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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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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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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Buttermilk pie doesn’t sound too appetizing to most people.  In fact, several years ago when I told my husband I was going to make one he said with a horrified look on his face, “Ugh, that sounds disgusting.”  Now, it is one of his favorite pies.

When I was growing up our next door neighbor was a retired woman named Ora Lee, who’s husband had died before I was born.  She seemed ancient then, with short white hair and a home that seemed frozen in the 1960’s.  She was (and still is) a very good friend to my family, though, and used to babysit my brothers and I on occasion.  She’s a fiery, tough, lady of the land, and at 86 still mows her own lawn.   I have very fond memories of playing domino’s in her living room and petting her scruffy dog.  My favorite memory, though, is eating the fantastic cookies and pies she baked.

Like many women who grew up and lived during the depression, she was a fantastic cook and baker.  She knew secrets on substituting ingredients and tips like adding potatoes to a burned pot of soup to eliminate any burned flavors.  She also knew how to make desserts from ingredients that a) almost every cook has on hand and b) you wouldn’t think should be in a dessert.  One of my families all time favorite examples of this – buttermilk pie.  It has a sweet yet slightly tangy flavor and a smooth custard-like texture, with a  subtle hint of nutmeg.  It’s fantastic, and the best part – the filling requires seven ingredients and less than ten minutes to whip up.  So without further ado, here is the recipe for this easy and delicious depression era pie:

Recipe: Buttermilk Pie
From the Kitchen Of: Ora Lee Ashmore
 

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup oleo (or softened or melted butter)
3 tablespoons flour (rounded)
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
Cream sugar and oleo (or butter), add flour and eggs and beat well.  Add buttermilk,
vanilla and nutmeg.  Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes
(until set and the center no longer jiggles – it will be slightly browned on top).

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Yes…You read that right.  My 12 month old daughter’s favorite food is SPINACH.  She also loves mustard and turnip greens, kale and swiss chard.  Sometimes she shovels greens into her mouth so fast she nearly chokes (true story – she really did put so many little pieces of spinach in her mouth so fast they wadded up and she started gagging).  I NEVER would have thought she would like spinach, much less that it would be in her top ten list.  But low and behold, she sucks it down!  (Disclaimer – you should never give spinach to a baby under 3 months of age due to a risk of nitrate poisoning – but in my opinion you shouldn’t be giving real food to a 3 month old baby anyway!)

The reaction I get when people learn of this love is mixed.  Many are impressed, some are perplexed, and a surprisingly high number of people make the comment “better her than me.”  Therein lies the problem.  So many adults are turned off by this power veggie that they never even give their child a chance to like it.  I certainly didn’t used to like it and only started eating because I read about how great it is for you.

How good for you is it?  Glad you asked… Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B2, potassium, and vitamin B6, protein, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc, dietary fiber, copper, selenium, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids.  It is also loaded with flavonoids which act as antioxidants, protecting the body from free radicals. Researchers have discovered at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that act as anti-cancer substances.  For example, the United States Department of Agriculture states that a 180 g serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron, whereas one 170 g ground hamburger patty contains at most 4.42 mg.[i] All of that healthy goodness in a little green leaf.

So I’ve demonstrated why YOU should be eating it.  Now on to the burning question in your mind, “how on earth did you get your child to eat (and love) spinach?”  I get that a lot.  It’s simple – she eats what we eat.  Since she began eating solids, I pureed what I cooked for my husband and me.  Once she was old enough to eat more textures I cut up well cooked (and soft) pieces of whatever we were eating and put it on her tray.  Since we always eat meals together she could easily see she was eating the same thing we were and I honestly think that helped tremendously.  Children want to be included in the family and learn though imitating.  Yet so many people overlook that fact when it comes to what their kids eat.

Another reason she started eating (and liking) the foods we ate – she was also never given the option to eat anything else.  Baby food is not outrageously expensive or anything, but every dollar saved counts in my family.  Sure, it’s easier to open a jar, but pureeing what I’ve already cooked takes less than 3 minutes (I have an immersion blender with a mini food processor attachment).  I also know what is in it and how it is made.  With so many recalls and stories of unsafe prepackaged foods I figured I’d take that risk out of the equation completely.

