Foodie Sips Hot Chocolate

In my part of the world, it’s autumn. This time of the year and all through winter, we like to drink hot chocolate. I like mine from scratch (naturally). It’s easy to mix up a batch from a container of baking cocoa, sugar (or your choice of sweetener), and milk.

This time of year, we’re often found around campfires in our own back yards or that of a friend. Think “s’mores.” Think “roasted marshmallows on a stick.” Think “hot chocolate with roasted marshmallows.”

Think in a different vein.

If candy manufacturers can add a twist to their chocolate confections, why not do the same to your cup of hot chocolate? I like chocolate with raspberries or cherries. I’m game for just about anything when it comes to chocolate. Try some homemade cocoa and give it a little zip with one of these suggestions.

Caramel: A tablespoon of caramel sauce can do wonders for hot chocolate. Spoon in your favorite brand and give it a good stir right before you take your first sip.

Cinnamon, Nutmeg or Vanilla extract: A 1/4 teaspoon of any of these always adds zip.

Orange Zest: Carve three 2-inch long strips of orange rind (the skin) and let them steep in your drink for a while before tasting. That citrus flavor is a delight.

Espresso or Coffee: You can either add a tablespoon of fresh-brewed coffee or espresso, or you can use the instant stuff.

Peppermint Stick: Drop a peppermint stick or even one of those peppermint candies you picked up at your last restaurant visit. It adds great flavor, and a great smell. This version is nice if you’ve got a cold. Peppermint also calms an upset tummy.

Peanut Butter: If you’re crazy for peanut butter, take a tablespoon or two and mix it into your cocoa. Just be sure to mix well until it melts.

Habanero Pepper or a Shot of Hot Sauce: Got a hankering for something hot and spicy? A dash of your favorite hot sauce kicks a hot chocolate into high gear. You can even drop in 2 fresh slices of a fresh Habanero pepper into your cocoa and stir the flavor in. I like hot sauce, but admit this choice isn’t for the faint of heart.

Hot Cherries: Nearly everyone has that jar of maraschino cherries sitting in the fridge, so drop two or three teaspoons of the juice into your drink, along with a cherry. It tastes like drinking a chocolate cordial.

Coconut Milk: Put a tropical spin on your hot chocolate by substituting some of the milk required with a 1/4 cup of coconut milk.

Maple Syrup: It’s not just for waffles and pancakes! A squirt of the unique taste of pure maple syrup livens up ordinary hot chocolate.

If you’re interested in making a single cup of cocoa for yourself, Epicurious has a recipe for that.

Make your own hot chocolate mix to have on hand whenever you want a cup. The Pioneer Woman has a recipe which is easy and makes a really creamy concoction you can share as gifts.

So, cozy up in your chair or in front of the fireplace with a nice cup of chocolate. Boy, I think I’ll go make a cup right now.

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Disposing of Foodie Scraps

A garbage disposal is one my favorite appliances in the kitchen. Does that sound weird coming from a Foodie? Why not a food processor or a slow cooker? Let me tell you why. I don’t consider having a garbage disposal a luxury. It’s just part of my mindset regarding stewardship of our environment.

I can be cranky thinking I’m sending stuff to the landfill, even if it’s supposedly biodegradable. Think about it: you stuff your garbage in a bag and take it to the dumpster. Your trash company takes it away and, ultimately, that plastic bag ends up in a landfill. I’m not a scientist, but I’m guessing it takes a little longer for the food to break down when it’s in a plastic bag.

Leaning heavily on the side of recycling, I’d rather send something into a waste treatment plant than onto a garbage truck. Getting washed away in this manner means someone’s actually keeping an eye on water quality and ground waters.

Since I’ve had a disposal for so long, I thought I knew all there was to know about using one. But I discovered some tips and habits that I can put into practice which I formerly haven’t used.

Veering from the usual recipes and cooking tips, here’s a list of things you should know about using your garbage disposal. I hope this list will be useful for you. If you don’t already have a garbage disposal, perhaps you’ll consider installing one.

