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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Old And New

Sometimes I think about the way my parents cooked and the things I ate as a child.  Though my parents taught me to cook and have been the inspiration for my love affair with food, I cook quite differently than they did.  I still have and frequently use some of their recipes but I have "modernized" most of my cooking techniques.  My parents used bacon grease to flavor vegetables, grease pans, fry eggs, etc.  I hardly ever cook bacon much less have enough grease to do anything with, though I do love it.  I sometimes wish I could have a pot of my father's green beans but I never mastered his technique because there was no set recipe.  He just did it.  He also just threw cornbread together, never needing a recipe.  I made pan after awful pan of cornbread but could never seem to get it right, like his, until my sister Pat finally taught me his recipe, written down after her careful observations.

I think my father had more of a passion for cooking while my mother mostly cooked out of necessity.  He loved to try new dishes and show off his cooking skills.  I think his love of food stemmed from his childhood when food was often scarce.  He also loved to eat and he could put away a mountain of food.  When my husband first met my parents, he was amazed at the size of my father's "cereal" bowl, which in reality was a small mixing bowl.

Growing up, we never ate fast food and indeed, seldom ate out because there were so few restaurants in the small town I grew up in.  I can remember being taken to a small restaurant out in the country occasionally.  It was such a treat as they served great fried chicken and plain home cooked vegetables.  The best part for me though, was watching the peacocks in the yard outside.  I have no idea why the owner had a pair of peacocks with his chickens but they were as exotic as it got in rural Arkansas in the 60's.

My parents each had their specialties that they made.  Dad always made cakes while Moma made pies and cobblers.  She also made the best fried chicken.  I loved her fried chicken and each year on my birthday, my sister Pat fries some chicken for me, just like Moma did, with rice and white chicken gravy.  Since my husband and children make my mother's apple Betty pie as well, my birthday is certainly a day to look forward to all year long.

Much as I loved my parents food, I can see that I cook much healthier foods with less saturated fat and less fried foods.  We have the opportunity to educate ourselves about better health because we know so much more now than we knew back then.  However, one thing I still do that they did: I cook, we eat at home and eat whole foods, not processed crap.

Just for fun, here is one of my father's recipes which he served at deer camp to the guys.  Apparently, he was always the cook because his food was the best.  You be the judge.

Pig Tails and Beans
2 cups white or pinto beans, washed
1 pig tail, chopped into small pieces or substitute rinds
water to cover by 1 inch or more
1 or more hot red peppers
Cook all ingredients 3 to 4 hours until beans are tender.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Liquid will be mostly gelatin and have little fat.  For variety, add 2 Tbsp. brown sugar.  Serve with fried potatoes, hot cornbread and hot pepper relish.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ratatouille Rating

Well, I must report that though the ratatouille was pretty good, it was not well received by my children.  I think it would make a much better side dish than a main dish but vegetarians will love it.  The recipe I used called for eggplant, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, and zucchini, all layered with Parmesan cheese.  It was a pretty dish as well.  If you are interested in making ratatouille, simply google it. There were plenty of recipes online and none were hard, just a bit time consuming with all the vegetable chopping.

Continuing with the farmers' market theme and fresh produce, I am sharing a favorite pasta dish that uses eggplant, tomatoes and fresh parsley.  Eggplant is one of those vegetables that people don't know what to do with it seems.  I love eggplant and look forward to finding new uses for it.  My kids never even noticed the eggplant in this dish so give it a try and see how your family likes it.

Penne With Sausage, Eggplant and Feta
4 1/2 cups peeled, cubed eggplant
1/2 lb. light pork sausage
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 ripe tomatoes, diced or 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
10 oz. cooked penne pasta
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Cook eggplant, sausage and garlic in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender.  Add tomato paste and next 3 ingredients.  Cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add pasta, cheese and parsley to sausage mixture and toss well.  Makes 4 servings.

Serve with a salad and crusty bread.  Notice how easy my dinners are, side salad and bread heated in the oven.  All our vegetables are in one dish practically.  I am making this dish Friday with the tomatoes and eggplant I got Tuesday at the Farmers' Market.  I will make another trip Saturday for more tomatoes and blueberries, maybe a melon of some sort.  I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Farmers' Market, The Place To Be

Am I the only person who thinks a farmers' market is just like a candy store for kids?  I love farmers' markets.  I love wandering among the vendors to see what everyone is selling and to find the best produce. I just came home from the ASU Farmers' Market with a large, heavy bag full of beautiful okra, tomatoes, eggplant, thyme dinner rolls and an oatmeal cookie, just one.  I am amazed at how much the ASU market has grown this year.  The shed and landscaping are so attractive and the vendors are top notch.  If you haven't gone this year, you are in for a treat.

