Tag Archives: strawberries

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

It makes me a little sad that I only have one child young enough to do cute little Valentine goodies like this…

Logan’s 2nd grade class is having a traditional school party with games, treats and crafts, so we made these treat bags for him to pass out. Brady’s 5th grade class is doing a luau instead of a Valentine’s Day party, with tropical treats and games like the limbo. And poor Madison? Well, Brady asked her what they do for Valentine’s Day at the junior high and she said, “uh, you walk around and say Happy Valentine’s Day to your friends and then go to class.” He looked at her like she was crazy.

Actually, the junior high had a Valentine’s dance last Friday. Madison went with her BFF, Brooke, and they met up with a bunch of friends at the dance. It makes me even more sad to see how grown up she looks in her dress for the dance!

So I haven’t figured out a fun dinner yet for Valentine’s Day, but I did do a tasty little treat for last night’s dinner. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do have a few favorites that I DVR. One of those is Chopped on the Food Network. I’m addicted to this show. And it doesn’t sadden me one bit that Brady, my 10-year-old, has taken a liking to Chopped either! Chopped is a competitive show that starts with four contestants presented with a basket of “mystery ingredients.” They must create an amazing appetizer, which is then judged by the panel of expert chefs. At the end of the round, one competitor is chopped. The next round features another basket of mystery ingredients which must be turned into an entree. The last round is dessert, with just two competitors remaining. The one not chopped wins $10,000.

Over the weekend, Brady and I watched a recorded episode that was a special event. Rather than four restaurant chefs, the competitors were real “lunch ladies” and White House chef Sam Kass filled in as a guest judge. It was a great show, filled with a lot of emotion as these wonderful cafeteria workers talked about the kids they feed, the meals they try to keep healthful, struggling with budget limitations, and the many children who come to school hungry because there’s no food at home. The love they have for the students in their schools is immense.

As the show made its way to the dessert round, Brady and I watched with anticipation of what the mystery ingredients might be. The remaining two competitors mentioned that dessert is not really part of the typical school lunch. The mystery ingredients they had to work with were cream cheese, fresh grapes, canned pineapple and sunflower seeds. Both of these amazing ladies created a healthy dessert, but the winning dessert had Brady drooling! It was basically a dessert grilled cheese. The contestant took the cream cheese and mixed it with the crushed pineapple, fresh grapes, and other fresh fruit. She then spooned it between two thick slices of bread, buttered both sides, and grilled it. To serve, she sliced it in half, drizzled a little melted chocolate on top and sprinkled it with the sunflower seeds. What kid would not want that?!

Yesterday, while at Aldi, I picked up the ingredients I needed to make these. I bought whipped cream cheese (substitute Tofutti if you want it vegan), a can of pineapple, fresh grapes and, believe it or not, some gorgeous strawberries from Plant City, Florida!

I wish I’d taken a picture of Brady’s face when I told him that’s what we were having for dinner! They were delicious! Actually, they’d make a perfect breakfast. The amount of chocolate is minimal and the sandwich is stuffed with cream cheese and fruit. I didn’t have the sunflower seeds, so we left them off, but I think toasted almonds would be a nice touch. Here’s the recipe, if you want to call it that. Oh, and have a fork handy. These are messy! And what kid doesn’t love that?!

I wish you all a wonderful Valentine’s Day filled with the company of your loved ones!

GRILLED CREAM CHEESE & FRUIT
makes 4 sandwiches

8 oz whipped cream cheese or Tofutti, softened
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
6 large strawberries, stemmed and chopped
1 cup grapes, halved
1/4 cup apricot fruit spread (All Fruit)
8 slices whole wheat bread
1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted
toasted slivered almonds or sunflower seeds, optional

In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese and fruit until well incorporated. Divide evenly between 4 slices of bread, spreading to the edges. Spread 1 tablespoon of the apricot fruit spread on each of the remaining 4 slices of bread and place jam side down on top of the cream cheese covered bread, forming a sandwich. Heat a pan to medium and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Grill each sandwich, flipping once, until toasted and golden brown. Remove to a plate, cut in half and drizzle with melted chocolate. Garnish with toasted nuts, if using. Enjoy!

A great Father’s Day weekend!

19 Jun

What a fun day yesterday! We packed up the kids and headed north a few miles into Ida to the pick-your-own berry farm. I have great memories of doing that as a child and was pretty geeked about sharing the experience with my own kids.

