Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zesty, Lemony, Spinach Soup

With the weather getting colder and my allergies starting to bother me already, I have been on a soup kick. Those of you who have been following HMHB already know I like to post a lot of soup recipes here- they’re easy and flexible and you can make enough for plenty of leftovers. I recently made batches of borscht and lentil soup, but also decided to try out this great new green soup that I found a recipe for in my favorite magazine, Eating Well.

I ended up just basing it off of the recipe I found, firstly because I did not have Arborio rice on hand and didn’t feel like going out to get any, and secondly because when I went to blend up the spinach like the recipe calls for, after I turned the blender on I discovered in the messiest of ways that there was a huge crack on the side of it! I’m sure you can just imagine the mess that was made all over my kitchen counter and floor. There was quite a bit of clean-up indeed…

So, rather than starting from scratch and abandoning my soup, I did what I could with what I had left, and it came out pretty good! It was my first time caramelizing onions too! So here it goes:

Spinach and Lemon Soup

12 oz package of spinach
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp + ¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lemon + extra wedges for garnish

To caramelize the onions: Sautee the onion in the olive oil in skillet over medium heat with ¼ tsp salt. Cook and stir frequently until it browns, then lower heat and add 2 tbsp water and cover. Cook onion, stirring frequently and then just occasionally, allowing the pan to cool and then heat up again after stirring, always covering pan again. Basically, continue to do this until onions turn a deep caramel color and are greatly reduced for about 25-30 minutes.

When onions are ready, toss in the spinach and stir-fry it with the onions for about 2 minutes, then add the broth and water. Stir in the remaining salt and cayenne; adjust to your tastes if needed. The tsp of cayenne will make it nice and spicy, but not too hot, so if you want it hotter add more. Bring it all to a boil then bring back down to a simmer and add the lemon juice. Serve right away with some whole-wheat buns or rolls. I had a whole-wheat English muffin with mine and it tasted really good dipped right into the spinach! Add more lemon and olive oil for garnish if desired. 

And there you have it- very simple and probably even sounds a little boring, but the combination of the cayenne and lemon with the spinach and broth was way more amazing than I’d thought it was going to be. I’m really excited to get a new blender now and try the Eating Well recipe that includes Arborio rice and chard.

I use spinach in many things I cook due to it being full of nutrition and also being so incredibly versatile. Just throw it in with just about anything you can think of and you are adding a large amount of iron, manganese, folate, and vitamins A, C and K with a rich yet delicate green taste. Spinach pairs great with chicken and white fish, and goes great in just about any soup. Enjoy fresh baby spinach with beets and mandarin oranges for a healthy and fruity salad; make a delicious green smoothie with fruit and yogurt; add it to stir-fries with tofu for a healthy vegetarian dinner.

Going organic when it comes to spinach is a good idea as well. Spinach has become notorious for being one of the top 12 produce items with the most pesticide residue found on it, even after repeated washing. Since the leaves are so delicate and tasty to insects, they are coated with extra pesticide to ward off pesky pests- pesticides that leak directly into the spinach itself.

The Environmental Working Group releases a list of the “Dirty Dozen”, which is a list of produce that contains the largest amounts of pesticides each year. The list contains mainly delicate fruits like blueberries and leafy vegetables that you don’t peal, and other veggies you don’t peal for that matter like peppers. It also has a list of the items with the least amount of pesticides. Print this list out so you can bring it with you to the supermarket and know what to buy conventional and save your money, and what to buy organic and save your health!

Save this recipe for when you're in a pinch on a cool night, or for your next Meatless Monday! Or, make tonight meatless, or any day for that matter :)
Healthy and tasty sugar-free cookies and crock-pot tomato sauce recipes coming soon!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Toddlers and TV

If you would allow me to digress from my regularly scheduled post on healthy food, there’s another topic that’s been on my mind…

Before I had my Lily, I always felt that I would not let her watch TV until she was at least 2 years old, and then it would only be select shows (like Sesame Street) and for a very limited amount of time. Back then, I was thinking 30 minutes a day MAX.

But, then I found out just how much work it really is to raise a toddler and how draining it can be, and furthermore, how difficult it can be to find any time to do anything but look after said toddler. Being a work-at-home mom, most of the actual work I do gets done when Lily is napping; if I am not totally pooped by the time she goes to bed at night, I work until I am ready for bed myself. My point being, I had no (and still don’t seem to have any) down time.

