Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Make Dried Parsley Flakes In 2 Minutes

Dry garden parsley before it freezes and enjoy all winter!

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Storing Herbs
If you go to the store to buy parsley, basil, or some other herb for a recipe, you usually use a tablespoon and, quite often, the rest goes to waste. Well, in two minutes you can turn parsley into parsley flakes and save them for later use. 

And if you are growing herbs in your garden, they will soon freeze so it's time to start drying those too.

I use a lot of dried parsley when I cook. It's a nutrient powerhouse. One tablespoon provides 8% of your daily requirement of both iron and manganese. It is also is a very good source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, riboflavin, calcium magnesium, and potassium and a good source of vitamins E and B6, niacin, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper and selenium. 

Parsley grows easily in the garden.

There are several ways to dry herbs. You can use a dehydrator, let them dry in the sun, place them in a warm oven, etc. But a technique that I think works the best is to put them in the microwave.

OK, I can hear you screaming from here as some of you feel very strongly about microwave cooking. So let me tell you how I personally feel about microwave ovens.

* I have never personally cooked a meal in a microwave oven. I think the results are inferior to other forms of cooking.

* I use them to rapidly heat up or defrost food using ceramic and glass vessels and I NEVER cover them with plastic wrap or any kind of plastic material that could leach into the food.

* I never stand in front of a microwave oven when it's in use - not because I am convinced scientifically that it's bad but just in case. 

* Since drying herbs takes only minutes, I believe that this technique preserves their nutrients.

Drying Parsley
Start with dry parsley. If I'm getting it out of my organic garden and it's fairly clean, I just shake it off. If you purchase it and want to wash it first, make sure it's completely dry before you start.

Place a paper towel on the bottom of your microwave. If you have a turntable, place the paper towel on the turntable. 

Remove the large stems from the parsley and place small clumps across the paper towel in a single layer.

Ready to be microwaved.

Close the door and microwave for 2 minutes.

After 2 minutes.

Test the parsley to see if it's completely dry. If not, set it for another minute.
Remove the parsley. If it's still warm, let it cool a bit. 

Dried parsley before removing the small stems.

Holding the small stems, pull the parsley off into a dish. Leave the flakes large or grind them into smaller flakes by rubbing them between your fingers. It's best to leave them larger and crumble them later when needed.

Place in a jar and store in your spice cabinet. Notice how the parsley retains its bright green color using this technique.

You can use this same technique with other herbs. The time may vary with each herb and with your particular microwave so experiment with small amounts until you get the formula down to your liking.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Roasted Delicata Squash with Rosemary
Easiest Winter Squash To Prepare

Delicata squash are easy to prepare since you can eat the skin.

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Delicata Squash
I wasn't very familiar with this winter squash until my friend Pam told me it was one of her favorites. So when I saw it in the nursery this summer, I decided to plant some. I'm glad I did because, after tasting it, I decided that it's one of my favorites too!

One of the reasons I immediately fell in love with this squash is because it has a delicate rind, hence the name delicata. This not only means that it's easier to cut, but it doesn't need to be peeled, much like a kombocha squash. Anyone who has wrestled with trying to cut pumpkins, butternut and spaghetti squash knows what I'm talking about.

Like other winter squash, delicata is a great source of carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. It's high in vitamin A and C as well as B vitamins (except for B12) and minerals such as manganese, copper and potassium. It's also a very good source of fiber. 

Here's a simple way to prepare it.

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Roasted Delicata Squash
Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free
[makes 4 servings]

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus some for greasing pan
1 1/2 pounds delicata squash
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease a shallow roasting pan or cover it with a Silpat sheet. If you use the Silpat sheet, do not grease the pan.

Cut the delicata squash vertically.

Remove the seeds and cut into half-moons, about 1/2 inch thick.

Place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and toss until evenly coated with oil and seasonings.

Spread evenly in a shallow roasting pan in a single layer.

Roast until tender and browned, about 30 to 40 minutes. Turn half way through.

Serve warm and enjoy!

For more simple and delicious vegan recipes, check out my eBook, Health Begins in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quick And Easy Poblano Rajas
No Need To Peel Poblanos!

Poblano rajas is a great topping for scrambles, tacos and more.

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Poblano Peppers
This year, I went a little crazy growing so many different peppers in my garden - peppers that I had never before prepared. Poblano peppers, for example. They grew easily and plentifully. I know they are used to make chile rellenos but since I don't eat cheese, I didn't know what else to do with them.

