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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fear Of Cooking or Do Something Every Day That Makes You Afraid

Several people have mentioned lately that they feel incompetent in the kitchen or are just afraid to try.  My parents were both good cooks.  My father particularly enjoyed trying new things and was never intimidated by the difficulty a recipe presented.  Still they did not really teach me how to cook.  Maybe it was because I was the youngest by several years and they forgot about me.  I did make a few things as a teen but by no means could I put together a meal. 

However I have always loved to eat so when I had my first job and apartment, I started cooking.  It did not matter that I was cooking for one; I was hungry and popcorn and cereal for dinner wasn't going to fill me up.  My father's attitude of trying anything must have rubbed off on me because I jumped right in and cooked the foods I'd grown up with.  I wasn't intimidated to try things I'd never done before as I didn't know it was supposed to be hard.  Around this time I was asked to make something for a chocolate dessert cookoff  charity event so I made my father's Black Bottom Pie.  It was rather time consuming with many steps and three layers but I pulled it off and was successful.  I didn't win a prize but it was tasty.  A friend gave me some duck breasts once so I searched for a recipe and made Duck Breasts with Raspberry Sauce.  I had some friends over and we had a lovely dinner except my cat eating the cheese appetizers. 

Not all has been rosy and easy in the kitchen.  Over the years, I have prepared some memorable meals, not for how good they tasted, but for how horrid they were.  I am totally inept with tofu and the very word is a joke around here.  Tofu is supposed to be nutritious and versatile, so I decided to try a tofu stir fry one night.  I served up the new dish but right away, we all realized it was awful.  My son was around two and he clearly wasn't going to eat it.  Barry and I struggled along trying to pick out some vegetables but soon gave up.  Barry was in a hurry to get to a meeting so we ended up eating bread, cheese and bananas for dinner.  Barry now has a very negative impression of tofu. 

Then there was the pork roast with dried mixed fruits I made.  Pork pairs well with fruit and the recipe for the crockpot sounded so good and easy.  My family has been trained to eat anything put in front of them with a smile so there was silence around the table as we ate that night.  The meat was tough and dry and the fruit did nothing to help matters.  I was sulking away as nothing makes me madder than to ruin dinner.  Finally Barry said to Cameron, "Drink some milk.  It will help wash that meat down."  At that, I started laughing.  It's pretty bad when your children are choking on your food. 

I could share several more stories about times we've had to throw out my cooking and go out to eat.  The point is that everyone will mess up.  Your meals will not always be a success but anyone can learn to cook with practice.  Get a good basic cookbook and start with simple meals.  Take cooking classes or ask a friend to help you.  But remember, when disaster strikes, laugh it off then go out to eat.  Just try again another day.

I'm disappointed no one has commented about my new photo.  Yes, I'm holding a copy of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.  I paid $3 for a cupcake from Queen Bee Cupcakes in Florida last summer only to find it tasted like it came from an Easy Bake oven.  I was so incensed that I started a cupcake baking frenzy.  If you are going to call yourself Queen Bee, you'd better be good.  Much to my family's delight, mine are better.  Also, thanks to Cheleygirl for her comment on the Sausage Ravioli.  I'm glad your family liked it.  Thanks to all my readers who comment and I'm glad if my blog gives you a laugh.             

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going To The Movies Can Really Wreck Your Diet

Everytime I go to the movies I am amazed at several things.  One, the willingness of many parents to bring really young children to totally inappropriate R rated movies.  But that's a subject for another blog.  The problem I want to address today is the junk people buy and eat while at the movies. 

When I was younger, the snacks you could buy at the theater were much smaller.  A box of popcorn then was about the size of a box of Reece's Pieces today.  Now popcorn comes in a tub big enough to use to wash the car and that oily stuff they call butter is applied more heavily than George Hamilton's tanning creme.  Then people wash it all down with what appears to be a liter of coke!  At what point did Americans decide they needed to eat like a horse?  The price alone stops me from buying any of that junk.  I know that some view the food they eat at the movies as their dinner.  Have we really come so far from common sense that we believe we can eat like that and remain healthy?

