Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DIY Hummingbird and Oriole Nectar

One of the great joys of summertime is birdwatching.  Sweet bird nectar, if you make it, feathered friends will come, providing wonder in your garden. 

Hummingbird and Oriole Nectar
  • Boil 4 parts water.  (I use 2 cups)
  • Mix 1 part ordinary white granulated sugar. (1/2 cup sugar)
  • Stir and allow the mixture to cool.
  • When the nectar is room temperature, fill your clean hummingbird feeder.

You can make your own oriole nectar by following this recipe:
  • Boil 6 parts water.
  • Mix 1 part ordinary white granulated sugar.
  • Stir and allow the mixture to cool.
  • When the nectar is room temperature, fill your clean oriole feeder.  

  • Use only 1 drop of red food coloring, as it is not healthy for hummingbirds or orioles. Interestingly, hummingbirds are attracted to red.
  • Never use honey when making your nectar mix. Honey attracts bees and can grow black fungus that will cause a fatal liver and tongue disease in hummingbirds.
  • Replace the nectar once every three to four days and clean the feeder thoroughly.
  • Unused nectar can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. 

Happy bird watching!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fig and Nectarine Crumble

In Shakespeare's time if you cared less about something, you "didn't give a fig!"  Well, guess what came in my co-op basket?  You got it, a bunch of fresh figs.  They are coming on right now and I've never been a fan.

Growing up in Southern California, my mom nurtured her beautiful, backyard, fig tree, and as kids we did care less about them.  Mom looked forward to ripe, bountiful, figs and so did the racoons!  Mom, an extreme animal lover delighted in watching them wash their figs in the pool and then reporting her happiness in sharing with her hungry creatures, especially the babies.

Figs go quickly, and these were no exception.  I also had some ripe nectarines that needed to be eaten.  My grandmother often made a crumble with stone fruits and they go together so quickly.  I always use 2 pounds of one kind of fruit, or 1 pound of two fruits...1+1=2 right.  This equation works well.

Figs and nectarines pair nicely, so using stevia and almond flour, I made a lower-carb version.  For those who handle carbs well, go for it, use flour and sugar as given in the recipe.

I used Stevia in the Raw and almond flour in my crumbly topping and it works well.  I cut back just a little because to me stevia is just so much sweeter than sugar.  You have to work with it a bit to get what tasted just right for you, and the nutty almond flour is delicious.

For those of us that deal with sugar blues, when serving, go easy, even with the changes.  There's a lot of sugar in fresh fruit.  I topped my crumble with no added sugar ice cream and savored about 3 bites.  My BIL, Fred maintains, "The first bite is always the best," and he's right.  I keep that in mind and see how long I can make my three bites last!

Be sure to buy some fresh figs.  I've laughed about another great memory of mom and the racoons, who did know best...this fig and nectarine crumble was amazing.
Fresh Fig and Nectarine Crumble
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into big chunks ( chilled but not refrigerator hard)
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 lb nectarines, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 lb large firm rip figs, stems trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
  • vanilla ice cream
Add the butter and 1/3 cup of sugar to a large bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat about 3 minutes, or until well combined.  Add in 1 cup of flour and salt; bowl on low speed just until the flour is incorporated; the mixture should be dry and crumbly.  Refrigerate the pastry until ready to use.  Combine the nectarines and figs in a big bowl.  Add in the lime juice; toss to blend.  In a smaller bowl, mix together the 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon.; stir to blend.  Sprinkle the cinnamon, sugar, flour mixture over the fruit.  Gently fold to blend without crushing the fruit.  Spoon the fruit into a lightly buttered 1-1/2 to 2 quarts shallow dish.  Sprinkle the cold pastry crumbs evenly over the fruit.  Bake in 350 F. oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and fruit bubbly.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.  Let cool slightly.  Serve warm with ice cream and lots of love.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Chicken Tacos with Garlicky Mexican Greens

    I joined a food co-op called Bountiful Baskets and picked up my first basket of fruits and veggies last Saturday afternoon.  There's no question, it's a good value, but I wasn't sure if it was the right fit for me.  I received a large bunch of green chard and two butternut squash.  To me, the squash is a "cool Fall food" perfect for soup and mousse during the harvest and to be honest, I'd never prepared chard before.  I also got red grapes, nectarines, bananas, red pears, a melon, carrots, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes, all foods I eat and enjoy often.  Watch for a nectarine specialty coming soon!

