Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life, Health and Getting "Real"

It's been awhile since I last posted, so I'm sorry about the big empty gap here. Sometimes life throws you a curveball or, in our case, puts you in a whole new ballgame you didn't sign up for! We have, however, become better at rolling with the punches, allowing humor to smooth out the wrinkles and, most importantly, giving our troubles and worries to the Great Counselor and Physician...and learning to LEAVE them there! (He's BIG enough to handle them, you know!)

Since I last posted, we have moved to another state to take care of my father who had a stroke. He had been living with us for 10 months, after losing my mother unexpectedly, and my husband's project in another state came to an end. Daddy was missing "home" and had much on his mind that was left unfinished. We have a monumental task on our hands getting his home and business affairs in order (not to mention managing his meals and medications, everyday care, doctor visits, changes since the stroke, well, you get the picture), as well as going through Mom's things, which has been emotionally draining and filled with tears. I learned to just "feel" whatever it was I was feeling, not try to run from it, take a few moments with the touch of each of her things and let the memories come and cry when I needed to cry and pray when I needed to pray.

In the midst of all this change, my husband had a health "scare" that turned out to be a small warning to get healthy! I won't go into the details...I will let him write his own blog if he feels the need to share, since it's not my story to tell...LOL! But, I AM a character in his story and I want him around as long as God sees fit to allow me to borrow this precious man, my husband, my best friend. But, our bodies are temples of the Lord, so we have a responsibility to take care of it and manage what goes into it. That goes for EVERYTHING we put into it, not just through our mouths, but through our eyes and ears, as well!

My husband and I sat down and had a long talk about how best to meet his health needs in terms of meals and snacks. About this time, he received a book in the mail from his father (the man who taught him how to hunt and fish for food and a fellow meat-eater) and it reported, in convincing, startling detail, a 40+ year study on the people of China who were living long, relatively healthy lives and what was so different about their diet. This book, The China Study, mesmerized my husband and made a believer out of him...and he's lost 15 pounds in just a few weeks, taking it off at a healthy rate. So, THANK YOU POP, for your influence on your son (and me, by proxy) and congratulations on 30+ pounds of weight loss, yourself!

I am the primary cook of the family and my husband loves my cooking...perhaps a little too much. :) So, in order for HIM to be successful with his new lifestyle change (we don't call it a diet), I needed to switch gears in terms of what and how I cook. I had already been making our foods as healthy as I could while continuing to eat the same foods. The next step was going to be to CHANGE the foods we are eating. My husband, as I mentioned, was raised hunting and fishing for food and was taught to never kill what you don't plan to eat. He was a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy. I was raised that way, too. Imagine my surprise when my meat-loving husband proposed we adopt a vegetarian lifestyle! Now, imagine how gobsmacked I was when he decided to take it a step further and become a vegan! When we first told people of his decision, they literally LAUGHED! If you know him, you might have laughed, too, and may even be snickering as you read this news. But, he is serious. And he has been devoted to his lifestyle choice and I'm so proud of him. He is taking weight off slowly and that's the way to keep it off. Studies have shown that about two pounds a week is optimum for success in not just taking weight off, but keeping it off, longterm. So, it's presented a new OPPORTUNITY for me in the culinary scheme of things. I, too, have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet for my own health and in support of his choices. I eat the occasional egg, smoked salmon and a small bit of feta cheese, for example, and I drink kefir, which is a probiotic "superfood" made from dairy. I know if you look back over my previous posts, you will not see any vegetarian recipes there. But, don't start thinking that I'm "converting" my blog to all vegetarian or vegan recipes! You will still see Southern and traditional recipes here, so come on back!

It may be a challenge in light of all I have on my plate (hee, hee, pardon the pun), but I am going to attempt to keep this blog running in the same format with similar recipes as the past ones. I'm in the "contemplation" stage of starting a new blog, separate from this one, where you can find vegetarian and vegan recipes if you would like to try something different or make a lifestyle change, too. No, I won't be forcing this new lifestyle on anyone, preaching about saving the animals or telling you if you haven't taken meat out of your diet that your choice is a bad one. This choice is something WE have decided is best for our life at this time. If it will get my husband healthy (and me, in the process), well then, "Hallelujah!" God has chosen the number of our days. We just want to live them as healthy, stress-free and pain-free as possible. We want to LIVE, not merely exist with chronic diseases sapping our vitality!

I will keep you posted on the "if and when" of the new blog. I will leave a few cooking tips today for you and be back later with recipes! Thanks for stopping by and hanging in there with us!

