Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parsnip Pasta with Bacon, Kale and Mushrooms

It’s an interesting idea to stop using food for comfort, but I’d much rather find or create healthy food that soothes my soul. Still recovering from being sick with the flu last week and now realizing I have a cold, it’s tempting to just toss healthy habits out in favor of treating myself.

After work and a gym workout, I would have loved to get a drink and relax. Given it’s only mid-week, I’m feeling the pressure of work deadlines, and I’m physically mending, I chose to make a comforting dinner. Yay me for being boring and making good decisions! Let’s hear it for maturity!

Parsnip Pasta fit the bill. I still love my spiralizer which will make noodles out of anything. (See my post on the spiralizer here.)  Parsnips hold up well when cooked and don’t get mushy so quickly like zucchini. The recipe below makes 1-2 servings depending on how hungry you are. I’d had a big lunch, so I only ate half and saved the rest for leftovers.

I also tried serving the noodles under the rest of the pasta sauce and found the parsnips a bit starchy on their own. As shown in the last photo I tossed it all together before eating. It's not as pretty, but it tasted better!

Kale, bacon and mushrooms cut and ready to cook
Parsnip Pasta with Bacon, Kale and Mushrooms, not tossed
Parsnip Pasta with Bacon, Kale and Mushrooms, tossed

Parsnip Pasta
1 medium Parsnip, noodle cut (6 oz)
¼ cup water
4 slices cooked bacon, diced (2.25 oz)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (3.5 oz)
1 cup kale, cut thin (2.5 oz)
1 Tbsp bacon fat or other fat that will withstand high heat
1 Tbsp Seasoning (mix of oregano, thyme, marjoram)
Salt to taste

Spiralize the parsnip, put it in a microwave safe glass dish with ¼ cup water, and microwave 2 ½ minutes. Rinse, set aside, and drain any excess liquid prior to using later.

Bring a skillet, I used cast iron, to medium-high heat and add the bacon fat. Add the mushrooms, bacon and kale to the skillet. Sauté three minutes or until the kale is sufficiently wilted and cooked through. Add the seasoning mix and drained parsnip noodles to the pan. Toss and add salt to your preference. Serve and smile.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Feeding The Baked Goods Hankering And Coconut Varieties 101

Searching Pinterest for recipes using the term “AIP”, I learned “AIP” not only refers to Autoimmune Protocol but also to Aging In Place. Both are of interest to me, but I focused on AIP recipes this time. After pinning many new recipes (and spending way longer on the computer than planned) I chose a recipe by A Girl Worth Saving for Pumpkin Spice Thumbprint Cookies. The short list of ingredients consisting almost entirely of whole foods intrigued me.

The only changes I made to the recipe were to add a pinch of salt to the batter and substitute a Bosc pear for the green apple in the frosting. I’m avoiding apples, and according to Wikipedia Bosc pears are the "aristocrat of pears". Fancy!

Overall, these little nuggets are made of coconut, pumpkin, banana, pear and flavoring. They were good and definitely met my craving for baked goods. Next time I may add a little maple syrup to the batter to sweeten them a little and change the ratio of banana to pumpkin to increase the pumpkin flavor. Given the cookies are truffle sized and have the texture of frosted cupcakes, I’ll likely refer to them as truffle-sized cupcakes in the future. All in all, the recipe is a keeper!
Pumpkin Spice Thumbprint Cookies,
aka Truffle Sized Cupcakes
While going through my pantry, I realized I had quite a few versions of coconut! Coconut is handy since it’s slightly sweet and can morph to suit baking needs. It’s also paleo friendly and higher in fiber than a lot of other flours. The various terms for coconut products confused me at first when I ventured into new AIP recipes. To hopefully save others time of uncertainty or confusion, here’s my quick guide to a few coconut ingredients, aka Coconut 101:
Left Side Top To Bottom:
Coconut Manna Jar, At Room Temp, and Melted
Right Side Top to Bottom:
Coconut Oil, At Room Temp, and Melted
Coconut oil and coconut butter are very different. Given they’re expensive and baking takes a lot of time, I’d hate to see anyone confuse the two. Coconut Oil on the right side of the photo above is white at room temperature and melts to a clear liquid. Coconut butter is also called coconut manna and resembles a chalky crumble at room temperature. It reminds me of the texture of the filling in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Melted 20 seconds in a microwave, coconut butter becomes creamy and light yellow in color.

Coconut Chips are a snack food made of coconut, sugar and salt. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s, and they’re sweet and crunchy with a buttery flavor. This flaked coconut is unsweetened and cut to a larger texture than the finely shredded coconut most of us are used to using in recipes. You can also buy sweetened flaked and shredded coconut, but I prefer to regulate my sweeteners in recipes. Lastly, the photo shows coconut flour which may also be called dried-ground coconut meat or unsweetened coconut flour. I've heard a recommendation to get the darker colored coconut flour if possible because the whiter flour undergoes additional processing.

