just like many others, I’m guilty of breaking them after a few months.  You get busy, you fall back into routine, and, well, life happens.

It got me wondering, though, what the most common resolutions are.  What do Americans think matter the most?  You can probably guess most of them.  Like I just said, it’s the things we should all be doing anyway.  And I really wonder why it’s so hard to follow through with them…

Losing weight, eating better and working out always top the list.  As does quitting smoking or drinking.  It’s easy to understand the reasons behind these.  Especially after the calorie laden crap we all eat and drink around the holidays.  Overindulgence is what the holidays are all about.  I’ll admit, working out was one of mine.  For a few years in a row.  (One week in and I can now run on my elliptical machine for a good 15 minutes without passing out!)  But why is this one so hard to accomplish?  Mr. T made a good point about this today.  He was trying to find a healthy fast food lunch option and spent almost an hour researching nutritional information of fast food chains.  Many of the “healthy options” like salads have just as many calories and as much fat as a cheeseburger.  “It’s easy to see how so many people just say F-it when it comes to eating right,” he said. And he’s right.  It’s a pain in the ass.  It takes time and effort, and let’s face it, most of us are too damn lazy.  Hopefully it won’t take a heart attack or another new year for people to accomplish this goal…

Next on the usual suspect list is making more money, getting out of debt, and getting a new job.  Again, really sad we need to wait until a year begins to work on our budget.  This one too comes after a season of maxing out credit cards to get friends and family “that perfect gift.”  I wonder what would happen if we all took the money we were going to spend on gifts and instead opened a savings account.  With regard to making more money, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “no one has ever been on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at the office.”

Also on the top list – stress less and volunteer.  Well, perhaps if we all worked out, ate better and actually went though the effort to save more money we wouldn’t have so much to stress out about.  As for volunteering; again, we’re lazy.  We don’t have time to do things for us, so where would we find the time to volunteer?  But perhaps if we saw what those with less lived like, we would stress less about our own lives and the things we didn’t own.

Now for my personal favorite – spending more time with family.  Come on people, this one’s free!  Not only is it free, I can provide ways to keep the other resolutions listed by simply doing this last one.  First of all, cook dinner and eat together.  There have been numerous studies linking better overall health and diet when a family eats a meal together. [i] Go hiking, take walks or even play active video games together.   My brother brought his X-Box with Kinect to our last family get together and we all got quite a work out (and perhaps even burned off dessert…or at least we told ourselves that).  Smoking and drinking?  That’s an obvious one to quit when you have kids…  Getting out of debt and saving money may be a little tougher, but it’s attainable with support from a close family.  Establish a family budget with your partner and get your kids involved.  We didn’t have a lot of toys and games when we were kids but we did have imaginations (they are free, by the way) and parents who enjoyed spending time with us.  Besides, my daughter’s favorite toys are the ones lying around the house (boxes, kitchen utensils, plastic bowls, etc.).  And if you’re spending your free time being active with your kids you won’t have time to spend money on things like cable TV, magazines, and other non-essential items.  Now for the last two – stress and volunteering.  Looking for something to do with your kids that’s free?  Der, take them with you to volunteer.  Show them how other people less fortunate live and perhaps it will teach them to be thankful for the toys they do have.  With regard to stress, well, look inside yourself.    If you are fortunate to have a close family (whether blood relation or friends so close they might as well be), are in good health (or at least working on it) and have a dollar to your name, you’ve got it pretty good.

So this year, let’s all try a little harder to actually follow through with our goals.  Like I just demonstrated, many can be attained with just accomplishing one.  And if you find yourself back to the old routine in March, don’t say “maybe next year.”  In the words of George Eliot, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

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Unless you’ve been living in a hole (which, if you have, thank you for using your first venture out of the hole to visit my blog!) you’ve likely heard that eating organic foods is safer and therefore better for you.  You’ve probably also noticed that most organic food costs a lot more money than its non-organic counterpart.  I sure have.

But I’m not cool with feeding my family food saturated with pesticides either.  I was a little grossed out to learn that eating the 5 daily servings of USDA-recommended fruits and veggies from the 15 most contaminated meant I could consume an average of 10 pesticides a day.  Don’t despair though. You won’t need to spend your life’s savings on strictly organic food.  According to the Environmental Working Group, consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80% by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating only the cleanest.  [i]

So what produce tops the most contaminated list?  Here’s the updated 2010 list, complements of The Daily Green:

Celery: Without a protective skin it’s hard to wash off all the 64 pesticides used on it.  64 – yummy…

Peaches: These fleshy girls get pounded by 62 different pesticides.

