Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time for Dinner?

A few weeks ago Dr. Crystal and I had dinner with a close group of girlfriends. During this dinner we discussed the usual: work, children, husbands/partners/boyfriends, and food. One of the resounding things that was said around the table was "How do you prepare good nutritious food every night?" As mothers we want to feed our children the best food possible but find ourselves struggling with the balance of work, family and the elusive friend get-together. The best thing Dr. Crystal and I could suggest to our group of girls was to prepare meals ahead of time and put them in the freezer to thaw when time and energy aren't available to prepare your meals fresh. To this most of the girls responded, "I don't want to spend my weekends cooking!" To Dr. Crystal and I this suggestion was logical because we like to cook, we do spend our weekends cooking because it is a hobby of ours, and after this conversation took place we realized this wasn't the case for everybody. In the last post Dr. Crystal offered up a few suggestions for remaking a few "fast food" options, I am here to offer another suggestion – add a quick punch of nutrition on the side of whatever "fast food" item you do choose to go with.

My dinner last night is a perfect example; after spending the day fighting with a two year old about putting a diaper on I was not feeling very creative or energetic to tackle the whole chicken I had originally planned on preparing for dinner. So I boiled some noodles, sautéed some onions, browned some chicken sausage and tossed it all together then topped it with some shredded cheddar cheese. My husband had a spinach salad on the side, I had some sautéed kale, and our son had some sweet potatoes.

Kale – I just discovered kale last night. I had always been scared of cooked kale because of my intense dislike of cooked spinach. Well let me tell you I am so glad that I finally tried it because I love it! See below for the sautéed kale recipe, don't be afraid! Just try it!

Spinach – Spinach salad is a popular option in my house. No matter what we are having my husband usually has a spinach salad on the side as he does not always like the other vegetable options I prepare for myself and our son.

Sweet Potatoes – I almost always have steamed sweet potatoes in the refrigerator. I buy a bag of them from Trader Joe's then cut up 3-4 in 1 inch slices then steam them with the skins on. When they are "fork tender" I turn them off and let them cool a bit. The skins peel right off and both my son and I love them alongside pretty much anything (I add a little salt to mine).You can see all the great things about sweet potatoes in our Thanksgiving post.

Sautéed Kale

·       1 bunch kale, rinsed well, drained & roughly chopped

·       2 Tablespoons olive oil

·       2 garlic cloves, minced

·       ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock or water

·       Salt & Pepper

              Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the garlic and cook until soft, but not colored.

Raise heat to high, add the stock and kale and toss to combine.

Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring until all the liquid has evaporated.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Enjoy it and think of all the great nutrients you are getting!

Potatoes on pizza, who would’ve thought?

Pizza is one of my favorite things to eat and make, but mostly to eat. On a particularly sinful day I would pick a Pizza Hut pepperoni pan pizza. For instance, after I walked the Portland Marathon in 2006, my walking buddy and I sat on the couch and ate pizza for most of the evening, mostly because we could not move after walking for nine hours. When I want a super delicious pizza and am feeling like money is no object I call up Flying Pie Pizzeria at 7804 SE Stark Street in Portland and order the Presto, with pesto, spinach, artichoke hearts, black olives, roasted red peppers, and feta cheese. Lately I have been interested in making pizza at home, one reason is that my son has a tomato allergy that I am hoping will go away with age, but until then I modify the things we like to eat to be tomato free, hence homemade pizza with no tomato sauce. I know for some out there there is a strong love for pizza sauce and you might not be able to envision a pizza without tomato sauce, but hear me out, it's not so bad. There are other options; a white sauce for example or pesto is a popular one but my go to option is garlic infused olive oil. So keeping this in mind I searched my favorite recipe website ( for some new pizza topping ideas. What did I find you ask? Potato, sage, and rosemary pizza. Delicious. The only addition I made was to add some cooked bacon to the top since I had some in my refrigerator I needed to use up.

The dough that Dr. Crystal referred to in her last post is a recipe I have made many times from a cookbook called Cooking (Chic Simple). It is as follows:

Simple Pizza Dough

       1 package active dry yeast

       2/3 cups warm water (110°-115° F)

       Pinch of sugar

       2 cups all purpose flour (can substitute 1 cup with whole wheat flour)

       ¼ cup cornmeal

       1 teaspoon salt

       1 ½ Tablespoon olive oil

              Stir water, yeast, and sugar together in a small bowl, let sit for 10 minutes.

              Combine flour, cornmeal, and salt in a separate bowl.

              Stir together oil, wet ingredients, and dry ingredients (by hand, stand mixer with dough hook, or food processor).

              If using a stand mixer turn up to medium/high and let go for about 5 minutes.

              If you are doing it by hand remove the dough from the bowl and knead by hand vigorously for 5 minutes.

              Divide the dough (I usually just do two, Dr. Crystal did four).

              Lightly oil a baking sheet, transfer dough onto sheet and lightly brush each ball with olive oil.

Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place till the dough has doubled in size (about 1 ½ hours).

Preheat oven to 475°.

