Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LiveSTRONG Day and Spaghetti Squash

For Grandpa Chuck, Mary, Magi, Brent, Kim, Jason

Saturday, October 2, is LiveSTRONG Day 2010. Barbara with has a special project, A Taste of Yellow - Heart Series, to help bring awareness to LiveSTRONG Day and cancer.
Spagetti Squash:
Kid Rating: 2 out of 2 like it (I'll try it on the 5 y.o. later).
Do again?: Yes!

My parents cooked spaghetti squash a couple of times when I was a kid and treated it like spaghetti with sauce. Not a fan. I avoided it until two years ago when friends invited us for dinner. The squash was served simply with butter, salt, and pepper. Yum! I could have eaten the whole bowlful. It's crunchy, not mushy or squashy. Nice flavor.

Spaghetti squash (today's was 6.5 inches long)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt (or table salt, I've been enjoying the kosher and have a big box of it)

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.
Poke holes into top to allow for steam to escape.
Put on baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.

Let cool for 15 or so minutes.
Cut lengthwise.
Remove seeds and mushy, slimy stuff around it
Scrape out the "spaghetti" into a bowl.
Toss with the remaining ingredients.

A blogger friend, Janell at Thufferin Thuccotash - Laughing & Suffering, is looking for yellow food in the shape of a heart. I just happen to be preparing this today, but in consideration of her project, I put the finished product back into one of the shell halves and pinched the edge inward for the shape of the heart. A little clear packing tape on the outside helped it stay in place. For you, Janell!

Family Review:
I should mention that I gave it to them three different ways: 1. plain, 2. with olive oil/salt/pepper, and 3. with butter/salt/pepper. The olive oil won. Plain next. Butter last.
5 y.o. - He didn't try it. You should have seen the face he made. (All in due time, my pretty. All in due time.)
9 y.o. - Plain - "I could do this."-- Olive Oil - "Better." -- Butter - "No! I don't like butter."
10 y.o. - Plain - "Okay." -- Olive Oil - "I like this." -- Butter - "Okay." (but less okay than the plain)
Hubby - not here, but he's eaten it in the past
Me - I like it plain the best (then olive oil). It's crunchy and has it's own sweet taste.

Here's a site for more squash info and recipes: here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tomato Soup and Maybe Tomato Sauce

For a simpler recipe, click HERE -- it's based on the final results from this series of experiments (9-3-11).

Welcome to my laboratory! What started out to be a simple soup recipe morphed into a fun lab experiment.

Kid Rating on Final Product (strained with butter and flour): 2.5 out of 3 kids liked it
Do Again: Yes

I started with a recipe from Roni's Green Lite Bites and modified it. I noticed one of Roni's commentators, RG, mentioned using flour and butter, so I made half of the batch with flour and butter. And, either my blender isn't very good or I didn't blend long enough, but the puree's consistency wasn't as fine looking as Roni's, so I strained half of the batch.

What we tested tasted:

Unstrained/No Butter/No Flour
Unstrained with Butter & Flour

Strained/No Butter/No Flour
Strained with Butter & Flour

Confused, yet? Here we go!

15 Tomatoes (from farmers' market and friends garden -- thanks, Becky!)
1 small onion coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic crushed
1 tsp kosher salt
2 T dried basil
1/2 tsp of sugar

Tomatoes, salt, garlic, onion, basil, sugar
(ignore flour and butter, I shifted gears after taking the picture)
Cut away stems and blemishes
Puree in blender (I did it in batches)
Add onion, garlic, and basil in blender (I added it to tomato batches) and blend until smooth

Bring to boiling
Add salt and sugar
Lower and simmer 1/2 hour
Pink and foamy before cooking
Red after cooking
Family Review of Unstrained/No Butter/No Flour
5 y.o. - (I didn't bother testing him until we all chose our favorite version).
9 y.o. - "I like the texture, but it's a little sour like a tomato."
10 y.o. - Flavor is good but wishes it was smoother.
Hubby - (Unexcited) "Yeah, I guess."
Me - Wonderful flavor. I'd be happy with it as-is. It would be a good pasta sauce if it was thicker. --Which brings me to turning this recipe into a lab experiment.

To half of the above recipe/batch I added:
1/2 - 1 T Butter
1 T Flour
1/2 tsp sugar (to help that tomatoee taste my daughter spoke of)

Add the butter to the batch
Transfer some soup to a bowl and mix in the flour (to prevent lumps)
1 T flour with some of the soup before mixing
Flour and soup after mixing. Now slowly stir this
back into the soup pot.
Slowly stir the flour mixture back into the soup pot.
Add the sugar.

Family Review of Unstrained With Butter and Flour:
9 y.o. - "It's a little better. Still a little sour."
10 y.o. - (Not available to test; playing at a friend's house).
Hubby - (Same look) "Yeah, OK."
Me - I like it.

