Friday, March 29, 2013

What's for Lunch: No Mayo Tuna Salad on Veggies

Did your Mom every make you 'Ants on a Log'?  Celery sticks are filled with peanut butter and raisins are stuck in the peanut butter to look like little ants marching on your plate.  Most kids enjoy vegetables when they are filled with something cool, like large cherry tomatoes that are hollowed out and filled with a bit of cream cheese.  When my oldest son was a toddler, I would make him carrot coins topped with soft brie.

Today, I am showing you how to make 'Tuna in a Boat' or, if you prefer a more grown-up sounding name, 'No Mayo Tuna Salad on Veggies'.  In this recipe, I've tossed the bread and used lettuce and celery as carriers for tuna salad.  I thought it would be a fitting way to 'wrap up' anti-sandwich week.  (See what I did there -- lettuce wraps wrapping up anti - sandwich week?  I kill me!)

No Mayo Tuna Salad on Veggies
1 single serving package tuna (water packed)
1 celery stalk for chopping
3 celery stalks for serving
3 baby carrots
2 Tbsp low or no fat salad dressing
3 or 4 large pieces of lettuce, any type

Finely chop one celery stalk and all the baby carrots.  Combine with tuna and salad dressing, using a fork.  After combined, press down on mixture to test tuna salad.  Salad should stick together.  If it seems too dry, add 1 Tbsp more of dressing.  If necessary, season to taste, although there should be enough salt in the dressing.

Cut remaining celery stalks in half, and fill with tuna salad.  Use lettuce leaves as wrappers for the rest of the salad.

Other tuna salad add ins:  Chopped nuts, golden raisins, relish, or chopped apples.

Next week:  Eating healthy while traveling

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's for Lunch: Sweet Potato w/ Diced Apples and Ham

Since we are staying away from sandwiches this week, consider the humble sweet potato.  Born in South America, the sweet potato was the first potato Europeans sent back home, across the Atlantic.  There are literally countless varieties still being grown in Peru today.  But our super market sweet potato is still pretty special.

Although it is considered a starch, the sweet potato rivals other vegetables in nutrient content.   Take a look at, and search for sweet potato.  The tuber is loaded with potassium and vitamin A, making it a great food for muscles, bones and eyes.  Sweet potatoes are a healthier choice than traditional white potatoes.

They are one of my very favorite lunch items.  A medium sized sweet potato cooks up in the microwave in about 4 minutes.  After that, toppings and add-ins are limited only by your pantry and imagination.

Sweet Potato w/ Diced Apples and Ham

1 medium sweet potato
1/2 Granny Smith apple
1 tsp butter
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon or baking spice
2 slices of deli counter ham

Stab the sweet potato with a fork in several places.  This will keep the potato from exploding in the microwave.  Microwave sweet potato for 2 minutes on high; turn over and microwave for another 2 minutes.  (CAUTION:  Sweet potato will be hot!  Use a paper towel or regular kitchen towel to turn the tuber.)  Using a fork, check for tenderness.  If sweet potato is still hard, continue microwaving for one minute intervals.

Dice half of a Granny Smith Apple and both slices of ham.  When sweet potato is done, remove from microwave and using a knife, carefully slit down the center.  Top potato with butter, brown sugar, apple and ham.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

Alternatives:  Top with last night's roasted chicken; try dried apricots or other dried fruit, nuts, or bananas; consider using cooked veggies, such as asparagus tips or spinach.  Sweeten with honey or white sugar.  Go with turkey and dried cranberries to remind you of Thanksgiving dinner.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's for Lunch: Couscous, Greens and Carrots w/ Feta

Most people get tired of the same lunch day in and day out.  And for most people that lunch is some kind of sandwich.  Whether we call it a pita or a wrap, it is still some form of hand held bread and it can get boring.  When my lunch gets boring, I am prone to snack or eat fast food. So this week, I am focusing on three lunches that either can be made ahead or made just as quickly sandwiches.

Couscous (pearled is my fav!) can be made on Sunday and kept in the fridge for up to a week.  Pop a single serving (read the package your couscous came in as each brand can have different serving suggestions) in the microwave for about a minute.  In the following recipe, I cook all the vegetables together with the couscous and just microwave the dish as is.  But if you want to change up your lunch through out the week, keep your couscous plan and think of it as your bread -- add diced veggies, lunch meats, left overs from last night's dinner, dried fruits and nuts, cooked eggs, salad dressing -- I could go on, but you smarties get it!  Anything you could put on your sandwich, with a little adjustment, could be put into your couscous.