We went to Whittaker’s Berry Farm, which I think might be the same place my parents took my sister and me to pick strawberries when we were growing up. It was called Rauch’s Berry Farm back then, but it had a sense of familiarity. Anyway, the kids had a good time and we came home with 20 pounds of strawberries. I got to work washing and hulling and made 10 jars of freezer jam (recipe below). Then I started chopping them up for the freezer so we can enjoy them later in smoothies. For dinner, I made a big salad of mixed greens, sliced strawberries, toasted almonds, red onion and a sprinkle of goat cheese. Since I didn’t have any of that delicious poppy seed dressing mixed up, I drizzled on Newman’s Own Low-fat Sesame Ginger dressing. Delish!

Next on the list is a strawberry pie and some strawberry shortcakes. Now, I’m not a big fan of strawberry pie — the one with fresh berries coated in a strawberry Jell-o sauce in a baked shell. It’s okay, but Jason loves it. And since it’s Father’s Day, I guess I could make one. Personally, I’d rather have strawberry shortcake. The real kind with fresh strawberries layered between a sweet biscuit-like shortcake. That’s the one I loved as a child. We always had it in a bowl and poured milk over it so the shortcake got soft and creamy. I’ll blog a recipe and photos of that after they’re done.

Here’s the recipe for the freezer jam. It’s straight off the package of fruit pectin. I figured that was my safest bet since this is my first attempt at this. It’s sweet, delicious and vegan, so go for it!

Strawberry Freezer Jam
makes 2 half-pint jars

1-2/3 cups smashed fresh strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Instant Pectin

In a medium bowl, whish together the sugar and pectin. Add the strawberries and stir for 3 minutes. Pour into clean jars and let stand for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Happy Father’s Day!
Since it’s Father’s Day, I want to say I hope you get to spend the day celebrating your dad, father-in-law or the father of your kids. If my dad were in town, I’d be making him a big serving of strawberry shortcake, because he deserves it! They don’t get any better than him. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! XXOO

Here’s how my hubby started his Father’s Day — French toast with our homemade freezer jam, pure maple syrup, fresh-picked strawberries and a side of breakfast sausage (Organic Prairie Breakfast Links, made from humanely-raised grass-fed pork). The kids loved it, too!



June 19, 2011

Summer is almost here!

26 May

I can almost feel it. We’ve had quite a few warm sunny days and LOTS of spring rainy days, but I think summer is just around the corner.

Most of my vegetable garden is planted, although the wild turkeys that visit my yard every day have decided this year that my garden is nice place to stop for a snack! About a week ago I went out to check on it and they had walked all over in my raised beds and rooted through the dirt, kicking a lot of it out of the wood frame. I don’t know if they’re eating the seeds I planted or looking for worms, but what a mess. Unfortunately, most of the seeds had been in the ground for only a week, so they hadn’t sprouted yet and I can’t tell if seeds are missing or if they will still be coming up. I’m going to have to wait a little while and then try to determine what’s left. I’m sure I will be replanting many things.

I did notice the lettuce was sprouting, which is a good thing because I have recently turned into the salad queen! For some reason, I’m finding it necessary to have a salad every day. I guess that’s a good thing! I can’t wait for all the delicious fresh veggies coming soon. (See below for my latest salad addiction.)

Because I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks, I wanted to share a few things I’ve enjoyed recently.

On Mother’s Day, we all went to my in-laws for dinner. She, of course, made a wonderful dinner, but — the dessert was insanely simple and insanely satisfying. These were called Berry Dessert Nachos. I don’t have the recipe (which came from a diabetic cookbook of hers), but basically you build nachos out of dessert items. For the base, she took whole wheat flour tortillas and brushed them with melted butter. They were sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and baked until they became crispy chips. Those went into the bottom of the bowl. On top of that were all kinds of fresh berries — strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. This was all topped with a sort of sweet sour cream mixture. I’m not sure what was in it, but I think a scoop of vanilla yogurt or vegan ice cream would be just right. And then — just to blow your mind! — she sprinkled on toasted almonds and shaved a bar of dark chocolate over that. Absolutely delicious and not at all bad for you.

