Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another new year of resolutions

Of course mine is always the same....lose weight. I tried to not make that mine this year, but at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 30th, it just came out of my mouth. So, this year I'm serious. The weight will come off or else...

Heatlhy cooking and exercise are going to be the keys of my new lifestyle. I'm going to start with the cooking, because it's easier, more fun and I'm hungry. Out with the old bad food, tasty as it may be, and in with the new, more veggies, fish and organic.

I'm going to really read the labels this year. There is so much information on the package that can really help us understand what we are eating and what the consequences are if we digest that food. For example, sodium. Knowing how much is o.k. for us and how much is too much, leads to bloating, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. If I remember correctly from my basic nutrition classes, the body requires 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) each day for basic physiologic functions.

Salt transports nutrients, transmits nerve impulses, and contracts muscles, including your heart. But when sodium levels are too high, the kidneys release more water, increasing blood volume. With more blood flowing through the body, pressure increases. Over time, a sustained pressure increase causes the heart to work harder to pump blood and threatens the stability of blood vessels, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Salt hides in many prepared and packaged foods. The best way to know for sure how much sodium is in the food you are eating,check the label. The easiest way to avoid consuming too much sodium is to choose fresh, whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Try replacing some of the salt you use on a regular basis, with a salt free substitue, like Mrs. Dash, or Penzey's has a great salt free alterative called Mural of Flavor. Also, use lots of fresh herbs and peppers (black, cayenne, chili, etc) to spice up and flavor your dished without adding extra sodium.

I will work very hard this year to present recipes on this site that have low sodium levels.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cooking Light - October issue

Check out this month's issue of Cooking Light Magazine. I am the featured reader recipe this month. My recipe for grilled pork taco's with spicy slaw and toasted pumpkin seeds was a recipe I created last year when I was craving southwest food but did not want the typical cheese, beans, beef....This was healthful and also had tons of flavor. You really don't miss the fat.

Please let me know what you think....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Tomato Garden

I promise No More Tomato Blogs after the fall harvest....Here are the new babies...recently planted and being tracked from the day of planting to the first fall harvest. This is my first season for fall planting. We pulled up the summer tomato plants over Labor Day and put the new ones in about mid-September. Here are the first pics.

About 2 weeks after planting we noticed the bottom leaves were being eaten by something. All the leaves had giant holes in them. I thought it was some type of slugs, and I was told to put a saucer of beer in the garden. The slugs would drink the beer and die. This did not work, although the saucer of beer was gone, nothing was dead and the leaves were still being eaten.

On closer inspection I discovered this guy. The green horned tomato worm. He is the same color as the tomato plant stem. You really can not see them. They come out at night, and attached to the lower leaves and stems of the tomato plant and begin their journey to totally destroy the crop. Once found, I screamed.

I called the nursery where I got the tomato plants. I explained what I had found, as if I discovered a new species and was told this is very common in the south, and welcome to fall planting. I tried to pull him off, knock him off, scream at him and nothing worked. Finally, I had to cut off the leave where he was sitting on. I was told to step on them, as they would come back if we didn't. I waited for my husband to come home and do this step, but I made the mistake of watching. Don't do this! This worm was so full of my tomato plant that he made a huge lime green mess.

Lesson learned. Look closely at the tomato plant and stems while watering. They hide on the underneath part of the leaf and are very hard to find.

These are the pics of the first planting and the worm. I will follow up bi-weekly with plant stats and record the first tomato picked of the season. By the way, we have tomato flowers on all 5 plants.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto and figs

Figs. This is the first year that I have eaten figs on a regular basis. I never found the occasion to try them before. My mother-in-law makes fig preserves and my husband raves about them. I still did not try them until this past summer. Now I can't get enough. They are very sweet. Pairing them with something savory and salty makes a good combination.

This crostini was spur of the moment. We bought figs over the weekend and stuffed them with goat cheese, rolled them in prosciutto and broiled them until crisp. When you bite into the hot figs, you taste salty from the prosciutto, sweet from the figs and a creamy tartness from the goat cheese. All in all a very good bite. You should try this for a quick appetizer.

