Thursday, December 31, 2015

Healthy Chicken Salad with a little twist

I love chicken salad.  One of my favorite lunches when I was a young woman working in the big city, eating at a lunch counter at Nordstrom, which I could walk to, was this mayo laden chicken salad with almonds served on a bed of lettuce.  I could eat that every day.  I have never been able to duplicate my memory of the taste of that, but I've made many a chicken salad or chicken salad sandwich over the years.

This recipe can be made with chicken or vegetarian Gardein plain vegan chicken strips, which are surprisingly tasty and similar in texture to animal protein.

Instead of fat and egg laden mayo I use Veganese, which is a vegan alternative to mayonnaise.  I use it for all of my mayo needs, even with my occasional meat dishes.  Made from soy, it's less calories and about half the saturated fat as standard Mayo.  It's also packed full of vitamin B13 and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Chicken Salad with Dates and Smoked Bacon

1 cup chicken or "veggie" chicken pieces, cooked and cooled.
4 large (packaged) dates finely chopped (found in the raisin section of the store
4 pieces smoked bacon cooked and roughly chopped
1/3  cup Vegenaise
3 Tablespoons  pecans (optional)
A pinch of Chinese Five Spice Powder (a mix of China cassia cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger and cloves).

 To cook 3-4 chicken breasts for salad or sandwiches that doesn't dry out - cook whole breasts in a oven casserole dish in about 1/4 cup of water seasoned with a couple pinches of  dried  vegetable stock seasoning . Cover tightly with foil and cook at 350 degrees F.  for 35-40 minutes until the internal temperature is 165 F. (a food thermometer is always the way to go). Remove breasts from pan and allow to cool on a plate.  I also sometimes cook them in my rice steamer for 30 minutes to get a really moist chicken breast.

Mix the chicken with the rest of the ingredients and serve immediately on whole grain bread or on a bed of lettuce. If you like it a little creamier, add a couple extra Tablespoons of Vegenaise. Makes 2-3 servings.

Want a vegetarian substitution for the smoked bacon bits? Saute small wispy bits of bread (breadcrumbs on steroids) in olive oil and butter until they begin to brown. Then add a couple shakes of salt and a few shakes of smoked paprika, giving it one last stir, then removing from the heat. They're great on top of casseroles, or au gratin vegetables, and are delicious on a salad or stirred into a chicken salad just before serving. They have that craving cutting combination of crispy and chewy, smokey and salt with the right mouth feel of fat. There's no exact measurements, season to taste.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Acupuncture and Weight Loss - A Personal Experience.

It's been almost 5 months since I started this blog to encourage myself (and others) to make sounder food choices, try healthier recipes and overall improve our health.

I hadn't a lot of weight to lose, but after losing almost 45 pounds two years years ago, I was noticing the weight creep back on and wanted to "nip it in the bud  as Barney Fife would say, when I noticed I'd put back on 15 pounds.

I've stopped the weight gain in its tracks with just some small changes, and it's slowly dropping back where I should be at my original weight within three months.  I'll continue to post as eating healthy and being fit is a life long journey.

Today's post is something I'd never had tried if not for the recommendation of a colleague who is incredibly fit and trim post menopause.


Yes, Acupuncture.

I HATE needles though I donate blood regularly, being one of those "O" types the blood banks like to see.  Still - I hate it and despite reading on all the health related benefits of this ancient Chinese medical practice, I refused to try it.

But I was told by someone I know well and trust that it does NOT hurt in the slightest and the effects are amazing, both on stress, overall health AND weight loss as it greatly aids in the reduction of stress hormones - beneficial for stress, aging and weight loss! So I was willing to give it a try and am SO glad I did.

Acupuncture improves the body’s functions and promotes the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites--commonly referred to as acupuncture points, or acupoints. The most common method used to stimulate acupoints is the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin. Pressure, heat, or electrical stimulation may further enhance the effects.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on an ancient philosophy that describes the universe, and the body, in terms of two opposing forces: yin and yang. When these forces are in balance, the body is healthy. Energy, called "qi" (pronounced "chee") flows along specific pathways, called meridians, throughout the body. This constant flow of energy keeps the yin and yang forces balanced. However, if the flow of energy gets blocked, like water getting stuck behind a dam, the disruption can lead to pain, lack of function, or illness. Acupuncture therapy can release blocked qi in the body and stimulate function, evoking the body’s natural healing response through various physiological systems. Modern research has demonstrated acupuncture’s effects on the nervous system, endocrine and immune systems, cardiovascular system, and digestive system. By stimulating the body’s various systems, acupuncture can help to resolve pain, and improve sleep, digestive function, and sense of well-being.