Couscous, spinach and carrots w/feta
1 box of couscous
1.5 c.  water
1 c. vegetable stock
.5 c. carrots, chopped
1 c. (large handful) spinach
2 Tbsp reduced fat feta cheese

Follow the instructions on couscous box, but replace one cup of the water required with 1 cup of vegetable stock.  Half-way through cooking time (after approximately 10 minutes) add chopped carrots.  At end of cooking time, (approximately 20 minutes total) add spinach.  Cover pot with lid and turn off heat.  Allow couscous and spinach to set covered for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, uncover and stir.  Serve single portion with salt and feta cheese.  Store left overs in air tight container in fridge for up to one week.

On most packages of couscous, a single serving is 1/3 of the box.  If you are using bulk couscous, adjust serving size.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vegetable Stock

All you need is an hour, your biggest stock or pasta pot and some vegetable trimmings to make your own vegetable stock.

Vegetable Stock
1 lb. carrots
1 lb. celery
4 or 5 cabbage leaves
asparagus ends, trimmed from one bunch
1 onion
leek trimmings

Fill pot with vegetables and add as much water as it takes to fill the pot 3/4 of the way to the top.  Bring water and vegetables to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Turn off heat and let stock cool, covered, for 30 more minutes.  Strain out and discard vegetables.  Use same day or store in fridge for up to one week.  Freeze in single serving (1 or 2 cup) containers.

It is that easy.  Use your stock as a base for soup; a cooking liquid for rice, couscous or other grains; a braise for veggies or meat; a base for a marinade...I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point.

Why make your own stock?

  • It's healthier.  I didn't add any salt to my recipe.  Store-bought stock often is high in sodium.
  • It's cheaper.  I save vegetable pairings in a freezer bag and use them when I am ready to make the stock.  The only thing I buy are .99 carrots and .99 celery.  I spent $2 for over 9 cups of stock, that I stored in the freezer.  This isn't counting the stock I used right away to make Potato Leek Soup.
  • It's custom.  Those are the vegetables I used, but you could use any vegetables or herbs that you and your family like. Add mushrooms, take out asparagus.  Or ditch the cabbage and add basil.   Experiment with it and come up with your own Secret Stock Recipe!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Confessions of a Vegetable Hater

For most of my life, (and by most, I mean for the last 36 years) I've never really enjoyed eating vegetables.  I was taught to eat them.  I could eat them if I had to.  If I was served vegetables at someone else's house, I ate them politely and without fuss.   There were not any vegetables I hated with a passion.  But in general, if given a choice, I would not cook with them or eat them.

When I had kids that I had to cook for, I knew that I wanted them to like and choose vegetables.  So I served them at every meal.  But many, many dinners would go by and I would put peas on my plate, but barely touch them.  Or I would take a very small portion of salad -- the same serving I would give my boys as toddlers, so we could eat them together.  See, Mommy is eating her lettuce!  You like lettuce!  Yum!

But in the last 3 months, I've become a changed woman.  I realized yesterday, as I made myself a side salad to go with my lunch that I really enjoyed eating vegetables.  They had become my go-to food of choice.  I even will think about them when meal planning before I think of the protein.

The hard part for me to confess is that there is no secret tip that I can pass along to make you a veggie lover over night.  I can't tell you a trick that will get you all aflutter over tomatoes or asparagus.  I started eating them in January because I had no choice.  If I was gonna loose weight, I knew I had to fill up on something.  So I ate vegetables.  And I hated every minute of it for about a month. I would grimace while eating, think nasty thoughts about carrots and promise myself a treat if I just finished these last sprouts.

But over time my pallet really did change.  Every week, I put more fruits and vegetables into my grocery cart.  Now, in mid-March, half of my grocery bill is produce.  The best part is, I don't throw things out like I used to either.  Before my vegetable transformation, I would buy them with good intentions, and then throw out bag after bag of rotten greens, peppers, and tomatoes.

My confession is this:  if you want to add more vegetables to your diet, you just have to eat them.  You can't wish it would happen.  But over time, little by little, I promise you'll find it easier.  Gradual life style changes stick.  Just hang with them long enough to allow the change to happen.  That's what willpower is all about.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sneaky Foods: Flax Seed

I keep a bag of ground flax seed in my freezer.  Flax seed is full of healthy Omega-3 fats.  According to's food database (, 1 tablespoon of flax seed meal has approximately 3 grams of these fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an healthy fat because they are good for your brain and heart (

Flax seed meal

I use flax seed meal, or already ground flax seeds, to replace up to half the fat or flour in recipes.  For example, when I make chocolate chip cookies, I try to remember to replace half the butter with flax seed meal.  You can also add a tablespoon to your oatmeal or yogurt.