"He who takes medicine and neglects his diet wastes the skill of his doctors."
~~ Chinese Proverb

"In order to change, we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired."
~~ Author Unknown

One important category in your food groups, whether you are vegetarian or not, is grains. They are important sources of nutrients and dietary fiber. Grains help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Eating a three-ounce equivalent a day of grains helps with weight management. Make HALF your total consumption of grains each day WHOLE grains.

I have long been cooking with barley to make my homemade soups and stews heartier. I just love the dense but chewy texture and "bite" of barley, especially Bob's Red Mill Pearl Barley! I buy many of my grain products from the extensive selection from Bob's Red Mill.* I always buy Pearl Barley, not the Quick Barley some other companies have. The quick kind has been broken down and processed for quick cooking, it does not hold up well for long-term simmering and the health benefits are greatly reduced. It takes a little more time and effort to cook pearl barley, but the results (taste, texture and health benefits) are so worth it.

*Click on the link to Bob's Red Mill to go to their website. There are great recipes on there for their products!

Try cooking your barley as a side dish. Instead of the instructed ratio of barley to water, use coconut milk, vegetable stock or Spicy Hot V8 instead of water, in the same ratio. Spicy Hot V8 is my "must have" ingredient in the base of my soups and stews. Try some Garam Masala and lemongrass if you are cooking with coconut milk or stock or your choice of herbs and spices. Throw in some grated, diced or minced vegetables (and/or diced seitan or tempeh, if you are vegetarian, or chicken or beef, if you want meat) with the vegetable stock and you have bumped your nutritional and taste factors up several notches! These substitutions and additions give your barley endless possibilities for great side dishes and soups that are healthy for you!

Have a Blessed Day and Thank Him for Your Daily (Whole Grain) Bread!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cranberry Cheesecake Bars and Can Oatmeal Each Day Keep the Doctor Away?

It has been awhile since I posted...not since last year! *Insert snickers at lame joke here since "last year" was just a few days ago!* So, a belated "Happy New Year" to you all! I wish you the blessings of health, peace and prosperity in 2011!

I don't believe in luck, but I do believe in tradition and fun, so we ate our traditional "Good Luck" foods on New Year's Day, but I did put my own personal twists on them. We had my delicious Russian Stuffed Cabbage with Sweet and Sour Topping (cabbage is green and leafy, like folding money, and represents good fortune), Black-Eyed Peas (which represent coins for prosperity) with Pickled Pork (a delightful Cajun-style way to serve your pig...pork is for progress, for pigs are ever rooting forward) and Corn Cakes (corn represents gold, therefore is eaten for wealth). The meal was wonderful and a fun way to celebrate the New Year.

♥ ♥ ♥

Did you know that January is National Oatmeal Month? Today's recipe uses oatmeal as a base for a delightful dessert! I love oatmeal. I use it in many recipes, and it has always been a key ingredient in my meatloaf as a binding agent and nutritious (and delicious) filler to extend the meat. It's just so good for you! Oatmeal's fiber actually binds with the cholesterol in your system and takes it out of your body to help keep your arteries clear! Oatmeal reduces your cravings for many "bad" foods. It is very good for your heart, colon and general health. It provides many vitamins and minerals, contains no fat and has cancer-fighting properties in that it attacks certain bile acids that are linked to cancer! Oatmeal has many healing properties for the skin, topically...yes, you put it ON your skin. Put oatmeal in a blender or food processor and grind it to fine powder. Mix it with distilled or purified water to make a paste. Mix it in your bath water for soft skin; soak in it or apply it to sunburn, chickenpox, bug bites, acne and other skin irritations to take away the sting or burn and soothe the skin. It contains no harmful chemicals and is an all-natural home remedy. Oatmeal is just so good for you in so many ways! YAY Oatmeal! Celebrate National Oatmeal Month by making this YUMMY recipe:

Cranberry Cheesecake Bars

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 cups instant or quick-cooking rolled oats (not old fashioned)
• ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted sweet cream butter, room temperature
• 8 ounces (1 large block) cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)
• 1 can whole berry cranberry sauce (not jellied cranberry sauce)
• 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 Tablespoon brown sugar (used separately from the ¾ cup above)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Combine flour, rolled oats, ¾ cup brown sugar and butter with a pastry blender, mixing until crumbly. Remove 1-1/2 cups of mixture and set aside for later use. Press remaining mixture into bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice; whip until very well-blended. Pour evenly over warm bottom layer crust.

