Fall Recipe Parade – Yes, there’s some pumpkin

It’s that time of year – one of the many that sneaks up on me each and every year. While it is still sunny and warm here in mid-Maryland, I am apparently supposed to desperately want pumpkin everything. And honestly, I’m okay with that (except for the coffee thing, I don’t get it – but to each her own coffee). Here at the pantry we do have a healthy love of pumpkin. We also love the other flavors of fall and the opportunity to break out those super warming dishes as the temperatures begin to drop. To welcome this season of bounty and cool nights, we offer you a treasure trove of autumn yum. Most of these recipes are both gluten and dairy free. :-)

Morning Warmer Uppers

  

1. Pumpkin French Toast

2. Dark Chocolate Steel Cut Oats

3. Sweet Potato Apple Oats

Mains

  

4. Slow Cooker Burritos

5. Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala 

6. Sweet Potato Chili with Greens

Sides

  

7. Amazing Applesauce

8. Herbed Bulghur Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Cranberries

9. Waldorf Saute

Sweet Endings

  

10. Super Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies

11. Walnut Crust Apple Pie

12. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Yay for pumpkins and apples, for warm afternoons and cool mornings, for low humidity and crunchy leaves, for new pencils and new schedules. Here’s to fall and wonderful food, family, and friends. Delish!

Super Easy Freezer Pickles

 photo IMG_0689.jpgI may have mentioned it already, but I have a cucumber problem this year. I haven’t had a cucumber problem in many, many years. I can only assume that our relatively cool summer prevented the nasty powdery mildew and other humidity related diseases that eventually do in all of my curcurbits. In surveying my cucumber bounty, I knew there was only one answer, to pickle some of them. Big Sis and I have already shared some pickle preparations, but they aren’t really meant for the long haul, sort of more of a 10 day window on those puppies. My past experiences with hot water canning for pickles left a bad and totally non crunchy pickle taste in my mouth.

 photo IMG_0687.jpgAnd so in honor of our cool summer, I turned from one temperature extreme to the other in search of a perfect freezer pickle recipe. I found this one, and then didn’t follow it. :-) Who on earth needs 4 cups of sugar in anything? Not this momma. And I assume that the turmeric was added for the sake of color – to make them look more like commercial pickles, which use yellow food dye to look like what? What would happen if we all just decided greenish pickles are okay? But, I digress. I hustled out to the store and picked up some of these babies. I could use glass, and with a vinegar based brine I usually would, however, one of my kids’ new chores is to do the fetch it run from the downstairs freezer and I had visions of freezer pickles all over the basement. So I went with plastic.

This couldn’t have been easier. These won’t last as long as water bath pickles would, but given the reaction my kids had to the batch I prepared last week, they won’t make it until winter anyway.

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  • 8 pounds cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2T salt
  • 1 1/2 c maple syrup (oh yes I did)
  • 1 c white vinegar
  • 1 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t celery seed
  • 1 t mustard seed

In a large container (I had to use my largest pot), combine cucumbers, onion, and salt and let sit for 3 hours, stirring periodically. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 2-3 hours. Drain and rinse cucumbers and onions. Add liquid to cucumbers (being sure to get them out of the strainer first… I’ve done such things). Pack in 1 pint containers, being sure to leave at least an inch at the top for freezer expansion. Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Thaw in fridge, consume with a week or so. Crunchy, sour, sweet, delish!
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Zucchini Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies (DF)

The garden continues to produce green squash at a startling rate. What a lovely problem to have. If the plants keep up like this I will surely shred and freeze a good bit of it for use in zucchini bread and mac and cheez in the colder months, but it’s nice to have some to use right now, today, when our thoughts are turning toward books, notebooks, pencils (I love the smell of new pencils) and  LUNCHBOXES. It is time for Momma to get busy making some reasonable goodies for those lunch boxes.

 photo IMG_0658.jpgWhile I was thinking about the need to start baking for school and noticing the abundant zucchini, the internet happened and mashed them together for me. I was inspired and responded with my usual “Ooooh, that looks good. What ingredients should I change?” The result got a straight yummy thumbs up from 3 of the 4 of us and even earned a “pretty good” from Ms. Picky Pants. That is a good cooking day in my house. Because of the lower fat content, these cookies are a little more biscuity than most, but ring all the necessary cookie bells to satisfy treat eaters who are willing to overlook the little flecks of green, which I think are beautiful, BTW. And so, without further ado, I give you… Continue reading

Grilled dessert… with or without chocolate

Grilled vegetables are not new to me, and like roasted vegetables, I never tire of them.  Whatever you have in the garden or the vegetable bin will probably be great coated with a little oil or marinade and then skewered, ka-bob’ed, wrapped in foil, laid right on the grate or tossed in a fancy grilling box to sizzle over the coals for 15 – 30 minutes depending on how big you cut it and how tough it is.  I particularly like to include colored peppers for their sweetness and red onion because it infuses everything with a lovely flavor.  Zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, green beans, whole cherry or grape tomatoes – it’s all good!  Corn is good on the grill also and Little Sis has a no-fuss method here.

