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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flippin' Pancakes

I know some people think my family eats nothing but tofu and greens, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  We all like sweets and on the weekend, we usually have pancakes one morning.  I have even been known to make pancakes for dinner, gasp!  Sometimes I just fix plain Bisquick pancakes but (no surprises here) I like to experiment too.  Adding blueberries to the batter is a quick way to make pancakes more interesting plus add some nutrition.  I must say that I've never added chocolate chips because the very thought is nauseating.  Chocolate and syrup?  Not me.

I once had pancakes with cream of wheat added at IHOPs so I started doing that at home too.  Barry loves chopped pecans in his pancakes and/or chopped bananas.  Since I read Eat This, Not That, I have made a few changes to the foods I purchase.  This past weekend, I made scratch pancakes with King Arthur unbleached white whole wheat flour.  I threw in 1/4 cup of flax seed as well.  The results were delicious and much better for you.  The whole wheat flour and flax seed gave the pancakes a little more texture.  Making pancakes from scratch is not difficult and the results will make you want to do it more often.  Here is my altered recipe for pancakes with whole wheat flour and flax seed.

Plain Pancakes
2 eggs
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, regular or whole wheat
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
Beat eggs until throughly blended in a mixing bowl.  Melt the butter, then add it to the milk before adding to the eggs.  Mix well.  Put all dry ingredients into a small bowl and mix well.  If you like, try adding 1/4 cup of flax seed.  Add to the egg, milk mixture and stir till just moistened.  Add a bit more milk if batter seems too thick.  Do not overmix.  Heat griddle until a drop of water sizzles on it.  Pour out batter in small amounts and cook until bubbles break and the edges look dry.  Flip and cook other side.  Serve with your favorite syrup.  This recipe is just as good with regular all purpose flour as with the whole wheat.

About a year ago, I found the following recipe for syrup which I had to try.  My family is glad I did because it is so good, you'll slap your Moma to get it.  Aunt Jemima is fine but this syrup is over the top.  It is especially good on homemade blueberry pancakes.

Buttermilk Syrup
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla
Put all ingredients in a saucepan except the vanilla and bring to a boil.  Stir and cook for 7 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. 

My last recipe is pumpkin pancakes.  The family discovered another way to enjoy pumpkin curtesy of IHOP.  Since then, pumpkin pancakes are a welcome treat at our house.  (I always feel better serving sweets if I can say they have some nutritional value!  And pumpkin is loaded with beta carotene, an antioxidant, fiber, and potassium, among other things.)  The added spices mean even more antioxidants.

Pumpkin Pancakes
2 1/3 cups Bisquick, preferably Reduced Fat
1 1/4 cups skim milk
1 egg
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. each of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
Heat griddle till a drop of water sizzles on the surface.  Mix all ingredients until just blended.  Pour small amounts and cook as above. 

Maybe you can surprise your family with a pancake supper one night this week or pancakes for breakfast this weekend.  Serve some fruit on the side, a couple pieces of bacon and a large glass of milk; couldn't get any better!


Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Own Food Revolution

Tuesday I mentioned I am very much like Jamie Oliver whose show, Food Revolution, I encouraged you to watch.  I'd like to see our school lunches improved and to see everyone embrace healthier eating habits.  I'm hoping some of you have tried some of my recipes and found that they truly aren't that hard.  Best of all, I'm hoping you've found they are GOOD!  Through my blog, I'm trying to start my own health revolution. 

You might think that some of my recipes sound strange or are out of your normal food/comfort zone.  Avocado soup?  Fish Tacos? Tomato and Watermelon Salad?  Well, today's recipe is no different.  I can't even pronounce the name but after trying it once, it has become my daughter's new favorite recipe.  It is easy and fast to fix and highly nutritious, meeting all of my requirements.  Shakshuka is a popular Israeli dish served all over the country with slightly different variations.  I found this recipe in Relish magazine and I'm serving it tonight with a loaf of bread.  Each serving is about 190 calories, 10 grams of fat, 210 mg cholesterol, 11 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber.

