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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Roasted Corn and Poblano Pizza

I can't take much credit for this recipe. I got it from Cooking Light years ago and just made a few changes- things like swapping out egg whites and using whole eggs, and using whole wheat pizza crust instead of white, packaged crust. The cilantro and sour cream topping really makes this dish, so don't leave those out. If you're afraid of hot, spicy foods, just make sure to remove all the seeds and skin-- that's where all the heat is. Then all you're left with is a mild chile flavor without it being too spicy.

Roasted Corn and Poblano Pizza


2 poblano chiles

Olive oil or butter for sauteing

2 cups corn kernels

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup whole milk

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Pizza dough*

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

*You can buy premade whole wheat pizza dough at stores like Trader Joe's and Fresh and Easy, in the refrigerated section. I make my own so that I know exactly what is in it.


Preheat broiler.
Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet; broil 10 minutes or until blackened and charred, turning occasionally. Place in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and discard skins, seeds, and stems. Chop peppers.
Lower oven temperature to 425°.
In a large skillet, melt butter or olive oil over medium high heat.  Add corn, green onions, and garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in milk; cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Cool slightly. Place eggs, salt, and black pepper in a bowl; stir with a whisk. Stir in poblano peppers, corn mixture, and cheese.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll dough onto parchment paper; pat dough to form a 13 x 8-inch rectangle. Spread corn mixture over dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold 1 inch of dough over corn mixture. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until set. Serve with sour cream; sprinkle with cilantro.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yoga for Weight Loss

Back in my cardio-loving days, I would have laughed at the title of this post. Because I thought that burning more calories was the answer for weight loss, I considered yoga to be not the best use of my time.

Yoga helps reduce stress. Stress in the body releases cortisol, a hormone known for its link to weight gain. Deep breathing and meditation, both important parts of a yoga workout, reduce stress. This is another way of working with your body.
 Contrast that with the person who is busy busy busy all day long, runs into the gym, continues running or doing some other form of cardio exercise, and then hurries on with their day. In that case, exercise continues to elevate the level of stress carried by the body. You send your body a message to burn calories and to produce cortisol, thus storing fat (particularly around the midsection)- a mixed message. (Note that in all three forms of exercise we've talked about, there are periods of rest, not a constant low grade stress on the body.)
Yoga helps you slow down your body and your mind.

Yoga strengthens your muscles. You get stronger when you hold poses for a long time. Though it works in a different (gentler) way than weight lifting, your body weight acts as resistance to build and tone muscles. And the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn, even at rest.

Yoga helps you feel good. With your muscles stretched and toned, of course you feel good after a yoga workout! But even more than that, you feel good about your body. Your muscles are stronger, and so is your mind. A few minutes of peace and relaxation helps you to remember that looking good is not what it's all about. You feel better about where your body is now and what it is able to do.
And when you feel good about your body, you want to treat your body better. You know that a donut is not going to nourish your body, and so- even when it sounds good! - it makes it easier to make a better choice.

I've said it before, but yoga is for everyone. If you are looking to start a fitness program, start with yoga.
Then, when you're ready to take it to the next level, you can add in heavy weightlifting and HIIT.

A sample weight loss, fat burning workout for the week (which doesn't include any traditional cardio) would look like this:
Monday- Yoga
Wednesday- HIIT
Thursday- Yoga
Friday- Yoga
Saturday- Heavy Weightlifting
Sunday- Rest

There you have it: a workout that is better than cardio. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

High Intensity Interval Training

Once a week, I do exercise that could be considered "cardio." It gets my heart pumping. But unlike a traditional cardio workout, where you perform low to moderate intensity activity throughout the workout, HIIT training has periods of rest.

The basic structure of a HIIT workout is a warmup followed by intervals of intense exercise and intervals of rest.

I walk down to my local park. It's about a 5 minute walk, and that counts as my warmup. Then I run sprints across the length of the park. I have never been much of a runner, and I still wouldn't say I'm fast, but when I sprint I give it everything I've got. I try to pretend that a bear is chasing me. Or that my baby is on the other end and a bad guy is going to get him if I don't hurry across that field. Or that I'm in a race and this is the last 30 yards to the finish line. It's that kind of a run. Totally. Intense. Focused. Running.
I walk back to where I started and catch my breath. The first two times, I always think, "Why did I think this was so hard last time? This isn't so bad." By the fourth time, I'm starting to remember why I thought it was so hard. And after the 6th time, I can't run back right away. I have to catch my breath a little longer before heading out for another intense sprint. I do this 6 to 10 times in a row and I walk back home.

The reason HIIT training works is that your body doesn't "get used" to it. Just like with progressively adding more difficult weights, you progressively add more challenges with HIIT training- either by making your rest intervals shorter and your intensity intervals longer, or by lengthening the total time of the workout.

Here are some ideas of exercises to perform doing HIIT training:
sprints or hill sprints
jump roping

Add your own ideas for HIIT in the comments below!

Kat at Body Incredible has some great thoughts on HIIT if you'd like to learn more.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weight Lifting for weight loss

In my last post I talked about why I think cardio is less effective for weight loss. Still. I do believe in exercise, and in the next three posts I will cover exercises that I believe ARE effective: heavy weightlifting, HIIT and yoga

Weight lifting. I learned about heavy weightlifting from Jen, personal trainer friend. I was already lifting weights, but she taught me a whole new concept. Instead of lifting 8 or 10 or even 15 pound dumbbells over and over and over, she taught me to lift heavy weights with less reps (repetitions). When she introduced me to this concept, I was used to teaching the S.E.T. (Strength Endurance Training) class at 24 hour fitness. We would lift weights for 3 minutes straight (followed by 3 minutes of cardio endurance). I would use about 20 pounds when I was squating for 3 minutes. With Jen's help, I worked up to squating 105 pounds-- and I definitely don't do it for 3 minutes straight!