  • Large pieces of food should not be put down the disposal. Cut food into smallish pieces and feed them into the disposal gradually with cold water running constantly.
  • Don’t turn off the water while the disposal is running. Wait until grinding is complete. When grinding is complete, turn off the disposal and let the water run for another 15 seconds.

Keeping the Disposal Clean

  1. Something you can do to keep the disposal clean is to periodically pour a little dish soap down it and run cold water while running the disposal as you would to grind food. If you wash dishes in the sink, that’s a good time to do it.
  2. Run the disposal regularly; it prevents corrosion and obstructions.
  3. Grind certain hard materials such as small chicken bones, fish bones, egg shells, ice, etc. It causes a scouring action and prevents food from building up around the walls of the disposal. However, do not put large bones down the disposal. Only fine bones and only occasionally.
  4. Borax is a natural cleaner with many uses around the home and is a good product for cleaning the disposal. It can be found in the aisle with detergents and cleaning products.
  5. Don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach or drain cleaners in your disposal. They can damage the drains and pipes.

The “Don’t” List

  1. Don’t put anything down the disposal that’s not a biodegradable food. This includes non-food items like glass, plastic, metal, paper, anything combustible, cigarette butts, etc.
  2. Do not put coffee grounds down the garbage disposal. They do not harm the disposal, but could clog drains and pipes.
  3. Don’t put ‘expandable’ foods like pasta and rice down the disposal. When they expand as water is run down the sink, they create one of the biggest causes for repairs.
  4. Do not pour grease, oil, or naturally occurring fat in a food into your disposal or drain. This includes the fat on cuts of meat. Fats will slowly accumulate and impede the disposal’s grinding ability as well as clog drains.
  5. Too many potato peels put down the disposal create a thick paste because of the starch in the potato. This causes the blades to stick so don’t put too many down the disposal at one time. If you’re preparing a lot of potatoes, put the bulk of the peelings in the trash.
  6. Do not grind fibrous material like corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins and artichokes. Fibers from these can tangle and jam the motor.

I hadn’t always thought about how to care for a garbage disposal until I needed to call someone to come repair it or get it unstuck. Remember that someone who knows how to do the job should be the person to do so.

If you hear a nasty sound coming from the disposal, turn it off immediately. It goes without saying you should never put your hands down a disposal that has not stopped spinning. If you go to retrieve something which has gone down the sink (usually a spoon or something else small) carefully move your hand around the blades. You can prevent things from going down the sink in the first place by using a mesh strainer. They’re easy to find and usually inexpensive.

Do you have tips for using a garbage disposal which I may have left out?

 

Foodie’s Greens Galore

When the weather is hot and humid like it is currently where I live, I don’t want to cook. Not even on the stovetop. So salads come to the rescue. My plan for this blog post was to talk about creating salads with a variety of ingredients. And just in time, the Start Cooking blog posted “Salad Greens From A to Z.”

In addition to reading Kathy’s list on the various greens you can pick from and their individual characteristics, she includes a few recipes. You might want to try one or two.

My favorite greens are spinach, romaine, radicchio, leaf lettuce, and arugula. My tastes for what I’ll put on my salad are all over the map. I’m always experimenting. Fruits, nuts and seeds, a variety of vegetables, meats and cheeses, condiments, and even some herbs have all found their way to my plate of leafy greens.

The flavors I get by using a variety of dressings determines which ingredients I add. Here’s a recipe for a Greek Salad Dressing I make to keep on hand all the time. What I like about this dressing is it doesn’t need refrigeration and the recipe uses stuff I have in my pantry all the time. I don’t need to go out and buy something exotic.