Shakshuka with Spinach and Feta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 14 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
6 eggs
1 lb. fresh spinach
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Heat oil in a large, deep, nonstick skillet.  Add garlic and saute one minute.  Add tomatoes, paprika, cumin. tomato paste, and spinach.  Cook partially covered, for 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper, cook 5 more minutes.
Break eggs into tomato sauce.  Sprinkle with feta.  Cook, partially covered, until egg whites are set, 5 to 7 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.

This dish is easy to expand for more people and requires little effort from the cook.  I allowed two eggs per person for dinner so I used 8 eggs.  Cut back to 2 or 4 eggs, halve the amount of spinach, and it makes dinner for 1 or 2.  Use the rest of the spinach for a salad.  Serve it over a nice thick slice of toasted bread.  Yum!

I hope you are encouraged to move out of your comfort zone and start your own revolution.  You never know whether you like something or not until you try it, just like your Mom always said.  Don't forget the other part of the health revolution, exercise.  Get out this weekend and get moving!        

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When Watching TV Can Help You Loose Weight and Be Healthier

Did anyone catch the preview of  Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution this past Sunday?  Has anyone heard of Jamie Oliver?  I have alot in common with Jamie Oliver and you'll see why.  Jamie became a chef in England after growing up cooking in his Dad's pub.  He had a successful TV series called the Naked Chef but may be better known for trying to change the school food programs in the UK.  After leaving the Naked Chef he started a program to teach individuals how to cook simple, nutritious food every day.  That led him to challenge the government to improve the school lunches, even getting thousands of parents concerned enough to sign petitions.  The government has spent thousands but change has been slow.

Now Jamie Oliver has a new TV series here in the U.S. designed to educate Americans on the sorry state of the food we eat.  If you missed the preview Sunday, the series starts this Friday on ABC at 7 p.m. till 9 p.m.  On Sunday's episode, Jamie has traveled to Huntington, West Virginia which was named the unhealthiest city in the U.S. based on obesity, disease and death statistics.  The twelve year old boy who probably  weighed around 300 lbs., broke my heart.  He desperately wants to change as he is tired of being called names.  Then there was the child who didn't even know what whole ripe tomatoes were.  He thought they were potatoes!  But hey, I frequently encounter checkers at Krogers who have to ask me to identify vegetables so they can ring them up. 

If you are concerned, like me, that this generation of children may be the first to die at an earlier age than their parents, watch this show.  Encourage everyone you know to watch it.  It is time we faced the fact that we are killing ourselves and our children with the food we eat.  I find it appalling that most children don't eat any vegetables at all on any given day.  And no, french fries don't count.

We've also got to get off our butts and get moving!  Kids need to get outside and get fresh air and exercise every day, weather permitting.  I took my daughter and two of her friends on a 4+ mile bike ride this morning and survived.  The kids have the week off for spring break and today is lovely with temperatures in the 60's.  We rode through the rolling countryside, listening to birds sing and admiring daffodils blooming.  Grace was grateful I took the time to do this with her.  I am too.

This evening, shoot some hoops with your children or go for a walk.  Set an example for a lifetime of good health.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Great Recipes

The weekend is almost here and as usual, I've been thinking about food.  I'm obsessed with what meals I'm going to prepare on weekends because I have more time to cook.  I often try new recipes or make more time consuming dishes on the weekends and we usually have a family dinner on Sundays.  However I know not everyone loves to cook like I do so I have a couple of good recipes for you. 

Flipping through my cookbook the other day, I came across a recipe I'd only made once but thought it was worth keeping.  It has few ingredients and I knew I could put it in the crockpot, making it an excellent choice for Tuesday night.  Tuesday was a very busy day and that night I had conferences at both schools and my husband was out of town.  I needed something that would be ready when we all got home.  Monday I bought all my groceries as usual and put the chicken in the crockpot at lunch on Tuesday.  That night we were treated to a wonderful meal.  The chicken just fell off the bone.  We were all tired and the clean up was minimal.  I served this dish with store bought mashed potatoes (yes, I do resort to convenience sometimes) and green peas. 

Sun-dried Tomato Chicken
4 lbs. or so of chicken pieces ( I used legs that I pulled the skin off to reduce the fat and because they are cheap.)
1 cup sun-dried tomato vinagrette with roasted red pepper
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried basil
Arrange chicken in a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish or crockpot.  Pour vinagrette over chicken and sprinkle with pepper.  Sprinkle chopped tomatoes and basil over chicken.  Bake uncovered at 400 for 1 hour or until done if using oven.  If using crockpot, cook on high for 5 1/2 to 6 hours or low for 7.  Easy dish either way and just as good if you don't have the sun-dried tomatoes.