I rarely buy anything to eat when I go to the movies.  I've already had dinner either at home or a restaurant if we're making it a real evening out.  Sometimes I take my own snack to the theater such as a small bag of M&M's which I share with my husband.  I really don't want to clog my arteries with that strange glop they call butter nor do I enjoy feeling robbed when I consider the prices they charge.

If you recognize yourself in this scenario, I hope you will consider cleaning up your act.  Sorry to be harsh today, but my 1000 lb. horse actually eats much less grain each day than comes in those tubs of popcorn.  Perhaps these tips will help.

1.  Eat dinner before going to the movies so you will be full and not tempted to buy those snacks. 
2.  Think of the money you will save.  If you go to the movies frequently, it will be considerable.
3.  Take your own more proportional snack and make it healthier.  A bag of almonds, some trail mix or a few pieces of dark chocolate.
4.  Buy tickets ahead of time and don't get to the movie early.  Then you won't have time to think about food.
5.  Rent a movie and eat your dinner in your pj's while watching it.  You will avoid the crowds of teens too.
6.  Think of your waist, your hips, your heart!

Have a healthy, happy day. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Elegant, Easy Meals

We love to entertain friends and family with a nice meal.  Certainly every holiday is an excuse to have good food.  Some of our best times are spent around the table laughing and sharing stories.  Food is the catalyst that draws us closer and helps us connect; it is so much more than mere fuel for our bodies.  Treasured recipes are often passed down for generations and people are remembered for the food they cooked with love.

Teaching children to cook is a great way to spend quality time together.  My father grew up poor and often didn't have enough to eat.  As an adult, he developed a love for cooking and eating that he shared with me.  Dad especially loved to bake cookies, cakes and breads; my job was to stir.  Of course I spent alot of time tasting.  He also grew a wonderful vegetable garden so we always had fresh produce.  His gift to me has been a lifelong passion for good food.           

Having a special meal doesn't mean you have to slave away for hours in the kitchen.  I am not always as ambitious nor do I have the time my father did so I like recipes that look like I spent hours in the kitchen.  The first recipe I'm going to share is one my husband actually found.  He seldom cooks and hates it when he does but he wanted to make a special dinner for my birthday.  I wanted lamb chops and he came up with lamb chops with goat cheese sauce.  I tried the recipe again for Valentines Day and was very pleased with the results.  Try this if you've never had lamb or you want something different.

Lamb Chops with Goat Cheese Sauce
8 lean lamb loin chops, about 1 inch thick
1 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 cup dry white wine (living in a dry county and not liking wine anyway, I do use the cooking wine)
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 sprigs rosemary
3 oz. goat cheese
Preheat oven to broil.  Heat an oven proof skillet on high heat on stovetop and add the salt.  Sear the chops on each side until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes each side.  Sprinkle with pepper while browning.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and transfer skillet to oven and broil about 3 minutes per side.  Remove chops from skillet and keep warm in a covered dish.  Return skillet to stovetop and heat over medium high heat.  Add wine to deglaze the pan, scraping the browned bits of meat off the bottom.  Add the broth and the sprigs of rosemary.  Simmer at a low boil until reduced by 1/3.  Remove rosemary sprig and stir in goat cheese to complete sauce.  Drizzle sauce over chops to serve.
I served this with mashed potatoes and a green salad.  It was a beautiful Valentine (and birthday) meal.  Lamb chops usually have a milder taste than other cuts of lamb and your friends and family will be impressed with your skill. 

When we were in Disney years ago, my husband ordered Blackened Catfish with Pepper Jack Cheese Grits.  It was divine so when I got home, I came up with my own version which couldn't be easier and always makes my husband happy when he sees it.

Blackened Catfish with Pepper Jack Cheese Grits
4 catfish fillets
2 tsp. McCormicks Blackened seasoning or to taste
1 cup regular grits, not instant
3 cups water
1 Tbsp. butter
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese ( I grated my own)
Place catfish in a lightly greased baking dish and sprinkle liberally with blackened seasoning.  Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.  Meanwhile cook grits according to package directions.  When desired consistency is reached, stir in butter and cheese till melted.  Place a serving of grits on each plate and top with catfish.
Serve this with a green salad or fruit salad to cool the spicy catfish.  Sugar snap peas would also be a nice accompaniment.

