Tahini Sauce

Have you ever used tahini in home cooking?  It is a paste made from toasted sesame seeds.  Tahini is high in minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and iron.  It’s also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E and unsaturated fat.  Sesame seeds provide a complete protein that is easier to digest than some other nuts.  Tahini is a great addition to any diet, but it’s especially valuable to vegans, vegetarians, and people with food sensitivities and allergies because it provides creamy richness and lots of nutrition.

This creamy and rich paste is an important ingredient in hummus, but it can be used for so much more.  You can find it with the middle eastern foods at the grocery store, and it keeps well in the refrigerator.  I’ve been exploring non-sugary treats and recipes this month, so I finally made a simple tahini sauce and it was super duper delicious!  I could eat it with a spoon.  I used it as a dip for roasted vegetables, as a salad dressing, and spread on crackers for a snack.

I love a simple tahini sauce like this one from Cooking Light.  Click through for the recipe and notice the great tip for taking the bite out of raw garlic!  All you need is a clove of garlic, a lemon, and tahini.  I hope you will try it!

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Happy New Year

c2466f6f0a2544cc4c3b573b076fcb71--julia-child-quotes-julia-childsDo you make resolutions in January?  Each new year, I find myself feeling heavy and sluggish from too many holiday treats and loathe to go outdoors in the freezing temps.  Each January I feel the need to address sugar cravings and a desire to feel healthier.

I love cooking, baking, all the details, science, history and culture of food.  However, sometimes it’s all just too much and I need to take a break.  This year I’m focusing on healthy eating by cutting way back on sugar in January as part of a fresh start to a fresh new year.

If you are interested in making some changes this January, here are some links, tips and recipes I’m considering as I move forward.

Let’s think about a few things as we look at the month ahead:

  1. Whatever I choose to eat this month, I will be paying attention to what I eat, reading labels, and really thinking about how I feel.  Do I want added sugar in my sandwich bread?  How much sugar is in those kombucha drinks I love?  How much protein is in my breakfast?  Does this meal make me feel full, healthy, satisfied or tired?  Did I take the time to notice the taste and texture of my food and really enjoy it?  Have I checked the label on my almond butter to see if it has added sugar?  You get the idea…
  2. I will not be cutting back on fat.  Here’s an article about why our bodies need fat that also explains the different types and sources of fats.  My diet includes a LOT of raw nuts, extra virgin olive oil,  and avocados, as well as fresh eggs and moderate (sort of…) amounts of butter and cheese, and small amounts of bacon, and gasp… lard!(click here for more fascinating info about the king of fats)
  3. Why am I doing this?   I want to feel healthy and energetic, and I know from experience that I feel better when I eat very little sugar.  Everything from my digestion to frequency of headaches to cravings and moodiness improve when I stop mindlessly consuming sugary snacks.  We each have our own reasons for the choices we make – it’s important to know ourselves and find what is best for our own bodies.
  4. Rather than focusing on what I’m not eating, I’ll be turning my attention to what I’m adding this month such as:
    1. I plan to drink more hot tea  (unsweetened of course)
    2. I’m adding delicious fruit to my diet – I can have sweet mandarin oranges for dessert or a smoothie if I really need a treat (go to the end of this post for links to recipes)
    3. I LOVE to feel healthy, sleep well, and be happy – and eating healthy foods supports these goals
    4. I’m adding vegetables to my diet, and I’ll eat all my favorite winter veggies such as roasted carrots and cauliflower.  I’ll also make salads with lots of cheese and nuts, and make sure my fridge is stocked with things I like to eat so I don’t feel deprived.

As you know I love to bake, so here are a few recipes I’ll be revisiting this month.

It feels so good to make healthy choices about what to eat.  If you would like more tips and info about making changes to your diet, reading nutrition labels, or encouragement look for me on facebook  @ Monticello Georgia Yoga.

P.S. Am I cutting out dessert forever?  absolutely NOT!  I’ll be back with more sweet treats in a month or two.

 

Applesauce Muffins

This recipe was inspired by these Pistachio Chai Muffins I blogged about several years ago.  I made them again recently and decided I could do better by adding more nutrition and less sugar.

