Sneakin’ It In

“I don’t care for that.”

Most of you probably realize that a good part of my motivation in experimenting with healthier food comes from the little people in our house.  Mine are still at home and so aren’t exposed to much in the way of outside influences where food is concerned.  My food battles with kids, therefore, rarely have to focus on undoing impressions garnered from advertising or eating with friends.  Over here we’re still about trying to help them 1) understand what healthy food is; 2) develop an appreciation for the full range of flavors from REAL food; and 3) experience the well-being that accompanies wise dietary choices.  We talk about all of these things and so far my five year olds do a pretty good job of sorting out what’s what and bearing up under demands to eat the green thing on the plate first or take two bites before you write something off.  With that said, I must admit that it can be tiring.  Some days I don’t want to tell them they have to eat the vegetable.  Some days I don’t want to hear what their preferences are (and frankly, on occasion I share this feeling in the form of an edict).  From time to time, in the interest of family harmony (peace for Momma) and in the interest of fun food experiments, we sneak things in as a way to boost nutritional value without having to talk about it.  I thought I’d share a few of our most recent experiments in this department.  After all, you don’t have to be five to benefit from a few hidden veggies, right?

Today’s Big Share:  Green Waffles.  Yes, that’s what I said.  Those of you who prefer lower fat baking have undoubtedly already used applesauce as a substitute in baking adventures.  Well, the other day I had a weird idea.  Why not other pulverized fruity concoctions?  Inspired by the remainder of a kale smoothie, I decided to attempt to make my children eat kale as part of their beloved waffles. So I did a straight swap from this recipe.  I used kale smoothie in place of applesauce.  Mixing the smoothie with the oil and almond milk looked a bit, well, too tame.  So I decided to add some spirulina powder.  Yes, I realize I’m demented.  I figured if I was going to try to get the kids to eat green waffles, they might as well be REALLY green (nutritionally speaking).

At any rate, I mixed it up and it wasn’t all that green visually.  I thought I’d just pass them off as regular waffles, but the kids saw them while cooking and the picky one said “ARE THOSE GREEN WAFFLES?!”  I replied:  “Not just plain ol’ green waffles, sweetie, they are brave smoothie [a very clever name Big Sis came up with for super green smoothies] green waffles.”  This answer got a VERY positive response.  The waffles cooked up pretty much as they have for me in the past.  On the next go-round I will use a little less smoothie as I think they were a little wet – took a little longer to cook and were a little heavier than I’ve had with that recipe before.  But, guess what?  They were great.  Topped with a little plain almond yogurt and some fresh fruit…. absolutely delish.  I will DEFINITELY be doing more experimenting with kale smoothie baking.  And my kids will eat those veggies right on up…

Thank you, Thank You Sam I Am

Thank you, thank you Sam I am, because if it weren’t for my willingness to try zucchini again, I would never have been able to eat this for dinner last night. It is zuchinni manicotti from Laughing Seed* in Asheville, NC. It was unbelievable, fantastic, otherworldly. Really, really good. And the funny thing is that the “noodle” in this manicotti, as you may have guessed from the picture is simply very thinly sliced raw zuchinni. I do not like raw zucchini, Sam I am. I will not eat it in a boat. I will not eat it with a goat. I will not eat it and I’m not bashful; I will not eat eat it while I’m in Asheville…. Unless it’s this…. Holy Moly.

It was filled with what I believe was some sort of cashew cream and grated zucchini with pesto. Chunky marinara as a sauce, and drizzled basil infused olive oil. Olives on the plate and a basil garnish, as you can see. It was all raw and while not cold, not heated. I will not eat a cold squash dish; I will not eat it with a catfish. I will not eat it in the mountains; I will not eat it in the fountain… until this dish, which I fully intend to attempt to reproduce at home and will eat in a fountain to amuse you…

In the past, as you may have guessed, I have not been a fan of zucchini, and more recently while having conceded to eating cooked zucchini, I have specifically been an anti-fan of raw zucchini in any form. The interesting lesson for me over the years is that from time to time, one dish that can transform how we feel about a food that we have “always hated.”  I will try it Sam I am.  If you will leave me be, I will try it.  This has happened twice for me with the unlikely zucchini.

