Plan Ahead Cooking Sunday

Today was another plan ahead cooking day!

It’s been very busy at work, so time is limited for cooking healthy meals. I don’t want to revert to my old ways of “convenience” processed food and take-out, so I have been using my slow cooker (crock pot) a couple of days a week. It’s been a great time saver, but I was recently reminded about the crock pot/slow cooker lead problem. So, I am trying NOT to use it until I perhaps test the crock with a home lead test.

So, today in the oven:

  • A big pot of bolognese sauce (inspired by Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love Bolognese recipe)
  • Braising two large boneless chuck steaks (London Broil) with onions, warm spices (cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, pepper, paprika) and wine. Unfortunately the beef was mostly frozen when I started, so when I tried to sear, it was just steaming. It didn’t matter though. I tasted a bite, and it was fabulous!
  • I also decided to make a batch of brown rice in the already hot oven for use later in the week.

The Meal Plan:

  1. Bolognese sauce with pasta tonight.
  2. Cooked extra pasta for our lunches for either tomorrow or Tuesday
  3. Even after dividing into 4 portions, there is still some bolognese sauce left-over, so I think on Tuesday, that’ll be transformed into chili with beans and rice.
  4. The braised beef has been divided into freezer bags. It’ll be enough for three separate dinners, including a small portion for transformation into soup or stew.
  5. I also have boneless chicken defrosting in the fridge, and tomorrow or Tuesday, I’ll make chicken soup with rice. That’s usually a quick easy meal.
  6. We’ll have a meatless meal sometime later in the week. It might be a great time to finally try making a pizza with homemade flatbread!
  7. Gotta try to fit in salmon, and that could be a good day for DH to have left-overs. (He doesn’t eat fish)

I’m also considering a rice cooker purchase. It’s difficult to find a rice cooker that’s NOT non-stick, but these Vitaclay rice slow cookers look promising.

A Year of Slow Cooking

I borrowed the book “Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking” at the local library, and have started reading it. I’m exciting to learn more about using my slow cooker, and some of the recipes are so interesting. How cool would it be to make Creme Brulee in the slow cooker?!!! hahaa.

So, the author, Stephanie O’Dea started out with a New Year’s resolution to use her slow cooker every day for the year 2008. You can find more about Stephanie and the 365 project at her blog “A Year of Slow Cooking” Oh and did I mention that she’s a gluten-free home cook?!

She also has a discussion forum to learn more!

For those that want to follow her journey, start with her first post:

I absolutely love that she was such a newbie when she started. She used this experience to learn more about cooking and I find that so refreshing! Reading the comments posted from other readers are just as educational as her posts!

I think someone should create a new TV cooking show about slow cooking and slow cookers. It’s probably the only thing that hasn’t been done yet!

The only caveat I have right now is I need to test my slow cooker crock for lead. I’ll be picking up a lead tester at my local hardware store soon.

I’ll edit this post with a few of my favorite recipes.

Yummy Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds

Found an interesting recipe from Jamie Oliver’s book “Cook With Jamie” for “Incredible Boiled Butternut Squash with Squash Seed and Parmesan Pangrattato”. The recipe suggested mixing fried butternut squash seeds with bread crumbs, and parmasan cheese. It got me thinking about roasting squash seeds. I never thought about roasting anything but pumpkin seeds, and it’s not something that I’ve ever done personally.

So, of course I googled, and I found a roasted butternut squash seeds recipe online at Simple Daily Recipes. On her blog, Jill insisted that roasted butternut squash seeds taste so much better than pumpkin seeds! The one or two occasions that I’ve eaten roasted pumpkin seeds, I found them to be chewy, and too “seedy”. Not sure if they weren’t roasted enough, or if that is really how they are supposed to be. But I was now intrigued and inspired to try roasting butternut squash seeds!

Tonight, as I started scooping seeds from a butternut squash for dinner, I had a conversation in my head. I thought okay, I really should save these seeds to roast them. I hesitated, nah, I’ll try it next time. No, don’t wait, winter vegetable season will be ending soon, just get a bowl and save them……so that is what I did.

It was fairly easy to scoop the seeds away from that stringy stuff, and I saved them in a small bowl, leaving them on my counter to wait until I had time to clean them.