I started treatment before the holidays - going in once a week to a local practitioner who has been part of our Village's business community of good standing for over 12 years, with a Masters of Science in the subject. Acupuncturists go through rigorous schooling similar to a medical doctor before qualifying to sit for the Board Exam.  Sterile needs are used only once and then disposed in a bio hazard container.

After an extremely detailed analysis of my health history and concerns what followed was 30 minutes of relaxing on a warm table after the "needles" had been inserted in specific points based on my overall health goals. I walked out of there as relaxed as if I'd had an hour long full body massage.  But unlike massage, a general feeling of well being and calm lasted for several days, a reduction in stress that was noticeable after just my first treatment.

Why try acupuncture?

It does NOT hurt as you are not being poked with a hypodermic needle but an  acupuncture needle that is fine like a hair, with no hole in the middle.  You feel a gentle prick against the skin in some locations, that's not at ALL painful (and  other locations you don't even feel it.) When acupuncture needles are inserted, it causes the nervous system to calm down and the body to release endorphins. Endorphins have been shown to reduce pain, stress, and feelings of frustration and irritability, regulate the production of growth and sex hormones, and control cravings for chocolate and other substances.  They say that when endorphins are released, the feelings can be described as: peaceful, blissful, euphoric, optimistic, and joyful.  I have to agree,

It's enjoyable.  It's like a spa treatment (but one with medical benefits that my insurance does cover). The treatment rooms are typically private and warm, with beautiful art on the walls and soothing music.
Reduction in cravings.  I LOVE carbs and sugar and they are my downfall when trying to lose or maintain weight.  I noticed by week two, that my sugar cravings were less, wherein with afternoon "teatime" I used to eat a handful of biscuits (cookies), now I was happy with just one, and didn't feel the need for a big glass of sweet wine with dinner - happy with a half a glass of dry red wine, and not every evening.

THAT alone resulted in a one pound weight loss in two weeks without doing anything else AND eating big mashed potato filled meals during  Christmas that normally causes me to gain 2-3 pounds during the two weeks around Christmas.

Reduction in Stress: Stress? Let's see, two moves, new marriage, promotion at work in a very male dominated profession, two wonderful but rambunctious grand-kids under the age of 6, care for an elderly widowed parent, two Amazon #1 best sellers and all the book tours and signings that go with that, AND a mostly meniscus free knee that hurts all the time, and a 100 year old house we're restoring ourselves.  All in 2 years.  And dog hair - don't forget dog hair. Yup - I'm stressed and we all know that's "desserts" spelled backwards. My practitioner said it may sometimes take a few visits to get a noticeable reduction in stress for the occasional person, but I had that with just one treatment and felt better than I had in years and slept like a baby that first night.

Many insurance plans do cover it and. you may wonder, as I did, WHY I didn't do this 20 years ago?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Healthy Home Fries

Most people will agree that "home fries" (big chunky hashed browns) are wonderful with breakfast, but the traditional recipe is also high in fat and starch.

Lighten up your "taters".

Start with using  peeled red potatoes or Yukon gold.  They have less starch and cook up better. (the reds the lowest starch of the two). The russets you may have on hand for baked potatoes or holiday mashed potatoes are VERY high in starch, so make a better pick of potato.

Then get a cast iron pan.

Yes, cast iron, like your Mom or grandma used.  We use cast iron for everything except tomato sauces that simmer a long time.  It gets a perfect stabilized heat for browning up the potatoes without using a bunch of oil.

Simply chop 3 smaller potatoes, and cook in a Tablespoon of olive oil on high heat.  Because a thick cast iron was used, this cooked the potatoes up quickly without scorching with less oil and less time.

Serve with migas "light".

Saute 1/4 onion and 2 small corn tortillas cut into bite sized pieces in a teaspoon of oil until slightly browned, then add a 1/4 cup of water and steam for a minute or two on low until cooked.  Don't add additional oil, but add 2 eggs and 3 egg whites whisked with 2 Tablespoons of skim milk and a lower sodium all purpose seasoning  (I love Jane's Krazy mixed up salt a reduced sodium salt/herb blend). Cook and serve with fat free hot sauce, a teaspoon of reduced fat cheddar and a dollop of fat free sour cream.