20171029_105851Applesauce is a great natural sweetener and also allows you to reduce the amount of fat in baked goods without sacrificing moisture.  Many recipes actually use applesauce as a replacement for butter, but that seems a bit extreme.  I also employed a favorite trick for adding rolled oats to muffins which I discovered during my first few months of blogging.  It’s well known that buttermilk is wonderful for baking, but it’s also great for tenderizing (I guess that’s why it’s good in marinades).  So if you measure out the oats and buttermilk and let them soak for a few minutes, there will be absolutely no tough fibrous texture in your baked goods.  I researched and wrote all about the wonders of buttermilk in this post.   I have since learned even more about the fascinating world of butter, cultured butter, buttermilk, and making various dairy products at home.  For example, did you know that the buttermilk we buy in the store is nothing like the buttermilk our great great grandparents made at home?  That was a by-product of cultured cream that was left in the churn overnight (that’s the ‘cultured’ part) and then churned into butter the next day.   I digress, but you can read more about buttermilk here!  One other thing I like about this recipe is that all the ingredients are easy pantry staples.  However, since I was out of chai tea bags I had to use cinnamon, cloves and ginger instead.

Onward to the recipe:

Applesauce Muffins

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup melted coconut oil or butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup chopped pistachios for the top

Preheat the oven to 375 and prepare the muffin tins.  This recipe will make 12 large or 16 skimpy muffins.

Measure the rolled oats and buttermilk into your mixing bowl first so they can soak while you get everything else ready.

Add all the wet ingredients (egg, applesauce, oil, vanilla) to the oats and buttermilk and 20171029_111058stir together.  Measure the dry ingredients and mix into the wet until just combined.  It’s a good idea to sift the dry ingredients together to remove any lumps and incorporate the leaveners into the flour, but not entirely necessary for this recipe.

20171029_111547  20171029_112239

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Scoop the batter into muffin tins and top with chopped pistachios.  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove to cool a bit more before eating.

My son and husband agreed that this new recipe is superior because these muffins are very moist and yummy.

Fall Farro Salad

Here’s a delicious and nutritious salad for the fall.  Farro is an ancient grain in the wheat family.  Although it does contain gluten, it has less than modern varieties of wheat.  However, this recipe is easily adapted to a gluten free grain such as black rice.  Farro is very nutritious and an excellent source of fiber, iron, b vitamins, zinc, magnesium and protien.  This grain makes a chewy and satisfying salad when combined with roasted vegetables and fresh herbs.  I especially like this combination with it’s mix of sweet potatoes, sour apples, and savory onions.  Consider this more of a guide than an exact recipe.

Fall Farro Salad

1 cup farro (or other grain such as rice or quinoa)

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes – cubed

1 granny smith apple – cubed

1/2 onion – chopped

1 garlic clove

1 bunch fresh parsley and other herbs such as basil, cilantro or mint

salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the cubed sweet potato, apple, and onion on a foil lined baking pan and toss with about 3 Tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast, stirring once, for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned and very soft.

Meanwhile, cook the farro according to package directions with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a whole clove of garlic in the water.  This grain will need to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Drain the farro and toss with cooked vegetables and chopped herbs.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lentil Salad

Lentils range widely in size and color from yellow, red- oranges, greens, browns, and black.  The most common lentils in my local grocery stores are brown or red.  I have unpleasant memories of brown lentils from childhood.  My mother has always strived for good health and nutrition, and lentils are a superstar in the world of legumes.  Obviously mineral content wasn’t what I was looking for in my food at that time and I was very suspicious of the mushy little beans.  I now recognize that they are powerhouses of nutrition and can be prepared in a variety of ways.  They readily absorb flavors and can be used for soups, stews and salads.  Lentils are surprisingly high in folate, iron, magnesium, protein, and fiber.

There are two varieties that are less likely to get mushy and therefore good choices for salad.  French green lentils (du Puy) and Beluga black lentils are both small and remain firm when cooked.  I usually cook with French green lentils and they are pretty good, but I really wanted to try the small black ones named for looking like caviar.  I had a recipe from Jacques Pepin for Beluga Lentil Salad, but was not able to find Belugas until recently. 