I can eat this next comfort-food dish for my main meal with some bread for a light supper or it makes a great side dish.  It has several of those spices I talked about last week and will make vegetarians happy.  You can easily expand this recipe to feed more people. 

Black Beans and Yellow Rice
1 5 oz. package saffron rice mix
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice (use bottled if you don't have a lime)
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Cook rice according to package instructions.  Keep warm.  Combine beans, lime juice, chili powder and cumin in  a saucepan.  Heat through and stir in cilantro.  Serve over rice with a spoonful of sour cream, if desired. 

I hope everyone gets some fresh air the next two days as the weekend may be rainy and much colder where I live.  I'm taking the dog for a power walk later.  Happy, Healthy Eating!    

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spices - More Than A Way To Flavor Your Food

In today's busy world, we've forgotten the history of spices and herbs and why they were so important to our ancestors.  All we are concerned about is how to make our food taste good.  However, we are beginning to rediscover what ancient people knew - spices and herbs are an important ally in our quest for good health.

Thousands of years ago, the Chinese and Egyptians used herbs for their medicinal properties.  Herbs were easily grown and gathered so this use continued throughout the Middle Ages.  Spices were expensive and were a hot trade item.  Eventually wars were fought to control the spice trade. 

With the advances in science and medicine, people began to forget the many uses of spices and herbs except as a way to flavor food.  If you don't do much cooking, you probably don't use many spices.  Not only can spices add greatly to the taste of your food, they can give you a great nutritional boost.  Spices and herbs are full of antioxidants and can aid digestion, reduce inflamation and cholesterol, stimulate the production of insulin and protect against stroke.  Now I'm not suggesting that you heap extra seasoning on all your food.  If you read last week's blog on antioxidants, you know that an excess of antioxidants can have a negative effect.  I am merely pointing out that the foods we are supposed to eat work hand in hand to keep us healthier and happier. 

Remember too that spices loose their effectiveness quickly so it is probably time to clean out your spice rack.  Spices should be stored in a cool, dark place handy to use in cooking.  If anything is more than a year old, throw it out and buy a fresh jar.  I encourage you to try using fresh herbs whenever possible.  I use dried herbs mostly because I'm in a hurry to get dinner on the table.  But when I have the time, I purchase fresh herbs.  This summer I may try to grow my own herbs.  I have given up on growing any vegetables though I long for home grown tomatoes.  I simply have too much shade.  But maybe a few herbs in a pot will survive.........

I hope you are inspired to reach for more than the salt and pepper as you cook.  Look for a few recipes that call for fresh herbs and give those a try.  I think you'll find the taste worth the effort.  And though you may not realize it, you may be a bit healthier.   

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What In The World Are Free Radicals And Antioxidants?

This week I wrote that almonds are an important source of vitamin E, an excellent antioxidant.  We've all seen the words 'antioxidant' and 'free radicals' but what do they mean?  Why are these words important to us and why should we care?  Learning about antioxidants and free radicals makes a good case for eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants are substances that counteract the damaging but normal effects of oxidation in our body.  Oxidation is the process that causes iron to rust and peeled apples to turn brown.  Oxidation occurs when the production of harmful molecules called free radicals is beyond the defenses of available antioxidants.  Free radicals form inside our body but are also caused by outside influences such as pollution, sunlight, alcohol, smoking and x-rays.  The normal process of aging causes damage to cells over time.  Too much damage by free radicals is thought to play a major role in heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimers and other diseases.  Antioxidants block free radicals. 

So we could just take supplements, right?  Sorry but studies have not yet shown that taking supplements with extra antioxidants is helpful.  Indeed, high doses can cause toxicity.  Nothing is easily fixed by taking a pill.  Moma was so right when she told you to eat your vegetables.  Following is a list of some more common antioxidants and their sources. 