My relationship with zucchini began in a more modest preparation than the spectacular raw zucchini manicotti – a baby step that was a bit of a squash revelation for me. If you are not a zucchini fan, you may want to give it a go; if you are, try a new way. As I recall,l I read about this preparation in Cook’s Illustrated and it turned me on to zucchini – and helped me identify what I didn’t like about the veggie as usually cooked. It was the mush. I don’t like sliced sautéed squash because it gets too mushy. So here, we are, another way…

Grate Green Zucchini
I usually prepare at least three average sized zucchini at a time in this way to serve as a side dish. Wash the zukes, cut the ends off. Using the large side of a box grater, grate the little devils almost to the core. Do NOT grate the middle part with the seeds; this is where all the liquid is. Put grated zucchini into a fine strainer or sieve. Add a quarter teaspoon of salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Occasionally stir and press down to encourage the liquid to leave.  Give the zucchini one final (and thorough) press from the top. Remove to a towel and squeeze out as much remaining liquid as possible. Warm small amount of olive oil in pan on lower medium heat. Add zucchini to pan and sauté, stirring gently until the green from the skin becomes more vibrant and the flesh is slightly softer. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also like a little lemon with mine. We like ours as a simple side, but it also good mixed into any number of dishes, and added to sandwiches, tortillas, you know how we roll over here. Before you know it, you may be adding sautéed zukes to all kinds of things… and one day, you may even find yourself slicing some paper thin to wrap around some basil cream… Delish!

*For those of you interested in the restaurant, or in vegetarian and vegan cuisine specifically, we also ordered a fantastic seitan curry and the boy had a seitan and hempseed burger. My picky one was delighted to sample the pita pizza. We all enjoyed the dinner immensely, ate at a table outside in the 78 degree sunshine and relished our last evening in North Carolina.

Compulsion to Mix It Up = Lunch

This morning I mixed leftover quinoa, leftover cheese sauce from Instant Mac n’ Cheese Without the Box and some frozen peas for my son’s lunch.  He said, “Yay!”

I love it when he says that.

Where would I be without leftovers?  I can answer that.  I’d be standing in line at the hospital cafeteria waiting to pay too much for food that is not very good or very healthy.  So I bring leftovers to work.  Now I know some of you are thinking, “What leftovers?  My family eats almost all of whatever I cook!  There are no leftovers!”  Clearly you are not plagued by an inadequacy complex that compels you to prepare enough food for the hordes that might drop in without warning.  And I’m glad if you are not saddled with that particular compulsion.  This leaves you able to use your own free will and choose to make more food.  More food = more leftovers.

Now, I am not relegating you to eating dry meatloaf every night for 3 days because you made extra.  Honest!  Make extra of the components of a meal and you can mix and match to create new and exciting (for lunch) meals jiffy quick.

I always make too much of the following:
brown rice
quinoa
sauteed vegetables
cous cous
sauteed greens
noodles or pasta
sauces or dressings
roasted vegetables
meat (when we have it – getting rare lately!)
and even nut butter sandwiches

Like having wonderful things in your fridge with which to make Grand-wiches and Expand-wiches, having all of these leftovers around provides you with the building blocks you need to make meals that do not ‘feel’ like eating boring old leftovers.  (They also provide you with the luxury of some dinners that have half the work done already.)

Whenever you saute vegetables; whenever you BUY vegetables, especially when they are on sale, don’t think about one meal.  Think about several meals.

Take the following sautes all prepared in the oil of your choice:

Zucchini, eggplant and spinach with garlic, onion and Italian spices en masse.
Allocate some for making pasta sauce by adding diced or crushed tomatoes,
Allocate some to the freezer for another night’s pasta sauce and,
Allocate some to the refrigerator all by it’s lonesome to add to rice, quinoa, pita bread or over salad for lunch.

Peppers (any color or all colors), green beans and onions with salt and pepper.
Allocate some to serve with tempeh or meat that night,
Allocate some to the frig for making an omelette and,
Allocate some to the refrigerator for the same punitive treatment received by the poor zucchini… leftovers for lunchtime (when mixed with grain, wrap, pita or salad).

Leeks, cabbage, salt, pepper and marjoram (go light on the marjoram – a little goes a long way).
Allocate some to serve as a side dish for dinner,
Put some in the freezer to use in a casserole or bean dish, and
Of course, relegate some to the lunchtime penal colony on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

Peppers, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and onions with cumin and chili pepper.
Allocate some as the basis for your chili – be it with veggies, meat or a soy product
Freeze some for chili or enchiladas another night and,
Place some in the lunchtime section awaiting mixage with frozen corn or rice or tortilla chips.