One of the people I most refer to for what I should be eating is cookbook author Mark Bittman. I borrowed his latest book from the library — “The Food Matters Cookbook.” (If you haven’t read his book, “Food Matters,” definitely put it on your to-read-soon list!) Last week, I made one of his new recipes, Skillet Tamales. It’s a casserole with all the flavors of tamales. The finished dish was really good and the whole family enjoyed it. I had a little trouble mixing up his corn bread topping, even though I followed the recipe exactly. In the end, it came out okay and I will probably make this again, but I need to work on the topping a little. Anyway, check out this picture of total yumminess. I topped mine with guacamole. Jason and the kids garnished theirs with shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Do you ever make something to eat and then you sort of become obsessed with it? Like, you eat it for days and days and days and you keep making it all the time until you get burned out? Um…I do this pretty often. For a long time, my favorite homemade lunch was a whole wheat tortilla spread with hummus and then piled up with any kind of salad ingredients I had. I’d roll it into a wrap and enjoy. I still have those once in a while, but I went for months eating that almost every day! Well, my latest lunch addiction is Taco Salad. I made this up off the top of my head one day and now I eat it pretty often — sometimes with the vegan “chicken” and sometimes with black beans. Sometimes with guacamole and most times without. It’s so satisfying! Plus, it makes a huge plateful and is only about 300 calories.

VEGAN TACO SALAD
makes 1 serving

1 vegan “chicken” breast, thinly sliced or chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons salsa, divided
2 cups mixed greens
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/3 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
1 green onion, sliced
2 tablespoons Newman’s Own Corn & Black Bean Salsa (addictive!!!)
1 corn tortilla, baked until crispy

Spray a small skillet with nonstick cooking spray and add the oil. Over medium heat, saute the “chicken” pieces until lightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon of salsa and stir to coat all pieces. Sprinkle with ground cumin, if desired.

Spread out the lettuce on a large plate. Drizzle with lime juice and toss to coat the lettuce. Layer on the corn kernels, grape tomatoes, green onions, and Newman’s Own Corn & Black Bean Salsa. Top with the “chicken” and the remaining salsa. Crumble the corn tortilla over all and enjoy!

Burned out on packing lunches yet?

29 Sep

So I’ve got about a month of packing lunches under my belt for this school year. Am I running out of ideas yet? Nope. I’m still packing. But, I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I don’t pack your typical sack lunch.

When I was in grade school, my parents had begun to fully embrace the natural foods approach to eating. We ate primarily homemade meals, we had a huge garden where we grew wonderful vegetables that we canned for use throughout the winter, and we raised *happy* chickens for stocking the freezer. As an adult, I’m now embracing this way of eating, but as an adolescent, I didn’t understand it. My packed lunches were different than everyone else’s. Sometimes I felt out of place eating my sandwich on homemade wheat bread when everyone else had Wonder bread with Jif peanut butter and Smucker’s grape jelly. And sometimes I got teased about the contents of my lunch.

Did I lose any friends over it? No. Did I learn anything from it? Absolutely.

My parents are very smart. They knew — long before it became “popular” — that whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and chemical-free foods were what our bodies needed. I wish I had understood that better when I was a child.

Kids can be cruel. They tease about every little thing that makes someone “different” than they are. Two of my kids were teased last year for bringing Activia yogurt cups in their lunches. I bought it because it was strawberry flavored and on sale that week. Why did they get teased? Because the TV ads promote it as a “digestive aid” rather than something fun for kids to eat. Well, here’s a news flash, kids — ALL yogurt is a digestive aid. Yogurt contains live and active cultures. These cultures are probiotics that promote a healthy digestive tract. Even lunchbox favorites like Gogurt and Crush Cups have live and active cultures. (They also have artificial colors and flavors, so don’t buy them.)

I can provide my kids with a packed lunch that isn’t different enough from everyone else’s to cause them to get teased. I learned a lesson from the Activia incident. I pack healthy lunches that look similar to every other kid’s lunch. (See below for my kids’ favorites.)

I can give my kids a response to “why don’t you ever bring Doritos in your lunch?”
“Because I don’t eat garbage.”
“Because chemicals are for cleaning toilets, not for eating.”
“Because I’m smart.”

I want my kids to understand the choices I make for my family so when they go off to college, they are able to make healthy food choices on their own, and to defend their choices with facts.