The eye-opener for us this summer is grilled pineapple.  After the veggies are done, we just lay rings of pineapple (I’ve used fresh, not tried canned) right on the grate and let them sit until warm or seared – whatever you like!  I do brush the slices very lightly with oil first – I used avocado, but coconut would be awesome as well – both of these are safe high heat oils.  Let them cook about 5 minutes a side, but keep an eye because it all depends on how hot and how close the coals.

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The flavor is amazing!!!  Sweet, juicy and a perfect summer dessert.  The first time we did this the fire was hotter and we got the lovely brown char lines on the pineapple.  Last night the fire was cooler, so no lines, but it was still awesome.  Our guests really enjoyed it.  One of our brilliant guests spied the dark chocolate that the children had rejected for use in s’mores and wondered if the pineapple would be even better with chocolate on top.  Well, very few things suffer from the addition of chocolate, so…. we tried it.

Melt some squares of chocolate – estimate how much you’ll need for the amount of pineapple in question.  We did not have much pineapple left, so I did probably 2 ounces.  Adding a little coconut oil makes it drizzlier, I added very little- probably 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon.

Melt slowly in the microwave (15 – 20 seconds a few times, then less, stirring between), or in a double boiler.

Cut your pineapple into chunks and either drizzle the chocolate over, or let people dip.  Luckily the kids didn’t see what we were doing right away.  Let them have s’mores – I’ll take chocolate drizzled pineapple any day of the week!  Mixed in with friends, kids setting off  bottle rockets, and top it all off with reading beside the fire after the guests were gone and the evening was very sweet all around!

20140705_202014-001Have you got any fruit on the grill this summer?

 

Green Beans, Raspberries and Almonds Oh My!

 photo IMG_0459.jpgSummer is here FOR REAL. Know how I know? It’s not the lack of school. It’s not the calendar. It’s not the heat. It’s not the clothes and toys strewn around the house with wild abandon. It’s the garden. My garden has told me that summer is well and truly here by giving me a glorious bounty of green beans and raspberries.

We planted a small grouping of raspberry canes three years ago. I now have a raspberry thicket that in the last two days has yielded 8 cups of deliciously sweet and fabulous raspberries. And that’s after the Japanese Beetles take a share. I must have found one of those magic spots in gardening, because frankly I’ve not done anything special for these raspberry canes. They are so vigorous that they are taming the mint that somehow got in the ground over there (what kind of idiot would plant mint in the ground… ahem… yeah…).

 photo IMG_0465.jpgMy favorite summer meal game is to look at the produce I have and find a way to put it together and enjoy it. So a few days ago I was staring at a big bowl of green beans and a big bowl of raspberries. Why not? I’ve done beans with oranges, why not berries? Why not indeed?

Green Beans with Raspberries and Almonds

  • olive oil for the pan
  • green beans – as fresh as possible, so much yummier fresh
  • salt to taste
  • raspberries
  • almonds
  • balsamic vinegar

Yes, that’s it. No I don’t have quantities. I feel confident saying that your own preferences can rule the day on this one. Warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the green beans to the pan. The key is to sauté the beans until they are just al dente. They will get a little deeper green and sweat a little. Add a sprinkle of salt. When beans are very nearly to the tenderness you prefer (yes, you have to taste them to determine this), add the raspberries and almonds. Give them some gentle stirs. Splash in some balsamic vinegar and stir gently to distribute. The raspberries are delicate and will disintegrate if you over-bother them. When warm, remove from heat and serve. Eat as soon as possible and with great summery gusto. Delish!
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BBQ Slaw as a Main Dish? Yes, Please (GF,DF)

Summer has arrived and while on the one hand that means veggies are becoming plentiful and delicious and oh so fresh, but it’s also the time for all kinds of food traditions that don’t line up as well with my current efforts. Let me be clear – I am no purist. If the occasion or the offering is adequately compelling, I will ditch my well-honed nutritional guidelines, but in order to have that only be a very occasional complete gustatorial debauch, I am also very much in favor of scratching the craving itch without crossing any health lines.

So one of the things I admit a weakness for is barbecue. Barbecued whatever. It’s typically not as appealing to me as it used to be as I’ve developed some real aversions to the usual carriers of barbecue sauce, but I can still bring the flavor to my mouth just by thinking about it. Oh yes, I can dig some barbecue.