Vitamin E - vegetable oil, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, wheat germ and leafy green vegetables

Vitamin C - citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, strawberries

Beta carotene - cantaloupe, pumpkin, peppers, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes

Selenium - seafood, beef, pork, chicken, brown rice, whole wheat bread

You can see that some foods contain several antioxidants, besides fiber and other minerals we need to be healthy.  I'm hoping today's post will inspire you to add more fruits and vegetables to your family's diet everyday.  Have a good weekend and Happy Eating! 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Walking and Running Clubs

Last night on the news, they did a piece on safety when running.  Now I'm all about exercise so I was glad to see the story BUT....they left out a major safety factor.  Since the weather has been warmer here lately there are many people out running at all hours.  Several times I have come across runners after dark wearing all dark clothing!  I have been startled when my headlights finally illuminated the runner.  If you are going to run after dark in the street, you had better wear light colored, reflective clothing.  That is such a no brainer but it seems to be easily forgotten.  The same goes for anyone on the street after dark, whether walking, biking, running or hanging out with friends, so remind your teens. 

If you are interested in running, there are running/walking clubs everywhere that often sponsor races, help with training or beginning running and group support.  The "Women Can Run" clinic offered here in Jonesboro has already started this year but you can check out the website at for more information.  Go to for more information on another local club for walkers, runners and bikers. 

Now that the weather is warming, I hope you'll dust off those athletic shoes and get outside.  Drag your kids out with you and go for a walk in a local park or just around the neighborhood.  Get the dog and give Rover some much needed attention and exercise too.  Air up your tires and take the bicycle for a spin as you soak up some free vitamin D from the sun.

Now for my pet peeve of the week.  Does it seem counter-productive for women's magazines to feature articles such as 'Lose Belly Fat For Good' or 'Walk Your Way Thin' when the cover photo is a lucious chocolate cake with swirls of icing or a plate of donuts?  It somehow implies that we can have our cake and eat it too, all the while remaining forever thin if we just do their latest exercise routine which takes just 20 minutes, three times a week.  Why is the cover photo never of farm fresh produce or the articles "Twenty Great New Vegetable Recipes Your Family Will Love'?  Just me griping again.

If you haven't checked out the books, go to, click nutrition, then click on the Eat This Not That section and check out some of the articles.  You'll be glad you did. 


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beyond Taco Bell - Exploring Mexican Food

My daughter pointed out last night that I misspelled hola, the Spanish word for hello, in Tuesday's blog title.  I'll take her word for it although this is the same daughter who once assured me that 'Soy gracioso' meant 'I am very grateful'.  So, after last year's ice storm, I told my Mexican gardner, "Soy gracioso!", as I paid him for cleaning up the fallen limbs in my yard.  He had a puzzled look but that's characteristic for many of our Spanish/English conversations.  A few days later, Grace announced in the car that she was mistaken.  Soy gracioso means I am very silly.  It was a long time before I called Mr. Pacheco again. 

Though learning to speak Spanish can be tricky, learning to cook Mexican food is not that difficult.  The rewards are worth the effort with meals made from fresh, simple ingredients.  If you've never made salsa yourself, or eaten freshly made salsa, you are missing out on a real treat.  Good salsa, like everything else, must have good ingredients.  I find it hard to find good tasting tomatoes in the grocery stores and sometimes, even at the farmer's market.  I've tried to grow my own but I have too much shade and too many raccoons.  The best store bought tomatoes around here seem to be the cherry or grape tomatoes.  Everything else is tasteless or mushy.  Chopping all those small tomates can be tedious but also theraputic.  When my kids eat fresh salsa, I don't mind how many chips they eat.  Tuesday's blog had some simple salsa recipes but look around and try some different ones.

Today, I'm going to share two recipes that my family likes from the magazine I mentioned Tuesday.  Both are easy and are good examples of healthier Mexican food.  Serve the soup before the fish tacos or regular tacos if you wish.  It does sound unusual but I promise it is delicious.  The Oaxacan Rice and Beans makes a flavorful side dish packed with vegetables.