It's a decadent post holiday breakfast that's much lighter in fat and calories than most breakfast dishes.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like

I better stay away from the scale until next week.

Chocolate Peppermint Pie.  SO worth it.

Chocolate peppermint cream pie:

1 Graham Cracker Crust - cooled

1 package dark chocolate pudding prepared as directed

3 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 teaspoon pink sugar
1 cup whipped cream (for garnish)
chopped Andes peppermint candies and pink sugar

Prepare pudding and cool. Fill pie crust until chocolate layer is about an inch deep. Put any remaining pudding in bowl for a snack later.

Whip whipping cream, powdered sugar, the pink sugar and peppermint extract until stiff peaks form.
If you like, whip remaining whipped cream and pipe onto edge of pie. Sprinkle with 3 or 4 chipped Andes candies and additional pink sugar. Chill and serve.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cravings - Nacho Ordinary Snack

We all have our trigger foods, sweet, savory, salty crunchy.  I've done good with the baked good/snacks by having my Vitatops this week, and am down another pound.

But one bad boy food for me is Nachos.  If I have tortilla chips, cheese and salsa in the house, I can eat a big plateful all by myself. And I mean BIG plate.

So I just quit buying the chips.

But today, I was having the craving and decided to give in to it, but in a modified way with a little snack I fixed up for the my husband and myself.  I took some small squares of low fat cheddar and put them on saltines, topped with a tiny dollop of salsa and nuked for about 45 seconds.

They had the creamy, spicy, crunch I was looking for - with just a fraction of the calories and salt. I figured four of these was about 125 calories and with the protein from the cheese, I was good until dinner.

Often when your body craves certain things it's telling you there is a nutrient you are missing (yes, I KNEW I was needing the beer vitamin!)

Here's some common cravings and things that might help.

Craving sweets?
You might be low on carbon, phosphorus or sulfur.  Substitute fresh fruits, fish, eggs, nuts, cabbage or kale
Bread, biscuits, or toast?
You might be low on nitrogen.  Try some nuts or beans.

Salty foods?
You might be low on chloride.  Add some unrefined sea salt to your veggies.

General overeating?
You might be low in silicon, tryptophan or tyrosine.  Add more nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach or oranges.

Sometimes you have to make better choices. Because you never know who might be watching.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Healthy cooking - Thai One On

I love most southeast Asian dishes, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean.  But finding the ingredients can be a little daunting in some areas. This vegetable heavy take on Pad Prik which normally uses a specialty curry paste and kaffir lime leaves (not easy to find in our small Polish owned grocers) turned out pretty  good.  Good old Srirachi Thai Chili sauce is the secret.  (the most common brand seen in stores, made by Hoy Fung foods is made in the USA, including the bottles). Oh, and there's something called "fish sauce".

Don't turn up your nose at "fish sauce".  Outside of fresh caught salmon (and I mean Big Bro caught it that morning and grilled it, stuffed with lemon and onion wrapped in bacon and drizzled with teriyaki) and occasional beer battered Irish Pub fish and chips, I'm not a fish fan.  But I use fish sauce a lot in southeast Asian and Chinese dishes.  There's a reason it's a staple in Southeast Asian cultures. If you love Caesar salad, you've eaten one of the main ingredients in the dressing.  Anchovies.  For fish sauce, anchovies  caught from clear waters and  with salt, are fermented in wooden barrels and then VERY slowly pressed to product this savory liquid  Like Brut after shave I'd not recommend putting your nose to the bottle for a big whiff, but just a small  amount can add a deep richness and depth  to a dish (with no "fishy" taste).