In my family, barbecue meant North Carolina barbecue and I love love love that and it falls into the category of foods for which I will nutritionally sin and that is the end of that. But when it comes to the other kind – the tomato-y kind, that’s the one I’d like to flirt with, but not really take home. This dilemma has been solved. Thanks, in part, to The Washington Post.

Apparently North Carolina Piedmont Slaw is a thing. It’s a regional thing, and I now officially love it. Especially since I tampered with it and made it a meal, not a side. Ditched some of the sugar, and added sprouted beans to make the most powerful summertime party slaw you’re gonna wanna eat. No fear, I’m sure unsprouted beans would also be fine, I just happened to have an enormous bag of sprouted ones (thank you Costco).

Power Barbecue Slaw inspired by North Carolina Piedmont Slaw, Washington Post

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  • 1 medium head cabbage (I used half green, half red)
  • 2 c dried beans of small size, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (read the nutritional label to check sugar content)
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t paprika
  • hot sauce to taste

Why the two colors of cabbage? Because it’s pretty, yup, that’s it. Know what else? Cabbage is CHEAP. This is a veggie where I can let my aesthetic preferences govern the budget. I initially started grating the cabbage in the food processor, but didn’t like how small it was grating, so I only did half of it that way. Honestly, cabbage is not hard to chop as it does a lot of the work for you, what with all those little segments. Moving on, chopped cabbage in large bowl. Add drained, and preferably cool, or at least cooled with cold water rinse beans.

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Mix the next 6 ingredients in a separate bowl. Add to cabbage and beans. Mix gently to distribute. Serve as part of a salad, serve as a side, or do like we did and turn it into a sloppy jane, with a few pecans on top. Oh yes. That’s some good summer eating. Delish.

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Easy Refrigerator Dills

Alas the beach, and the FABULOUS cake Little Sis made for my birthday, are in the past… back to the grind of work and school (for me) and needing healthy snacks and sides.  I come from pickle people and pickles are a lovely and potentially healthy side or snack, but….. Yes, you know what’s coming next.  You just can’t find healthy pickles very easily.

Little Sis threw up her hands last year over the amount of sugar in processed sweet pickles and after asking you, our wonderful readers, for help and input, she offered up this very fine recipe that replaces those store bought pickles with something very tasty but much healthier.

We enjoy her pickles very much.  In fact I keep a large jar in the frig in which I started the pickles by following her recipe and to which I add another cucumber, another Tbsp of sugar and apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt 3 or 4 times before following the recipe again.

But what about dill pickles?  They cost a bloody fortune!  So I’ve adapted Little Sis’ approach to dill pickles and although my son thought the results a little too garlicky – the beauty part is that I can change it next time!  In fact I’ve added another cucumber to the jar method without adding any more flavor and this has toned it down more to his liking.

Heck this is so easy, one could have several varieties going at the same time!

This is very much like the original recipe but with less sugar as well as the addition of garlic, dill and pepper flakes.

Easy Refrigerator Dills

1 large English cucumber or 2 medium cucumbers
2 c water
1 small clove garlic, minced or mashed (I used a fairly large clove and it was a bit strong – so use less for less garlic flavor)
1/2 c apple cider
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 – 1 tsp dill
pinch pepper flakes

Heat water, garlic, sugar, salt, and apple cider vinegar to almost boiling, or until sugar and salt are dissolved
Let cool to room temperature
Slice cucumber(s) and place in glass bowl or jar with a cover
When liquid is cooler, add the spices, stir and pour over cucumbers.

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Store in the refrigerator and give a couple of hours for flavor to develop.
Keep a sweet and a dill jar going in the frig – makes a great side dish, snack for school or work or on a hot day.  Nothing like a cool pickle on a hot day!

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Make note if you think one taste is too strong and reduce or increase for the next batch!

Although cucumbers are not summer-time cheap yet, I still find this less expensive than pickles….. and with less processing, less sugar and less other ingredients.  A whole lot easier to swallow!!

 

Sugar in Cereals – New Information from EWG

Well friends, Environmental Working Group, the same folks who bring us the annual sunscreen report, have done an analysis of boxed cereals, and as we’ve suggested in the past, the news is not good. The worst of the bunch are 12 cereals that are more than 50 % sugar. Let me say that again, cereals that are more than 50% sugar.

Take a moment and picture a bowl of say, Rice Krispies or Cheerios. Now picture that bowl with a line down the middle, cereal to the left and sugar to the right, in equal measure. That is what a bowl full of Froot Loops with Marshmallows or Honey Smacks is. All of these cereals that EWG places in the “Hall of Shame” are marketed with animated characters, bright colors, and some even make nutrition claims about high fiber and other benefits that are drowned in half a bowl of sugar.

