I have rediscovered my love of cooking! Part of the reason has to do with the fabulous and inspiring selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The rest has to do with my journey toward better health.

I hope to pack this section full of recipes, cooking tips and experiences in retraining my body and mind with respect to my relationship with food. The last part sounds complicated and it is. Those who’ve never struggled with serious weight issues and food disorders will say that it’s as easy as “eat less + exercise = weight loss.”  In the absence of any emotional ties, human failings or physical problems, yes, it is that easy.

But we are not automatons. Enough. You get the picture. Besides, this is about a fresh outlook, so let’s get cooking!


Don't throw those strawberries out!

Fresh strawberries

Strawberries, before

Suppose you’re digging in the back of the fridge, and you come across forgotten pints of strawberries. You look in the package and see that one or two of them have seen better days. Instead of chucking the whole lot of the them or heating up a summer kitchen baking a pie, consider using the perfectly good strawberries to make cool and refreshing Agua Fresca!

La Cabeza’s Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Ingredients
2 cups of hulled and sliced strawberries
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of water
4 cups of carbonated water
1/3 cup lime juice

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberries, after

Preparation
First, we macerate. Put strawberries, sugar, and the 1/2 cup of water in a mixing bowl. Mash the strawberries with a fork or potato masher, mixing well with the water and sugar. Either cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the mixture to another covered container. Refrigerate the berries for 3 to 4 hours, giving the sugar time to soften the fruit.

Remove the mixture from the fridge and pour into the blender, along with the lime juice. Pulse the sugared fruit and juice for about 30 seconds until it resembles a slurry. Pour the well-blended mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and pulp. You may either discard the seeds and pulp or do what I did: use a spatula to scrape these usable leftovers into plain yogurt. Voila! No waste except for the hulls.

Place the remaining liquid into a pitcher, carefully adding the carbonated water. If you want to make this an adult beverage, consider stirring in 3 shots of top shelf tequila or vodka to the pitcher before adding the carbonated water. Chill your agua fresca for a bit or pour it over cubed or shaved ice. Garnish with a twist of lime. Enjoy!

By the way, you can use this same recipe with cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, papaya or pineapple; almost any seasonal fruit will do. Let me know how you make your own Aqua Fresca!


Sweet, sweet potatoes

Bakes sweet potatoes

Sweet, mashed and tasty

Of late, I’ve been thinking of acorn squash. About slicing, then baking each half to a deep golden color. Alas, it’s not the season for acorn squash. But, for me, there is a nutritious substitute for the taste and texture of baked acorn squash: sweet potatoes!

Admittedly, prime time for sweet potatoes is in the fall but it’s worth eating them out of season when you find 3 or 4 good-looking tubers. Here’s what I did, from start to buttery finish.

Prep steps
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F)
Scrub potatoes under running water; remove the pointed ends. If they’re large, save some cooking time by cutting them in half. Place potatoes in a foil-lined pan.

Make some sugar
Place 3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar or cane sugar in a small bowl
Toss in a teaspoon or so of ground cinnamon
Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground ginger for a little zip
Mix thoroughly and taste. Adjust proportions to your liking, then set aside.

Bake the potatoes for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the thickness of the potato. Check on them after about an hour. If the skin is dark and the flesh is tender, then your spuds are done. Let them cool a bit before handling.

The big finish
Cut the potato in half, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. I chose to keep the skin on mine, so I cut each potato into small sections then mashed it with a fork. If you want a smoother finish, use a potato masher or a ricer. Before serving, dot your sweet potatoes with butter or your favorite butter substitute, then sprinkle the cinnamon-ginger sugar on top. The oohs, aahs, and yums are sure to follow.


I feel like chick'n tonight

Gardein chickn scallopini

Chick'n Scallopini with capers and lemon

Did you know that there’s a whole Meatless Monday movement sweeping the nation? Neither did I. The founders of this effort say their goal is, “…to help reduce meat consumption by 15%  to improve personal health and the health of the planet.”  They had me at “improving personal health.”

There’s a company that produces a line of garden-protein based meat, called Gardein. They’re traveling around the country for a month hosting Gardein parties to convince people that going meatless can be tasty and easy. Let’s just say I was skeptical about the “tasty” part. I don’t generally care for mock meat but I figured I had nothing to lose by trying a couple of the frozen and refrigerated entrees.

First up was  the Chick’n Scallopini. I sauteed the each piece of chick’n in olive oil, 2-3 minutes per side.  Next, I poured in a half-cup or so of vegetable broth, about 2 tablespoons of capers (who measures?), and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Turn off the heat and let the chick’n rest in the juices. From what I gather, it’s easy to overcook vegetable protein so watch the heat and timing closely.