Poblano peppers originated in the state of Puebla, Mexico. They are very mild but once in a while you may get one that has a bit of heat. If you let them ripen, they will turn dark red and become quite spicy and flavorful. Dried, they become "chile ancho" and you can grind them up and use them to flavor dishes. 

I looked around for recipe ideas for my poblano peppers but just about every single one of them required removing their skin as you would do for roasted red peppers. But that's a bit tedious considering how many peppers my plant was putting out. Luckily my daughter was visiting and showed me how she makes poblano rajas without having to do that extra step. So at least for this recipe, you do not have to peel the poblanos.

You can use poblano rajas as a condiment for tofu scramble or eggs, tacos, burritos, beans, potatoes and more. 

My friend gave me a plant called Cuban Oregano (also known as Spanish Thyme). It's a great little herb and it goes well in this dish. But Mexican oregano and thyme are much easier to find and work very well in this recipe too.  

Cuban Oregano or Spanish Thyme
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Easy Poblano Rajas
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 1 1/2 cups]

2 large or 3 medium poblanos
1 tablespoon (or more) extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or thyme ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Salt to taste

Prepare the poblanos. Cut them in half vertically, remove their seeds and thinly slice.

Heat a frying pan with the oil. If you use a non-stick or enamel coated pan,1 tablespoon is probably enough. A stainless steel pan may take a bit more.

Add the sliced poblanos and cook on medium heat until they blister and soften, about 10 minutes. 

Add poblanos to the heated pan.

Cook until they blister.
Add the onions and cook until the onions soften and begin to brown. Stir in the garlic, salt and herbs and cook another minute or two. 

Serve warm and enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

5 Reasons Why Food Journals Can Double Your Weight Loss

With today's programs, journaling is easier than ever!

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In 1971, when I was pregnant with my son, I started a food journal. In retrospect I should have patented and marketed it! I wrote down every morsel that went into my mouth. I was only 22 years old and was obsessed with staying slim. Besides, I stood out enough being the only woman in my electrical engineering classes.

Nine months later I gave birth to a healthy, 6 1/2 pound baby boy. I brought my pre-pregnancy jeans with me to the hospital and wore them home.

Since that time, I always turn to journaling my food and exercise when I need to lose weight. Or if I'm on a cruise or vacation and I want to make sure I don't gain weight. Now is one of those times. I had foot surgery in February which actually made my neuroma pain worse so my usual exercise regimen has gone down the drain. Unfortunately I've been enjoying life at the same pre-surgery rate so I've gained about 5 pounds.  

I signed up to one of the popular fitness websites and started journaling a few days ago (more about that later.) But I will assure you that journaling works. In fact studies show that you will double your weight loss when you do this. I think it does more than that. I've seen it work for people who have not been able to lose significant weight despite many different diets and many tries. Here's why:

#1 - Journaling makes you mindful of what you eat. How many times have you passed the refrigerator, opened it, and popped something in your mouth without even thinking about it. Or at work, how can we resist that bowl of candy or pile of doughnuts sitting in the break room? When we do that, we are eating out of habit or boredom, certainly not because we are always that hungry. Writing down what you eat makes you stop and think, "I have to record this, maybe I don't need to eat it!" 

#2 - Education is another important aspect of food tracking. When you enter a food in a good food program, it will tell you how many calories, grams of fat, type of fat, grams of protein, grams of dietary fiber, grams of carbohydrates, etc. that you are consuming. Some app's allow you to customize the micronutrient you are interested in monitoring. You will quickly figure out that to meet (and not exceed) your daily calorie allotment, it is better to select an apple than a bag of chips. Or to get enough daily fiber, a cup of beans is far superior than a burger. With enough variety, through time you will learn what is in your food and will begin to naturally make better selections. 

#3 - Weight loss is basically calories in and calories out. When you track calories in, calories burned by exercising, and the actual weight loss accomplished, you experience and confirm that you can indeed control your weight. You are not heavy because "it runs in the family" or because "your metabolism magically slowed down." Weight gain is caused when a person eats more than he or she burns.

#4 - These programs also allow you to graph the results so you can see the outcome of good food choices and exercises. This feedback gives you a feeling of accomplishment that encourages you to continue your fitness and weight-loss journey. The act of setting daily, weekly and monthly goals and achieving them promotes success.