The whole point of weight training is to tear muscle fibers so you can rebuild a stronger muscle. These tiny muscle tears happen when you add resistance-- or in other words, it has to keep getting harder!
When I was lifting a lighter weight over and over and over, I was working my heart, I was sweating, but after a while, my muscles got used to that kind of a workout. I wouldn't even get sore! With heavy weightlifting, I am always sore afterward, if I do it right. That's because I progressively add weight, or add a few more repetitions.

Weightlifting builds muscle. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn, even at rest. Or in other words, more muscle means a faster metabolism. That's what we're going for, right? Building muscle turns our bodies into calorie-burning machines.
When I was teaching aerobics, people would always ask me which burned more calories: cardio or weightlifting. The answer I would give was that cardio burned more calories during the hour you were doing it (usually not by a huge margin), but weightlifting burned calories while you were doing it and kept on burning calories afterward to feed the muscle you just built.

Weight lifting increases your metabolism because you force your body to build more muscle.

If you have never lifted weights before, it would be a great idea to have a personal trainer, or someone at the gym show you how. You want to make sure your form is correct so that you don't injure yourself. If you have done a little weight lifting in the past, here is a very basic workout that works all your major muscle groups and can be done in about 20 minutes. This is the workout that I always come back to if I'm in a hurry. It works the largest muscles in your body, making it efficient AND effective.

Warm up:
Squat (with no weights), 5 reps.
Chest Press with 5 lb. dumbbells, 5 reps.
Bent over row with 5 lb. dumbbells, 5 reps.

When doing heavy weightlifting, you want to try to lift at a weight that you can maintain for 10-15 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, your weight is too light. If you can't get to 10, take some weight off.

Squat with barbell., 10- 15 reps.
Chest Press with barbell, 10-15 reps.
Bent over row with barbell or heavy dumbbells, 10-15 reps each side.

Repeat this workout 2-3 times.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Former Aerobics Instructor is Now anti-Cardio

I went to a Jazzercise class last week with some friends. Jazzercise is basically aerobics, but each song has its own choreography. It was a lot of fun, and quite similar to what I used to do as an aerobics instructor. But it was interesting listening to them, and doing all this cardio when... I don't believe in it.

Let me just say first of all, that moving your body is good. Doing jazzercise, or aerobics, or jogging does keep your heart pumping and makes you feel good. But for weight loss (the reason most people exercise), I believe cardio is the least effective form of exercise.
Here are the reasons why I no longer believe in cardio:

It's not as simple as "calories in, calories out."  The instructors at my class today reminded us of how many calories we were burning. ("One class can burn up to 600 calories, ladies!")  But scientific studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise makes you hungrier. Your body wants to replace those lost calories. Basically, with cardio, you are fighting your body to lose weight. Dr. Stephan Guyenet uses a great analogy that helped me to visualize this. (You can listen to the entire podcast here.)  He said that losing weight by doing cardio is like having the a/c on in your house. But when it gets too cool and you want to warm it up a bit, you open the front door. Well, you know what happens then, right? The air conditioner works hard to cool the house, requiring more energy. With cardio, you are burning more calories (working harder), so your body will crave more calories for energy too.
If "calories in, calories out" worked, then you would exercise (calories out) and eat less (calories in). But that is missing one very simple physiological process: hunger. You can only fight your body's hunger signals for so long.

Cardio can do harm to joints and cause overuse injuries. During the weight portion of the class, we worked very specific small muscle groups over and over and over. Jumping and running definitely have their place in an exercise regimen, but all you have to do is look at the number of runners with bad knees to know that overuse injuries occur. Often.

Your body adapts to cardio. This means that doing the same exercise becomes less effective over time. Your body adapts to the exercise--  that's why it gets easier. Your body is becoming more efficient at the exercise. Good for the body, but bad for weight loss. That means that to do exactly the same exercise, you will be burning less calories after a month than you were when you started.

So maybe you know someone who started doing cardiovascular exercise and lost a lot of weight. Maybe you know a lot of people who have done that. But what if it wasn't the exercise at all?  What if, like my instructor said today, "after I've done a class, I don't want to go eat that cheeseburger. I worked so hard to burn those calories, I don't want to put them back in."  Maybe cardio exercise changes our psyche more than our figure, causing us to make other changes, like in what we eat. Or maybe, when we start working out, we are burning so many calories that our body has a hard time replacing them all through food. But as time goes on, and our bodies adapt, we burn less calories and our exercise is less effective at helping us lose weight.

Coming up: In my next post I will detail what I believe in instead of cardio and how to work with your body to lose weight.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wheat Berry Salad

This is one of my favorite warm weather recipes. I first tried it at a party at my sister in law's house. It does make a great party food when you're doing Mexican or Southwestern, but I love to make a batch and eat it all week for lunch. The flavors go so well together-- it's easy to pack in a lot of nutritous veggies when they taste this good! Another perk is that the only cooking is done in a crockpot, so it doesn't heat up the house.

Wheat Berry Salad

4 cups cooked wheat berries (see below for directions)
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1-2 cups corn, fresh or frozen and thawed
1-2 cups black beans

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (or lemon)
1 Tbsp. raw honey
1-2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt

Whisk together and pour over chopped vegetables and wheat. Mix all together.