I hope you give one of these recipes a try this weekend, or the next time you want an elegant meal.   

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Become a Blood Donor

My daughter's school is sponsoring a blood drive today in honor of two teachers who are struggling with cancer.  I try to give blood at least once at year.  That's not alot but if more people gave blood once a year, we would suffer less shortages.  The Mayo Clinic estimates that only 5% of the eligible population donates blood.  When you consider that an open heart surgery could require 14 pints of blood, you can see how the need adds up quickly.

It doesn't take too long and it's a great feeling to know you've saved as many as three lives.  Yes, one pint of your blood can save up to three lives.  The person you save could be a premature baby, a car accident victim or the man who sits in front of you at church. 

Most people find it fairly painless and don't suffer any ill effects.  I've never had a problem in all the years I've been donating.  Plus, they give you free donuts, cookies, drinks or pizza.  Give blood and get a free lunch!  More importantly, give blood and be a hero. 

I also wanted to make a comment today about the Diet Coke ads I've been seeing recently.  I find it deeply offensive that the American Heart Association has allied with a junk food company to raise heart disease awareness.  The message sent by using a drink with absolutely no nutritional value and which has helped fuel our rising obesity problems is that diet coke is somehow healthy and ok.  What's next, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's or even Camel's cigarettes?  The American Heart Association needs to do better. 

Check back Thursday for some new recipes that even my husband can cook!  Have a heart healthy week - get some exercise.   

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Michelle Obama Addresses Childhood Obesity

I was glad to see Michelle Obama tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity.  Like the Obamas or not, this is an issue we should unite behind and support.  The percentage of overweight children in Arkansas alone is 37.5!  Do we really want to sentence our children to a much shorter life filled with health problems?  Studies estimate that as many as 1/3 of children born in the year 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes sometime in their life as well as heart disease, cancer and asthma.

If you have been reading my blog very long, you may remember I told you that the age of my husband's patients has steadily gotten younger.  He treated a 26 year old male with heart disease this past week.  When you suffer from major illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease at such a young age, your life expectancy is greatly shortened.  All the health care reform in the world won't help if we don't start taking our health seriously and taking better care of ourselves. 

Growing up in the sixties and seventies, there were few overweight children.  I can't recall a single child in my elementary school who was remotely overweight.  I can only think of one or two teens in my high school who were overweight.  It wasn't until I was in college that I saw someone grossly overweight; there were two.  I can remember how labored the breathing was for one who was in my business classes.  Now I see kids in junior high and high school who don't look as good as I do and I've had two children, one by c-section. 

I continue to be amazed that not only do kids today not eat vegetables, they don't even know what many of them are!  My husband was eating dinner with the swim team the other night and zucchini was served.  One college aged boy didn't know what it was.  That same night, I was at a meeting for my son's trap shooting team and one boy there made a face at the beef vegetable soup, stating, "I don't eat vegetables.".  If we don't eat food that is good for us, there is no way we will be healthy for long. 

What can we do to promote better eating habits in our children?  If there are children in your life, your own kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, set a good example by eating and serving vegetables and fresh fruits.  If your children are on a sports team, ask that snacks (junk) not be served after the game.  This is common for many sports when kids are very young.  They don't need a snack after an hour long game when they will be going home soon for lunch or dinner anyway.  The same thing goes for Sunday school.  Many teachers will bring candy or donuts to Sunday school, mostly as a way to get kids to behave.  Ask that food not be served.  Talk with children about the importance of eating well and how it helps their bodies grow strong.  Even young children need to hear this information.  Point out to kids that their favorite athletes usually eat careful diets to perform at their peak.  Let your child pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try every week.  Or grow something in your own yard.  The excitement of growing it and picking it will make many kids eager to eat it.   