Today is Pi Day (3/14 - get it!?) and my husband asked me to bake a pie.  Below is my recipe for Apple Carrot Pie, with a flax seed/olive oil crust.

Note:  The best pie crust has a perfect ratio of butter to shortening.  Just ask Alton Brown.  But this isn't the best pie crust -- it is an easy, delicious pie crust.  I like it because I can start the crust in the mixer and finish rolling it out between two sheets of parchment.  It cuts down on the time needed to make the crust and always comes out tasty.

Apple Carrot Pie, with Flax Seed/Olive Oil Crust
Preheat oven to 375 F.

3-4 large Granny Smith or other firm apples (enough to make about 5 cups)
15 baby carrots (enough to make 1 c. shredded)
2 thumbs fresh ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp sugar

Slice the apples thinly.  I don't peel mine, but you can if you want.  Shred or grate baby carrots.  When grated, use your hands to squeeze out the extra carrot juice.  Two thumbs of ginger refers to the size of the fresh ginger when you put your to thumbs side-by-side.  Peel the ginger and grate it.  Add flour, sugar and cinnamon. Mix well.  (NOTE:  This pie will not have a thick sauce-like pie filling that you get from a can.)

1 and 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. flax seed meal
1/2 c. olive oil
1/3 c. milk

Add flour and meal to stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment.  Pour in both oil and milk.  Mix until dough is crumbly, about 30 seconds. You can also mix by hand with a large serving fork. Stop mixer and mold dough with your hands into a ball.  The dough should be sticky to the touch.  If the dough seems too dry, or won't hold a ball shape, put it back into the mixer and add 1 Tbsp of water.  Mix again and test dough.  Keep adding water until dough holds ball shape and is slightly sticky.  Portion dough in half and let rest while you gather two large pieces of either parchment paper, wax paper or plastic wrap and rolling pin.  (NOTE:  My boys have misplaced my rolling pin before, and I know that a large can of tomatoes works fine.)  Place 1/2 the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out. You may want to use some water on your rolling surface to keep the parchment paper 'stuck' and lying flat. Roll the dough until it is slightly larger than the pie pan you are using.  Take off the top piece of paper and flip the bottom piece with the dough into the pie pan.  Peel off the parchment.  This is the easiest way in the known universe to transfer pie crust to the pie pan.  Vent bottom crust (poke it with a fork a few times) and add filling.  Roll out the second half of the dough using the same method and parchment paper.  Flip dough onto top of pie and crimp edges.  Vent again.  I like 'V's.

Bake at 375 F for 55 minutes.  After baking, let pie stand 30 minutes to one hour before serving.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sneaky Vegetables: Bagged Spinach

Fresh Spinach Leaves
Since my diet started in January, I've really gotten into fresh spinach and other salad greens.  I put them in nearly everything I cook.  And over the last few months, my family has gotten so used to finding little green leaves at dinner that they don't complain, much.

According to the food database at, fresh spinach is full of folate, potassium and vitamin A.   It's also a decent source of calcium, if you are cutting back on dairy fats. Its only draw back seems to be that it has no caffeine.

Below I've put together a few tips for getting these important vegetables into your diet.

Pre-Washed, Bagged vs. Loose Leaf

  • Loose leaf is cheaper per ounce unless you look for sales on bagged brands
  • Bagged offers more variety (think mixed greens) in smaller quantities that are used up faster.  If the product goes bad and you throw it out, you didn't save money.
  • Bagged greens have been recalled in recent years for harboring bacteria.  

My trick:  Wash the bagged leaves that are you going to use right before you use them, and store the rest of the bag as is.  If you do wash any greens, bagged or loose varieties, dry them thoroughly and use quickly.

Using Greens

  • Baby spinach and many types of mild lettuce varieties do not have to be cooked.  I put them on pitas, sandwiches, quesadillas and in enchiladas. 
  • Wilt greens (let them get warm but not cook) by putting spinach and other leafy greens into just cooked rice and pasta.  Or warm them up in sauces.
  • Bitter greens, like turnip greens, need to be cooked.  Kathleen has a great post regarding turnip greens.
Egg, Spinach and Carrot Pita
1 egg
1/2 cup or 1 small handful of fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup of carrots, shaved with vegetable peeler
1 pita

Start your stove top and preheat a small frying or saute pan.  Once the pan is hot, add egg.  When egg is almost cooked to your liking (over hard for me), add spinach and shaved carrots.  Cook for approximately 1 minute or until spinach starts to wilt.  Add salt to taste.  Remove from heat and put egg and vegetables into pita.