This lentil salad is the best I’ve made.  I often leave out the mint in savory recipes even though it grows nearly year round right by my front door.  I absolutely loved the mint in this salad.  It is light and tasty, but also satisfying and filling; I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it.  The recipe and ingredients are simple and easy to keep on hand, so this will be a great lunchbox meal from now on.

Lentil Salad

recipe from Jacques Pepin

1 cup dry Beluga lentils

water

salt

1 bay leaf

1 large clove garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots ( I substituted sweet vidalia onion)

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Feta cheese for garnish

Begin by sifting through the lentils to check for stones.  You probably won’t find any, but this is good policy any time you cook with dry beans.  Rinse them under running water.

Soak the lentils in 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt for 1 hour.

Drain and cook in a saucepan with 3 or 4 cups water, 1 whole garlic clove, 1 bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until desired firmness.

Drain and discard the garlic and bay leaf.

For the dressing, combine the olive oil, white wine vinegar, olives, mint and shallot in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste.  A great tip when working with raw onions is to chop them, then rinse with cold water to remove some of the sharpness if you don’t want them to overpower the salad.

Add the warm lentils and toss to coat.  Serve warm or cold, topped with a little feta cheese.

Roasted Green Beans

Why did I plant green beans if I don’t like to eat them?  Well, I dunno… they’re easy to grow and they’re really healthy right?  So now that they are growing, I have to pick them, snap them, cook them and eat them.  Maybe it will be character building for my son to help out.  Most vegetables are better roasted, so I tried it with my green beans.  There are a few tips and tricks to get the most flavor out of any roasted vegetable, and I used them all to make beans appetizing.  I consider this recipe a success.  I ate my beans, and I liked it.

Roasted Green Beans

-Fresh green beans

-Red Onion

-Lemon

-Sea salt, sugar, pepper, olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 and if you have a convection option, use it.  Place your pan in the oven to preheat with it.  I like to line the pan with foil for easy clean up.

Trim and wash the beans, then let them dry thoroughly.  It is important to start with a DRY vegetable if you’re trying to get a crisp edge.  Any moisture will steam the vegetables.  Slice the red onion very thin and toss with the beans.  Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil – more or less depending on the amount of beans you’re working with.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Here’s a little tip:  sugar will make anything brown better, so add just a pinch of sugar to get those tasty crunchy browned spots.

Spread the beans on the hot pan in a single layer.  Again, if your pan is crowded the vegetables will steam instead of getting crisp around the edges.  My pan was a little too crowded and the beans were borderline too soft.  I should have used two pans.  Roast until desired doneness.  I like my vegetables pretty well done which takes 10-15 minutes, but if you’re getting a good browning action, these beans would be good still  a little crunchy.  You can take the pan out and stir halfway through cooking.

Finally, remove the pan from the oven and zest your lemon over the hot beans – just a little zest.  Then squeeze about half the lemon juice over the beans and stir around before serving.  They’re really yummy from the onion and zing of the lemon – they hardly taste like green beans at all.

 

Easy Baked Zucchini Quesadillas

Folks, it’s zucchini time.  We’ve been eating lots of zucchini lately and since National Sneek Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbors Porch Day isn’t until August, I’ve been experimenting.  The good news is that this abundant veg makes a delicious cake, and it also goes really well with…. cheese!  This is more of an idea/method than a recipe.  You will need some zucchini, some onion, maybe garlic, cheese of your choice, and tortillas.

Chop the onions first and saute in olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent.  Add the garlic if you’re using it, then the zucchini.  Cook the veg all together to desired doneness.  I like my squashes very well done, so this step took a while.  I also love to have leftovers, so I made a LOT.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler in the oven and slice or shred your cheese.  Place tortillas on baking sheets and cover with cheese and the cooked zucchini mixture.  I took a picture of my tortillas spread with cooked veg and slices of cheese, but it was not a photogenic phase of the preparation process.  Place the pans in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted, then remove the pans and carefully fold the tortillas to ‘close’ the quesadillas.  Return pans to oven and broil until the tortillas are puffed and lightly browned.  Take the pans back out of the oven and flip the quesadillas, then brown the other side.  This only takes a few minutes per side, so keep an eye on it.  Serve with rice, beans, and fresh avocado!