As Michelle Obama said, "It's not about being 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time.  It's just about balance.  It's about small changes that add up - like walking to school, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming those protion sizes a little - things like this can mean the difference between being healthy and fit or not."  I hope you will join Michelle Obama and make a difference in the life of a child.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Good Cooking In The Heart Of Winter

Sorry an update didn't appear yesterday.  I took the time to take a long walk through the snowy woods with my daughter.  I hope you take the time to get out and enjoy winter instead of just grumbling about it.  Snow and ice do bring a lot of problems but there is great beauty to be enjoyed as well as the opportunity to get a great workout and have some fun.  Channel your inner kid for a change; sled or throw a few snowballs.  Get out and admire mother nature's artistic abilities and take a few photos.   

Today I am excited to share two new wonderful recipes I found in the last week.  Finding a great recipe always makes me excited because I love to cook and eat well.  I am always on the look out for new recipes to add to my collection that are easy and healthy.  I hope my readers have tried some of these recipes and found that they really are easy. 

I found the first recipe in the January Southern Living and I was skeptical about it.  I am a bit of a snob about certain foods, believing that the original can't be improved.  However, the Sausage and Ravioli Lasagna proved me wrong.  It is so simple, my husband could make it and my family gave it a very high approval rating. 

Sausage and Ravioli  Lasagna
1/2 lb. Italian Sausage ( I used the turkey sausage to cut the fat)
1 24 oz. jar tomato and basil pasta sauce ( Eat This Not That recommends Barilla among others)
1 6 oz. package fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup refrigerated pesto sauce (or homemade, see my previous recipe)
1 25 oz. package frozen cheese ravioli, do not thaw
1 cup shredded Italian 6 cheese blend
Preheat oven to 375.  Cook sausage in a skillet over medium heat until brown and sausage is crumbled.  Drain and rinse well.  Return to pan and stir in pasta sauce.  Chop spinach and toss with pesto.  Spoon 1/3 of the sausage mixture into a lightly greased 11x7 baking dish.  Top with half the spinach mixture.  Arrange 1/2 of the ravioli in a single layer over spinach.  Repeat layers once and top with remaining sausage mixture.  Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.  Top with cheese and bake 5 more minutes till hot and bubbly.  Serve with a simple green salad. 

I saw the next recipe in Prevention, a magazine I hardly ever read.  Because it was unusual and would use up the remaining pesto sauce I had from the above recipe, I had to try it.  I am always looking for fish recipes and this has to be the fastest dinner I've ever made. 

Italian Fish
4 white fish fillets of your choice ( I used tilapia)
4 slices of prosciutto
pesto sauce
Preheat oven to 425.  Wrap 1 slice of prosciutto around each piece of fish and place in a lightly greased baking dish.  Bake until fish flakes easily with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes.  Top each fillet with a bit of pesto.  That's it!

I made baked potatoes in the microwave which took about 20 minutes.  A homemade dinner can't get any easier and this also received very high ratings from my family, kids too.  The prosciutto is salty and the pesto adds more flavor so you don't need anything else.  This looks like you took more time so it would be good to serve to company.  Add a salad and you are good to go.

As for the frittata I mentioned last week, my family was less enthusiastic about it.  I used asparagus, mushrooms and onions with some of the leftover Italian 6 cheese blend.  No meat.  It was easy to make and I liked it.  This recipe is good for one or two people as it is easily adjustible for the number of people.  Just use less vegetables and eggs and of course, you could add some meat.    

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eat This Not That - A Book Recommendation

My husband found this series of books recently and showed them to me.  I've seen Eat This Not That articles on MSN and in Men's Health before and always found them useful and informative.  David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Men's Health and editorial director of Women's Health and Best Life, and Matt Goulding, food and nutrition editor of Men's Health, collaborated on a series of books called Eat This Not That.  I picked up the Supermarket Survival Guide and plan to use it to overhaul some of our food purchases. 

The books are in an easy to read and understand format.  They do not promote any kind of diet but rather help you understand what you are eating and to make better, healthier food choices.  Hundreds of food products from snack foods like candy bars and ice cream to canned vegetables and dairy products are profiled with better choices clearly identified.  The authors explain food labels and ingredient lists and expose industry secrets such as the fact that the FDA allows up to 20% moldy fruit in canned pineapple.  Wouldn't you like to know that the bottle of Snapple Lemon Iced Tea you are contemplating has the sugar equivalent of 6 original Fudgsicle Bars?  Now if you wouldn't eat 6 Fudgsicle Bars at one sitting, you probably will want to choose another drink.  Many supposedly healthy foods are exposed for being less than stellar choices. 