Spring onions, broccoli, snap peas, sliced carrots, and peanuts with garlic, soy sauce (or Bragg’s) and white pepper.
Some for the stir-fry,
some for leftover stir-fry – make a bunch and as you clean up, plop some straight into lunch sized containers, and if there’s any more left,
Squeeze it onto that luscious layer of lunch fixin’ containers on the bottom shelf.

The list goes on and on for mixes and of course you can change, substitute, and mangle these ideas to your heart’s content!  One of my son’s favorite lunches is leftover peas, leftover noodles and leftover chicken cut into pieces.  It really does not take any longer to prepare than a sandwich and there’s something green in it : )

So whether I am making Grand-wiches and Expand-wiches, or a Bountiful Bowl  from the Bottom Shelf(I know – this is getting out of hand…) I have a variety of items in my fridge that can be cross bred into brand new dishes which will nourish me and my family for a reasonable price.

There were some gorgeous beets at the store today so I sauteed up the beets with garlic and lemon juice, along with some carrots.  Towards the end I added some chopped apple and the beet greens.  My son loved it.  Served it with rice and hemp seed and some raw red pepper.   The leftovers will be delicious mixed in with some salad and or whatever grain is hanging out in the luscious layer!

You Say Potato…

So I’ve never grown potatoes before. Why? I don’t know. Truth is I’ve not grown much in the way of root vegetables until the last few years. Sort of a basic mistrust of what may or may not be going on underground. I like to be able to watch the progress of the food as it grows and potatoes, carrots, beets simply don’t allow you to do that. Yeah, yeah I know. I can watch the part above ground. I’m sorry, but it’s just not the same. I’ve tried carrots with limited success and beets, which we like but don’t need a lot of at any given moment (the pink pee is interesting to my daughter about once every few weeks, then loses its power to increase vegetable consumption). But I’ve never tried to grow the mighty spud. Which is silly, really, because I love potatoes. I mean I really love potatoes. Early in our relationship my husband and I figured out that he had grown up in a rice household and I had, as you might have guessed, grew up in a potato household. Over the years, despite our initial misgivings, we have both come to appreciate the other’s position, but I think I have really won the day. Homemade french fries will do that for you. Yeah, it’s a dirty trick, but somebody has to do it.

Where was I? Right, growing potatoes, so I’m happily clicking away on Pinterest and I come across this:

What’s that you say?  THAT is a potato tower.  You heard me right, a potato tower.  Grow potatoes without using up all of your precious garden space.  Okay, so that idea and the fact that I had 2×2 chicken wire that proved too big to keep rabbits out waiting in the shed convinced me to give it a go.  So I asked my sweetie to pound some stakes in (our street has the word slate in the name, so guess what’s just an couple of inches below the surface) and then we made a round with the discarded chicken wire, securing the back bit by stapling it to the fence.  I was determined NOT to buy new materials for this project because while I am optimistic, I am CHEAP and if it doesn’t work I’d hate to have spent a lot of dough.  I then filled it around the edges with leaves, rather than the recommended straw and supplemented with a little spanghum moss that I had from another project since I thought it might help retain a little moisture.  In the center, compost baby.  Inserted my cut up seed potatoes in layers and filled with compost and leaves until we got about to the top.  Here it is:

Will it work?  I have NO idea.  I’m sure I didn’t follow the directions exactly as that’s how I roll.  While it is my belief that all gardening is an act of supreme optimism, the slapdash version that I usually do is strictly for the glass half-full crowd.  If it does, that’s about 25 lbs of delicious potato magic coming our way.  And if my children have their way, a great many of them will be prepared this way:

Awesome Oven Fries Adapted from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

  • 1.25 lbs potatoes, peeled (if you must) and cut to 1/2″ fry shapes
  • 3/4 to 1t salt
  • 1/2t sugar
  • 4t oil
  • 1t paprika
  • 1/4t pepper (I use white to avoid kid detection)

Preheat oven to 450.  Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper (works better).  Combine potatoes, 1/4t salt, sugar and cold water to cover.  Soak 15 minutes, drain &blot dry.  In dry bowl, combine potatoes with oil, paprika and pepper.  Arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Bake, turning as they brown. 35-45 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt.  Voila.  Fan-flipping tastic.  Yes, you should probably make a double batch.

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