We don’t have cable, luckily, but we do have the internet- obviously –and know what YouTube is. So, one day I allowed her to watch a couple of short videos of Sesame Street songs. At first she was intrigued, but not completely absorbed by it, and lost interest rather quickly. She was around 14 months old then, and since I noticed that it did capture her attention for a period of time, albeit a short period of time, I decided to reserve “YouTube time” for desperate situations, like when I was cooking and she wouldn’t get out from under my feet or if I had an important phone call I absolutely had to make and could not risk it being interrupted.

Eventually, 5-10 minutes turned into 20-30 minutes, then up to an hour, now Lily is 18 months old and I sometimes allow her to watch Elmo videos for over an hour! During those hour+ periods, it has been because she was sick and it was the only thing that would actually distract her from the pain or because I needed her to calm down to go to bed and just put the TV on in the background while she played. Often, when that has happened, she does more staring and less playing.

It bothers me, but at the same time I get so much done! It is quite a temptation that I am becoming increasingly less able to resist. Of course, I make sure that she gets plenty of actual TV-free playtime and I take her to the park and for walks regularly, but I still worry that I may be causing her to get into a routine that I will not be able to reverse. 

Image courtesy

We all are well-aware that watching too much TV is bad for our health; mentally because it causes our brains to become prone to ADHD-related conditions as well as zombie-like conditions, and physically because it makes us- children especially –fat and lazy. Also, at least 90% of what’s regularly on TV these days is total CRAP! I feel dumber after watching less than 5 minutes of any of the frighteningly popular reality shows that are on just about every channel. I DO NOT want Lily to think that watching them is okay!

I will also, of course, teach her that there’s a difference between educational programming and junk television when the time comes, but until then, I still wonder if it’s still unhealthy no matter what I allow her to watch.

Dear readers, what do you think? Do you let your young children watch TV, and if so, just how much is allotted? How do you handle situations when your child is in daycare or at a friend’s house? What are your thoughts on the subject overall?

Thanks in advance! I really look forward to hearing from you all!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

For the Love of Basil

Italian Sausage Soup

½ lb of Italian style chicken sausage
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 cups water
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup baby or chopped spinach
1 cup corn
1 cup ditalini or other small-shaped pasta
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh basil + extra for topping
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp red pepper flake or to taste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Sautee the peppers, onion and garlic in the olive oil in a large pot with the oregano until fragrant. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, remove the casings from the sausage and break the meat up into chunks. Add the sausage meat, corn, pepper flake, salt, pepper and basil to the pot and stir. Simmer over medium low heat for up to an hour, tasting occasionally.

While that’s cooking, cook the ditalini separately until al dente. Drain when it’s ready and add to pot. Add the spinach after that and remove from heat. Stir until spinach is wilted. Serve with fresh basil and grated Parmesan and a little extra olive oil if desired. Great with pan-fried garlic bread.

I looove basil! I love the taste, I love the smell of it, I love how it looks, and I especially love how easy it is to grow! When my father-in-law gave Paul and I a bin full of fresh, organic tomatoes from the farm he works on, I instantly thought “homemade tomato sauce!” I started going through a check list in my head of what I had on hand and what I would need to buy. Olive oil- check, garlic- check, tomato paste- check, fresh basil- need to buy! You just can’t have freshly made pasta sauce without basil, and although you can use dried, I wouldn’t recommend it. Dried oregano if okay to use since fresh often tastes so strong, it overpowers other flavors in a recipe; but, with basil you really want to go fresh if you can.

It’s very simple to grow and doesn’t cost much if you decide to just buy it fresh at the store. Most supermarkets do carry it fresh and often potted in the produce aisle, as they did at Shop Rite when I went to get it for the sauce I made, and then I was able to add it to the soup. I will be sure to post the tomato sauce recipe in a future post as well! I made it in a slow cooker; so if you own one of those, do stay tuned!

Anyway, back to the basil…so, basil not only tastes and smells great, but it’s loaded- like many greens –with vitamin K. It also contains generous amounts of iron and calcium, but also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and good for cardiovascular health. Basil oil is especially potent as an anti-bacterial, and is also pretty easy to make and a “fun” activity for a rainy day like today if you feel up to it. Adding just a small amount to pasta, salads, sauces, or use it as a dip- or however you want -will really add a flavorful kick as well as the added health benefits mentioned above. Some people even like the smell of basil so much, they use it as a body fragrance! Try a little oil of oregano or oregano extract mixed into a larger amount of orange or Clementine fragrance oil for an uplifting aroma.

Lily loves pasta, sausage, cheese and corn, so I just strained some from the soup and served it to her. She’s not too crazy about peppers yet, but the sausage did contain that flavor anyway, so hopefully she will get into it soon. If your child is ready for soup, they can have this yummy concoction as is and I’m sure they will enjoy being able to add cheese to it! For baby, you can mush up some of the corn and pasta with the cheese, and if they eating meat, add some of the sausage. The peppers are your call!