Wheat berries:
Combine 4 cups wheat berry kernels, 10 cups water, and 2 tsp. sea salt in crock pot. Cook on low 8-10 hours. Drain off any excess water. Chill. Wheat berries can be frozen for up to a month, keeps a week or more in refrigerator.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Two For Tuesdays.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Giveaway winner!

You wouldn't think it would be that hard to get to the computer, enter some numbers in at and choose a winner for the Organic Manifesto Book Giveaway! But somehow, it's taken me a week to actually do it! Life has been busy around here, but I have finally chosen a winner...

Entry #11: Alex from A Moderate Life

Alex, I'll need your contact information to send you this great book. I hope you enjoy it!

More posts coming up soon...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

60 days with no sugar: what I learned

Going sugar free for the past couple of months was really eye-opening for me. My main motivation was to speed up my weight loss-- and I think it did-- but I learned some other things in the process.

Baked goods can be enjoyed without sugar. For the first month, I stopped making muffins for my family for breakfast. (I probably make muffins about once a week or so.) I didn't think they would taste good with no sugar, and I didn't think any substitutes would work quite as well. When I finally did try my banana nut muffins with honey, all wheat flour and coconut oil, they were great! I used honey in El Torito's sweet corn cake recipe, and no one even noticed the difference.

I have learned to like things a little less sweet. I use less sweeteners now, because I taste them more. As a culture, we not only eat sugar too often, but we eat too much of it when we do. A little sugar goes a loooong way. When you slowly cut it out, you change your taste. I used to live in Taiwan where I was a missionary. The Taiwanese people don't like things very sweet. They eat slightly sweetened beans for or fruit for dessert. Even the Snickers bars they sell in 7-11 have less sugar, because they just don't like things overly sweet. You can train yourself to like things less sweet.

The less you eat sugar, the less you crave sugar. And the opposite is also true. I think that's a good thing to remember if you are trying to cut sugar out of your diet. It will be hard at first, but will totally get easier. When those sugar cravings DO happen, it's usually your body telling you that you need fat. Have a few nuts and wait a little while and your craving WILL go away.

Most sugary foods aren't worth it anyway. Think about it for a minute. Most of the time, when you talk about sugary food, it's things like store bought cookies or ice cream... some may be okay, but most are not amazing. And most don't make you feel great afterward. Except for a little piece of dark chocolate. That does feel good on my stomach.

Cutting out sugar helps you lose weight. Studies have been done on this, but I will just add my own experience: my baby weight came off faster and easier while I was not eating sugar. I certainly didn't cut my caloric intake; I ate what I was hungry for, plenty of fat and protein and yes- carbs too, but no sugar or white flour. And my weight loss sped up. I am now within 10 pounds of my goal!

Be sure to check out my giveaway ending this week.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday, wholesome whole foods, and Vegetarian foodie fridays.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: Organic Manifesto

I'll admit it. When I am making food choices for my family, I am much more concerned about our health than about the greater good. The more I read, and the more I learn, the more I realize that they are linked. People can't be healthy if the environment isn't. We are all connected. This book helped me see the bigger picture-- what organic means for the earth.

I buy a lot of organic IF. I buy organic IF it's not too much more money. I buy organic IF it's in the budget. I buy organic IF the produce I'm buying is on the dirty dozen list. I'd love to say this book made me see the error of my ways and I will only buy organic from here on out. The truth is, we are on a budget, and there have to be some "ifs" if I am going to stick to it. But I think reading this book and better undertanding the consequences of chemical farming will cause me to think even more about getting that chemically raised food. Maybe if I can't afford it from now on I'll just skip it.

I want to get the message out about organics, so I am giving away a copy of Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale.

Any of the following are good for one entry:

1. Follow or subscribe to this blog via email and let me know that you do in a comment below.
2. Leave a comment telling why you want to learn more about gong organic.
3. Share this giveaway with a friend on email, facebook, twitter or a blog; each good for one entry.

I'll choose the winner at random at midnight on July 7th. This giveaway is only open to residents of the continental U.S. Good luck!

This post is part of Tasty Tuesday Parade, Tempt my Tummy Tuesdays, Delicious Dishes and Two For Tuesday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Renew You 2010

If you know me, you know I'm a big fan of FREE. I love getting something that I actually want without having to spend any money. This weekend we have that opportunity! There is a free teleseminar with amazing speakers called "Renew You 2010." All teleseminars are available 24/7 from June 24 to 28.

They will be speaking on the following topics:
■Karly Randolph Pitman: The Self-Care Pathway: Four Practices to End Emotional and Overeating

■JJ Virgin: Five Insider Secrets to Boost Your Energy, Shrink Your Waistline and Feel Your Best

■Brenda Kinsel: Defining Your Personal Style from the Inside Out

■Christine Arylo: Dare to be loved: Get the Love You Want by Loving Yourself First

■Connie Bennett: Break Free of Your Sugar Addiction with the Author of Sugar Shock!

■Rose Cole: The 3-Day Beautiful Skin Diet: Food for a Clearer, Younger & More Radiant Complexio

■Karen Russo: Discover a New Money Reality: The Love Path to Abundance

■Leanne Ely: Nurture, Nourishment and Nutrition: Saving You and Your Family One Meal at a Time

■Mary Tedesco: Inspired to Exercise: Get Active and Fit in 5 Fun Steps

■Laura Klein: The Smart Pantry: Time- and Money-Saving Foods for Health and Flavor

■Stephanie McWilliams: Your Space for Success: Designing Your Dream Environment for Greater Purpose, Passion and Profits

■LiYana Silver: Bringing Sexy Back: Decoding Desire, Attraction and Connection

■Melanie Dodaro: The Psychology of Permanent Weight Loss

■Alisa Vitti: Hot Sexy Hormones

■Jennifer Louden: Ending the Pain of Perfectionism
I am excited to listen and learn from these women. I will definitely be taking notes and hope to learn a lot that I am able to share. Click here to register and I'll see you there!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Black Bean, Corn and Zucchini Enchiladas

Near the end of the month, when most of my grocery budget (or all of it!) is gone, I try to find inexpensive meals that are still full of healthy, real food. Veggie and Bean stuffed enchiladas are delicious and a great way to stretch your budget. They are really filling and flavorful, and no one misses the meat. They are also gluten free. I served this last night with a side of cooked carrots. I included the cost breakdown. I make my own enchilada sauce, so it's really inexpensive. If you're purchasing it from the store, you may spend a little more.