The ASU Farmers' Market is open at 7 on Saturdays until they sell out; then again on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons starting at 2:00.  There are several new faces this year plus some of my old favorites.  Whiton Farms is back selling organic and heirloom produce.  These people have a commitment to food grown without chemicals and with plenty of flavor.  One of my favorites is a farmer from Bay who has the best okra, eggplant and squash around.  He grows some unusual varieties such as white eggplant and yellow zucchini and his produce is absolutely blemish free.  He always has several bunches of gorgeous sunflowers and zinnias as well.  There are usually several bakers selling everything from jelly to sourdough bread to cobblers to cookies to cinnamon rolls.  The thyme dinner rolls were from 3 Birds Baking and they always have an interesting selection of breads, cookies and rolls.  The organic beef people are usually there and today I saw a vendor selling fresh pork sausage, tenderloins, etc.  A few people sell farm fresh eggs.  Last Saturday, a vendor had pulled up a trailer and was selling breakfast foods hot off the griddle!  I plan to eat breakfast there Saturday while shopping for blueberries and melons.

People bring their dogs and children because you never know what you might encounter.  One weekend, some children were putting on a magic show.  My sister reported that they were quite professional and entertaining.  Some local artists also bring out items such as photographs, bird houses and jewelry.  So head out sometime soon and fill a bag or two with the best produce around and support your local farmers.  I guarantee the produce is freshly picked, not shipped across the country and unripe to boot.

I have an update on my weekend cooking for those who are wondering how my risotto turned out.  I must admit it was divine.  I served a simple salad and some great bread with it.  Since peaches are now ripe, I made a Very Berry Peach Pie.  (see my recipe list)  If you would like the recipe for the risotto, check out my other blog on under blogroll.   My next cooking adventure will be ratatouille.  Some of you may remember the movie about the rat who cooked the best ratatouille.  Anyway, I've wanted to make some ever since seeing that movie and now, thanks to the farmer in Bay, I have some lovely zucchini.  I'll have a post on my ratatouille soon.          

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Great Weekend Ahead - Take Advantage

Here we are right in the middle of summer and we have a wonderful weekend ahead -so enjoy it.  Take advantage of all summer has to offer in the way of water sports, the beautiful outdoors and good food and friends.  Just remember to take it easy in the heat and wear sunscreen and a hat.

I plan to put the family to work for a bit this weekend, doing some cleaning up around the yard but then we'll hit the pool and relax the rest of the weekend.  But before all that, the whole family will attend the last Harry Potter movie.  Surprisingly, I don't have a Harry Potter themed party planned.  We won't be having butter beer or treacle tart, whatever that is.  My kids will be attending the midnight showing tonight but the older set is waiting for a better hour.

Then there is the good food part.  This weekend, I plan to make a mushroom risotto so cross your fingers for me.  I've made risotto before with good results but I'm hoping for something really special.  Grilling is one of the best ways to cook in the summer not only because of the taste but because it keeps the house cool.  A friend shared the following recipe with me recently and once again, the whole family approved.  I approve because it took me very little time to put together and then my husband cooked it.  Truly a win/win situation.  Serve with the following green salad that's bursting with summer's goodness.

Pork Tenderloin With Basil and Feta
1 package pork tenderloin
1 4 oz. package crumbled feta
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
several leaves of fresh basil
cooking twine
Mix the mayonnaise and feta together in a small bowl.  Spread one of the flatter sides of the pork tenderloin with the feta mixture.  Cover the top with the basil leaves.  Place the other tenderloin on top and secure with cooking twine.  Heat grill to medium and cook 1 to 1/2 hours or until the meat registers 160 on a meat thermometer, turning once.

Green Salad With Blueberries and Strawberries
1 package mixed salad greens
1 pint blueberries, washed
1 pint strawberries, washed
1 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
3 tbsp. Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette
Place salad greens in a bowl. Top with blueberries, strawberries and almonds.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss gently.

I hope you have a great weekend and do something fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

From Overweight To Beauty Queen; The Story Of Bree Boyce

If you haven't seen the inspirational story of Bree Boyce, Miss South Carolina, you need to.  Just five years ago, Bree was significantly overweight and at 17 was already suffering from problems associated with obesity.  Her aching knees prompted her to go to the doctor whom she credits with saving her life.  The doctor didn't mince words; he told her it was time to loose weight.

Up to that time, Bree suffered from low self esteem and had turned to food to shore up her emotional well being.  She hid her problem from her family and ate junk food in secret, often eating whole pizzas and other fast food away from home.  Of course, the secret eating habit and excess weight only made her feel worse.  Hearing her doctor say that excess weight was the cause of her aching knees and that it would only get worse gave her the courage to loose the weight.

Bree lost the weight the old fashioned way; eating a healthy diet and exercise.  She did not turn to surgery or fad diets, thank goodness.  The first 64 pounds came off quickly but it took three years for her to achieve her goal and loose over 100 pounds.  She says that she educated herself along the way and learned more about nutrition and how to cook healthy foods.

Now she has won the Miss Carolina title (where she also won the swim suit competition!) and will go on to compete in the Miss America pageant in January.  Her platform naturally is about obesity and healthy eating.  She looks forward to traveling around the country promoting good health and also has a facebook page where people can leave comments.