Strawberries: Since they are now available year round (but can’t be grown year round in the US), they are more likely to be grown in countries not so concerned with the amount of pesticides used.      (59 pesticides found on these tasty gems)

Apples: To ensure you don’t have worms and other critters/pests eating your fruit before you do, apples have been detected with residue from 42 different pesticides.

Blueberries: You could pop up to 52 pesticides in your mouth when chomping on blueberries.

Nectarines: Residue from 33 different pesticides have been detected on nectarines.

Bell Peppers: These thin skinned (yet delicious) veggies get saturated in up to 49 different pesticides.

Spinach: One of the most contaminated of the leafy green veggies (in case you’ve read my Spinach post, yes, I buy organic), spinach can be laced with up to 48 different pesticides.

Kale: Less than spinach, but still enough to be on the top 12 list.

Cherries: Ok, cherries seem to be expensive regardless (unless you live in a cherry growing region, in which case I’m severely jealous), however, buy organic when possible.  (42 different pesticides)

Potatoes: A sad day for Irish Americans…as many as 37 different pesticides found on the spud.

Grapes: Oh no.  Wine is made from grapes.  And grapes can harbor as many as 34 different pesticides.  I’m screwed…now I have to buy organic wine too?

Those are the new 2010 Dirty Dozen – however, other offenders from frequent years to avoid are leafy greens (lettuce), carrots, pears, and tomatoes. And that’s just for the produce section.  Meat, dairy and coffee can also be loaded with pesticides, additives and even growth hormones that I won’t go into today.

Scary, huh.  I thought so…which is why I spend the extra money at the store on organic.  I also try to buy from local, trusted sources.  And the best way to avoid pesticides – grow your own produce!

Hopefully this will help when you’re freaking out in the store about what to buy organic and what you can save your spondoolies on (that’s apparently a slang term for money…I’m not kidding, look it up.)  Happy, safe eating, everyone!

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As I have said previously, Mr. T and I have always fed our daughter “adult food.”  No, not the “special” brownie kind, don’t call CPS on me.  Just not what comes to mind when you think “baby food.”  Sure, I have bought a few jars here and there, cause let’s face it, they are convenient.  For the most part, though, I have simply pureed whatever we cooked for us.

When she was around six months old, we decided to introduce real food to her previously breast milk only diet and toyed over what to feed her first.  Conventional wisdom and pediatricians all say to start with rice cereal.  I’m not a doctor or an expert by any means, but I do have taste buds.  As does my daughter.  And that crap tastes like wallpaper paste.  So, I was not too keen on ruining my daughter’s first food experience by giving her something I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole (or 20 ft, for that matter…it’s the definition of bland).  So we went against all the books and decided to give her something tasty.

We did, however, stick to something basic for her first foray into food and went with homemade applesauce.  It was fairly easy to make, and depending on how many apples you buy it makes a ton.  I bought organic apples (be on the lookout for an upcoming post, The Dirty Dozen), peeled and cored them, and then roughly chopped them into ½ inch cubes.  I put the pieces into a glass microwave safe dish with a teeny amount of water in the bottom and cooked them until soft.  Then I broke out the handy dandy immersion blender and pureed till the cubes were smooth.  I knew she wouldn’t eat much at a time, so I spread the puree into ice cube trays, and after the cubes were frozen, popped them out and put them into a freezer safe gallon bag.  I know, it sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t.  Granted, I never had time to watch American Idol or The Bachelor…but you make time for the things that are important to you, right?

The process is the same for other fruits and veggies, as well as meats.  A great resource that I used all the time was www.wholesomebabyfood.com.  However, here are some of my tips/tricks:

Vegetables – fresh/frozen green beans sometimes don’t puree very smooth and some babies have issues with the texture.  I always had success with sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peas, eggplant, and hard gourds (like butternut and acorn squash).  I often steamed them over the stovetop rather than in the microwave, too.  Always add a little water or broth when pureeing, and add more as needed.

Fruits – blueberries, apples, peaches and pears were her favorites.  She also loved bananas, but there is no need to cook/puree them as they easily mash with a fork.  You can use water or juice to get the right consistency.  If it is too runny when you thaw the cubes, break out the wall paper paste to thicken (baby cereal, not actual wall paper paste…)

Meats – She loved chicken the best but I would generally puree a small amount each night rather than pre puree and freeze.  Meat has a tendency to separate and get mealy when you try to heat it back up.  The trick to getting it smooth is using way more liquid (I used chicken broth) then you think you need.  