To the other half of the Unstrained/No Butter/No Flour batch:
Using my grandmother's strainer that's probably at least 50 years old, I tried to press the soup's liquid through.

Very thin.
I just reheated it.
Family Review of Strained, No Butter, No Flour:
9 y.o. - "It's good." She liked the texture and flavor
Hubby - Seems thin.
Me - Great flavor. Very thin.

To half of the strained batch:
1/2 - 1 T Butter - add to pot
1 T Flour - do as above (transfer a small amount of soup to a bowl, stir in flour, stir back into soup pot).
1/2 tsp sugar

Heat to boiling, stir occasionally
The final result: smooth and thicker -- The Family Winner
Family Review of Strained with Butter and Flour:
5 y.o. - "I love it!" And he did. He licked his bowl clean and finished Marie's after she changed her mind.
9 y.o. - At first: "It's good." Then after eating it a bit: "Still too bitter." (Skye, the 5 y.o. finished it).
10 y.o. - "I like it, but there's a little weird taste to it." Yeah, whatever. He went to town on it and gobbled it up.
Hubby - (with enthusiasm this time) "I like that one. Yeah. Thicker but smooth. I love it."
Me - It's good. I'm disappointed that I'm missing out on all the pulp and fiber that was strained away, and the yield wasn't much. The procedure had more steps in it than I was initially hoping for. I'll try Roni's again but try to blend it longer to see if I can make it smoother and keep the pulp.

We're not finished, yet. Do you remember the pulp in the strainer and the remaining batch of "Unstrained with Butter and Flour?" TOMATO SAUCE!

Add pulp to lonely, rejected batch of wannabe soup.
Add 1 tsp of sugar.
Heat and stir.

Yum! I look forward to trying it with another meal.
I'm storing it in the fridge. I'll let you know how the family likes it during another meal.

Update - On a different date, I tried pureeing the tomatoes in a blender for a longer duration -- much better. I used the puree for a chili recipe when I was out of canned tomato soup. I'll try the soup recipe again. I'm encouraged that my blender will do the job.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Amy's "Aye Caramba!" Cabbage Salad

Kid Rating: 2 out of 3 will tolerate a little bit
Do Again? Yes! Because Danny and I loved it, and the kids will just have to get used to it

This recipe is from Amy's Super Healthy Kids blog. Thanks, Amy, for sharing!

1/2 cabbage, shredded (she uses bagged pre-cut cabbage for time-savings)
1 carrot shredded (it's about 1 cup)
1/4-1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4-1/2 cup pecan pieces

And this fabulous homemade dressing (I used about half of the dressing and saved the rest):
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar (less to-taste if desired)
1/8 cup white vinegar
1 T poppy seeds

Dressing in the measuring cup, shredded cabbage, pecans,
dried cranberries, shredded carrots. See the remaining carrot
stick? My 5 yo pretends it's his light saber then eats it.

Question for you: How much of the center am I supposed
to remove?
Put how ever much you want of each ingredient in the bowl and stir.
Family Review:
5 y.o. - "It's sort of good and sort of bad."
9 y.o. - At first bite, it's sour, but it leaves a good after-taste. She's willing to eat "a little bit."
10 y.o. - "Not sure. Maybe no." -- But he's willing to eat a little bit, too.
Hubby - "It's really good. I love it."
Me - I like it, too. I'm pleasantly surprised how easy it is to make my own dressing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cabbage Stroganoff

Kid Rating: 2 out of 3 were fine with it
Do again: Yes, most definitely

I gleaned this recipe from Liz's Shedding the Fat-Suit. She adapted her recipe from here on Liz omitted the onions and added mushrooms and garlic. I brought back the onions and kept her idea of mushrooms and garlic.

I found this pretty easy to do and fairly quick. I spent extra time dicing for the kids. As they become used to it, I may make the pieces larger.

Here is my version:

1/2 head of cabbage, shredded fine
1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 portabella mushrooms, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic pressed
1 cube of beef bouillon crushed because I didn't have 1 tsp beef bouillon powder
3 T butter (I'm sure it could be substituted, but then maybe reconsider the sour cream)
1/3 cup sour cream (I set aside 1/2 the batch w/o sour cream and it was very good, too)
Dash of salt (I used my new-found-appreciation-for kosher salt)
Pepper to taste (I used freshly ground I had left over from the roasted Brussels sprout recipe
The ingredients (I forgot to include the garlic)

Diced (there's the garlic)

After crushing bouillon cube, I dissolved it with a small
amount of warm water.