As I mentioned above, sack lunches in the 70’s generally contained a sandwich made of peanut butter and jelly or bologna and catsup on white bread, some kind of chips or Cheetos, and a Little Debbie snack cake or Ho-Ho. I don’t remember anyone having fresh fruit (besides me), but I do remember kids bringing in “fruit cocktail” in a little metal can with a pull-tab lid. Based on what I witnessed at Logan’s field trip last spring, sack lunches haven’t changed too much since the 70’s, except for the number of overly-processed options available to kids these days.

Luckily, there are a lot of healthful options today — such as whole wheat bread that’s as soft as Wonder, for making a healthier PB&J sandwich. Now that she’s in 6th grade, Madison’s tastes have matured a little. She’s not really into PB&J anymore so she often chooses a wrap or more adult-like sandwich. (You can put just about anything in a wrap and get a smile from your kids!)

As for drinks, I was sending 100% juice boxes, but my kids had a better idea. Logan said, “Mom, all these juice boxes are filling up the landfills.” So we bought reusable water bottles that fit in their lunch boxes. The night before, I fill them about halfway with either water, juice or Kool-Aid made with stevia, and stick them in the freezer. In the morning, I fill it the rest of the way and it stays cold all day, plus acts as an icepack for their food.

Here are some of my kids’ favorite packed lunch items:

Sandwiches:
PB&J — soft whole wheat bread + Skippy Natural peanut butter + All-Fruit Jelly
Sub Sandwich — whole wheat hamburger bun + mayo + nitrate/nitrite free lunchmeat + cheddar cheese + lettuce
Lunchmeat Roll-up — whole wheat tortilla + light cream cheese + nitrate/nitrite free ham + lettuce
Bagel + light cream cheese or Skippy Natural peanut butter
PB Roll-up — whole wheat tortilla + Skippy Natural peanut butter + sliced banana or diced apple + raisins
Strawberry Roll-up — whole wheat tortilla + light cream cheese + sliced fresh strawberries
Mediterranean Wrap ( for Madison) — whole wheat tortilla spread with hummus + lettuce, cucumber slices and shredded carrots

Sides:
Sun Chips, Baked Veggie Chips, Pretzels
Yogurt
Baby Carrots with Hummus

Fruit:

Apple, Banana, Orange Slices, Grapes, Strawberries, Raisins, Pineapple Chunks

Snack:
Pretzels with small container of peanut butter
100% Fruit Leather
Granola Bar (Kashi or Nature Valley crunchy, Trader Joe’s bars, etc)
Homemade Chex Mix

I can’t believe I drank this…

30 Jul

And I can’t believe my two boys drank this for breakfast…and loved it!

It was sweet, creamy, fruity, filling, delicious and packed with nutrition. Are you dying to know what it was?

A green smoothie.

No, not really green in color. Green because it contained — now, don’t freak out — spinach!

I just heard you say “yuck” and it’s okay. I thought the same thing. I’ve been reading about people who can’t get through their day without their morning green smoothie and I thought there was no way I could gag down a smoothie made with salad ingredients. But the more I read about them, the more interested I became.

Calorie for calorie, spinach is one of the most nutrient-packed superfoods out there. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, K, B1 and B6. It’s high in beta-carotene. In addition, spinach contains potassium, calcium, iron and a bunch of other minerals that can help control blood pressure and protect you from heart disease.

As far as green smoothies go, I imagine this is one of the milder ones. I’ve seen recipes for ones that contain wheat grass and sea kelp and all kinds of strange “greens.” This is basically a fruit smoothie with the addition of spinach. I read somewhere online that as long as the smoothie has half of a ripe banana in it, you won’t taste the spinach. I was intrigued and decided to give it a try.

As soon as I hauled out the blender, the boys got excited. I told them I was trying a new smoothie and that I would make mine first and they could taste it. If they liked it, I’d make them one, too. Well, they loved it. They had that for breakfast along with a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and neither was whining an hour later that they were hungry.

I hope you’ll give it a try, especially if you are already a smoothie-making kind of person. I was really surprised with it and, after I drank it, I felt really good about myself. Kind of pleased with myself for starting off my day with something so nutritious. I’ll bet Popeye felt that way every day!

GREEN SMOOTHIE
makes 1 serving

1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 of a ripe banana
1/2 cup So Delicious coconut milk, or milk of your choice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all ingredients in the blender and puree. Enjoy!

p.s. Not a bad way to sneak veggies into your child’s diet!

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Does your kitchen have “LL”?