Jill’s recipe was super easy, she actually referred to her roasted pumpkin seeds recipe, but suggested to lower the temp to 300°

So, here’s exactly what I did:

  1. After scooping out the seeds from the squash, I rinsed them under cold water using a colander, then transferred them to a flat dish to dry a little. My squash was very small, so there wasn’t a whole lot of seeds.
  2. I placed a piece of parchment paper on a small aluminum baking tray and dumped the seeds onto the tray. I let them sit while we had dinner, so they’d dry out a little bit more on their own.
  3. Jill suggested to salt the heck out of them, so I did.
  4. Then I put them in a hot 350° oven (which was on from cooking dinner), lowering the temp to about 300°. I roasted for a little over 10 minutes, then poured them into a small dish.

My notes:

  1. I wasn’t sure how the extra orange stringy stuff would be, so I tried to get it all off the seeds. I should have read the comments posted to Jill’s blog, as one person suggested to keep the gunky stuff on, as it gave more flavor.
  2. I used way too much salt. Next time, I will definitely use a lot less. I will also experiment with other toppings like a bit of brown sugar (sucanat) and cinnamon. I’m also thinking that a little melted chocolate on top might work too. Oh the possibilities are endless!
  3. Jill’s blog commenters, also suggested roasting spaghetti squash seeds too, so that will be something I’ll try soon!

Bottom line, roasted butternut squash seeds are fantastic! Reminded me of popcorn that is “half popped” – Crunchy and flavorful, with just enough chew. It doesn’t taste like you’re eating unhulled seeds like with pumpkin. I ate the whole bowl! I was bummed there was such a small amount, I wanted more!

Vanilla Beans – Sweet & Savory Uses!

Earlier today, I was reading through the Jamie’s Kitchen cookbook by Jamie Oliver and came upon the recipe “Steamed Sea Bass, Green Beans with a White Wine, Vanilla, Cream and Garlic Sauce” on page 128. I was intrigued. I have heard recommendations to add a little touch of vanilla extract to tomato sauce, but basically, I never really thought about using vanilla pods (beans) in savory recipes! So, of course I immediately started to search for Jamie Oliver’s recipe so I could learn more.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the exact recipe online, but it perked my interest in finding more savory recipes using vanilla pods! And then that sparked my interest in finding the best place to purchase vanilla pods!

Here are some links:

Some of the recommended purchasing options for whole vanilla beans from Chowhound forum:

Cooking is unbelievably intriguing and there is an never-ending amount of information to learn. And I just love it!

Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag – Cookbook Cooking Show on the New OWN Network

I watched an episode of the new cookbook cooking show called “Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag” and fell in love! It’s on Oprah Winfrey’s new TV network, OWN.

The premise of the show is refreshing! Each episode is different. Two home cooks (Anna & Kristina) choose a specific cookbook, read it, experiment, then come together for one afternoon of cooking a few distinct recipes; then they ask an expert chef to taste their culinary creations and he/she rates the finished dishes.

The show is true to life with mistakes and food “disasters” – while I have read others criticize them for this, I think that is what makes the show so endearing! They are not expert chefs, so they make mistakes and we can learn from them through the show! I love that they bring it down to our level! Don’t be afraid, just try it, and who cares if you fail!

The show also offers tips and recommendations on ingredients, cooking tools, and equipment. For example, one show I watched, centered on the cook book “Nobu West“, also had an impromptu crab tasting, asking passersby to decide whether fresh is really better than canned crab, and yes, it was! They also had a kitchen tool testing segment on why it’s better to use a “sushi knife” than a chef knife when cutting sushi rolls and ingredients.

It’s such a great idea for a show, as there are so many web blogs online cooking through specific cookbooks. It’s great that someone finally created a show about the same thing! After doing research on Anna & Kristina, it appears the show isn’t actually “new” – it premiered in Canada in 2008, and they completed their 3rd season.

I am so bummed I didn’t start DVRing their shows until the other day, but thankfully I only missed a few episodes from last week, and it appears that OWN is replaying them throughout the day, so hopefully I’ll eventually be able to catch all of the episodes, especially the “Cook With Jamie” episode!

I’m so enthused about this show, I can hardly wait to learn more about all of these wonderful cookbooks, whether they receive their “seal of approval” or not!

You can find out more about Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag show by visiting their web site. There’s also a lot of detailed info about each episode from all three seasons, including recipes, ingredients, tools, and cook book reviews.

OWN = Oprah Winfrey Network, check your local listings for channel info, or check the OWN web site.