I hope my readers will learn from Bree's story that good health is important to leading a more fulfilling life.  As she says, it takes alot of hard work and determination, but anyone can do if they are truly motivated.  I hope you are motivated to take charge of your health and not take it for granted until it is too late.  Remember my mantra: eat healthy foods and exercise!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Body Sculpting

As I mentioned in my last post, I enrolled in a body sculpting class on the cruise and really enjoyed it.  Well, maybe not enjoyed, but I definitely feel I learned a great new workout.  I sweated so much, it was dripping in my ears and I could hardly walk up stairs the next day.  I knew I needed to step up my workout as it was getting too easy and a bit boring and I think I have.  Is a body sculpting class for you?  Let's find out.

Body sculpting is a strength training workout that combines cardiovascular exercise, flexibility and weights to shape and tone your body without adding bulk.  Therefore, it is an excellent workout for those trying to loose weight as it boosts metabolism while burning those calories.  It also lowers the risk of bone loss so it is ideal for women.  It's just as good for you men too.  There were two basketball players in my class and they thought it was a good workout.  Unlike some exercise, it has little impact on the joints, done properly.  A dumbbell is the only weight used and it should be heavy enough so that you can't do more that 15 reps per set.  If the weight is too light, you won't be working hard enough to achieve much benefit.  

Any fitness level can do this class though you should expect to be sore if you haven't been exercising much and maybe even if you have.  Look for an instructor that teaches proper form and helps you progress comfortably at your own pace.  Do let the instructor push you beyond your comfort zone so you are working hard.  There should be a warm up and cool down time and stretching of the muscles that just worked so hard.  Please bring a bottle of water to drink between sets.  My instructor emphasized the need to hydrate your body before, during and after a workout.

Here are some of the exercises taught in my class to give you an idea of what you'll be doing.  After a warm up of jogging in place, jumping jacks, etc, we might do burpees (jump up, squat down and jump into a pushup position, jump back up), step lunges with a twist to the side holding our weight out in front, or boxing punches with the weight.

Though I have not checked around, I am sure some of the local gyms offer body sculpting classes.  If there just aren't any near you, try to find a video to get started.  I brought home a booklet so I can do the workout at home.  I am hoping to see some results by the end of the month.

If you have been looking for a new routine, check out body sculpting.  I think you will like it.      

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Surviving A Cruise Vacation With Your Health Intact

Last week I took my first cruise vacation and since we didn't have affordable internet connections, I made no posts.  We went to Alaska and it is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth, remote and unspoiled.  I hope it always stays that way.

Cruises are notorious for being little more than a floating 24 hour restaurant and the reputation is well deserved.  I was impressed at the quality of the food prepared three times a day for around 2000 people plus 900 or so crew members.  I was also impressed by the quantity.  If you are going on a cruise, bring your will power and avoid the floors where the restaurants are located.  Hang out at the workout center and stay on shore every minute possible.

Seriously, a cruise is an overeating paradise where any craving can be indulged.  You need a strategy if you want to walk off the boat, not waddle or roll.  Since the temperatures hovered in the 50's and 60's most of our trip, I found myself needing alot of hot chocolate.  We ate an appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert most every dinner meal.  At least the portions were more reasonable than that found in many restaurants but we were still consuming quite a few extra calories.  The ice cream bar was open most of the day and proved a popular spot for cruisers.  There was the main gourmet restaurant, a buffet that offered a vast array of choices, a hamburger grill, the light menu restaurant, another 7 course restaurant, a small coffee shop that served tapas and desserts and two bars.  So as you can see, temptation was everywhere.

So how did I cope with all that food calling my name?  My plan, which I stuck with pretty religiously, was to eat a light breakfast; eggs and fruit, or muesli and fruit.  I loved the salad bar on the buffet so I heaped greens, nuts, vegetables, craisins and oil and vinegar on my plate every lunch but two.  I did over-indulge at night but I didn't drink alcohol every day.  The best thing I did was to enroll in the body sculpting class for 4 out of 7 days.  That was one tough workout and I learned a new exercise routine and some great additions to my ab work.  I am proud to say that one day there were only three participants in the class due to slightly heavier seas; me and two young men, one 19 and one 24.  I kept up pretty well.  But that class was the real reason I only gained three pounds over the whole trip!

So to sum up, here are my tips for a cruise, or any vacation where food temptation is over the top.
1.  Have a strategy before going; for example, plan what you will eat for breakfast and lunch and stick to it.
2.  This is not the time to skip exercise, in fact doing a bit extra pays off so go dancing at night.
3.  Don't buy the beverage package so you will not be tempted to have unlimited sodas or alcoholic beverages.
4.  Avoid temptation by staying away from the food service areas.
5.  Do allow yourself to enjoy your food and indulge some cravings.  Just remember that fresh fruits and vegetables can be delicious too.

                                    One of the many beautiful views in Alaska.

Thursday I'll talk more about the body sculpting class and what I learned.