If you can, look for Red Boat Fish sauce on the internet, (just google it)  because most of the ones in the grocery are full of additives, wheat protein, chemicals and MSG.  Red Boat Fish sauce is gluten free and is  really tasty.
For the marinade
2 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS light oil peanut or vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon honey (or light brown sugar)
1 Tablspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons ground coriander  (you might try ginger if you can't find coriander)
1/2  tsp white pepper

For the stir fry sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons  fish sauce
1/4  cup plus 2 Tablespoons cup rice vinegar
1/4  plus 2 Tablespoons water
3 TBS  light brown sugar or honey
3 TBS  Sriracha
 For the stir-fry
1 and 1/2 pounds pork or veggie meat substitute
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tablespoons of  peanut or vegetable oil
2 Thai, serrano, or red  jalapeƱo peppers, minced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
3 cups green beans
1/2 cup basil finely chopped only slightly.
1 lime- cut into quarters
1 Tablespoons chive chopped for rice garnish (photo op optional)
Mix the marinade ingredients together  and mix with meat that you've cut into fairly small, thinner pieces in a gallon zip lock bag, and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Mince the garlic and mix it with 1 tsp of oil.  Set it aside.

Halve the peppers, scraping the seeds out for mild to medium thai hot.  Slice the red bell pepper into long, fairly  thin strips. 

Clean the green beans and place in a bowl with the finely diced chilis and your red pepper.
Heat up your skillet or wok in which you've drizzled a couple of teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil.  Plan on cooking your meat in three batches after you've removed it from the marinade (which is discarded).  This ensures it stays nice and brown instead of getting pale and limp from overcrowding, which teams to end up steaming the meat, not stir frying it.

When the oil is shimmering and a drop of water sizzles on it and evaporates, you're ready to cook your meat.   The meat will cook very quickly and don't be tempted to constantly maneuver it around with your spatula.  Put the pieces in there, and let cook two minutes to sear them on one side, then move them around the pan stir fry fashion until they're cooked through (about another minute)

Remove the meat to a bowl when cooked through and cook the remaining batches.

Do NOT be tempted to cook it all at once.  It takes just as long and your meat will not be nearly as good.

Add 2 tsp. more oil to the skillet and when shimmering, add the green beans and chilis/bell pepper  Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly.  Clear out a little space in the center and add the garlic/oil mixture, pressing down for 10-15 seconds, then stir it in with the veggies and add the sauce.
Increase heat to high and cook for about a half a minute, until it thickens slightly (but not too long so you have some liquid left)  Add your meat, stir in the basil and remove the pan from the heat. 

Serve with rice if you are so inclined and a wedge of lime.  Note:  I boil my rice with a bit of coconut oil  (about 3% of the rice's weight) and then refrigerate for a day, then reheat.  This has been proven in studies to reduce the digestible carbs a fair amount.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Muffin Top

What's this on the stovetop?  Why yes, it's a beer.  Today is Hump day which means I have to have a Hamms. They book begin with "H' so it's a sign.  

But the other item is a box of VitaTops from Vitalicious.
These little snacks are like individual "muffin tops" (but much bigger) and are a delicious  and healthy snack.  I've bought them in the past and loved them as a snack or for breakfast with a piece of fruit, but had been on a smoothie habit, which crashed and burned as soon as baked goods showed up at work for the holidays (and the occasional beer  had nothing to do with it :-)

I keep them in the freezer, pop a couple in my lunch bag when I wake up and they're thawed by the time I get into the office and get settled with a cup of coffee.

My favorite, the double chocolate has 100 calories, NINE grams of fiber, 1.5 grams of fat and vitamins and minerals.  It tastes like a bakery treat.  Heated, with a little scoop of low fat ice cream or just by itself -  YUMMMM!

There's lots of other flavors as well, including chocolate peanut butter, banana nut, cornbread, cranberry, brownie, etc.,all lot fat, and high fiber.  They also have a couple that are sugar free and Kosher.

I bought these as although I'm within 14 pounds of my goal weight, I've totally stalled.  I'm eating modest portion of healthier meals but with all the cakes, rolls, cookies and such that are around the office at holiday time, I was cheating too much (a protein shake doesn't look all that great when there's a piece of freshly baked chocolate cake on the office kitchen counter).

So, through the end of February I'm going to have a Vitalicious VitaTop Egg Sandwich (they make some great low cal, high fiber breakfast sandwiches including a vegetarian one), or Energy Loaf for Breakfast and a Vitatop for an afternoon snack.  We'll see if I can get over this weight loss speed bump and lose those last 14 pounds without depriving myself of some carbs for breakfast and an afternoon treat.

Note:  I've eaten the products before  but the little grocers in my village didn't carry them.  (most larger retailers and Target carries them, but I hate to make an extra drive to go to a different grocers, though I used to when I lived in Indiana to get the little vegetarian Vita Pizzas which are an awesome lunch).