UPDATED January 30, 2011: I’ve been watching episodes from Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag on my DVR (in fact, I’m all caught up) and I still really like the show. Some episodes are better than others, but I really enjoy the equipment and food reviews, as well as learning more about cookbooks, most of which I hadn’t heard of before. I plan on borrowing a lot of them from my local library!

Hungry Girl First Show Premieres on the Cooking Channel

So, I watched the first episode of the new TV show, Hungry Girl (with Lisa Lillien) on the Cooking Channel, and I admit, some parts might be helpful to someone trying to lose weight, but most of it was pure Hungry Girl, suggesting unhealthy processed foods, instead of fresh whole ingredients.

This first episode was all about pizza, and she power-promoted Turkey Pepperoni, which by the way is full of dangerous chemicals and tons of sodium. Her recipe calls for only 4 little pepperoni pieces, so truthfully, why bother!? Why temp yourself with the stuff you shouldn’t be eating, like processed meat? Wouldn’t it be better to load up the pizza full of yummy mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, and heart-healthy olives.

Since the show is geared toward those that want to lose weight, her recipes typically yield only one individual serving, but you could probably double or quadruple them if feeding more.

My main gripe is that her portions appear unrealistically small. 200 calories for one small crispy tortilla pizza? 200 calories for lunch or dinner would never fill me up! And sorry, if I am splurging at the pizza parlor, I am not going to just eat one slice, like she suggests.

But I do really like that she measures ingredients! I think using a kitchen scale and measuring cups/spoons is really an important part of long term weight loss, especially in the beginning.

Truthfully, her recipes are nothing special, but since she has so many adoring fans, my guess is the show will be a hit. Personally, I would rather watch a show highlighting fresh ingredients for a long term healthier lifestyle; instead, Hungry Girl endorses junk food replacements and swaps.

From her show’s main page: “Enjoy eating whatever you want — including Chocolate Marshmallow Cupcakes — without any of the guilt.” Hmm, maybe guilt is good when it comes to some foods! Ha!

Speaking of junk food, most of the recipes are listed for future shows on the cooking channel web site, except the show named Chocolate 911.

Chocoholics rejoice – Hungry Girl shows you how to enjoy your favorite indulgences guilt-free including Chocolate Marshmallow Mississippi Mug Pie, Madness Cupcakes, an over-the-top dessert drink, a Mounds Bar Martini, and to top it all off: a non-alcoholic Hot ‘N’ Nutty Liquid Brownie. In addition, Lisa searches for the dessert of her dreams!

Can you say S-P-L-E-N-D-A ? And that is when I really get discouraged!

Local Day at Whole Foods – 2nd Visit!

Another great shopping experience at the Bedford, MA Whole Foods. It was LOCAL DAY again! Just like last time, I met some great people.

I was hoping to see a couple of the locals I met last time, like Nancy from Three Acre Kitchen, the woman from Ozioli’s Cookies, and WS Badger Company.

Today, I did purchase a tin of the original Badger Balm today. I kept searching for it at other Whole Foods stores, but couldn’t find it. I love that light wintergreen scent! I’ve been using the balm on my hands tonight and I love it. The balm is very thick; it was difficult to get a good portion out of the tin because it’s so compressed. I finally figured out that instead of trying to rub it on my hands, I should rub my knuckles inside the tin, and that worked better! Anyway, I love that it’s totally natural, and can even be used on your lips! I need a natural moisturizer while I’m cooking, and this will work wonderfully!

Who Did I Meet?

Grillo’s PIckles was set up by the entrance (produce section). I sampled each of their freshly made Italian dill pickles. There was the original recipe, which was delicious, and the spicy hot recipe, which I was told gets hotter the longer the container is open in your fridge! Ha! I preferred the original – ooh I love pickles! I didn’t purchase today, but definitely will in the future, probably in the spring, summer, when we start cooking on the BBQ. It’s so cool finding local Massachusetts food companies!

Then I met a rep from Schlotterbeck & Foss, who had a selection of sauces. She was cooking up samples using the sauces as marinades. I really wasn’t too happy with most of the flavors, since they were pretty high in refined sugars. But I was thrilled to find their Country Ketchup. $4 for a 12 oz bottle, not a bargain, but she gave me a sample, and oooh it was yummy. It didn’t taste like normal boring ketchup; it was loaded with yummy chunks of peppers and onions, and there was a spicy kick! It would be great with BBQ’d burgers. Sugar was 4g which is the same as most ketchup.