With this book, it will be much easier to navigate the supermarket isles and to come home with food worth eating.  If you are concerned about all the additives in your food, this book is definitely for you.  I plan to check out more books in this series.

As usual, I encourage you to cook and eat at home, the simpler the food, the better.  This weekend I am trying several new recipes; soup, fish and a frittata.  A frittata is an egg dish filled with a combination of meat and vegetables that is ready in no time.  I'm making a meatless version with asparagus, onions, portobello mushrooms and Italian cheese blend.  Simply chop up the vegetables you choose and stir fry in olive oil till slightly tender and brown.  Beat the eggs with some basil, salt and pepper and the cheese and pour over vegetables.  Let cook undisturbed till eggs are nearly set.  Place under broiler till light brown on top.  Serve in wedges with a salad on the side.

Have a lovely weekend and if you make it to a bookstore, check out Eat This Not That.       


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Confession: Can The Cardiologist's Wife Have A Weight Problem?

Crap.  I was aware that I had put on a little holiday fat but today I discovered just how much.  Last week I was listening to Good Morning America while doing those 100 situps and stopped to listen to a piece on "normal weight obesity".  I'd never heard that term and what I learned on GMA prompted me to do some research.  First I talked with my husband.  Of course he knew all about normal weight obesity and explained that people of a normal body weight (like me) can carry too much hidden fat, especially around their body organs. 

Today I did more research online and found the following information.  The Mayo Clinic did a study of 6000 Americans with normal body weight and BMI and found that you don't have to be obese to have excess body fat.  Of course, any excess body fat can lead to the same medical problems that obese people suffer from: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, etc.  In addition to storing fat, fat cells produce a variety of strong chemicals that can create inflamation and pain, get your sex hormones out of balance and elevate your bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

You can do three tests to determine your level of fat versus lean body weight and your overall risk.  You can google these tests online like I did to perform the calculations roughly.  The results (like mine) may surprise you and hopefully spur you on to better health habits.
1. Calculate your BMI.   I did two different ones.  One test was just for women and required more information.  My result said I needed work.  The other was a simple test of height and weight and put me in the normal range.
2.  Measure your waist.  We gain weight most easily here so it is a good indicator of  "fatness".  Women should have a waist measurement under 34 inches and men under 38 inches to be in a normal range.  I am well under the 34 inches here, thankfully.
3.  Measure your percentage of body fat.  I found another site online and entered all the measurements required.  My results were 24 % body fat, 31.94 pounds of body fat and 101.06 pounds of lean body weight.  I am just over the healthy range of 23% body fat so I need to do more - more exercise and better eating. 

All this points out something I have said all along - you can't wait until your health is obviously headed downhill.  You have take care of your health every day and monitor yourself.  I have learned I need to step up the exercise; my routine has become too easy and I'm not working hard enough.  Plus, I need to cut back on some snacks and foods I love.  Can anyone hear the peanuts calling my name?  I will post my new exercise routine as soon as I establish one.  I'm thinking of zumba or spin classes. 

In the meantime, I'm going to share a recipe for baked oatmeal.  Oatmeal is such a healthy breakfast full of fiber and can help lower cholesterol.  This recipe makes alot so you can have some leftover for the next day's breakfast as well.

Baked Oatmeal
2 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup steel cut oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups fat free milk
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups fresh fruit such as chopped apples or pears
Preheat oven to 400.  Mix rolled oats, oat bran, steel cut oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl stir together the milk, egg, applesauce, oil and sugars.  Add to oat mixture and stir till combined.  Spoon into a lightly greased casserole dish.  Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  Stir and fold in fruit.  Bake uncovered for 20 more minutes or until lightly brown.  Serve with yogurt if desired.  Serves 6 to 8.

Hope you give some thought to today's post.  Thursday I will discuss a book I found which has me rethinking some of the foods I normally buy and which will help you buy better foods.