So finding them online and also finding that with a purchase of a month's worth for breakfast and snack I got a dozen Vita Tops FREE,  Customer service is excellent too. When the banana nut order was  slightly delayed due to its popularity they let me know right away with a personal email and provided a UPS tracking number for it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

That's Some Spicey Meatball - Buffalo Balls.

One of the leanest cuts of meat around is buffalo.  It can be a bit on the expensive side but if you're watching your fat intake and want a big "beefy" meatball - it's the way to go and the sauce is vegetarian. If you don't eat meat -make this recipe with ultra low fat Gardein meatballs. Make the protein your focal point for the meal and serve with  no more than a cup of pasta if you're watching your intake.

Buffalo Balls

2 pounds ground Buffalo
8 oz (about two sleeves) low fat Ritz crackers
8 ounces Ground Parmasan (it will help bind them better but keep fresh Parmesan for topping)
1 heaping Tablespoon dried parsley
3 fresh large eggs.

dry spice - use a mortar and pestle to "smoosh" the spices to release the flavor and soften the somewhat "spiky" rosemary
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary

1/2 teaspoon onion salt
pepper to taste

2 cloves garlic
1/4 large onion diced fine
olive oil for sauteing.
My husband and I shared a plate.

Saute garlic in pan over medium with a little oil til softened and fragrant, be careful not to let heat get too high. Remove and chop. Add onion to pan and saute until caramelized. Add onion and garlic to meat and dry ingredients. in huge bowl. Mix in egg. Makes about 50 tablespoon sized meatballs, or adjust size to taste.

Saute meatballs in a same pan (adding more oil as needed to keep from sticking) until browned but NOT cooked through, just a couple of minutes. Put into pre cooked marinara and cook on low simmer until cooked through, 15-20 minutes depending on size. (Check at about 12 minutes by cutting into one). Top with sauce and grated fresh cheese.

Sauce - use any favorite marinara. Use bottled sauce.  But if you want to make some really good sauce from scratch that's loaded with veggies  - ou can't really mess this one up.

 LB's BASIC BASIL SAUCE (Vegetarian)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small yellow or Vidalia onions (or one large) chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (or two 14.5 ounce cans)
2 6 ounce cans tomato paste
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon sugar
dash of red cayenne pepper (small shake or one tiny pinch between the fingers)

In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, reducing heat to medium after a minute or two and continuing to cook for 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. (if you need to, add a few more tablespoons of oil to keep it from drying out or sticking). Add the tomato products and remainder of seasoning and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dinner on the Fly

(click to enlarge photos)

Steak marinated with Srirachi sauce, Guinness, key lime and spices for 24 hours, then grilled. The Srirachi gives it a nice little afterglow when all is said and done. Don't eat meat? - it makes a great marinade for tofu before cooking.

The veggies? Mushrooms, sliced onion and green beans tossed with a tiny bit olive oil, a little balsamic vinaigrette, then quick roasted at 450 F for about 10-15 minutes and sprinkled with a little smoked mozzarella the last couple of minutes of cooking.   Since there is the extra fat and calories in this dish, I skipped on a starch ad just had the veggies and about 3 ounces of the steak.  It was wonderful.

It's Friday, so I'll leave you all to your own devices. I've got a dog that's happy to see me, and a husband that was on the road all week.

Afterburner Steak Marinade
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Guinness
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons key lime juice
a pinch of dried thyme
2 generous tablespoons Sriracha
2 pounds New York strip or rib-eye steak

Whisk together and marinate steak in a big zip lock for up to 24 hours. Grill as you like, brushing with marinade. Or, if you like smoke and noise, coat marinated steak very lightly with olive oil, let sit at room temperature for a few minutes and then cook for one minute in a preheated smoking hot cast iron pan, flip the steak and immediately place in a preheated 450-500 F oven for 3-5 minutes. (be prepared for smoke alarm). Remaining marinade can be cooked down in hot pan until reduced, for a dipping sauce, while the steak rests, lightly covered with foil for 3-5 minutes.

Serves 2-3.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Yes - You can Have Pancakes

My usual Saturday mornings used to be a big stack of  regular sized buttermilk pancakes with bacon or sausage.

But how to have a pancake with a little less in the way of fat and calories? Well first, I ditch the fried meat and replaced with an orange.