Avocado Soup
2 ripe avocados, peeled and cut up
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup light sour cream
Bottled hot pepper sauce
Fresh chopped cilantro and tomatoes, optional
In a blender or food processor, combine avocados, onion, carrot, garlic and 1 cup of broth.  Cover and process until almost smooth.  Add the remaining broth, sour cream and a few dashes of hot sauce.  Cover and blend again until smooth.  Pour soup into a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap.  Chill 1 to 24 hours.  Serve chilled soup with fresh cilantro and tomatoes if desired.  To serve soup warm, heat gently in a saucepan for 10 minutes but do not boil. 

Oaxacan Rice and Beans
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 fresh poblano pepper seeded and chopped or 1 4 oz. can of diced green chile peppers, drained
1 fresh jalapeno pepper seeded and chopped or use jarred
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup white rice
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen (or one can) green beans, thawed
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
In a large skillet, cook carrots, onion, peppers and garlic in oil for 3 minutes.  Stir in the uncooked rice.  Cook and stir constantly over medium heat for 3 more minutes or until vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Stir in broth and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add green beans and black beans, cover and heat through.

Plan a fiesta this weekend and serve some good Mexican food.  It's a great excuse to whip up a batch of margaritas too!       

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hola! South Of The Border Meals

Doesn't everyone love Mexican food?  Cheese dip, nachos, tacos, chimichangas and quesadillas are all popular foods.  But so much of what we eat as Mexican food here in the U.S. is really TexMex and has been drastically changed from the true diet of Mexicans.  When Mexicans move to the U.S., their weight, heart disease and diabetes risk all go up as they switch to an American diet.  True Mexican food uses much less cheese and fats and more vegetables and legumes.

When I first moved to Jonesboro, the best Mexican restaurant in town was Taco Bell.  While Taco Bell is about the only fast food I will eat, it is not great Mexican.  We have many Mexican restaurants in town now but I long for one that is really authentic.  I have eaten at a few authentic or innovative Mexican restaurants and we Americans don't know what we are missing.  I hope this week's blogs will get you to think outside the taco and explore Mexican cooking.

About a year ago, I found a Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication on Mexican cooking  with cookbook author Rick Bayless.  I have still seen it on the stands and I hope you can find it.  I have tried several of the recipes and many are simple but delicious such as the fish tacos.  When my niece ordered fish tacos once, I nearly gagged.  Though I love fish and tacos, fish tacos just didn't seem to go together.  Still I tried a bite and since then, have been eating fish tacos every chance I get.  Here is my recipe for fish tacos.

Fish Tacos
4 white fish fillets such as tilapia
2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 fresh lime
12 small corn or flour tortillas
Sprinkle fish with seasonings and place in a non stick pan sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  Cook over medium heat, flipping once, until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Place in a bowl and break fish up with a fork, then squeeze lime juice over fish.  Serve in warm tortillas with lettuce and salsa. 

1 mango, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 small jalopeno seeded and diced or several jarred jalopeno slices chopped
1 tsp. cilantro or 1 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lime
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and squeeze lime over mixture.  Stir and let flavors combine in the refrigerator while you prepare the fish tacos. 

This is a really refreshing change of pace from the usual Mexican fare and a healthier, lighter taco too.  Great for hot summer days especially but I like them anytime.  You can use regular jarred tomato salsa too, or a peach salsa.  Use your imagination.

This past weekend, I hosted a retirement party for 20 and had some leftover roasted beef.  If you've been reading my blogs, you know what a big fan I am of using leftovers.  I was pondering what to do with the leftover meat as I didn't feel like cooking after all the work I did over the weekend.  Suddenly I thought of fajitas!  Fajitas can be very simple to fix and use many healthy ingredients.

To make the fajitas, I made a quick salsa from chopped cherry tomatoes, cilantro, salt and lime juice.  Next, I sliced a green pepper and an onion into strips and sauteed them in olive oil till they were nice and brown.  I sliced the beef into strips and barely warmed the meat in another pan.  The tortillas were warming in the oven while I prepared the rest of the food.  Then it was simply a matter of everyone assembling their fajitas.  You could add a slice of avocado or a touch of sour cream to complete the fajitas.  This is a great way to use leftover chicken or beef or frozen cooked chicken breasts.  You can also get many fresh healthy vegetables in a tasty way.

Thursday I will continue with the Mexican theme.  I hope the warmer weather has inspired you to get out and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.  Or at least I hope so if the weather where you live is warmer and the sun is shining!