Greek Style Salad Dressing

  • 1 ½ c. olive oil
  • 1 T. plus 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1 T. plus 1 t. dried oregano
  • 1 T. plus 1 t. dried basil
  • 1 T. pepper
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 ½ c. red wine vinegar

In a large container (about 1-quart capacity), mix together all ingredients except vinegar. Pour in the vinegar and mix vigorously until well blended. Store tightly at room temperature. Makes about 25 2-tablespoon servings.

I’ve made this dressing with both red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. I like balsamic better. Also, I usually start with only one cup of vinegar and taste it until, after adding a little more at a time, it tastes just right. Depending on which kind you use, the vinegar can be a little overwhelming.

Another variation I’ve tried is to add about 1/3 c. mayonnaise for a creamy dressing. If you add mayo, the dressing will need refrigeration.

Foodie in a Pickle

If your garden isn’t already ready for the harvest of those peppers, it soon will be. And pepper plants always give forth a plentiful yield. If you planted banana peppers and like the flavor of them pickled (or would like to try them that way), here’s a simple recipe for refrigerator pickles.

The number of jars you get depends on whether you use pint jars, quart jars, or those cute little jars you find that look like they should be gift jars. I believe this recipe could be multiplied easily too. I always like that about working in the kitchen; doing whatever works.

When I made these, I added the optional ingredients because 1. I like pepper and celery seed and 2. turmeric has healthy side benefits and adds color to the pickles. In addition to stirring the peppers to make sure they were covered with brine, I turn the jars over a few times while they  sit in the fridge. It keeps that flavor going. (Be sure you have those seals on tight if you’re going to do this.)

Refrigerator Banana Pickles

  • 2 lbs. banana peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 ½ c water
  • 1 ½ c. white vinegar
  • 4 t. kosher salt
  • ½ t. sugar
  • 1 t. black peppercorns (optional)
  • ½ t. turmeric (optional)
  • ½ t. celery seed (optional)

Wash the peppers, cut off the tops and remove as many of the seeds as you can. Cut the peppers into rings of whatever thickness you like. Put the pepper rings and garlic pieces into glass jar(s) that have air tight seals when closed.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, vinegar and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high head. Remove from heat and pour over the peppers and garlic.

Use a knife to move the peppers around, removing air bubbles and to get peppers and garlic submerged in the liquid. Seal the jars and set aside overnight. After 24 hours, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

The colors of the peppers will dull a bit after 24 hours; this is normal.

Be sure to use glass containers because this keeps the flavors true.

For an appetizer using your bounty of peppers, try these broiled stuffed banana peppers  wrapped in bacon with a zippy flavor.

Eat Hardy!

A Foodie Guide to Vs and Ps and Fs

My own diet aside, what other people put on their plate became of interest to me when I decided to have a young married couple over for dinner. They’d recently decided to switch to the vegan diet and I had no idea what that entailed.

It reminded me of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Tula’s aunt meets Ian, the fiancée, and insists she’ll cook for him. When he tells her he doesn’t eat meat, she exclaims in disbelief, “You don’t eat no meat?” (Pause) “Oh, that’s okay,” she says, satisfied she can still come through. “I cook you lamb.”

I have challenges enough trying to figure out what to put on my own table since I have some health issues to be aware of. But when it comes to entertaining––and I do like to entertain––now I try to ask first, “Is there anything you cannot or prefer not to eat?”

Educating myself on just what a vegetarian would eat came fairly easily. I have some friends who serve at the local soup kitchen and I know what they put in their weekly main courses. The other “Vs”, not to mention the pescatarian and flexitarian, required a little digging.

Here’s some information to help you if you ever wondered how a friend might expect to be fed if they’re a guest in your home. Or…if you’re a guest in theirs, expect dishes prepared this way from them. Here’s a short lesson on some of the “arians” and “isms.”

  1. Ovo vegetarianism includes eggs but not dairy products.
  2. Lacto vegetarianism includes dairy products but not eggs.
  3. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism includes dairy products such as eggs, milk and cheese.
  4. Veganism excludes all animal flesh and animal products, so it excludes milk, cheese and eggs. Vegan purists exclude honey because it is a by-product of bees.
  5. Raw veganism includes only fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Some allow the cooking of vegetables only up to a certain low temperature. Raw foods purist cook nothing.