After doubled, flatten dough with the heel of your hand on a lightly floured surface. Lift and pinch each disk from the center outward until the dough is thin. (don't worry about the shape or occasional hole)

              Place dough on an oiled baking sheet and top it!

              Bake for 7-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

A caution about topping pizzas: the tendency is to load it up with sauce, cheese, and toppings, go a little lighter than you think and you will have a nice balance of toppings and crust.

We made two pizzas, the first one I mentioned above and the second one had garlic olive oil, mozzarella, spinach, rep peppers, and feta cheese. My husband likes it, my two year old likes it, and I like it. That is what makes life feel like a success.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fast Food Makeovers

Sorry to our wonderful readers that this post is late; it has been one crazy kind of week! In the midst of weeks like this, I definitely struggle with meal planning and finding the desire to get in the kitchen and make dinner. Most of the time, I love to cook but there are certainly days that I'd rather just have my hubby pick up some Thai food on the way home, or hit a drive through, or grab a pizza. With the budget kind of tight these days, fast food sometimes holds appeal – heck, you can "feed" your family for less than $5 if you want to. But we all know that fast food – particularly those items on the dollar menu – really isn't food at all! So this blog post is about making over fast food into healthy (or at least healthier) alternatives! And, remembering this crazy week where I maybe didn't ask for help when I needed it, I'm going to ask for your help in creating this post!!

What are your favorite "Fast Food Re-Dos?" Do you have any fast and easy homemade versions of fast food? Or maybe you have a more gourmet spin on a fast food? Please post your ideas and we can all reap the rewards! Here are some of my favorites:

I made pizza Monday night using Chef Brett's crust recipe and it was awesome! I made 4 individual pizzas and we all got to top our own. The boys had a lot of fun spreading sauce and pepperoni and cheese all over the place and I got to make mine piled high with artichoke hearts just the way I like it! It's easy to boost the health factor by making your crust with whole wheat flour and adding lots of veggies as toppings. My friend Billie, who has been eating gluten-free lately, says she uses rice tortillas from Trader Joe's as her crust and she makes her husband pizza on pita bread!

French Fries
Maybe my favorite fast food re-do is oven baked sweet potato fries—a much healthier potato option (see our previous post). I got the original recipe from The Sonoma Diet by Connie Guttersen but now I don't really follow a recipe. Peel 1-2 red sweet potatoes and slice into half rounds or wedges. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt & pepper. Spread on parchment paper on a cookie sheet with some sprigs of fresh rosemary if you've got them. Bake at 450 until soft inside and crisped a bit outside (about 30-40 minutes), flipping once (or just stirring them about a bit). We like to dip them in mayo mixed with balsamic vinegar.

Fish Sticks
Last week, my "Big C" asked me for fish sticks for dinner. I was making Mahi Mahi that night so I just cut fish stick size pieces, rolled them in egg and panko bread crumbs and baked them in the toaster oven. He loved them and I they were much healthier than the fish sticks from the freezer section! You could do the same thing to make homemade chicken nuggets.

Popcorn Shrimp
I went out last night with my family and my friend Dianna and we ordered popcorn shrimp—which my family loves! A couple weeks ago I made coconut shrimp at home that was so much better: breaded with panko, coconut & lime zest and fried in coconut oil they were amazing dipped in sweet chili sauce mixed with orange marmalade and lime juice! Here's the recipe from Bon Appetit (Feb 2010) – I substituted coconut oil for frying and the dipping sauce is my own creation.

So, please share your ideas – I can't wait to read what you come up with!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Check out these coconuts!

We have a lot of allergies in our family so when it came to foods that are typical allergens we avoided them for the first year. That meant no dairy, no wheat, and no eggs for the first year and no nuts till three years old. This is on the conservative side but from what I understand of food allergies in children is if they are going to have a sensitivity to a food by avoiding that food early in life it will lessen the allergy. Since you don't know what they could be allergic to the most effective tool you have is to avoid anything that is a potential allergen. That being said when my son turned one he had never had wheat, eggs, dairy, or sugar. I didn't want to give him a cupcake full of tummy ache his birthday so I asked other women I knew who had similar food ideas and babies of the same age and came up with a cake that involved barley flour, applesauce, coconut oil, and bananas. Until this day I had never cooked with coconut oil. So I bought the oil and used it in the muffin/cupcakes and promptly forgot about it in the cupboard. Now that we are having a discussion about coconut oil I am remembering that I have some and trying to think of ways I can use it based on Dr. Crystal's suggestions.

I wish the recipe I had to share with you today was for those muffins, that were pretty good, but I cannot find the recipe anywhere. I am going to do some more digging and see if I can't get back to you on that. In lieu of that recipe I want to share a dessert recipe that I feel comfortable sharing with my son (we are still being very light handed with sugar, so as to delay the inevitable sugar addiction). It is a Thai dessert made with black rice and coconut milk.