I hope you enjoy this soup, and with fall and winter drawing near, expect more recipes like this- I just love soup when it’s cold out ! :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Healthy Mommy, Healthy Baby, Healthy DOGGY!

 My first baby was my dog Ogum, a Malteeskipoo (Maltese-Eskimo-Poodle mix), or a mutt as my mom says. I fondly remember the day I got him, just 2 days before Christmas; he was the best gift ever :) I never had a dog growing up because my parents aren’t dog people and they didn’t think I was ready for the responsibility of taking care of a pup anyway (they were probably right). So, I had to wait until I met my then boyfriend Paul, who’s now my husband, who was willing to take my puppy in as leverage for getting me to move in with him (you probably already guessed that it worked!).

I quickly found out that it is a big responsibility to take care of a dog- this was no goldfish. I also found out that taking care of them isn’t cheap once I saw vet bills and the price of puppy gear and dog food brands that actually contained edible ingredients. You’d think more people would make their own dog food, seeing as how the only important ingredients are protein (meat), grains and vitamins. I’d read the labels on the bags and cans and try to decipher the language- potassium chloride? Water sufficient for processing? Copper sulfate? They didn’t sound like edible things to me, and the food certainly didn’t look edible. But, I just figured it was dog food and that’s how it was supposed to be, and Ogum ate it without any fuss so whatever.

A few years later when I got on my healthy kick and started to understand the dynamics of what you put in your body matters, I started thinking the same should be applied to animals. I started looking into how to make my own dog food, and while making crunchy food was a bit beyond my expertise at the time (and still is, although I am working on some things I will post about once a recipe has been perfected!), I did come up with a simple and low-cost recipe for wet dog food, and Ogum is happier than ever!

Homemade Dogfood

*Please note that portions should be fed according to your dog’s size. See here for more info on why

1 lb chop meat
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup peas
1 cup water + ¼ cup set aside
¼ cup ground flax seed
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in pan wide enough for the chop meat and rice. Sautee the garlic in the olive oil, then add the meat and brown it. Add the peas and water; bring to a boil. Make a paste with the cornstarch by adding it to the extra ¼ cup of water, then mix it into the meat and peas mix until it thickens to your desired consistency. Add more cornstarch paste if you want it thicker. Toss in the ground flaxseed and mix in well. Add the rice last, also mixing it in, then remove from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving, or serve at whatever temperature your pup enjoys.

You can use other vegetables or a mix of vegetables, although I don’t think that that’s really necessary. A lot of people seem to think that dogs need vegetables in their meals like humans due, but this is not the case. They could care less honestly, and I only add something green for the nutritional value. Dogs are carnivores- you can tell just by looking at their teeth. The grains are for easing digestion and acting as a filler so there is more food to have on hand. DO NOT USE WHITE RICE! Too much starch can cause diabetes in a dog, especially small dogs. Brown rice actually helps to prevent diabetes due to its high levels of magnesium. In addition, brown rice contains other nutritional benefits for your animal, although it is not entirely necessary. Holistic vet David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A. of Chaparral Animal Health Center in Colorado, says that, “Dogs thrive on diets made up almost entirely of meat, as long as we feed some organ meat, bones, grains and vegetables.” I add the ground flax for the brain-boosting omegas and olive oil for healthy coat, and garlic for a healthy heart and cholesterol.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! It’s ridiculous that we are expected to buy canned dog food that contains tons of toxins and preservatives and unnecessary fillers when we can easily make it ourselves for often less than the cost of what you’d pay for commercial. If you know what your dog likes and know that it’s good for him/her, then add it to chop meat of any kind along with this recipe. They aren’t too picky when it comes to mixing different foods together (at least I know Ogum isn’t!).

Please note that although garlic is purely beneficial to humans, in large quantities it can be dangerous for dogs to eat. It can cause damage to red blood cells and create anemia in a dog or possibly kill a dog that is already anemic. Given in the proper amount according to weight, it can support cardiovascular health, boost immunity, and enhance live function, to name a few. For example, Ogum is a medium-small breed weighing around 17 pounds last time I checked, so he is fed less than a clove at a time. If you’d rather not even risk your dog’s health when it comes to feeding them garlic, you can simply leave it out of their diet; otherwise, see here for more information on how much garlic to give your pet, and here for more information on other foods you may not have known could be toxic to your pup.

I hope that this post will inspire to try your hand at making your own dog food. Just setting about 30 minutes out of your day once a week to make your companion a healthy meal will prove to be more then worth it when you see the visible difference between homemade and canned. Check back for baked dog treats in the near future!

My handsome boy

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