Got any great recipes, tricks or ideas of your own?  I'd love to see them in the comments!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Frozen Bananas: The Final Chapter

As I type this, I think I am banana'd out.  After spending the week exploring the world of frozen bananas I have reached my limit.  But for you, dear reader, I will carry on and finish the final installment of banana week -- Banana Oatmeal Cookies.

A friend pointed out to me this week that cookies could be made with just bananas and oatmeal.  Two ingredient cookies - well, I had to give this a try!

Banana Oatmeal Cookies
4 frozen bananas
2 c. oatmeal
optional:  baking spice, cinnamon, chocolate chips, nuts, raisins

I added baking spice.
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Peel those four seriously cold bananas and try not to get numb fingers like I did.  Really, if your fingers start to tingle and go numb, turn on room temperature tap water and warm them up before proceeding.  Cut up bananas and add to mixing bowl.  Add oatmeal and 1 tsp. of baking spice or other add-ins.    Using stand or hand mixer, mix until completely combined.  Because the bananas were frozen, I let my mixer go for about 2 minutes, increasing the speed a little at a time.  After thoroughly mixed, drop dough from tablespoon or cookie dough scoop onto a well greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on cookie rack.  Yields approximately 20.

There they are.  Pretty and golden brown!

The verdict:  My 6-year old son liked them.  I found them, well, too banana-y.  They didn't really have a cookie like texture, but come on!  There was no flour, sugar or fat in them to create a cookie texture.  I was hoping for more.  But the moral of the story is you get out what you put in.  And I got little lumps of warm banana and oatmeal.  This would probably make a better breakfast food than an afternoon snack.

A quick internet search shows that I am not the only person blogging about these cookies.  There are several recipes, with several variations out there.  So if you are curious and want to know more, type 'banana oatmeal cookies' into your search engine.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Frozen Bananas: Take Two

Yesterday, the boys had a snow day.  I kept them busy making chocolate chip cookies.  We talked about measurements and chemical vs. physical reactions when baking.  Between the two of them, they did everything themselves.

I also lectured on the evils of hydrogenated fats, and their eyes glazed over. I do not use shortening when I make cookies.    Instead I just double the butter.  Now, I don't know what that does to the calorie count, but it makes one delicious cookie.  One cookie, for me.  One single cookie.  One lonely, 5 point cookie, if you are following Weight Watchers.

So, when I got hungry later in the day I made a frozen banana snack!  (You thought I put frozen bananas in my cookies, didn't you!?)

Mexican Cocoa Frozen Bananas  
1 unfrozen banana
1 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or baking spice

Combine cocoa and cinnamon on a flat surface, like a small bread plate or cutting board.  Cut banana into thirds, or roll-able portions.  Coat banana in cocoa mixture by rolling banana, and tap to knock off excess powder.  Freeze banana for 15 to 30 minutes; just enough to chill it but still be eatable.

WARNING:  This is not a super sweet snack!  The natural sweetness of the banana will have a lot to do with the finished product.  My 11 year old likes these, but my 6 year old feels 'tricked' by the cocoa.  He assumes because it is chocolate that it will be like candy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Frozen Bananas: Take One

My family goes through phases with fruit.  They are grape crazy right now -- I can't keep red seedless grapes in the fridge for more than a day.  And I'm not complaining; everyone is eating more fruits and vegetables around here and that's great!

Before grapes, it was bananas.  But only pristine, yellow bananas that looked like they came right off of a photo shoot.  Any banana that started to turn a little brown looked 'too yucky' for my six year old to eat.

I've been putting older bananas in the freezer to save for banana bread for years.  But I've come up with another tasty recipe below that no one turns their nose up at.

Banana Smoothies
1 frozen banana
1/2 c. frozen blueberries (or any frozen berries, cherries or pineapple)
1 serving yogurt (I use 100 calorie Greek yogurt, but any type is delicious)

Microwave the frozen banana for 20 to 30 seconds.  This will make it much easier to peel.  Peel and then cut the banana into bite size pieces.  Put banana pieces, blueberries and yogurt into a food processor.  A traditional blender will do the work, too.  As you blend be sure to stop every so often to push the banana pieces back down to the bottom.

When thoroughly blended, serve as is with a spoon.  The texture is almost like soft serve ice cream.  If you want to serve as a drink, add about 1/4 c. water while blending.  Add more water if needed.  Makes one serving of dairy and two servings of fruit.

I usually have to share with that six year old I was telling you about.

You can omit the yogurt.  The frozen banana adds body all on its own.  But if you do leave out the yogurt, you must eat quickly!  When the fruit thaws, it becomes much too watered down for my taste.