As for the pancakes - 

First - make silver dollar sized ones, like the ones pictured on this salad plate that I cooked up for family.  You will have the impressions of eating more, with less. Have a little stack, give the rest to your husband or freeze.

Second - replace the buttermilk with non fat or low fat  Kefir and replace the sugar with powdered sugar.  The calorie saving is only a small bit, but if you make small changes to your recipes even 20 or 30 calories over time it ALL adds up.

Mix in one bowl

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar

Mix in another bowl.

1 cup Kefir at room temperature
1 egg at room temperature*
a small splash of Vanilla
2 Tablespoons melted butter or coconut oil

*Note - for a vegetarian version replace egg with one of the following
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 of a mashed ripe banana
1/4 cup pureed tofu
EnerG Egg Replacer.

Combine wet and dry ingredients stirring JUST enough to mix and no more.  Cook on lightly oiled griddle. These are very moist so you're not going to need a lot of butter and syrup to enjoy them.

And if a couple extra get eaten. .

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Scandanavian Christmas

Today - we're putting healthy eating aside to start making those treats which we will share with friends and family this Christmas.  A smoothie for lunch and a light dinner may offset a few of the calories, but this is a day of not just baking, but of tradition, and the sharing of love.

I'm mostly Scot (not Irish as originally thought, which I only found out this year with the unsealing of my original birth certificate). But I was adopted and raised  by a Swedish/Norwegian Mom (and after her death, a Norwegian StepMom).  Therefore, I strongly relate to Luther League, lutefisk (as a science experiment), the art of Norwegian seduction (yah, you have some nice snow tires, you betcha) and I have been trained in the art of making food that can be classified by the FDA as a sedative.

Like lefse, unleavened flatbread make out of mashed potatoes, cream and flour and cooked on a griddle. I eat mine a common way, adding butter to the lefse and rolling it up (lefse-klenning in the mother tongue). Other options include adding cinnamon, or spreading jelly or lingonberries upon it. We'd also eat it for lunch with thin sliced Danish ham and cheeses throughout the holiday season.

But most of Mom's Scandinavian Christmas dishes were of the cookie/dessert variety, mostly made in the weekends prior to Christmas. One of those is Krumkaka which consists of a light sweet batter which is poured onto a hot mold and then quickly cooked and rolled into a cone shape while it is still warm. It's often served filled with real whipped cream, or just munched plain, while crisp, buttery and warm. (Note: photo was cropped to remove evidence of crime scene tape).

click to enlarge photo

Then there are the Rosettes. Also a batter in which a hot iron mold attached to a handle is dipped and the results deep fried and dusted with sugar. The cookie is light and delicate, almost like puff pastry, if done right. It looks easy. It is not. I've had many slip off the iron into the hot oil because the batter is too thin or the wrong temperature, only to resemble floating, fried .40 casings, and others that looked OK maybe, but would have ripped the dentures out of great grandma with their shriveled chewiness.
click to enlarge photo
But sometimes you get it right. Light, crunchy, fried perfection with just a hint of Cardamom.

Then there was fattigman, known as the "poor man's cookie", though our version was dressed up with a tablespoon of brandy to add to the heavy whipping cream, flour and butter. Like all of these recipes, it did require a special tool, one that is passed down from mother to daughter.

She'd make a dozen different cookies, which also included thin Swedish gingerbread moose, light and fluffy meringue cookies, thumbprint cookies with lingonberry filling, butter cookies, candy cane cookies, fudge, and my favorite as a child, a vanilla and chocolate pinwheel cookie that is consumed in 1/ 16th the time it takes to make them.

All the recipes seemed to call for lots and lots of flour. Why? Probably because my family could go through these cookies like locust on a summer day. Hours of work gone in minutes. I never knew how much energy, how much time, effort and love Mom and Grandma wrapped up in all those holiday treats until I tried to make them myself to share with coworkers and friends.  Only then did I truly appreciate the love that went into them.

These quiet times in the kitchen are my way of regrouping after a a long day or a long road trip. It's a time, wherein the faith I have, that can take a beating during the work week, is repaired, threads of hope and strength woven back into the areas that feel tattered as the leaves clinging stubbornly to the trees outside my window.