I removed one piece and cut into it with my fork. I wanted to see if the look of the garden protein matched that of a regulation chicken breast. I have to say that they did a pretty good job of replicating the shredding texture. How does it taste? Honestly, it’s a little squeaky on the teeth but once you get past that, the lightly seasoned chick’n scallopini isn’t half-bad.

Although I love my dairy, I am not a big meat eater. That’s why it’s not very likely that I’d turn to meat-free options to satisfy an already-minimal craving. Should the need arise though, it is good to know that there are products like Gardein readily available.


Gardein provided free coupons for the product review.


Get Baked!

For some, “getting baked” means over-indulging in your partying agent of choice; forgetting it all and let the day flow by until mañana. Naturally, I didn’t resort to anything illegal but I’m thinking there ought to be a law against muffins this moist and tender and bursting with fruit. No, they don’t taste like commercial baked goods – partly because I used less sugar. They’re also free of preservatives and contain no unpronounceable ingredients. I think they’re better but I plead guilty to bias.

Blueberry Spelt Muffins

Blueberry Spelt Muffins

These muffins were born of fresh blueberries, butter, eggs, spelt flour and whole cane sugar (I used Sucanat). It’s the spelt that gives these muffins a slightly nutty, grainy taste. Between using less sugar and the high-fiber, nutrient-dense flour, these muffins could serve as a healthier, homemade alternative if you’re really jonesing for something sweet to munch. See Whole Foods for the  Blueberry Spelt Muffins recipe. I found helpful ideas for modifications in the comment section. Might be worth taking a look.


Friday Night Lights

Want something fast, fresh, and light? Drop a few ginormous red grapes and some crumbled goat cheese atop  mixed baby greens.  Add a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette dressing and you end up with sweet, tart, and creamy goodness in a bowl. Dig in!

Grapes goat cheese salad

Mixed Greens, Grapes & Goat Cheese


Touché! Swordfish on the menu

I should have known better than to linger at the fresh fish counter once they told me that the whitefish I wanted was not currently available. The “danger, danger” signs should have been clanging loud and clear when the totally cute fishmonger said, “Want to try some swordfish with mango salsa?” What can I say? I fall down, go boom. Looks beautiful. Tastes great and super easy to make.

Swordfish

Swordfish with mango salsa

Prepare fish: pat each steak with paper towel until dry, then rub the fish with the seasoning mix of your choice. I used Pike Place Fish Market’s “Our Own Rub.”  Put the fish back in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Heat olive oil and a little butter until your skillet is just hot enough to make water droplets dance. Sear the steaks about 4 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet while fish is still firm to avoid overcooking. Let the fish rest for minute or two. Before serving, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on the fish, then spoon on a bit of mango salsa for a colorful finishing touché!

 


Tomato, Tomahto

I cannot believe I hated tomatoes for all of my childhood and much of my adult life. Thank the deities, things change or else I’d be missing out on some juicy goodness from the vine. There are a couple of downsides that I can think of, though: accidentally buying mushy tomatoes or waiting too long to eat them and having them go rotten, despite your best intentions to cook them “tomorrow.”

I did neither with a recent purchase of three lovely, deep red fruit. Yep. We call it vegetable but ‘maters are fruit. I sliced them up and stored them in the fridge for use in quick and easy sandwiches such as a grilled cheese or the simplicity of this tomato on whole wheat toast with basil pesto. It’s a filling and delicious Meatless Monday choice.

Tomato sandwich

Tomato and pesto sandwich

 


Summer's Fresh Bounty

I am a sugar addict. I forsook baked goods and other processed sweets in favor of honey – that is, until I began drizzling the amber goodness indiscriminately and all too frequently. The good people at the Lifestyle Management program pointed out that all I was doing was displacing one food for another.  Yes, honey is “natural” but that doesn’t make it fair game for unrestrained, immoderate self-indulgence. Since I am prone to displacement, at least go for fruit.  It’s a good thing that July is blueberry month!

Berries

Blueberries and raspberries!

I used a pint of those blueberries to make a Blueberry Sour cream Pie with whole wheat crust. Thank you Whole Foods! Until I got charged up by food again, I had no idea their site was such a treasure trove of fresh, low fat or vegetarian / vegan recipes.  I also have plans to make Blueberry Spelt Muffins but instead of refined sugar, I’ll be trying Sucanat, a brand of pure dried sugar cane juice.  This unrefined low process sugar retains the nutrients of the sugar cane.

Watch out stove. Here I come!

 

 

 

 

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