Semi-Vegetarian Diets Include:

  1. Pescatarianism, which includes fish and sometimes other seafood.
  2. Pollotarianism, which includes poultry.
  3. Pollo-pescatarian, which includes poultry and fish, or “white meat” only.
  4. Flexitarian, which is primarily vegetarian, but will eat meat if easier by social circumstance.

Often, the first question a carnivore will have for the vegan is, “How do you get protein into your diet?” It’s a valid question. But we meat-eaters needn’t worry about anyone who’s done their homework. There’s protein in every living thing because proteins are the building blocks of life. So it makes sense that proteins are in every food we eat. The difference is in the amount.

For the sake of argument, even scientific studies are limited by the test groups and the conditions applied. If you’re considering a change, it’s best to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Healthy eating is also more than what we put into our mouths. We all know that many times it’s the community in our midst while we’re eating so let’s not be Foodie Snobs.

Some would say, “Think outside the box and try something new.”

I say, “Throw the box in the dumpster. And eat hardy.”

 

Foodie Found the Way to His Heart

Once upon a time, I got the attention of a certain fellow and he asked me on a date. Well, actually, it was a blind date his cousin set up.

Time passed after a few dates and I decided I wanted to cook a meal and invite him over (to try and impress him, obviously). The main dish would be beef stroganoff, which I’d learned to make with my brother-in-law a year or two prior.

This was also the first time I’d made this particular dish for my family and I was pleased that it was a hit. Especially with that fellow. I eventually married him and we had a couple of children together. Our daughter, Sarah, who moved west and left her poor mother in the Midwest to pine for her…wait, that’s another story.

Sarah confessed some time after she got married that her husband would like more variety in the meals she served. (I hope he said it kindly.) She conceded that she had limits and wondered if I had any ideas. So I recruited family members to send me recipes for main dishes, appetizers, desserts–you name it–that were favorites at their house. Or dishes that were traditionally prepared on special occasions. We definitely had to include her Grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe. My siblings and I still talk about that cake that was so moist, we didn’t even care if it had frosting. That one had tradition written all over it.

She was delighted with the book we put together for her.

I included the recipe for Beef Stroganoff because a certain tale had been told over the years. It was almost legend that cooking that particular dish had turned her dad’s heart toward her mom. (I don’t know that it’s the only thing. I was pretty good with a sewing machine too.)

Love and food go together. And I don’t just mean “Goodness, I love to eat food,” although if we’re Foodies, we not only love to cook, we love to eat and feed others.

Maybe it’s the process of cooking and baking and then sharing the meal that makes for a true Foodie. I have a friend who says this is absolutely one of  the ways she shows love. If she cooks for you, she’s loving on you.

I don’t think it matters if it’s an elaborate meal for a Foodie to love on someone with what they prepare. It could be as simple as making your friend’s favorite oatmeal cookie recipe–just because he’s your friend. Maybe your kids could eat tacos ’til they’re coming out of their ears. Make a traditional Taco Night. And let them help in the kitchen. You never know; you might pass the soul of a Foodie to one of your children. Now wouldn’t that be love made visible?

Cook. Bake. Serve. Love. Enjoy being a Foodie. And eat hardy!

 

 

Foodie Snacks For 100 Or Less

I can always make a long story longer, but the short of it is I don’t eat the way I used to.

What I mean by that is I read food product labels; I don’t eat as much processed food; I cook from scratch even more than I used to; I log my food with an online app; and I eat ‘normal’ portion sizes.

Today’s post is about snacking. I still snack because I need to. Snacking is “doctor’s orders” and a strong suggestion from a dietician I see regularly.

You all know how much I like to cook, how much I like to try new flavors, and how much I enjoy experimenting with new recipes. This list is a sampling of my favorite snacks that are 100 calories or fewer.