Tortillas: 98 cents
2 Zucchini: 25 cents
1/2 pack corn: 50 cents
Black beans: $1
Enchilada sauce: .50 - $1.50
Cheese: $1
Total: $4.23 for 8 (or more) servings
Cost per serving: 53 cents!


2 Tbsp butter
2 cups diced zucchini
1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole-kernel corn
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups Enchilada Sauce, divided
Cooking spray
20 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
Sour cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups zucchini and corn; sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat, and stir in beans and 1 1/2 cups cheese.

Heat 1 cup Enchilada Sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat tortilla in sauce until hot, about 45 seconds on each side. Spoon about 1/4 cup zucchini mixture down center of 1 tortilla and roll up. Place seam-side down in baking dish. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, and zucchini mixture. Heat more enchilada sauce as needed.

Top enchiladas with any remaining enchilada sauce and cheese.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Top with sour cream and serve.
(This recipe is adapted from Cooking Light.)

Notes: I make my own enchilada sauce ahead of time and can it. I like knowing exactly what's in there, and it's more cost effective too.
I also make the beans ahead of time and can those. If you're really ambitious, you can soak the beans the night before, let them cook slowly all day, and then add them to the enchiladas to retain the most vitamins. That's what I do, only I add the step of pressure canning them and putting them in my pantry so I can use them whenever I need them.

This post is part of Two For Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Produce Buying Club

Every Saturday at 10:00, you can always find me at the same place. I am picking up produce at a beautiful resort/ farm. A group of us gather there to pickup our organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and eggs. Some of it does come from overseas, but some comes from just a mile away. A member of our group made the videos below with some of the farmers who grow the produce and the eggs for our group.

We talk a lot about moms cooking things with love-- well, when I watched these videos, that's what kept coming to mind. These farmers are farming with love. Watch as Mr. Guldseth carefully pulls a radish from the ground. He knows how it will taste; he has a passion for what he is doing.

Betty's eggs are the most colorful eggs I've ever seen. A mixture of blue-green, brown and speckled eggs fill those clear cartons, and the yolks are bright orange and so tasty. Most remarkable to me in the video was how much she cares about what she's doing.

If you've seen Food, Inc. compare the images of the henhouses, or the industrial crops being sprayed. Growing food with passion and love is better for everyone.

I was also impressed by the gratitude these people have that we're buying from them. They are able to do what they love, and we are better able to feed our families.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The G-Free Diet

I picked up a copy of the G-free diet by Elizabeth Hasselback at the library last week. To be honest, I don't think I'll ever go gluten-free, but I thought the book might be interesting, and the cover looked so cute I thought I'd check it out.

There was a lot of great information on celiac disease, which causes the body not to tolerate gluten. The first thing I learned from this book was that it takes constant work to make sure you aren't eating gluten! If any of you reading this haven't heard of Amy's blog, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, make sure to check it out. She has lots of great recipes and resources for those who are G-free.

The part of the book that I could most relate to is the Chapter "G-free and slim as can be!" Elisabeth explains healthy principles that can guide all of us in our food decisions, whether we are eating gluten or not.

From The G-Free Diet:

 "Gone are the days of living off foods with mile-long lists of ingredients, or one dimensional starches that left me forever craving more... without providing my body with the nutrients that it needed to thrive. I have more energy than before. I have more stamina to train and work out more efficiently. By default, when those factors are in synch, I tend to want to eat in a healthier way.

You, too may find that by building your diet around basic foods close to their natural state--foods direct from the earth such as fish and meats, fruits and vegetables and nuts-- you will nourish your body, instead of merely cluttering it with empty calories and unpronounceable chemicals...

We obsess over fat and calories but pay very little attention to actual ingredients in the foods we eat, and the essential nutrients that they should be delivering. Somehow, we lose sight of the fact that, quite simply, some foods are healthier and more nutritionally dense than others. Some foods fill us up and leave us happy and satisfied; other foods leave us constantly hungry for more. Foods that carry maximum nutritional impact are crucial , whether you have embarked on a particular diet out of necessity or by choice.

Most people can relate to episodes of overeating. Many times, you might feel a persistent dissatisfaction, even after a monster meal. Sound familiar? No matter what quantity of food you are eating, if your body is not getting the nutrients that it needs, it will continue to want more. Your body has an internal checklist of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that it needs every day to flourish. If your diet is not checking off every item on that list, your body sends signals to "keep on searching," to fill those nutritional deficiencies... thus throwing us into "overdrive eating."...

The secret to long-term health and fitness is not counting calories and fat and leaping on the scale first thing every morning. (I have done all of the above.)  Though these numbers may make you feel more in control, the critical information is what's behind those numbers. You can get triple the amount of fat from a bag of almonds than from a bag of M&M's, but the nutritional content isn't even in the same ballpark. In terms of heat and energy burned, 2000 calories is 2000 calories. That said, eating 2000 calories of junk a day would leave you with a significant mineral and vitamin deficiency-- and a significant lack of energy. Eventually, your body is going to cry uncle. Going G-free forces you to step up and start looking at the big picture."