I love to cook for my friends and family. I've always spent at least two vacation weeks a year out West at my parents. There, I'd just give Mom, or later my Stepmom, a vacation herself and cook them three big meals a day, clean the house and do some light outdoor chores and keep them company while they got to put their feet up. Not much of a "vacation" for me, rest wise, but I loved how it made my parents smile and how good it was to hear them laugh.  Now I go out and visit Dad, the home nurse still helping with his personal care, but spending lots of time in the kitchen I grew up in, as even at 95, Dad loves home-crafted meals and Mom's cookie recipes as my husband keeps his home of 60 years in good repair.

I'll not go home to see him this Christmas. My Dad wants to be alone with his memories, not celebrating the holidays since my brother died, a blow after losing one other child and two beloved wives.  I understand.  There will be another time in a few short weeks where I can cook and entertain and spend time with him. So this Christmas, as I cook for my husband and friends, it will bring back memories of days when we had a family dinner table meal. Other than Friday TV night and barbecue night, all meals were eaten at that table, as a family with Mom and Dad and my brother.   I can't recall so much of what we talked about or exactly what each meal was, memory being not just selective but discriminating, in the end only as reliable as we are.

The dates and times and actual meals themselves are insignificant, but I remember the gathering, the smells of Mom's cooking, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate that through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of family.

For those of you who still have that, treasure every moment.

And save a pinwheel cookie for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Big Fat Bacon - NOT!

Sorry folks, no bacon to see here. Nor salad, as we ate it all before I remembered I didn't take a picture.

I made this the first time when a couple I play with airplanes with (actually it was a giant remote control blimp that day) came over afterwards for dinner.  Dinner was simple. A pork tenderloin dusted with summer savory and baked, a loaf of bread we picked up at the grocery store's bakery department and fresh salad, The husband of the pair politely said "I'm sorry, I just don't like salad but the rest looks great"  His wife, urged him to take a bite, to be polite.

He ate two platefuls of the salad and didn't touch the tenderloin.  If you're looking for something good for supper, give it a try. The dressing is quite sweet, so start with 1/2 cup sugar, adding more as you prefer. Add leftover chicken breast or Gardein "chicken strips" to it, for a little extra protein for a main dish entree. With the sugar and oil it's not particularly low calorie but with fruit, protein and a good fats fro  like Extra Virgin Olive oil and walnuts it's a dish you can serve to guests and still feel good about what you're eating.  I've never made this where someone didn't ask for the recipe.

Strawberry Salad

2 and 1/2  bags of prepared romaine salad (or one head iceburg lettuce,  chopped, and one bag romaine)
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack
1 small bag walnut pieces, chopped roughly
strawberries to taste (I used a couple of cups, in large chunks)


1 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup to 2/3 cups  sugar (to taste)
2 cloves roasted garlic, chopped  (you can use a  generous teaspoon of the jarred minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Blend oil and sugar, stirring briskly to dissolve (if you lightly warm oil in microwave first it will blend easier).  Add remaining ingredients, and let sit for a bit in the refrigerator to let flavors blend. Toss just before serving.  Serves 6 as an entree with added protein or 8 as a side dish. (and it's easy to cut the recipe in half)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Soup - R Supper

Soup, if you avoid the cream or cheese laden varieties makes a filling and satisfying supper that's not supper high in calories. The recipe is one I made up and it's been a staple in the winter for some 20 years.

Tonight was Lentil soup

3/4 pound ground Italian sausage (or use veggie "sausage")
1 medium onion chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 diced carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 roasted cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 14.5 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
2 cups dry lentils
6 cups stock (veggie, chicken or beef or a combination thereof, I used half chicken and half beef)
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of Smoked Paprika
3/4 cup spinach, rinsed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Brown sausage (if using vegetarian sausage simply chop after it is cooked).  Drain off grease. Add olive oil, onions, carrots and celery and cook and stir until the onion is tender.  Stir in seasonings and cook on low for a couple of minutes.  Stir in lentils, stock, water and undrained tomatoes.  Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for an hour.  When ready to serve, stir in spinach and vinegar and heat on low 10 minutes.  Serve with a slice of baguette.

Substitutions at your own risk.  I posted this recipe elsewhere many years ago only to have someone say they made it and it was "only OK".  They substituted kidney beans for the lentils, hamburger for the sausage, left out the veggies and the garlic, substituted  chili powder for the paprika,  tomato sauce for the fire roasted tomatoes and regular white vinegar for the balsamic.

I was kind and didn't say anything, but "seriously, it's not even the same recipe!"