My biggest motivating factor for only feeding her what we eat is simple; I want her to eat what we eat.  Simple as that.  I have NO interest in preparing a separate meal for her (or my future children for that matter) nor do I want her ordering the expensive fat laden garbage off the kids menu at a restaurant.  So what better time to start gearing her taste buds for “adult food” then with her first taste of food ever!

Now, six months after her first taste of food, she eats practically everything (except ginger ice cream….REALLY not a fan).  I let her try things I know she can chew and mash and as long as she can physically eat it I don’t worry about whether she will spit it out.  What you eat is a learned process – just look at what children and adults eat in other cultures.

So please, use caution on what your kids can safely eat, but beyond that, let them try anything and everything.  Start ‘em young, and hopefully you will raise your own little foodie.

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The memory of picking Kentucky pole beans in the hot, muggy Texas summer every season of my childhood still haunts me to this day.  As mosquitoes practically carried us off, my brothers and I would spend what seemed like an hour searching for the tender beans amongst the vines.  My parents always had a huge garden that was responsible for growing the majority of the fresh produce we consumed.  They also had free child labor to pick everything.  I’ll admit I was none too fond of harvesting vegetables from our family garden…until the year I had my own section.

I was given a choice of several vegetable and flower seeds to plant and nurture all by myself.  Surprisingly, one of my selections was Kentucky pole beans.  I can remember digging a hole in the earth, carefully placing each bean pod in the soil and gently covering it with soil.  Only a week and a half later, the first sprouts appeared.  Never had I felt so much pride in something I created.  Every evening before dinner I would scrutinize my section of the garden, pulling weeds and monitoring the growth of my plants.  For the first time I was excited about getting to pick beans – I had grown them after all.  Not only was I excited about getting to pick green beans, I was equally so about getting to eat them.  Yes, you read that right; a kid excited to eat green beans.

There is a definite sense of accomplishment and pride amassed by growing a large healthy plant from seed.  It is taken a step further when that plant produces food that can nourish you and your loved ones.  Besides the boost in self pride, there are several other health benefits to growing a garden.  Spending just five minutes a day with nature can positively impact people’s self esteem and improve their mood.[i] Gardening can also be a low impact workout, burning on average 200-300 calories per hour.  It can also improve the diet of you and your family.  The expense of fresh produce is often a prohibiting factor in eating healthy for many families.  Seeds and plants are relatively cheap and depending on where you live, growing a variety of fresh produce year round is fairly easy to do.  Even more expensive at the grocery store is organic produce.  Well, you can’t get more organic than growing it on your own!  You control whether pesticides or chemicals are sprayed on your plants and if fertilizers are even used.  Last, home grown food just tastes better.  Let’s face it, there is no comparison to eating a juicy ripe tomato handpicked from the vine.  If you haven’t had the luxury of doing so, well, you are seriously missing out.

If the benefits discussed above are not enough to make you yield a shovel, consider this common expression: “The family that plays together stays together.” Family involvement in growing your own produce is a relatively simple and low cost way to spend quality time together.  Everyone gets some exercise, vitamin D and the ability to grow food AND a stronger family.  Weekend entertainment for a family of four can be very costly, especially if you add in the cost of eating out.  The entire family can spend time in the garden and make dinner together using food that was just harvested.  To get your kids excited about the idea, allow them to have their own section.  Children involved in gardening can learn responsibility, patience and creativity while reinforcing the values of healthy eating.  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschool children who ate homegrown produce were twice as likely to both eat and LIKE more fruit and vegetables. [ii] Furthermore, it is a great way to slip in lessons about science, nature, ecology and horticulture.  Too many children these days are glued to a television or video game and rarely get to experience the splendor of nature or given the opportunity to cultivate a love for the outdoors.

Whether you donate half your backyard or just a small pot for herbs, it’s easy to reap the many benefits of the family garden.


[i] Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty, the American journal, Environmental Science and Technology http://www.essex.ac.uk/news/event.aspx?e_id=1588

[ii] (Rural Missouri. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 107, Issue 4, April 2007, Pages 577-584 Marilyn S. Nanney, Sheldon Johnson, Michael Elliott and Debra Haire-Joshu.

Picture from Homemaking-Cottage.com

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