EAting healthier for most of us doesn't have to mean going without gluten. It does mean making conscious decisions about our food. We need to choose whole over processed foods. We have to pay attention to what we're eating so that we can nourish our bodies.

Here are my suggestions to put this into practice:

1. Cook! Make something you would normally buy. If you make it, you can be sure of the ingredients.
2. Try something new. Quinoa. Kale. Flaxseed oil.
3. Read the list of ingredients rather than the nutritional facts on packages. Find out what your food is, rather than how much fat or calories it contains.
4. Take a look at your wheat intake. Try going wheat-free for a meal, a day, or more.

This post is part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, Two for Tuesdays, and Tuesday Tag Along.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with mozzarella and chicken

This was one of the first meals I learned to cook when my husband and I got married 10 years ago. That means it's easy, because I was not much of a cook back then. So, beginners, rest assured- this is right at your level.

This dinner's perfect as the weather warms up, because it's light and fresh. If you use the microwave, it won't heat up your house, but I like to use the oven to cook the squash to keep as many vitamins intact as possible. When I first learned this recipe, I used only extra virgin olive oil, but adding some butter makes it melt it your mouth. Oh, and speaking of melting- don't be afraid to add extra chunks of cheese. Those gooey, creamy bites of cheese make this dish.

Spaghetti Squash with Smoked mozzarella and chicken

Prep: 15 minutes

Microwave: 12 to 14 minutes

Oven: 45 minutes


1 medium spaghetti squash

1 Tbsp. Olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 medium tomatoes

2 ounces smoked mozzarella or gouda cheese

12 ounces chicken breast cut for stir fry

½ tsp. Salt

¼ tsp. Ground black pepper

¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. butter


1.With tip of sharp knife, pierce squash in about 10 places. Microwave on high 6 to 7 minutes. Turn squash over and pierce in another 10 places until squash is soft to the touch. Alternately, cut squash in half and bake for about 45 minutes, cut side down, in a 375 degree oven.

2.Meanwhile, in nonstick 12 inch skillet, heat olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender and golden, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.While onion is cooking, dice tomatoes and cheese.

4. Add chicken, ¼ tsp. Salt, and 1/8 tsp. Pepper to onion and cook until chicken loses its pink color throughout, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. (This is also a good recipe for leftover cooked chicken if you have some around.)

5.If using the microwave: When squash is done, cut lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Microwave or oven: With fork, gently scrape squash lengthwise and lift pulp out in strands as it becomes free; place in large bowl. Discard squash skin.

6.Mix tomatoes, cheese, ¼ tsp. Salt and 1/8 tsp. Pepper with hot squash. Spoon squash mixture into four individual bowls; top with onion and chicken mixture. Sprinkle with basil.

This post is part of Two for Tuesdays, Tasty Tuesdays, Tempt my tummy Tuesdays, and  Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and Delicious Dishes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Milk at the Grocery Store

Reading labels on milk can be confusing: organic, rBst-free, pasteurized, skim, whole, etc. What do they all mean and what is the best kind to buy?
If you have access to it, I'm a big fan of raw milk for health reasons. 
If you are limited to your local grocery store, you probably won't see raw milk on the shelf. 

What you will see:

Organic milk: I'm all for organic milk. In fact, the raw milk we buy (when we can afford it) is organic. The bad news is that most of the organic milk you find in the store is ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to high temperatures. This kills off bacteria and enzymes that actually aid in digestion. So, why do they do it? Well, mainly it's to give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization means that the milk can last on the shelf longer without spoiling.

Not all organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, but a lot of it is, so be sure to read the label.
The difference with organic and traditional milk is a simple question of if what the cow ate was treated with pesticides. No pesticides+ following lots of government regulations = certified organic.

rBst free milk: rBst is a growth hormone. It boosts milk production in cows by about 20 gallons per day. People in favor of using it say that it has no known effects on humans and that it is similar to a naturally occuring hormone in cows. Besides increasing milk supply, rBst also increases udder infections, which can increase the need for antibiotics. Your best bet is to find milk that comes from cows not given rBst. Many brands proclaim "rBst free" on the label. Walmart's Great Value milk has been rBst free since March 2008 (Source).

Skim milk, 1% and 2%: The first thing that is a problem with these low-fat milks, is that the body needs fat to use the vitamins in them. When the fat is taken out, the body is unable to absorb fat soluble vitamins. To make the milk thicker, powdered milk is added to 1 and 2% milk. Powdered milk is made by spray drying milk. This damages (oxidizes) the cholesterol, and has been shown to increase cholesterol in our bodies. This kind of milk does not do a body good! In Real Food, What to eat and why, by Nina Planck, Nina reminds us that in the olden days, the poor would sell off their cream and be left with only skim milk... and sickly children.

My recommendation: When I can't buy raw, organic milk and I have the normal grocery store selection, I would first look at the organic milk. Does it say "ultra-pasteurized" or UHT on the label? If so, skip it. It's great the cows never had pesticides, but since everything (good and bad) has been cooked out anyway, that is almost irrelevant. If it is pasteurized only, go with organic. If not, look at your whole milk selection and choose one that says rBst free on the label.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kitchen Blunders

The past couple of days have been spent canning tomatoes. I mentioned last week that tomatoes went on sale (for 50 cents a pound), and I canned whole tomatoes. For Memorial Day the same store had a three day sale for 33 cents/ pound Roma tomatoes. That was too good a deal to pass up. I spent the last couple of days in my kitchen canning spaghetti sauce and tomato soup.