If you or your tribe members eat boxed cereal, give this writeup a look, see where your favorites are. If you need to make some changes, EWG has made some general suggestions on how to cut back on the morning sugar rush. In our house when the sugar numbers on cereals started creeping up (meaning above 5g per serving), we began insisting that the kids mix that cereal with one that is MUCH lower (like 1g). We also limit the quantity and will offer them other food if they are still hungry. I found that the kids would continue eating cereal long after they were satisfied. When they asked for more and I offered an alternative, they’d say “No, I’m full.” The sugar keeps them coming back, long after their appetites are satisfied. Part of the magic of that sweet demon I suppose, but one over which we have some control.

Not sure why all the fuss over sugary cereals? Take a look at this on what sugar does to your brain. Or read about the insulin response produced by eating the sugar regularly included in processed foods that researchers believe may be the leading cause of obesity here.

Thank you EWG for looking at this serious issue and helping to shed some light on the giant and ridiculous cereal aisle.

For more information about teaching children about healthful morning choices, see Lessons From the Cereal Aisle. For more information about reducing the sugar in your diet, see Big Sis’ post about Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time.

Fed Up with Diet By Advertising

Sugar – looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it?

In honor of the release of Fed Up, a documentary about the power of sugar in our food supply, I’ve decided to take another look at my own (and my children’s sugar intake), and to remind myself WHY I would still be concerned about it.

This documentary, and most of what I’ve read about sugar and processed food in the last 10 year,s leads me to the conclusion that I cannot trust food manufacturers with my health. (See Salt, Sugar, Fat for more about that.) And it seems to me that there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of packaging and readiness and the healthfulness of the actual item. There are, of course, exceptions in the “natural foods” category. I can purchase prepared foods with less sugar, fewer chemicals, but these items ARE exceptions.

I don’t particularly want to build a life of eating exceptions. Processed food that doesn’t contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat is usually very expensive, and frankly, it’s just unnecessary. Somewhere along the way some very smart guys (think Mad Men with fewer cocktails and hopefully a little less infidelity) did a real good job of convincing Americans that we don’t have time to actually prepare (rather than warm) our food and that we’ll be fine just purchasing and warming the stuff their corporate sponsors produce.

The notion that we should be eating processed food, that it’s yummy, that it’s nutritious, that it’s convenient, that it’s inexpensive is an ad campaign. That’s it. And ad campaign. It’s not science. It’s not sound personal finance or family friendly economics. It’s not what your doctor recommended or what your grandma told you to do. It’s an ad campaign. I don’t want to build a life on an ad campaign. I don’t want my children’s health to be the result of an ad campaign.

Here at the pantry Big Sis and I have consistently embraced the fundamental importance of real food – food that you cook for yourself – as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. There are lots of models of “healthy” eating out there and they differ in some pretty important ways, but almost all of the ones that involve a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary restriction or substitution of their processed food for your preferred processed food, will lead you to Michael Pollan’s very sound, and very simple advice about food. 1) Eat food (by this he means food, not packages or chemicals), 2) Mostly vegetables, 3) Not too much.

Notice that nowhere in this simple advice does Mr. Pollan suggest that you consume a whole lot of sugar. If you are convinced that you don’t have time to eat better, or that there’s no way that changing your eating habits can really work or be affordable or fit into your schedule, I implore you to see Fed Up, or read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Don’t have time for all that? Check out our posts on sugar, on Salt, Sugar, Fat. Make sure you know the true cost of that easy food. If you’re convinced, but not sure where to turn, we can help. Check out our Sugar Busting and Baby Steps to Better Health series. Or take 5 minutes and read about cutting sugar at breakfast time. You can do this; you really can. We’ll help.

While you get started, I’ll be doubling back, checking for slippage, doing some quick calculations of my and my kids’ regular sugar intake. When it comes right down to it, we just don’t need that much, and the less we eat, the less we need to enjoy a little sweet satisfaction in our long, healthy lives.

Fed Up – Hollywood Takes on Sugar

Have you heard?

Have you seen it?

I haven’t seen it yet, but seeing who they’ve interviewed, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there. And I’m so very glad to hear people talking about sugar with such big voices on such big screens. Maybe you’re not as excited as I am.

Are you afraid?

Are you ready to change things?

Are you ready to take control of your health?

You don’t need that stuff.

We’ll help.

For tips on how to start cutting sugar in your diet, click on the Sugar Busting category on the sideboard or on the tabs above. For a more comprehensive overhaul (which will include cutting the sugar), click on the Baby Steps to Better Health category.

You can do this, and you’ll be awfully glad you did.