It’s Almost Apple Pie Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon on 1 cup unsweetened applesauce.

Miniature Tostada On a small corn tortilla, spread 1/4 cup nonfat refried beans. Top it with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and a sprinkle of shredded low fat cheese.

Mediterranean Tomato Dice a medium tomato and top it with 2 tablespoons feta cheese.

Cottage Cheese With Melon For a twist on cottage cheese with fruit, combine 3/4 cup diced cantaloupe with 1/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese. If you’re craving sweetness, drizzle a little raw honey over it.cottage-cheese-cantaloupe

Carrots With Hummus This is the old veggie dip idea but with protein instead of fat. Crunch on nine or ten 2-inch carrot sticks dipped in hummus. Bonus points if you make your own hummus. Hey, it’s easy to make and tastes better than store-bought.

Santa Fe Black Beans Combine 1/4 cup drained and rinsed black beans, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon nonfat Greek yogurt. It’s a hearty snack with protein that won’t quit.

Greek Watermelon Can you tell I enjoy the flavors of the Mediterranean? This one combines watermelon (1 cup) and 2 tablespoons feta cheese. Those seemingly incompatible flavors do work. (And I really like feta cheese.)

Oh-So-Sweet-Potato This is not a sugary sweet potato; it’s sweet because of the lack of sugar. You’d be surprised how quickly you can get used to not eating sugar on food. Just bake a small sweet potato and sprinkle salt or cinnamon on it. If you want to, microwave it in a potato bag. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, here’s an easy pattern for making your own bag. The potatoes come out great this way and it’s so quick.

Turkey Tartine It’s a fancy name for a foodie snack that’s a simple open faced sandwich. Spread 1 teaspoon mustard on a slice of toasted whole grain bread and lay on 2 thin slices of deli turkey.

Carrot ‘Salad’ Mix two grated carrots with 1 tablespoon raisins, 1 teaspoon raw sunflower seeds, and 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.

Black Bean Salad This one’s not only lean, it has protein and fiber. Mix 1/4 cup drained and rinsed black beans, 1 small chopped tomato, 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper, and a pinch of chili powder.

Spiced Cottage Cheese Mix 3/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese with a pinch of chili powder and a pinch of curry powder. A garnish of chopped scallions is nice.

strawberryspinachsaladStrawberry and Spinach Salad Mixing savory and sweet reminds me of those cooking shows on the food networks. So be a pro and mix 1 cup baby spinach with 1/2 cup sliced strawberries. Drizzle on 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.

My tastes run to the spicy and savory so this baker’s dozen snack sampling reflects that. You probably have some favorite healthy low-cal snacks as well. Share them in the comments. I’ll give you bonus points for that too!

In the meantime, you know what I always say: get creative in the kitchen. Life’s too short to eat boring food.

Eat hardy!

Foodie Bucket List

This past year, I came up with a list of cooking-related activities I’d like to accomplish or participate in before I die. We’re facing a new calendar year in my part of the world and people often make lists of goals to accomplish for the coming year. So this list seems appropriate right now.

Of course you’ve heard of Bucket Lists. Here’s a Foodie oriented one for me. I came up with a list of 20, but am always open to adding to it. Perhaps as I check these off, I’ll post about the experience. Eat Hardy!list-learn-to-cook

  1. Bake a batch of filled cupcakes
  2. Bake a new recipe from an old cookbook
  3. Make a cheesecake from scratch
  4. Cook a new-to-me Asian dish
  5. Try my hand at seafood gumbo
  6. Make a chowder
  7. Cook with an herb/spice I’ve never used
  8. Try a decorative lattice top for a pie
  9. Decorate a pie top with dough cutouts
  10. Participate in a progressive dinner
  11. Eat vegetarian for a week
  12. Create a piece of food art
  13. Make cheese
  14. Make a pesto
  15. Make salsa
  16. Shop at a different farmer’s market
  17. Try a new fruit
  18. Make plantain chips
  19. Make/bake an edible gift for Christmas or other celebration
  20. Learn a new kitchen technique
  21. Always open to another challenge!