I used my huge stockpot to simmer the spaghetti sauce. That's when disaster happened. Either the heat was too high, or the spoon was too short, or a combination of the two; either way, I ended up with a big mess at the bottom of my pan. And worse, a burnt taste in 50 pounds of spaghetti sauce!!! I googled it to find out how to get the taste out. One suggestion was a potato, but many other sites said this would not work. (However, if ever you put too much salt in your soup or sauce, it sounds like throwing a potato in and boiling will remove the salt.)

Instead, the suggestion that I kept coming across-- and people were all saying it worked-- was to add peanut butter. I put a small amount of sauce in a bowl and mixed in a little peanut butter. Then I tasted. No burnt taste. No peanut butter taste either. Amazing! I'm so thrilled to have saved my $16 of tomatoes, and even more important, my hard work! If ever your food starts burning and sticking to the pan, the best thing to do is ladle out the top half before you stir. Stirring just mixes in the burnt taste all throughout the food. But if you've already stirred, add some peanut butter to get rid of the taste.

The pan was another challenge. I had about an inch thick of charred tomatoes stuck to the bottom of my stainless steel pan. The best suggestions I found online were to soak in vinegar or baking soda. One said to soak in baking soda, boil baking soda water, then cool and scrape it off. It took a lot of elbow grease too, but I ended up with a usable pan again.

What kitchen blunders have you had, and what tips do you have to fix them?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Scallion Pancakes and Egg Drop Soup

This is a simple dinner that can be made with ingredients you probably have on hand. It doesn't take long to make, and is a kid favorite around here. The scallion pancakes are dipped in sauce, which makes them fun to eat. The kids also like the swirls of egg in the soup.
Scallion pancakes are a street food in Taiwan. You can find vendors selling these steaming hot pancakes, wrapped in paper, so you can eat on the go. They are usually quite large, but I made mine about the size of my frying pan, for obvious reasons.

Egg Drop Soup 

Boil 2 cups chicken broth in a medium saucepan. (Add salt if your broth is unsalted.) Add chopped scallions to taste. Beat 2 eggs with a fork.  Slowly add the eggs while stirring. Serve.

Scallion pancakes


1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup flour
Sesame oil
4 Tbsp  chopped scallion greens
Fat for frying

Mix flour and salt in the base of a stand mixer. Add olive oil and boiling water. If dough is too soft, add more flour (up to 1/4 cup). Knead about 5 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. (I skip this step, or just let it stand for a minute if I'm really in a hurry; it still turns out.) Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll out into a rectangle, brush with sesame oil and sprinkle with scallions.

From the long end, roll the dough into a cylinder, pinching the ends to seal. Coil into a little snail shape. Repeat with remaining dough. You can let the dough rest here for about 1/2 hour. I'm sure a chef could tell you why this step is so important. I'm not a chef, but a mom who is sometimes in a hurry, and I sometimes don't let it rest at all. ( I don't get to rest, why should my dinner?) Roll the coiled pancakes into circles, about 8 inches in diameter.

Heat fat in frying pan. I use beef tallow, but lard would also work well. If you don't have either of those, my next choice would be a combination of olive oil and butter. Whichever you choose, heat the fat, fry the pancake for about  to 3 minutes per side.

Dip in soy sauce, or try the egg roll dipping sauce here.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade and Vegetarian Foodie Fridays.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My new goal: no sugar

My youngest baby is 7 months old, and last time I checked, I'm still carrying around about 19 extra pounds (mostly in my lower body, see photo above). This is my fourth baby, so I have been through this before, but the weight wasn't coming off as fast as I would have liked (which, if you want to get technical, never comes off as fast as I would like). I decided it was time to really get serious about trying to lose this weight: I was going off sugar. I decided first to do an experiment. I wanted to see first if it was really hard, and second if it helped me lose weight any faster. For my experiment, I would go without any refined sugar or white flour for a week. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you probably know I don't eat a lot of sugar anyway. We hardly eat anything that is all white flour, but I would often mix it with wheat as a compromise with my husband.

The first question: was it really hard? NO! There were a few things I purposely didn't have around: no chocolate chips in the freezer, and I didn't make any muffins. I used honey or maple syrup in place of sugar for a sweetener, and I felt like I was getting plenty of sweet tastes in my diet.

The second question: Did I lose weight any faster? YES! After one week, I had lost 3 pounds. That was unexpected and really exciting for me. I don't think I lowered my calories at all, and I ate a lot of fats during that week. If I ever needed a treat, I made chocolate fudge with no sugar.

So, I've decided to continue on with my no sugar/ no white flour diet a little while longer. I know a goal should have specifics, like how long I am going to keep doing this...but for now, the goal is just to continue.

Confessions: The only times I have had sugar in the last month have been times when I was out to eat. Really, I don't know that there was sugar in it, but I'm just going to assume the pizza hut had some HFCS and the Pickup Stix was loaded with sugar. Oh, yeah, and the other time I cheated was my husband's birthday (even though I didn't even have sugar on my own birthday!). He requested I make him a German Chocolate Cake from scratch. It was the most fabulous cake I think I ever made and I have to say, totally worth it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