Melt butter in pan - medium-high heat
Add onions and garlic
Cook about 1-2 minutes
Butter, garlic, and onions, med-hi, 1-2 min

Add mushrooms and bouillon (I know, it doesn't look appetizing)
Reduce heat to medium
Cover and cook 1-2 minutes
mushrooms and bullion added, med, covered, 1-2 min

Add cabbage
Cover and cook 1-2 min
Stir often
Remove cover, cook a few more minutes (until desired crunch/limp ratio is met)
Add salt and pepper (taste before adding salt because bouillon is salty)
added cabbage, stirred often, covered initially 1-2 min,
removed cover, cont. stirring often, cook until desired
consistency, add salt and pepper
Remove from heat.
I divided the batch and kept some without sour cream.
Add 1/3 cup-ish of sour cream and stir
Removed half of the batch before adding sour cream (L)
1/3 cup of sour cream added to batch on right

Family Review:
5 y.o. - tried both, spit out both
9 y.o. - tried both, prefers the version without sour cream
10 y.o. - tried both, preferred the version with sour cream
Hubby - Really liked it, preferred it with sour cream, looks forward to more
Me - Oh, yum, both versions

The 9 and 10 y.o. didn't want a lot of it, but they did eat it. I will continue to serve it to them. I think the 5 y.o. will get used to seeing it and eventually eat it.

Irrelevant side note: I had an unopened container of sour cream with a "Aug 2 10" date on it (it's September 18). Do I use it? I typically don't like sour cream; Danny is the sour cream lover in the family. I try it to see if it's good. How do you tell? It's sour to begin with. It seemed okay (for being sour cream). I asked Danny to do a taste test. He thought it was good. So, I used it. Therefore, if you want your cabbage stroganoff to be as good as mine, use unopened expired sour cream. (Just kidding).

Thanks, Liz!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Kid rating:  1 out of 3 like it
Do again:  Yes, with some tweaking

I got the recipe from here: roasted brussel sprouts  ( JAQATAC).  Many people on the site seemed to like it.  I raised the oven temp and reduced cooking time like some of the site's commenter's suggested, but I wish I had followed the recipe instead.

Preheat 400 degrees (I did 425)
1 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts
3 T Olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 ingredients - that's it!  I've never used kosher salt before.
I really liked it.  I finely ground the pepper so my kids
wouldn't bite into pepper chunks.
Trim sprouts and remove yellow leaves:
Before trimming

After trimming -- aren't they cute.
Put oil, salt, and pepper in bowl:

Put sprouts in bowl, stir to coat:

Pour onto baking sheet:

Roast for 30-45 min., shake pan every 5 min.
(I roasted for 12 minutes -- reducing temp to 400
after 10 min.)  They were smoking.

After roasting

Yum!  (I liked them, anyway).
Family Review:
5 y.o. - Tried but didn't like it.  I then gave him just the leaf; he didn't like the stem.

9 y.o. - Did not like it (and looked at me with a "sorry, mom" expression).  She said the outer leaves were okay.

10 y.o. - Ate it!  Would eat it again!  He said he rated it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Hubby - "It's an acquired taste."  He would eat it again for variety and eat it happily knowing how good it is for him, but it isn't something he would request.

I liked it, especially the outer layers.  The inside was a little bitter (the smallest ones weren't bitter to me).

Do-again changes:
1#, cut in half to coat inside as well.  I would have to stir instead of shake because they won't roll.
follow recipe exactly -- lower temp and cook longer --maybe cooking it longer will make the inside less bitter

Friday, September 17, 2010

Green Smoothie (AKA Shrek Shake to My Kids)

Kid Rating: 3 out of 3 will drink it
Do again? Yes, I make it often, sometimes stretches of every day

I was first inspired to try a green smoothie after reading
this article in Cranky Fitness. I was pleasantly surprised how good it was.

Prep: Ideally, slice and freeze a banana. Also, freeze a bag/package of fresh spinach leaves. I accidentally froze my bag of spinach once. I discovered this was actually a good thing -- it helped the shake be more frosty and preserved the spinach longer.

1 cup soy milk*
1 cup frozen fruit slices (I use 3/4 strawberries, 1/4 banana)
1-2 handfuls of frozen spinach
A splash of vanilla
A dash of cinnamon
1-2 tsp of sugar (or to taste)

*7-11-11 update:  After trying both soy milk and regular cow's milk with this recipe, I've discovered that soy milk has a much better consistency and color when mixed with the fruits and veggies (probably because it is also plant-based).  Milk tends to curdle a bit.  -- I use Silk Original, btw.

Maybe some protein powder at another time, but the shake doesn't taste as good with it. I omit it when making it for the kids.

{About the sugar: if I was a perfect mom that had perfect kids, I wouldn't need the sugar (maybe someday) -- right now, I'm trying to get spinach down their gullet. A green smoothie is better for them and less sugar than a fast-food shake. Doable changes, doable changes}.