Scoop whole berry cranberry sauce into a bowl, stirring gently with a fork to break up the jelly. Add the 1 tablespoon brown sugar and cornstarch. Mix until combined. Drop cranberry mixture by spoonfuls over the cream cheese layer. Gently smooth with the back of a spoon to cover. Sprinkle top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake 45 minutes, until top is golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into cookie bars. Refrigerate before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Article in the Mississippi Press...Misprint in Recipe!

Yesterday, I excitedly picked up the Mississippi Press to read an article on me winning a blue ribbon for my recipe, Buffalo Chicken Dip. I was interviewed, and my background in the culinary world was to be a focus of the article, along with various recipes. I was horrified and dismayed to see that my recipe for Buffalo Chicken Dip was misprinted and someone had added an ingredient (in massive quantities, I might add) to my recipe. At no point in time does the recipe for Buffalo Chicken Dip have dry red wine added, let alone THREE QUARTS of it, as erroneously reported by the Mississippi Press. If you clipped the recipe, PLEASE make note of the fact that the addition of ANY dry red wine is a MISPRINT. I am very sorry for this error, even though I have no way of knowing who decided to add that ingredient. I worked two days, while ill, getting a holiday collection of recipes together at the request of my contact at the Mississippi Press. Not one of those recipes were printed...only the Buffalo Chicken Dip and a botched recipe, at that. I hope that this error does not reflect poorly on me, my recipes and my work in the culinary world, as I had no idea that my recipe would be that poorly represented.

I will be back soon to add more recipes. Have a very Merry Christmas and All the Best in 2011!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tennessee "Oriental" Meatballs...and a Romantic Getaway to the Inn at Evins Mill

Carmac Falls, Smithville, TN
The Inn at Evins Mills
Several years ago my husband and I decided we needed a romantic little getaway. We only had the weekend, didn't want travel too far away from home, but didn't want to sacrifice the opportunity for a lovely setting, great food and wonderful hospitality at a tranquil bed and breakfast. We were living in Middle Tennessee at the time and we started our internet search for the perfect place...and we found it! The Inn at Evins Mill is a unique and picturesque bed and breakfast located in Smithville, Tennessee. It is nestled in the bluffs near Center Hill Lake, with rooms providing breathtaking views. It even has its own waterfall, Carmac Falls! My husband and I hiked the trails in October years ago to the base of the waterfall to take in its beauty. We made so many wonderful memories here! Fine dining is offered by the executive chefs at the Inn at Evins Mill. Activities at the inn include darts, billiards, golfing, fishing, boating and much more, so there is something for everyone, indoors and out! Or, just take it all in and REST! The proprietor, William Cochran, is cordial and welcoming and, along with his wonderful staff, makes sure your stay is a memorable one...you will be planning your next trip back before you leave! How romantic is the Inn at Evins Mill? William met his wife, Eden, at this very inn, so how's that for a testimony to the "romantic factor" of this incredible getaway destination? I took some of the most beautiful pictures of the hiking trails, scenery and waterfall and I have those in frames. My husband and I call it "our" waterfall and we are reminded of our fantastic weekend every time we look at those pictures. To view the website for the Inn at Evins Mill and plan your getaway or special occasion, just click on THIS LINK!

Tennessee "Oriental" Meatballs
Recipe Courtesy of Chef Jason Evans and William Cochran, Proprietor of the Inn at Evins Mill

2 pounds ground beef, 80/20 ratio (The Inn at Evins Mill uses
Gourmet Pasture Beef)
4 whole eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1t ground ginger
2T chopped garlic
1/4t crushed red pepper flakes
2 T Dijon mustard
black pepper to taste
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup whole oats
(The Inn at Evins Mill uses
Tennessee Oats)

Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl, using hands with gloves is the easiest way.
Chill for one hour as they are easier to shape when they are cold.
Shape into meatballs with hands or ice cream scoop to desired size.
Place on baking pan with sides to catch excess grease.
Bake in 400F oven for 15-20 minutes or until firm.
Number of meatballs will depend on size, but for 1 ounce meatballs, you will get 30-40.
Meatballs maybe frozen prior to cooking for latter use.
Serve with any sauce you desire, stir fried vegetables or roasted winter squash.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to Make Pork Loin Roast or Secrets to the Perfect Pig

Many people who are just learning to cook (and some who have been cooking for years) shy away from cooking large pieces of meat because getting it "right" can be a bit intimidating. A perfect pork loin roast is truly a beautiful thing...but how to get it? You want a beautiful piece of pig that turns out roasted to a golden glow on the outside, but is thoroughly cooked on the inside without sacrificing that lovely juiciness. Do all of these qualities seem like the makings of an impossible recipe? Good news...you CAN make the perfect pork loin roast!