Foodie (Thick As) Pea Soup

It’s been a lazy sort of day. Looking out the window, I see big chunks of snow falling from a cloudy sky. There’s no wind so the snow, which has been falling all day, is sticking to the tree branches and trunks.

It’s beautiful. And time for comfort food; like pea soup, maybe.

This is what I’d be conjuring up in the kitchen if my refrigerator wasn’t already full of enough food to keep me going for about a week and a half. (I’ve been on a spree.)

There’s no reason why I can’t share a couple of recipe ideas with you, though.split-pea-soup-960x1438

One is from a blog I follow almost daily when I log my food on MyFitnessPal. They’ve set me up with some great recipes which I add to my database. When I’ve eaten that food for one of my meals, I go in and log from the recipe database. I love how easy that is. Here’s one, Split Pea Soup With Bacon, which came from the blog, HelloHealthy.

I like ham in my split pea soup and most often use a good leftover bone with meat on it. That’s how my mom always made a soup with ham in it. This Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup includes ham and might be more to your taste.

Whether or not it’s snowing in your neck of the woods, comfort food may be exactly what you’re hungry for. As always, make adjustments to the recipes so they work for you.

And eat hardy.

Foodie, Zucchini and Grace

Playing Hostess

Several years ago, when I was a member of our church’s choir, I invited four of my fellow choir members over for dinner. The main dish was Chicken Breasts Diane; I tried my hand at twice-baked potatoes for the first time; the vegetable was steamed zucchini; and the dessert was a sugar-free, fat-free cream-pie-thing I whipped up.

Everything was going well when my friends began to show up. I’d coordinated the cooking so that the food would be ready to set on the table hot from the oven and stove. The last thing I did was to steam the zucchini so it would still be hot when I placed it on the table with everything else.

You know how steamed veggies seem to get cold fast, right? I didn’t want them to be cold.

Backstory

Rewind to a couple years earlier. I’d been in a near-fatal automobile accident and came out of it with numerous injuries. One of those injuries was a fractured sphenoid sinus. (Say THAT three times fast.) The sinus was supposedly healed, but one residual effect was that I couldn’t smell odors unless I was right on top of them.

It’s caused problems more often than I like to admit.

Dinner, continued

As the zucchini steamed away, so did the water in the bottom of the pan. Carol, who had been watching things progress, said, “Paula, your pan is on fire.”

Yep, it sure was.

The pan had boiled dry and, well, it was time to turn the burner off. “Oh, wow,” I said. (Or something like that.) I took the pan off the stove, put the zucchini in a bowl and set it on the table with the rest of the meal. We sat down, said grace, and began to eat.

Everyone took a little of everything, I guess, including the steamed zucchini. Dinner conversation was a little stilted after a few minutes until I took a bite of my green veggie.

smelly-zucchini-lady“This stuff is burnt!” I said. “Why are you guys eating it?” I scraped it to the side of my plate. I apologized to my friends and, you know what? They were so kind to me. I was so embarrassed. My smeller didn’t catch the scent of burnt zucchini and no one said a word.

Now that’s love in action.

“Foodie Fail”

They sat there eating that scorched zucchini and extended grace to me. Every time I think of this episode in my life––and believe me, with a nose that doesn’t work like it should, there have been many such episodes––I laugh.

In fact, I’ve been laughing out loud the whole time I’ve been writing this blog post.

But I also feel extremely grateful.

We’ve all had our cooking failures. I have some that have nothing to do with not being able to smell.

Since it’s the day after Thanksgiving, I thank Amy, Carol, Brooke and Carol for the gift of grace. You know, of course, grace is unmerited favor. I surely didn’t deserve what they offered, and friends who love like that are worth keeping.

Next time, though, I’m going to nuke the zucchini.