All alone canning tomatoes

Canning is a monotonous process. I enjoy it, but it's easy to let your mind wander. While canning tomatoes today, I thought of my pioneer forebears, who surely did this same task a couple of hundred years ago.  I got interrupted by the baby crying, by the two year old wanting to "help." Pioneers probably had more kids running around than the three I have home today. Maybe they would gather together with a big group of women, talking and peeling tomatoes to store for the winter. maybe an older child would be put in charge of the babies, or the women would take breaks to watch the kids. Maybe most of the kids could run around outside, because the world was a little safer then, and you could actually let kids do that.
When the tomatoes were ripe and they had more than they could possibly eat fresh, it would be time to can. Today, I'm alone in my kitchen canning tomatoes for no other reason that the fact that I was out of canned tomatoes, and they were on sale for 50 cents a pound.
I've had lots of canning "parties" where friends come over and we spend the day canning. I'm sure the pioneers would be envious of us, complaining of the heat in our air-conditioned house, the dishwasher ready to go when we dirty another load. But today, I'm a little envious of them. A little nostalgic for a time when this kind of homemaking skill was the norm, and it wasn't quite as hard to find people who were interested in canning also.
The method to canning tomatoes is very simple. You can use either a pressure canner or a water bath canner. Most fruits can be canned using a water bath canner, while vegetables need a pressure canner. Tomatoes lie right on the border for acidity. That means, as long as you add some lemon juice, you can use a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner. A water bath canner is much less expensive. I bought mine for $12 at Kmart several years ago. It's just a big pot with a holder for the jars. (Pressure canners usually cost somewhere around $100.)

Boil a large pot of water. Dip tomatoes in for one minute, then set in a bowl of cold water. Scoop out the ... and peel off the skin. Place whole in jars. Press down to fit in as many tomatoes as you can. (They will shrink a little while canning.) Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice per pint or 2 Tbsp. lemon juice per quart. Add sea salt if desired.

Keep unused lids and rims in a small pot of water heated at a low temperature. When the jars are filled, wipe around the top edges of the jar. Put lids and rims on. Boil in a water bath canner for 85 minutes.

Canned tomatoes will last at room temperature for about 1 year. These are a great alternative to store bought canned tomatoes (in actual cans) because the lining of those cans reacts with the acidity of the tomatoes, leaching BPA (bispenol A) into our food. BPA is a neuroendocrine disruptor. Canning your own is a cost effective way to avoid BPA, which is especially important for young children. (Source)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese is creamy and tastes much better than the store bought alternative. Store bought ricotta cheese has added preservatives to make it last longer. Ricotta's not hard to make, and unlike mozzarella cheese, doesn't take any special ingredients. All you need is milk, buttermilk and salt.

This recipe makes about 4 cups of fresh ricotta. It can easily be cut in half if you don't need that much. Although, there are so many yummy things to do with ricotta, you may just want to make the whole thing. Ricotta works well in lasagna recipes as well as stuffed shells or manicotti. You can also drizzle a little honey and some berries on top and eat it as a dessert. Ricotta can be served on top of pancakes, english muffins or crepes with a little maple syrup for sweetness.

This recipe comes from Cooking Light Italian. The only thing I changed was to use full fat dairy instead of low fat.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

1 gallon whole milk
5 cups buttermilk
1/2 tsp fine sea salt


Combine milk and buttermilk in a large stockpot. Cook over medium high heat until a thermometer registers 170, stirring occasionally (about 20 minutes). When it reaches 170, stop stirring. The cheese will start to separate from the whey. Keep heating until the temperature reaches 190. Remove from heat.

Drain cheese in a colander lined with damp cheesecloth. Whey will drip out. Reserve this for a later use, such as soaking oats for oatmeal. Let sit for 5 minutes. Gather edges of cheesecloth together and tie to a kitchen faucet or another place where it can drip into a bowl. Let drip for 15 minutes.

Scrape ricotta into a bowl. Stir in salt gently. Cool to room temperature.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

5 Reasons I love yoga

Yoga has definitely been an acquired taste for me. I didn't like it right away. It was so different from anything else I did in my life. It was slow. It was quiet. It kind of didn't seem like I was doing anything at all... Several years ago, I was asked to teach a Senior yoga class at the gym where I taught. I slowly came to appreciate that quiet time, where we would turn out the lights and focus on how our bodies felt.

Now, I do yoga almost every day and I love it. Below are 5 reasons why.

1. You can do it anytime of day. Maybe you're thinking you can do any workout any time of day... but it's not true. If you do cardio, or even heavy weightlifting in the middle of the day, you're going to have to take a shower afterward (you know you're not fooling anyone with that perfume shower), which means an added half hour at least to get all ready again. If you workout at night, it can make it hard to fall asleep. Cardio and weightlifting raise your core temperature, making you feel hot. That can also make it hard to sleep. Yoga, on the other hand, can help you wake up in the morning. It can help you relax before bedtime. It can also be done mid-day, with no shower necessary.

2. Yoga is everything I want for my old age. Yoga helps keeps you flexible. Your posture is straight and tall. You keep the joints lubricated and able to move. Isn't that what we all want when we are old? Mobility, flexibility and good posture? When I taught the Senior classes at the gym, I had a woman who would come diligently to the aerobics class, but never to the yoga. She once told me that she was having trouble turning her neck and it made it hard to drive, since she couldn't see over her shoulder. Another woman overheard, and said she didn't have that problem, because we always stretched our necks in yoga. Yoga also tones the muscles, keeping you strong and fit.

3. Yoga helps you calm the mind. That is important for everyone from students to stay at home moms to busy professionals. Taking deep breaths really helps you to slow down the mind. I don't know about you, but sometimes my mind is a never ending to do list. Yoga is a time when I can finally set that list down and feel really peaceful.

4. Yoga is for everyone. Yoga doesn't take a lot of equipment. All you need is a sticky mat, and maybe a yoga brick or strap. It can be done in your home with a DVD or even just going through the poses on your own. My two year old came and joined me on the mat today while I was doing yoga. He was able to do a pretty decent downward facing dog. I guess that shouldn't be too surprising, because babies seem to naturally do many yoga poses as they become more active. Elderly or injured people can also benefit from modified yoga. It truly is an exercise for every body.