I will give you instructions as accurately as I possibly can, but you must keep a few things in mind when preparing a pork loin roast. No two pieces of meat are exactly the same. All 4-pound pork roasts are not created equal. One can be long and thin, one short and thick and the amount of fat
left on the meat by the butcher varies from piece to piece. Keeping this in mind, you can still achieve the desired results, but you must be willing to "play" with the cooking times, have ample time to devote to the cooking process of the meat (at least 20-30 minutes per pound to slow cook and that's NOT exact) and be fearless to keep that pork loin roast in the oven, even when you might think it's been in there too long, until your thermometer tells you it's ready. Your new best friend is going to be a good meat thermometer. That is the surest way of getting the desired results. And, believe me...you will agree that it's worth the trying, testing and temperature-taking when you taste your perfect pig!

Start with a good cut of meat. You can purchase the size of boneless pork loin roast that you want...but all prep and cooking times are determined by the amount of meat, as well as the aforementioned factors. A boneless pork loin roast and a pork tenderloin are NOT the same cut of meat! The tenderloin has a lower fat content and is a smaller cut of pork than the pork loin roast, so it will cook differently. If in doubt, don't be afraid to ask your butcher or the "head meat guy" at the grocery to help you find or select a good pork loin roast...he's there to help!

Choose a meaty pork roast, but make sure it has a nice layer of fat on one side. Do NOT trim off that fat because it is integral to the success of your meat! Put your oven rack in the center of the oven, then preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Next you will season your pork.

Take 2 to 3 Tbsp. of olive oil and put it in a small bowl. Add your choice of spices and herbs to the olive oil, making sure you add enough to make a well-formed paste. You can use these, or any combination of these, to add to the olive oil: sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, rosemary (I suggest using ground or, if you have the whole, crush it in your hands before adding), thyme, oregano, sweet basil, cumin (use sparingly - cumin is a strong spice) OR Herbes de Provence (which is a lovely blend of crushed/ground bay leaves, thyme, fennel, rosemary, chervil, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, mint, marjoram and lavender - it is ALWAYS found in my kitchen and I use it along with sea salt, black pepper, basil, garlic powder, onion powder and cumin on my pork loin roast!) You want the paste to be fairly thick, but still speadable. The best way to coat the pork loin roast is to scoop the paste up with your hands and "massage" it into the meat. Make sure you coat all sides...don't forget each end of the pork loin roast.

You will need a roasting pan with a rack. If you don't have a rack, use heavy aluminum foil and crunch it up into a make-shift rack. You can crush it, then straighten it back out, forming wavy little elevations and divots and folding up the sides to catch the juices and melted fats that run off during the roasting process. Place the pork loin roast that has been coated with the olive oil/spice/herb paste FAT SIDE UP on the rack in the roasting pan, uncovered; put the roasting pan on the center oven rack and close the door.

(This post will be continued.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Gingerbread with Spiced Buttercream and Autumn Memories

One of the thrills of Autumn is the spicy aromas that fill so many kitchens. Heady scents of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger make our senses come alive! Autumn's bounty of pumpkins give us endless possibilities for scrumptious dishes and desserts that remind of us Autumns passed, holidays celebrated and people with whom we experienced wonderful fellowship. I used to love it when my mother made her famous pumpkin pies...and treasured the rare occasions when she made gingerbread. I can smell the intoxicating aromas in my mind and see my mother in the kitchen, even though she left us this past April.

In honor and celebration of Autumn and the wonderful woman, mother and cook who was my mother, I have combined two flavors which I associate with them both. Enjoy the beautiful glory of Autumn and treasure your mother if you still have her with you...if not, treasure the memories of her!

Pumpkin Gingerbread

1/2 c. white sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 egg 1 c. Grandma's Molasses (original, unsulphured)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp.salt
1 c. hot water
1/2 c. pumpkin (canned purée, NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, and mix in the molasses. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in the hot water, then the pumpkin. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan before serving.

Spiced Buttercream

1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter (1/2 c.), softened
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 1-lb. box powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream softened cream cheese and butter until well-blended. Slowly add powdered sugar, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and blend well. If mixture thickens too much or you accidentally put in to much powdered sugar, correct to desired consistency with the addition of a little milk. You want it to be thick but not extremely thick - you should be able to make a "dollop" out of a spoonful that "plops" easily. Put a dollop on top of a cut piece of pumpkin gingerbread and serve! After serving, put in airtight container and keep refrigerated.