Black Sticky Rice

  • 1 cup black glutinous rice (sometimes called forbidden rice, can be found at Asian markets, just tell them what you want to make and they will help you find the right stuff)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (or substitute maple syrup)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 eggs
  • a little coconut cream (to serve)

    If cooking on the stove, be sure to soak the rice overnight, or for at least 6 hours (otherwise the rice will take all day to cook). Then place drained rice in a pot together with brown sugar, salt, 1 can coconut milk, and all the water. Boil half-covered until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is soft to chewy. (If necessary, add 1 cup more water and continue cooking until rice is tender)

    If using slow cooker: Place drained rice in slow cooker together with brown sugar, salt, 1 can coconut milk, and all the water. Cook overnight or all day on "low", OR for 2-3 hours on "high", until all liquid is absorbed. Rice should be soft to chewy in texture. (If the rice is too tough, add 1 cup more water and allow to continue cooking until done.)

    When rice is done cooking, allow to cool slightly. Add the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk plus the eggs. Mix thoroughly. Dip your finger in to check the taste - add a little more sugar if needed.

    Pour this mixture into one large baking dish, or divide up into individual ramekins. Cover with tin foil (or a lid if using a baking dish). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

    Remove from the oven and either serve warm, or place in the refrigerator and serve cold (it's good both ways!). When serving, add a dollop of coconut cream on top (the solid cream from the top of a can of thick coconut milk), or whipped cream. Enjoy with a strong cup of tea or coffee.

    Recipe from:


Chef Brett


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food Myths Debunked: Coconut Oil

This is the first of many posts we'll be doing about food myths. We want to let you know about the health benefits of supposedly "bad" foods. I decided to start with coconut oil because it seems to be coming up a lot in conversations I've been having lately. So here you have it: contrary to popular belief, COCONUT OIL IS GOOD FOR YOU!

Coconut oil is classified as a saturated fat which is why it has such a bad reputation, but contrary to popular belief, saturated fats aren't bad for you. In the 1950's, we started being told to avoid saturated fats because they raise cholesterol levels more than polyunsaturated fats (eg. vegetable, soybean oil). There was a lot of emphasis put on cholesterol levels in the medical community as being a modifiable risk factor for heart disease. Unfortunately, the recommendations to eat less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fats were misguided because total cholesterol turns out to be a poor predictor of heart disease and trans fats are the dangerous fats. We'll be doing a post in the future with more details about saturated and other fats, but for this post I want to focus on coconut oil.

Coconut oil is 64% medium-chain saturated fatty acids (fatty acids are the building blocks of fats). Medium-chain fats (MCF's) can be absorbed without being emulsified by bile so are more quickly and easily absorbed than long-chain polyunsaturated fats like soybean oil. MCF's are the favorite fuel for the heart, are the same fats found in breastmilk, can aid weight loss, and have immune properties. The main MCF in coconut oil (49%) is lauric acid which is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Lauric acid kills fat-coated viruses including HIV, herpes, influenza, measles, hepatitis C, and Epstein-Barr. Research done in the last 30 years completely clear coconut oil in any negative role in heart disease and shows that it can raise HDL cholesterol levels, which is protective. Studies of native cultures where coconuts and coconut oil are consumed in large quantities (up to 57% of calories from fat and half of that saturated) find lean, healthy individuals with no signs of unhealthy cholesterol, atherosclerosis (arterial plaques), or heart disease.

Coconut oil is great for baking; because it is solid at room temperature, it makes great cookies, pie crusts, and pastries. It is also great for high temp cooking and stirfrying/deep frying because being a saturated fat makes it more stable and less prone to oxidize at high temperatures. The best coconut oils to buy are virgin oil (made by cold-pressing moist coconut) which retains it's coconut flavor, or expeller-pressed and gently deodorized to remove the coconut scent and flavor. I love the taste of coconut so I use the virgin coconut oil. I like to add a spoonful to oatmeal with flake coconut, sliced mango, macadamia nuts, and a little honey and milk for a tropical breakfast and just last night I breaded shrimp with panko bread crumbs, flaked coconut, lime zest, salt & pepper, and then fried them in coconut oil—very yummy! I also love cooking with coconut milk which is rich with coconut oil—it makes amazing curries and coconut ginger chicken soup is awesome.

I hope this encourages you to give coconut oil a try! I can't wait to see what recipes Chef Brett has in store for us!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Most Important Don't!!

So, coming off my detox last week I was reminded of the most important don't of detox:
DON'T COME OFF YOUR DETOX TOO QUICKLY! I started out my first day off my detox with 2 eggs fried in butter, a piece of whole wheat toast with butter and apricot jam, and black tea with agave nectar and milk. For lunch I had leftover lemongrass chicken pad thai (that was okay). I went out for a glass of wine and cheesy artichoke dip with my hubby after work then picked up pizza for dinner on the way home--with which I had a bit more wine. So, on my first day off detox, I reintroduced at least 7 foods I hadn't been eating for the previous 10: eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, black tea, refined flour, and alcohol. Needless to say, I was a bit buzzed(who knew your tolerance could completely disappear in 10 days!) and felt lousy the next day (headache, unhappy digestion, bloated).

So, even if you are not intending to do an elimination/challenge diet as part of your detox, I recommend coming off it slowly--only reintroduce one or two foods a day and reintroduce alcohol just a little at a time. You spent all that time being good to your body--don't do what I did and blow it all in the first day off!

Happy eating!