27 May
One time when my parents were here for a visit, my dad said, "Uh, Tam…you know it's time to clean the crisper drawer when you have LL." I said, "What's LL?" He replied, with a grin on his face, "Liquid Lettuce." He then held up a bag from the back of the bottom crisper drawer. It originally contained pre-cut romaine lettuce. It had liquified. Gross.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't dig to the bottom of the refrigerator crisper drawer regularly, only to discover a few weeks later a forgotten box of mushrooms or bag of fresh parsley. Am I?

I do have to say, though, that ever since that incident, I've tried to stay on top of it a little better. I do occasionally discover something slightly past its prime, but you won't find LL in my fridge anymore.
The best part of regularly investigating your produce supply is that you can pull together amazing salads while your veggies are still fresh. Last night's dinner salad included all kinds of things that needed to be eaten before they perished! My hubby even commented, "this salad is delicious." In fact, it would be beautiful as a summer picnic salad. It had green leaf lettuce, baby spinach leaves, shredded carrots, green onions, celery (for my blood pressure!), sliced strawberries and toasted pecans from the pantry. I drizzled mine with a balsamic vinaigrette. Jason and the kids had poppy seed dressing.
I served it alongside grilled sesame tilapia for Jason and the kids, grilled Gardein filets for me, and baked potatoes. If you haven't tried the Gardein "chicken" breast filets yet, they are worth a try. Not only are they made from healthy organic ingredients, they're the most chicken-like chicken substitute I've had so far. The look and texture is exactly like chicken. The taste is very good, although I've discovered that marinating them makes them really good. The first time I cooked them, I pulled them out of the package, tossed them on the grill, and then brushed them with BBQ sauce in the same way I cooked real chicken for everyone else. They were not as good as I'd hoped. Yesterday, I pulled them out of the package and put them in a plastic container and smothered them in the sesame sauce I was using for the tilapia. They were in the marinade sauce for a few hours. Then I continued to brush them with sauce while grilling. When I pulled them off the grill, I gave them one last drizzle of sauce. They were fantastic.
So the next time you're digging through the fridge, start mixing and matching and see what you can create. Most likely, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
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Summer Strawberry Sammies

6 May

The other day, I saw a recipe on the Whole Foods website that looked like just the thing my kids would love to eat for dinner — except it used cream cheese, which meant I would have to make something different for myself.

I chose, instead, to try to make a vegan version that would be similar in taste, and it worked! This sandwich spread came out creamy and delicious and they gobbled up their dinner. The only problem was that the sandwiches were kind of messy because the sauce I made isn't as thick as cream cheese. It was more like the consistency of mayonnaise. I may have to work on that the next time I make it.

Now, don't freak out when you see that the spread is made with tofu. Trust me when I tell you NO ONE at my dinner table suspected tofu. This spread is sweet and creamy, and would make a fabulous dip for fresh fruits. In addition, it provides a good source of protein since it's made with tofu and cashews. 
Tofu has really gotten a bad rap in America, unfortunately. Most people won't even try it because they think it's going to be disgusting. I'll admit that I don't really care for it when presented as a meat substitute, like cubes of tofu in a stir fry or something. I've had good luck using the soy crumbles as a substitute in chili, but I didn't care for them as a substitute for taco meat. I've also had many successful recipes when using it in a dip, cream sauce, or smoothie. So if you've tried tofu and didn't like it, try it again in a different way, like in my recipe below. You might find you like it! 
SUMMER STRAWBERRY SAMMIES
makes 5 sandwiches
Sandwich Spread:
8 oz firm (not silken) tofu, drained and pressed to remove liquid
1/4 cup raw cashew pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt substitute
freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries 
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced
Sandwich:
10 slices whole wheat or sourdough bread*
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
10 large strawberries, stem removed and thinly sliced
1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced 
5 lettuce leaves
Make the spread a day in advance, if you can, so the flavors have time to meld. In a blender or food processor, add all sandwich spread ingredients except strawberries and mint. Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour into a bowl. Mash the diced strawberries with a fork. Stir into the spread, along with the chopped mint leaves. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
To assemble, thickly spread one side of each piece of bread with the sandwich spread. On 5 of the slices, layer strawberry slices, cucumber slices, red onion slices and a lettuce leaf. Top each with the remaining 5 slices of bread, spread side down. Slice in half and enjoy!
*Making these on those little appetizer-size bread slices would make delicious tea sandwiches for a party!
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