Anyway, the crostini. I had leftover figs, prosciutto and goat cheese. I did not want the stuffed figs, but wanted to use all of the above in something different. I always have bread on hand. Remember, I'm a carboholic. I love rustic loaves of bread but this was a french baguette from Panera bread.

I sliced the bread into 1/2" slices. We had 3 each for an appetizer portion. I brushed the slices with a little olive oil and my husband grilled the bread until it was light brown and had grill marks. Do no over grill. The bread should have a slight bite to it, but not fall apart into crumbs. I spread about 1 teaspoon of goat cheese on each slice of warm bread. I topped the cheese with ribbons of prosciutto and a fig half(I peel mine). To make the ribbons, I used 4 pieces of prosciutto stacked and sliced into thin strips. Separate each strip and you will have prosciutto ribbons. These were quite tasty and quick. I think next time I will drizzle a little aged balsamic vinegar on top of each crostini. ENJOY.

Monday, August 18, 2008

rigatoni with spicy tomato sauce and sausage

SURPRISE, another tomato recipe. But get this, canned tomatoes, not fresh. I know I've been telling you about my garden and how great fresh tomatoes are at this time of the year, but I had to use canned tomatoes for a stew last week and I had some leftover and I love to create meals using leftovers. So, tonight was mystery pasta. I had rigatoni in my pantry. I had Italian sausage in my freezer. I had canned chopped tomatoes in the frig, fresh basil in the garden and some new spices from Penzey's that I wanted to try. Let me know what you think of this last minute creation. It took about 45 mins to prepare.

I took 3 links of Italian sausage out of the freezer when I got home from work around 4pm. I started cooking at 6:30, so the sausages were still partly frozen, making it easy to cut thin slices. I sauteed them in a little olive oil and set them aside. I chopped 2 cloves of garlic and cooked it with a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I really let the garlic sweat, without turning color. Sometimes I took the pan off the heat, for a few seconds, so the garlic would not burn. Once the garlic started to perfume, I added 1/2 cup of white wine. We usually keep several whites in the outside refrigerator. The Chardonnay happened to be the opened bottle. Any white will do. I let the wine reduce by half and then added the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of Penzey's (a spice store in B'ham, but also available online) Tuscan Garden (it's a mix of thyme, oregano, basil, and other Italian herbs) I let this simmer for about 20 minutes on medium. Make sure it does not evaporate too much. I'm really looking for a little thicker sauce than just chopped tomatoes. After 20 or 25 mins. it was done. I added 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream (I know, so bad!)But every now and then a splurge is in order. Stir cream into tomato mix and cook on low heat while you cook the pasta.

Heat a 5 quart pot of water to a boil. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of dried rigatoni. I really thought I was going to use penne, but I found the rigatoni first. On any given day, I have anywhere from 6-8 different dried pastas on hand. Did I tell you I was Italian....

Stir the pasta and let the water come back to a boil. Usually another 5 minutes to come back and then stir about every 3-4 minutes until the pasta is al dente. This is so important. DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA. It should have a slight bite to it. 2 cups of dried pasta should take about 8-10 minutes to cook. I always snag one out of the pot to try. Before I drain the cooked pasta, I scoop out 1/2-1 cup of pasta water. This will help thin the sauce if it's too thick. Drain the pasta and add to large skillet with the tomato cream mixture. Stir to combine and let cook about 1 minute on high to mix everything together. This made 4 good size portions.