#5 - These programs also demonstrate the association of various exercises and calories burned. If you walk 30 minutes you get to eat a bit more that day or lose weight even faster. Believe me, it gets you moving! Even though I can't walk too far or run until my foot recovers, the program motivates me to get on my stationary bike, go swimming or do some strength training.

Find a Food and Exercise Tracker that Suits You
There are a number of good food trackers out there to work with. The one I started working with is MyFitnessPal. It's got a very large data base, which is key for ease of use. Many of the programs I've tried in the past do not. It even allows you to enter foods that don't appear on their database and share the new info with the community, if you wish. And once you've selected a food on one day, you can bring it up on other days. Since most of us repeat a lot of the foods we eat, that is a big plus. 

I was very disappointed at first to see that the program just tracked calories, protein, fat, carbs, etc. and not fiber. But happily I found out that you can actually pick the micronutrients that you want to track so I immediately added dietary fiber to the list. As many of you know, I think eating a high fiber diet is critical to healthy and successful weight loss. You can also set the program with respect to the percentages of each nutrient you want to track. For example, instead of 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbs which was the program's default settings, I set my goal for 20% fat, 20% protein, and 60% carbohydrates which more accurately reflects a more plant-centric diet.

To provide further motivation, MyFitnessPal allows you participate together with friends. Whether you do better when you are competing with someone or you just need some words of encouragement, having fitness buddies increases your odds of sticking to the program.

It's best to just sign up for one of these programs (the basic MyFitnessPal program is free) and play around with it. The most important thing is to just get started. You have nothing to lose except weight!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Freezing Summer Corn For Winter Pleasure
Lessons Learned From Growing Corn

Growing corn is fun. Eating it all winter is fabulous!

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Growing Corn
This year we made our first serious attempt at growing corn. It was fascinating - you could almost stand there and watch them get taller. As you can see in the picture above, they grew about 12 feet tall. 

I love corn and I especially love knowing exactly what I am eating. I know that our corn is organic and non-GMO so we have no worries there. 

I would like to say our first corn crop was a complete success but we could have done things a bit better. Here's what we learned in case you want to give it a try next year.

Lessons Learned
#1 - As you can see from the above picture, I definitely placed them too close together. I planted about 35 plants in a 4' x 8' raised bed. I think half as many would have been better. They still would have been close enough to wind pollinate but not be so close to block out the sun and create a cozy nest for pests.

Tassels hold the pollen which falls down upon the corn silks
The pollinated corn silks turn into kernels of corn

#2 - Speaking of pests, we learned that aphids love corn so keep an eye out for that. Hose them off and spray with insecticidal soap.

#3 - One positive thing I learned is that you don't have to hand pollinate corn if you have enough of them. The wind will do it for you. So many people on the web show videos of gardeners painstakingly hand fertilizing each corn silk. It looked like too much work for me so I let nature take its course. Thirty-five crowded corn plants managed to produce 48 ears of pretty nice corn so that was good enough for me.

#4 - Test a cob each week to check for ripeness. We let ours go too long and they were a bit tough. Thankfully they will still be good in soups and chowders. But next year we will definitely pick them earlier.

#5 - Be careful where you plant them or they could shade other parts of your vegetable garden. My strawberry patch was so happy yesterday after we harvested the corn. They haven't seen the sun in weeks!

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Freezing Corn
I thought the best and easiest way to save the corn for winter would be to freeze it since we don't have a pressure canner. Here's how to do it. 

Shuck the corn. Remove the outer leaves and silks. Here's a great blog post from a midwesterner that gives some good tips on how to clean corn

After you have cleaned all your corn, bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water.

Blanch the corn in boiling water for 4 minutes. Do not set the timer until the water comes back up to a boil.

Submerge the cooked corn in ice water.

Dry the corn by placing the cooled corn on towels.

Remove kernels from the corn. My husband has a trick for this. He breaks the corn in half and cuts it while on its side. This prevents the kernels from flying all over the kitchen.

Place in freezer bags. I generally like using our vacuum sealer but to make it easy, I just used 1 quart zip-lock bags. After placing about 2 cups of corn kernels in each bag, I gently moved the kernels around until they separated.

Remove the air and spread out the corn in a thin layer. I was able to fill 12 one-quart freezer bags with 2 cups of corn in each one. So my 48 ears of corn yielded 24 cups of corn kernels. Not bad for 35 seeds!

Date the bags and freeze.

Need some ideas for all your garden produce? For more than 150 healthy recipes and gorgeous photographs, check out my eBook, Health Begins in the Kitchen.