    I roasted the two butternut squash for 1 hour at 400 degrees, flesh side down and let them cool.

    I scooped out the squash, mashed and bagged it, freezing it for Fall delights.  It feels great too!

    Next, what should I do with the green chard?  I know it's a Southern tradition, loved by many. Then I remembered a taco recipe, a favorite of chef, Rick Bayless.   I'd seen his tutorial on a TV show.  He first tasted tacos with chard filling at a market stall in Toluca, Mexico, where they are considered to be good old-fashioned peasant food.  I went through my recipe notes and decided to give his chard idea a go!  With the temps at 97 degrees outside, I had roasted chicken breast in the fridge I warmed and salsa left from the 4th.  After all, who doesn't love a rustic, earthy taco that's good for you? 

    Chicken Tacos with Garlicky Mexican Greens was absolutely divine and a new favorite at our house.  I followed Rick's recipe adding tender roasted chicken strips.  Shrimp, fish, beef or pork would be terrific too, or no add-ins at all.  Here's the how to.

    Warm corn tortillas and break up some Mexican Cotija cheese.

    Fry sliced onion about 10 minutes over medium-high heat.  Add minced garlic and warm for about 1 minute and then add greens stirring for about 1 minute and season with salt.

    Pile the chard filling, cheese, roasted chicken (if desired) and salsa onto warm corn tortillas.

    These taco are so different, flavorful and delicious, easy to serve with lots of love.  I'm excited to pick up my basket this coming Saturday, anxious to try, "out of my comfort zone", new to me foods again.  It feels a tad like Food Network's contest, "Chopped!"  I just have to figure out how to use my Bountiful Basket while it is at the peak of freshness and most likely, I won't be chopped around here!

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    9 Tips For Healthier Cooking

    9 Tips for Healthier Cooking

    I'm always looking for ways to cook healthier, especially after a big holiday like the 4th of July! Discover new ways to cut calories and improve nutrition in any recipe by Sarah Haan.

    Photo: © Shutterstock

    Choosing healthy foods is an important part of eating right, but cooking them in a healthful way is another huge part. For example, zucchini can take on two completely different forms when it's quickly sautéed in olive oil versus battered and deep fried. What we add to foods makes all the difference when it comes to home cooking.
    The first step to healthier cooking is to take recipes as suggestions. Before you start chopping and mixing, scan the recipe to see if there are any unnecessary calories. Look for excess cheese, butter and oils, as well as sugars.
    Here are some tasty, healthy ideas to help you become a professional recipe overhauler!

    1. Sauté—the skinny way! A couple of tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth can be used instead of oil or butter in your stir fry or as the basis for a sauce. This method will add a nice flavor to your dish as well as a little moisture—and you'll save calories to use elsewhere. To get a dose of unsaturated fats, serve your broth-sautéed veggies with a side salad, and pour an olive oil-based dressing over the top.
    2. Say no to skin. Three ounces of chicken breast meat with skin has almost 150 calories; three ounces of chicken without the skin has 50 fewer calories. Tasty as it might be, the skin contains mostly heart-unhealthy saturated fat. You can cook with the skin on to retain moisture (add fresh herbs or citrus zest underneath it to really bake in some flavor), but be sure to remove the skin before you enjoy your meal to save on calories and saturated fat.

    3. Squeeze on the citrus. To add a powerful flavor punch with minimal added calories, use citrus on steamed veggies instead of butter or over a salad instead of a dressing. It’s even great on fruit salad in place of sugar and adds some zip when squeezed onto a pasta salad. Don’t forget to use the flavorful zest of citrus fruits as well! Wash a lemon, orange or lime, then use a zester or grater to add the zest to dishes such as baked seafood.

    4. Be choosy about cheese. When using a mildly flavored cheese, such as Monterey Jack, you need more cheese to taste it. But when you choose a cheese with intense flavor, you can use less and still get the desired effect. Try a reduced-sodium feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan next time. Light cheese wedges such as The Laughing Cow brand are useful when you're watching fat and calories, too. Try mixing one of these soft cheeses into your scrambled eggs or noodle dishes instead of loading on the shredded mozzarella.