I plated the pasta and topped with freshly grated Parmesan and some torn fresh basil (from the garden). Serve immediately. This could be served with a small salad and a piece of garlic bread for a complete meal. ENJOY, or should I say "MANGIA".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

roasting garlic

This is so easy and lends itself to so many dishes. On Sunday's I usually roast about 8-10 heads of garlic. I love this stuff almost as much as tomatoes. I whack off the top 1/3 of the garlic head, take off any loose paper skin that is coming off anyway and drizzle a little olive oil on the exposed garlic cloves and a sprinkle of S&P. Wrap tightly in foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. I do a bunch at a time, so 1 head may take only 30 mins. The best way to check if they are done, is by using a potholder, squeeze the little packet. If it is soft, it's done. I let the finished garlic sit on the counter for about 10 mins, unwrapped and then squeeze the delicate pulp into a bowl. From here the uses are endless.

If you can not think of a recipe using roasted garlic, freeze it in ice cube trays and then in a ziploc when completely frozen. Now, you can pull out 1 or 2 cubes as necessary depending on what you are cooking. But let me give you some ideas for quick uses....

bruschetta with roasted garlic and tomatoes

2 or 4 slices of a good country bread or sour dough, about 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon of roasted garlic for each piece
1 teaspoon of olive oil for each piece
1 cup of chopped tomatoes, or 4 slices of a great tomato
fresh basil thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon for each slice

Brush the bread with 1/2 of the olive oil. Grill or toast the bread until golden brown. If grilling, brush the remaining half of oil and turn over to grill the other side. If toasting, take bread out of oven and brush the other side with the oil.

Spread the hot bread with the roasted garlic, top with tomatoes, S&P to taste and finish with basil. This is the perfect starter to any meal this summer, or fall for that matter.

*Roasted garlic salad dressing: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to your favorite vinaigrette

**Roasted garlic cream sauce: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to any cream sauce and pour this over pasta. I like to add peas, prosciutto and a little Parmesan cheese.

***Pasta with tomatoes and garlic: Pan roast cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil over medium heat until they are soft and barely bursting, add roasted garlic 1 or 2 tablespoons depending on how much you are making, stir to combine and toss with hot pasta and a little more olive oil. Top with fresh sliced basil and a quick grating of Parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 4, 2008

forgive us our past tomatoes

I write about tomatoes because I love them. But several people have asked me to write about other foods because they hate tomatoes. I can only assume they have had a bad tomato somewhere in their past and can’t get over that mealy, squishy, no taste red thing they consumed. I feel so bad that their first tomato experience may have been their last because of a bad tomato.

I don’t know if it was a hothouse tomato, or “on-the-vine” tomatoes from the grocery store, or even a canned tomato their mother made them eat because fresh tomatoes were not in season, or she didn’t know how to prepare them. Either way, today’s tomato is nothing like that. Especially now. This is the prime growing/eating season for tomatoes. They are at their peak of freshness. They are juicy, sweet, colorful and have great texture. No gases were used to turn these fruits red (as is the case of store bought tomatoes). Sunshine, water, bumble bees and tomato food have made these babies ready for picking and eating. Grab one, you will no be disappointed.

I’m hoping everyone that has a bad tomato memory will vow to try one bite of a summer fresh tomato and see for themselves that the tomato has come a long way baby! Please make it a great bite. Ask a friend who loves tomatoes to fix a bite for you. Whether it’s in the form of a sandwich, flatbread, pizza, sauce or a little salt and pepper, try a tomato now!

No, I do not work for the tomato growers of America. I just love this fruit/vegetable and wish the season would last longer. My plants are loaded now, but I know it’s only a fleeting moment until they are empty and brittle branches blowing in the wind. This year I have decided to make the season last a little longer. I just ordered fall tomatoes.

These plants go in the ground the second week of August and take about 45-55 days to produce. These fall heirlooms are a little hardier and will last until the first frost. Once again, a little prayer for a late, late Alabama frost. It could be as late as mid-November. I will keep my fingers crossed. And if that works out to be the case, then I will only have to wait about 5 months for great fresh tomatoes again!

I will buy tomatoes in the winter but I’m very picky. I will oven-roast a bunch of tomatoes now and freeze them so I’ll have tomatoes all winter long. Of course, it won’t be the same as eating a freshly picked tomato, but you must make concessions. It’s better than the alternative.