It looks like a lot of spinach, but I can barely taste it. Start with one cup of the stuff; it won't be noticable. Also, if the blender is having a hard time, add more milk and/or stir.

Purty, ain't it? When I use dark berries such as blueberries, it looks nasty like the color of old play-doh that has all the colors mixed together. But it tastes good.

Family Review: Hubby, daughter, and I like it best. The boys drink it and like it more times than others depending on the batch.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Creamy Cabbage Soup

Rating: 3 out of 3 kids (Who knew?!)
Do again? Yes! We've made it twice this month already.

Homemade soup is so much better than canned, imo. It's fresher, the ingredients are simpler, and I can control the amount of salt added.

My friend gave me a cabbage from her garden a couple of weeks ago. I've never cooked with cabbage before. I took out my Betty Crocker cookbook and searched what I could do with a cabbage. This recipe is adapted from BC's.

It says to use 1 medium head of cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds). How big is a medium? I don't know what a small or large looks like. Who weighs a cabbage? I used 9 cups shredded this time. That was way too much. I used less the first time and liked the thinner consistency (and the kids agreed).

2 cups of water
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded (remove core)
1 large stalk of celery, chopped (I used two medium)
1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour

2 1/2 cups (more) water
1 Tablespoon instant chicken bouillon (I used a seasoning packet from dried ramen soup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Dash of ground nutmeg

1/2 cup whipping cream (I used 1% milk + 1 T extra butter the first time and liked it better)

Heat 2 cups of water in a 3 quart saucepan. Use a larger pan if you cut up too much cabbage like I did.
Way too much cabbage. Will it fit into the 3qt saucepan?

Add the cabbage, celery, and onion. Cover and heat to boiling. Stir occasionally. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. DO NOT DRAIN.

I will transfer over to a larger pot later.

Place in blender and blend until it's a uniform consistency. (I had to do it in batches because I used too much cabbage).

Heat butter in 3 quart large-enough saucepan over low heat until melted.
Stir in flour (I used heat-safe plastic whisk).
Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
Remove from heat.
Stir in 2 1/2 cups of water.
Heat until boiling, stirring constantly.
Boil and stir one minute.

Stir in cabbage mixture and seasonings. Heat just to boiling.

Flour, salt/pepper/nutmeg, chicken "bouillon" packet.

Stir in whipping cream (I also like 1% milk). Heat just until hot (do not boil).

Family review: we all liked it, although we liked the first batch better which had less cabbage (maybe 7 cups instead of 9) and used 1% milk instead of cream. It had a thinner consistency and enhanced flavor because it wasn't diluted with too much cabbage. I served it with saltine crackers.

I bet this would be just as good without milk or flour. (Something to try).

Betty Crocker's Cookbook: New and Revised. Golden Press, New York. Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1986, p. 311.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How This Blog Sprouted

Recently, my friend and neighbor offered to share the bounty from her garden. She brought green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow crook-neck squash, and a head of green cabbage. Sadly, I thought to myself as I looked at the cabbage, "What am I supposed to do with that?"

And that is how it is historically with me and most of the produce section of the store. I stroll by the beautiful displays and mentally speak to them, "I'd buy you, but I don't know what to do with you. Sorry. Nothing personal." Then I'd pick out familiar friends: iceberg lettuce, carrots, cucumber, potatoes and onions. I'd bring them home and rarely are they all used up before rotting in my fridge. It's a crime, huh?

I don't eat well. I look like I don't eat well, and I feel like I don't eat well.

I'm 41 years old. Last year, I began my first blog Fit by 41, Maybe 42. It reflects my journey to better health. It's not just about me losing weight, it's about making lifelong changes.

And one of those changes is taking the time to learn how to cook -- not just cook, but cook well to be well. Earlier this year, a fellow blogger challenged me to eat a new and different green veggie each day for a week. I did that, and since then, I've been on the look-out for ways to incorporate more of the stuff into my diet.

I'd like to record and share my "discoveries." Everything on this blog will be something I've actually prepared for my family and myself. Most of the entries will be successes -- things we like and will eat again. There may be some dislikes where I ask readers to share how I could make it better.

I'm not a radical person making strict, radical changes. I'm an obese mom and wife that wants to trade in her French fries for vegetables. My health depends on it. My children's health depends on it.

There may be healthier versions of what I prepare (i.e. - using homemade vegetable broth instead of butter for a sauté, etc.), but I'm trying to make positive lifelong changes in the right direction that I will adhere to. So butter may not be the best, but it's better than the junk I eat now. Baby steps.

But I will promise this: I will not dip and deep-fry anything. I want the veggies to stay veggies in all their glory.