5. Yoga helps you set goals. You can always improve with yoga. It is a constant state of progressing--you can always progress to the next level of intensity. And yet, yoga focuses on doing what your body feels comfortable with today. There isn't the pressure to keep up with anyone else. Instead, it's an inside drive, to listen to and understand your body, and to work with your body to get to the next level.

If you haven't tried yoga before, I'd encourage you to get out there and give it a try. Check out a Yoga DVD or book from the library, or better yet, take a class at a local studio.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Avocado Egg Rolls

Does that not look delicious? It is all real food, minus the store bought egg roll wrappers. If you are really ambitious, I'm sure you could make those yourself too, but I went with store bought myself. The ingredients on the list were okay. The two items I would have changed were to use wheat flour instead of white, and no "sodium benzoate" as a preservative. 

Anyway, even with the store bought wrappers, these were awesome! They tasted just like restaurant egg rolls, only much better for you because they were fried in healthy fats instead of a combination of soybean and other polyunsaturated fats you'd get at a restaurant. Hope you enjoy these as much as we did!


Dipping Sauce

  • 3-4 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews
  • 2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely
  • garlic cloves
  • green onions
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil


Add all ingredients and mix well.

  • Egg Rolls

  • 2 large avocados
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 egg roll wraps
  • 2 Tbsp. Cornstarch 
  • Egg Roll wrappers
Beef Tallow, Coconut oil, or Lard for frying


Thinly slice avocados. Lay out an egg roll wrapper. Fill the center with 2 avocado slices, tomato, red onion, and cilantro. Mix cornstarch with 4 Tbsp water. With finger or pastry brush, apply cornstarch mixture to top and sides of egg roll wrapper. Fold in bottom edge (about 1 inch), then left side, then top, then right side. Press to seal. Repeat with remaining egg rolls wrappers. Heat cooking fat in a deep pan. (I only use a small amount in the bottom of the pan.) Cook until golden brown, turning once, about 3 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Dessert, Dessert, Dessert

    If you are going to have dessert, make it count.

    I really try hard not to eat something just because it's there. Most store-bought cookies, cakes and candy are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. And almost as important... most of the time they don't even taste very good! My husband and I always ask each other "Is it worth it?" and if it's not... we pass. The more you do this, the easier it becomes!

    An easy way to make dessert healthier is to focus on fruits. Try berries with whipped cream, or frozen bananas. The other night for dessert, we had whole wheat graham crackers (sweetened with honey) spread peanut butter on top, sliced bananas over it and topped it all off with chocolate chips.


    For cookies, my main changes are to use wheat flour and reduce the sugar. I generally start by reducing the sugar by half. Sometimes that's all you can do, but other times, you can reduce a little bit more. This is my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, with the sugars already reduced by half. You can use full sized chocolate chips, but using mini chocolate chips helps you use less without feeling deprived-- you still get lots of chips in every cookie. Blend the oats in the blender. I like to make these cookies in a pan for bar cookies, so they are nice and thick.

    Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

    1 cup butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    2 eggs
    2 cups wheat flour
    2 1/2 cups powdered oats
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp vanilla
    Mini chocolate chips
    Walnuts or pecans

    Cream butter and sugar. Add brown sugar, then eggs, then vanilla, then baking powder and baking soda. Once all is mixed together add wheat flour and powdered oats (blend oats in blender first). Then add chocolate chips. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, or 21 minutes for a 9x 13 pan.

    Dairy Desserts

    Dairy based desserts, like ice cream and pudding, blend well with maple syrup or agave nectar. These are less refined than sugar, and work well as a substitute. The other ingredients are good for you with lots of nutrition, like whole milk and eggs. These recipes come from The Joy of Cooking, with the only change in the amount and type of sweetener. Be sure to plan ahead, because these need time to chill.

    Vanilla Pudding

    Mix thoroughly in a heavy saucepan:
    1/3 cup maple syrup
    2 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
    1/8 tsp salt

    Gradually stir in, making a smooth, runny paste:
    1/3 cup whole milk or half and half
    Whisk in:
    1 2/3 cups whole milk or half and half
    Stirring constantly, heat over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat to low; stirring briskly, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, then stir in:
    2 tsp. vanilla
    Pour into bowl or individual serving cups. Place plastic wrap directly on the pudding to prevent a film from forming.
    Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

    Chocolate Pudding

    Mix together thoroughly in a heavy saucepan:
    1/3 cup agave nectar
    1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
    1/8 tsp. salt
    Gradually stir in, making a smooth, runny paste:
    1/3 cup warm water
    Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat. For an espeically thick and chocolaty pudding, add and stir briskly until melted:
    1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    Stir in:
    1 3/4 cup half and half
    Place in a bowl:
    3 Tbsp. cornstarch
    Very gradually add, making a smooth paste:
    1/4 cup half and half
    Throughly stir the cornstarch paste into the chocolate mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low; stirring briskly, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, then stir in:
    1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

    Pour into bowl or individual serving cups. Place plastic wrap directly on the pudding to prevent a film from forming.
    Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

    No Sugar Dessert

    I have been trying to cut out sugar altogether for the last couple of weeks (I'll tell you more about how that's going in a future post). My new favorite treat is a chocolate fudge recipe I found here. SO. GOOD. And no sugar= no guilt! I follow the directions exactly, then pour it into petit fours cups (you could use muffin cups also, but I like the bite size pieces), and add a nut (almond or walnut) on top.

    This post is part of Pennywise Platter.