Combos – With lots of small individually frozen cubes, it’s easy to make a combo meal for your tot.  Some of her favorites were: apples/chicken, peas/carrots, peach/banana, pear/apple, apple/blueberry, apple/sweet potato or carrot, pork/peach, apple/blackberry, green bean/chicken.

Seasonings – This is the best part: adding flavor to your baby’s food.  Her favorites were: sweet curry powder to the carrot/pea combo and green beans, cinnamon and cloves to her sweet potatoes, carrots or apples, garlic/paprika with the pork/peach, ground almonds with green bean/chicken (be careful of nut allergies).

Just get creative with your combos and remember that a little seasoning goes a long way.  And please taste it before giving it to your kid.  If you think it’s good, chances are they will too.  It works both ways, too.  If you taste it and your gag reflex kicks in, try the dog.  If Fido turns his nose up, well, that’s where having a few jars of baby food on hand comes in handy.

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So I was happily cooking a few weeks ago and letting my skillet preheat before throwing in some mushrooms, and, well, I got side tracked.  My husband (Mr. “T”, as I will affectionately refer to him as from this point forward – no, no similarities) noticed my smoking pan on the stove and informs me, “that smoke can kill us, ya know!”  Um, what?

I was cooking on my beloved non-stick pan as I have done countless times before.  And, again, just as I had done countless times before, I accidentally let it overheat to a smoking point apparently causing noxious fumes to fill the air.  Non-stick pans are coated with a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon (a DuPont brand Trademark).  Teflon coated pans have been sold to and been used by millions.  My mom used them.  I have always used them.  And here I was potentially giving my whole family cancer.  (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic…but still)  Needless to say, I was shocked when I began researching its supposed harmful effects.

“According to tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG), in the two to five minutes that cookware coated with Teflon is heating on a conventional stovetop, temperatures can exceed to the point that the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases. At various temperatures these coatings can release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens.”[i] Evidence has shown that scratched Teflon cookware, when heated, has the potential to kill birds, [ii] due to the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that is released.  Yes, I realize that we aren’t birds, but that can’t be good for us either.  And my pans were well used, AKA, well scratched.  Great.

I had a dilemma on my hands. Continue to use the “Harper Lee” pans (come on people…author of the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird) and give my whole family cancer or go buy the old faithful alternatives, cast iron and stainless steel.  Clearly I went with the later of those two choices.

Oh, and along with this decision also came the harsh realization that I had no clue how to get a non-stick surface from cast iron and stainless steel.  So you don’t have the agony of crusty eggs and lose half of your nicely browned chicken, here are the tips I’ve learned:

Cast Iron – First, raid your grandma’s kitchen and see if she has a few you can snag (kidding…) Older cast iron skillets are likely to be well-seasoned, so if Granny can’t part with hers, you’ll either need to buy a preseasoned one or season one yourself.  In order to season one yourself, thoroughly clean your new pan with soapy water and dry it well.  Then, coat the skillet well with lard or vegetable oil (don’t use olive oil, the smoking point is not high enough) and put into a pre-heated 200° oven for 2-3 hours.  Take it out, and after it cools simply wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel.  In order to maintain the non-stick surface, it’s best not to clean a seasoned cast iron pan with soap and water, as this removes the oil you worked so hard to get on the pan.  If you notice things sticking, repeat the whole process.  Oh, and don’t cook acidic foods (like tomatoes or wine) in your cast iron pans either as they can react and result in not so yummy flavors.

Stainless Steel – I can’t guarantee it will be as non-stick as Teflon or even cast iron, but stainless steel is what the pros use.  I’ve found and read that preheating your pan (only this time you won’t release evil fumes – yay!) and adding oil/butter when the pan is already hot is the best way to avoid food from sticking.  Try to work with room temperature foods, as cold meats tend to stick worse.  Also, don’t overcrowd the pan or try to stir your food too quickly.  Don’t despair when your pan turns an icky brown color either – it won’t kill you.  If you really like shiny things, though, just clean it with stainless steel cleaner (like Bar Keepers Friend) and a lot of elbow grease.  It’ll be all pretty again in no time.  By the way, this is where having a husband named Mr. T comes in handy…

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