    5. Go Greek. Tangy, fat-free Greek yogurt is a healthful replacement for sour cream. Try this switch in herbed and spiced dips, tacos, nachos, enchiladas, or throw it in a cooked dish as a thickening agent. You’ll save 45 calories for each 2-tablespoon serving.

    6. Puree your produce. Add body to soups and sauces with pureed vegetables instead of heavy cream, evaporated milk, butter or cheese. This move will also add fiber and nutrients to your dish for very few calories. A puree of carrots will add texture to meatless spaghetti sauce, and mixing a blend of beans into a chili or soup will add flavor and thicken it—all with very few added calories. In this recipe, Chef Meg thickens a taco soup with chickpeas!

    7. Get cozy with cottage cheese. When a recipe calls for a significant amount of a crumbled cheese, such as feta or ricotta, substitute half the amount with reduced-fat cottage cheese. This will retain taste, texture, protein, and calcium while ditching some of the fat and calories. This works well for stuffed peppers and most baked pasta dishes.

    8. Pump up the veggies! You can easily reach the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies when you’re cooking at home. Veggies can compliment any dish on your menu, adding nutrient-packed bulk to the meal for few calories. Add chopped asparagus and mushrooms to your next omelet, red peppers (or a frozen stir fry mix) to baked casseroles, or any kind of beans to a pasta salad. Include fresh or frozen spinach in pasta sauces and soups, and broccoli in your casseroles. The opportunities for adding veggies are endless for almost any dish!

    8. Cut the cream. When making cream-based soups, sub fat-free half-and-half for any heavy cream. The switch gives the soups a creamy taste and velvety texture without all the saturated fat of heavy cream. This works great in pasta sauces as well.

    9. Make your own marinade. Marinate lean meats in vinegar and citrus combos (with a bit of oil added) rather than a pre-made oil-based dressing. You can also try a fruit juice or wine. These agents will still tenderize and flavor the meat, and a mix of herbs and spices will bring out the flavor! (You'll also save sodium by not using the store-bought varieties!) Try cutting the meat in strips before dousing it to really let the marinade take effect.

    As you can see, there are endless ways you can boost the nutrition and reduce the calories of almost any recipe. Get creative and experiment in the kitchen. You may just find that you like these new ways of cooking just as much—or even better!

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Red Velvet Oreo Cookies & Cream Milk Shakes

    We're another year older U*S*A*.... time to shake, rattle and roll!

    I've got a frosty, crunchy, milkshake for you today,  surely worthy of a great celebration....

    but first, along with Uncle Sam, look who's had a birthday.  Our little Sam just turned one!  He's red, white and in blue, all-American through and through.  We tried a photo shoot outside, but the sun was too bright.  He sure was happy though,  such a love.

    For the holiday, we found a pretty place at Lucky Peak Reservoir to ride our pair of Sea-doos.  We've had a ton of fun. We spent Friday and Saturday camping, headed home for Sunday and we'll return to the water this afternoon after a flag-raising ceremony, bike parade and pancake breakfast at our church with wonderful friends, neighbors and our family. 

    After a day in the sun, we all scream for ice cream.  Nothing beats an All-American thick, yummy milkshake around our place.  Grab the sparklers, cause this shake is right up there with bright blasting fireworks!  Red Velvet Oreo Cookies and Cream Milk Shakes evolved quickly.

    My plan was to make a Red Velvet Shake, smooth and rich.  Then grands, (starving and clustered round the blender), were begging that I throw a few crunchy Oreo Cookies in. Grandma's a soft touch.  Low and behold it worked!

    Here's the skinny...

    Red Velvet Oreo Cookies and Cream Milk Shakes
    • 3 giant scoops of good vanilla ice cream
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1 tablespoon cocoa
    • 1/4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar 
    • red food coloring if desired...(I wished I'd used more)
    Add everything to a good blender and whirl until smooth. If you like it crunchy, add 3 Oreo cookies and blend to desired consistency.   Serve with whipped cream and sprinkles and lots of love!

    Have a fabulous fun 4th!