Clockwise from top left:
Coconut Chips, Flaked Coconut,
Shredded Coconut, and Coconut Flour
Coconut cream and coconut milk are also super handy ingredients for baking, smoothies and ice cream. I’ll leave them for another day.  

Happy baking and eating!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thoughts & Tips on Cooking

Learning to cook at an early age
I owe my mom a huge debt of gratitude for teaching me to cook at a young age with a sense of adventure.  I’m comfortable cooking without a recipe and rarely have an inedible outcome – maybe twice in twenty years?  My sisters and I always helped when my mom made meals, and she was terrific at delegating age appropriate tasks to the three of us.

I have memories of making French toast at the age of seven.  It was a favorite of mine, and learning to make it allowed me to have it whenever I wanted.  My sisters and I made large breakfasts as a regular weekend morning routine at a young age.  We were curious about foods and would attempt recipes for fun.  My mom was on hand to answer questions but she didn't hover, and she allowed us a lot of autonomy in the kitchen. 

When I was ten my mom bought a fabulous International cookbook.  I think it was by Betty Crocker, and it opened a whole new world of cooking to us.  Our family cooking experience making won tons was a hit even though we tripled the batch when the amount of filling in the recipe didn't seem like enough.  We had won tons out our ears!  From that book we made so many dishes that were exotic and new to us.  Foods that are commonplace and available in most towns now, we had never experienced.  We trusted the photos, followed the recipes, and traveled the globe with our taste buds.

Cooking is a creative and artistic endeavor for me.  In my adult life I've gone through phases of experimenting and mastering (at a nonprofessional level) making chocolate truffles, specialty cakes, pies, soups, and breads. I love purchasing what looks fresh and delicious at a market and then deciding what to do with it when I get home. 

This background has developed my skills and confidence in creating meal options with a limited diet.  I see many online posts by people that are fearful they won’t know what to eat if they have food limitations. Knowing how to cook, use kitchen tools and experiment with food makes limitations an adventure I can embrace, not fear.   Thanks, Mom!

In support of multitasking
Doing more than one thing at a time is usually very inefficient, but for me cooking is the exception to the rule.  Tonight I made my dinner and all of tomorrow’s meals in 30 minutes.  With fresh ingredients, baked sweet potato, and ground turkey with onion and garlic leftover from batch cooking a couple days ago, I made food that I like, is healthy for me and can be eaten immediately or within minutes tomorrow.  The meals are:
Dinner tonight: Seasoned halibut with sautéed zucchini and sweet potato
Breakfast: Salmon and a green smoothie
Lunch: Halibut and a green smoothie
Dinner: Ground turkey, zucchini and sweet potato
Snacks (not pictured): Carrot sticks, fresh fruit and water

It saves a huge amount of time in the morning when I’m having trouble getting going to be able to avoid deciding what to eat, making it and cleaning the kitchen.  It also front loads tasks that I want to do but may not have the energy for later.  Certainly putting less effort in and getting more out conserves my energy for other fun tasks.

The details:  I put the salmon and halibut in the same pan to cook while I washed and cut up the zucchini and smoothie fruits and vegetables.  Once the fish was done, I removed it and added the zucchini to the same pan.  While the veggies cooked I assembled the turkey and sweet potato meal.  I blended the green smoothies and poured them into glasses.  By then the zucchini was half done and ready to add some to the turkey dish for reheating tomorrow.  I added the cooked sweet potato to remaining half of the zucchini in the pan to heat up.  A couple minutes later all was done and ready to serve.  Total time from start to finish was 28 minutes!

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  If you remember only one thing from this blog, I bet it’s this.  Simon and Garfunkel taught me how to remember seasoning poultry with their song, “Scarborough Fair / Canticle.” Sing along with me:
Are you going to Scarborough Fair:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine…
Every time I season poultry, I mentally sing the chorus to this song.  It’s relaxing and a bit meditative.  And this mix is delicious on any savory dish, not just poultry.

Always make extra:
Leftovers are king.  And a lot of meals taste better the next day, cold or hot.

Cutting up vegetables and putting half in a saute pan for dinner and the other half in a lidded dish for tomorrow’s salad takes half the time of making each meal separately.  And you only have to clean dishes once!

Knife skills
Taking a knife skills class was one of the best experiences I've undertaken to improve my cooking skills.  I took the class with a friend a few years ago at a cooking store at University Village in Seattle.  The instructor taught us all about quality knives, what type of knife to use for cutting different foods, cutting boards, how to properly use a knife and push food to the cutting knife, and different cutting methods for all types of vegetables.  If I haven’t lost you or bored you yet, great! 

Here’s the sales pitch:  Food tastes and looks better or worse depending on how you cut it.  A stew with huge hunks of vegetables and meat doesn't taste as good to me as one with smaller vegetables and meat that allow more than one item in a soup on your spoon.  A chiffonade of lettuce tastes better on a taco.  Vegetables with differing textures and sizes can cook in the same pan and finish at the same time, saving pans and cleaning time. And learning to use a knife well saves money on specialty kitchen gadgets, NOT that I’m opposed to kitchen gadgets.  See my post on My Latest Kitchen Love…