I bought a 3 oz bar of 80% Stone Ground Organic Chocolate from Taza Chocolate. My husband was a little shocked that I paid $7 for such a small bar, but I plan on using it for something special, maybe melting the chocolate and pouring it over some crisp organic bacon!

Anyway, Tazo Chocolate is from the Boston area, and use organic fair trade cacao. They also offer tours of their factory! It’s also cool that (on their web site) you can type in the batch code on the back of the chocolate bar, and find the details of the chocolate and how it was made. Anyway, I ate samples of their 50-60% chocolate discs (Vanilla Bean Mexican, Salted Almond) and they were delicious but a bit too sweet for my taste; the rep told me they are planning on creating more darker flavors very soon.

I have previously purchased the 1 year Whole Foods Team Member crafted cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese. I love cheddar cheese, the sharper the better! So, it was great to see a Grafton Village rep at the store today. She had samples of the 1 year Team Member cheese, along with the 2 year aged. I bought a small chunk of 2 year. And now that I know that they use dairy from Vermont “Jersey” cows that graze on grass for most of the year (except colder winter months), I will look for their brand a lot more!

I sipped a sample of the antho-immune organic elderberry syrup from Maine Medicinals. It tasted alright, but it’s really not something that I’d buy.

I also sipped a sample of chai tea, and I wish I took note of the company name. Chai isn’t really my thing, so I didn’t purchase.

I had a sample of skim milk from High Lawn Farm from Lee, Massachusetts and while I am not a milk drinker, I will definitely keep them in mind, because I do occasionally purchase smaller quantities of milk, cream, half & half, egg nog, etc.

The farm offers dairy products from Jersey cows, and she was very proud to tell me that Jersey cows’ milk is 20% higher in calcium than other cow’s milk. It’s also richer, so skim milk is more like whole milk…and their whole milk is more like cream. I have to admit, the skim milk I tried didn’t really taste rich to me, but as I said, I’m really not a milk fan! But anyway, I love that they are raising high quality Jersey cows, grazing on grass in the summer, and hay and corn that they grow themselves in the winter. No GMO (genetically modified) or pesticide usage, no hormones. They say they milk only twice daily, which is more “humane” than dairy “factories” that milk more often. Happy cows!

Their web site states they also produce butter. I don’t believe I’ve seen their butter products at Whole Foods, so I’ll have to look into that. If I can find a local good quality butter source, that’ll make me very happy!

A rep from SoCo Creamery was there again. I didn’t purchase any ice cream this time though, but I did have a taste of their ginger flavor and Mexican something or other. Both flavors were really good, but strong; good for a spoon or two, but I don’t know that I’d want to eat a whole bowl of it. But I won’t hesitate to buy their brand in the future when I’m shopping for good quality ice cream.

Lastly, I met the owner of a brand new company called Five Acre Farm. He makes jars of fruit topping/pie filling. I tasted the cherry and immediately thought about my husband, as he’s a maraschino cherry junkie, but I love blueberries, so I decided on that flavor. The owner spoke of high quality ingredients like Maine blueberries, and he even was using organic cane sugar (not beet sugar). I plan on adding the blueberries to plain yogurt. There’s 17g of sugar in a 1/3 cup, so that calculates to about 3 grams for 1 Tbsp. I paid $6 for a large 25 oz jar of fruit.

So, that was my day! I enjoyed speaking to so many different local businesses, and it’s nice to try a sample of a product before buying it. It looks like the Bedford Whole Foods regularly offers a “Local” day and I think Woburn also does as well. I love shopping at Whole Foods, but this gives it an extra special reason to shop on those particular days!

Hungry Girl on the Cooking Channel

Starting January 8th, Hungry Girl (Lisa Lillien) will have her own show on the Cooking Channel.

She loves using highly processed foods, especially artificial sweeteners, but I guess there is a market for this type of cooking. When I started on my weight loss journey, I did subscribe to her newsletter, but the constant barrage of recommendations for processed foods turned me off.

Kind of disappointing, because I think that we need to do more ‘real’ healthy cooking with whole foods.

Yes, I’ll probably tune in at least once to see what the show is about, but I doubt I’ll be a long term fan. I hope she won’t have the same longevity as Sandra Lee on the Food Network!