two-ingredient strawberry “sorbet”

24 May

Ready for something cool, easy, cheap, and fairly healthy to kick off the summer? Well, here you go.

I thought I was going to make a smoothie for the kids, but then I discovered the easy way to strawberry sorbet! This is not super-sweet, but it’s sweet enough to be dessert for sure.

* frozen strawberries (I’d estimate I used about three and a half cups, still frozen)
* 2 6-oz cups vanilla yogurt

Combine the strawberries and yogurt in the bowl of your food processor. If necessary, let the strawberries soften slightly (10 minutes or less) to make it easier to blend them. Blend until smooth and enjoy!

My kids also enjoyed the leftovers the next day; I let the sorbet thaw and it did, indeed, make a tasty cold drink. It was nice and thick like a strawberry smoothie.

four cold drink ideas

16 May

I don’t know about you, but when it starts to get hot, sodas and fancy iced coffee drinks start sounding almost irresistibly appealing.

Here are a few ideas that might satisfy your wish for something cold and refreshing without adding a bunch of sugar to your day.

1. Iced tea. Tried and true, iced tea is one of the most satisfying cold drinks in the world. I have never liked sweet tea, so that wasn’t an adjustment for me, but if you like yours sweet, you can start by reducing the proportion of sugar to half or three-quarters of what you usually use. Cut it back gradually until you’re drinking it straight (or with a modest dose of sweetener). I use decaf tea because I drink gallons of it, but if you’re only having a glass or two, it probably doesn’t matter much whether you drink the caffeinated version or not.

2. Iced herbal tea. If you don’t like ordinary tea–or if you want a change of pace–there are countless herbal teas that make excellent cold drinks. Mint is my favorite (I like the Wegmans house brand of peppermint tea or the Bigelow Plantation Mint Tea
kind), but just go to your grocery store and take a look. If you like it fruity, try a citrus variety; if spicy is more your thing, try the mint or a chai variety. If it’s just straight-up herbal tea, it won’t contain sugar or other additives.

Be careful about pre-mixed tea concentrates, though, like the Tazo chai–those are loaded with sugars. Oregon Chai does make a Slightly Sweet
variety that I love; it has substantially less sugar than most, but it’s still something to consume in moderation.

3. Iced coffee. If you make your own, this can be relatively healthful. Try this (especially if you don’t need your drinks very sweet): cold-brew a strong cup of coffee. Pour it over ice; add an equal amount of milk; and drizzle in a bit of chocolate syrup. Don’t forget to figure in that chocolate syrup with your day’s eating plans–but it doesn’t take much. I use the regular Hershey’s syrup and put in about half of a serving, but you could also use a sugar-free variety or a sugar-free flavored syrup of some other kind (like Torani).

4. Gin and tonic. If you’re in the mood for something refreshing and boozy, diet tonic water + gin + the juice of half a lime is a great summer drink, and lower in calories/carbohydrates than a lot of mixed drinks. A single glass of wine is also a reasonable choice. For me, the gin and tonic also satisfies my love for bubbly drinks without resorting to soda.

recipe: super-lazy coconut-lime curry chicken

24 Mar

This is almost laughable, as recipes go: four indispensable ingredients and a few optional ones. But I make it pretty often, and my family likes it. This Thai-inspired dish is very quick and easy, which makes it a good choice when I leave dinner to the last minute. It also goes well in the slow cooker, and most of the ingredients are things that I usually have on hand.

It is most delicious if you use all of the ingredients, but I don’t scorn it if I don’t have everything. And no, I don’t know why it’s called a curry–it hasn’t got any of the spices in it that I associate with curry.

* chicken (I usually use two boneless, skinless breasts or a package of chicken thighs–bone-in is even more delicious)
* one onion, diced
* two or three cloves of minced or pressed garlic
* 2 cans of coconut milk (I recommend Trader Joe’s light coconut milk, which has a great flavor and is fairly healthy)
* juice from two limes, or the equivalent in bottled lime juice if you must
* a few shakes of fish sauce
* the zest from your limes

garnishes (use any or all):
* sliced hot peppers (I like Serrano, but any kind works)
* chopped cilantro
* chopped green onions
* chopped peanuts

You can make do with just chicken, onion, coconut milk, and lime, if that’s all you’ve got on hand. It’s not terribly interesting that way, but it’s still tasty and sort of comfort food-y.

Spray a heavy pot with cooking spray and cook the onions and chicken in it. If you’re using boneless, skinless chicken, you may want to dice that, too–it’ll cook more quickly and evenly. When it’s almost done, add the garlic.

When the chicken is cooked through, pour in the remaining ingredients (except garnishes) and cook until hot.

Serve over rice or some other delicious whole grain and top with garnishes.

If you would rather have soup, just add a few cups of chicken broth and ditch the rice. Voila–soup.

If you are in more of a seafood sort of mood, this is also good with shrimp instead of chicken.

If you want to put it in the slow cooker, just toss everything in together (except the garnishes) and cook until the chicken is completely cooked (in my slow cooker that’s about 4 hours on high, but yours may vary). If the chicken is frozen, your slow cooker can handle it–just add some cooking time.

recipe: homemade applesauce

22 Feb

One of the most satisfying snacks–or desserts–is a bowl of warm homemade applesauce. I’m not a fan of regular applesauce (you know, the kind that’s thin and very regular in its texture?). But I like a chunky, very cinnamon-heavy warm applesauce.

This is a very easy recipe, and if you have any canning know-how, you can preserve this and stick it in the pantry. My kids eat lots of applesauce, and I like knowing what’s in it. If you make a smaller batch, just keep it in the refrigerator. (Actually, there’s also no reason you couldn’t freeze it.)

If you want to make a large batch to can or freeze, buy a half-bushel of apples. Otherwise, use as many as you think you’ll eat in a few days–a few pounds is enough for a small batch. Obviously, you’ll get the best apples and prices in the fall, but I’m making this today so I thought I’d post it.

As for the best kinds of apple for this dish, it’s up to you. A tart apple will produce a tart sauce, unless you add sugar/honey; I like to mix in at least some sweeter apples instead of adding sugar. My favorites for sauce are Jonagolds, Romes, Galas, and Cortlands. Mix together whatever kinds you like! My only observation here is that Granny Smith, which I like for eating raw, is too tart for many people’s taste in applesauce.

Apples (as many as you want)
Cinnamon (as much as you want)

Peel, core, and chop the apples. I don’t get too carried away with this–even quartering the apples is really enough.

Put the apples in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until the apples are soft enough to mash with a potato masher. Mash them until they reach the texture you like. If you like very smooth sauce, you could use a blender or food processor to puree them instead, but be careful pureeing hot food.

Add cinnamon to taste. I really like cinnamon, so I use a lot, but it’s entirely a matter of preference. If you do want to add some sugar or honey, this is the time; I find that it isn’t necessary at all.

If you want to can the applesauce, fill your canning jars and process them in a hot-water bath. My canning book recommends 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts, but I suggest that you consult the most recent recommendations to assure best food safety.

This sauce also makes an excellent filling for apple turnovers, if you’re feeling decadent. If you cooked slices of apple and didn’t mash them, you could use this process to make pie filling that would be a lot less sugary than most recipes.

recipe link: vietnamese sweet potatoes with beef

8 Feb

This, my friends, is officially the most delicious dish I made in 2011. It’s from the Food Matters Cookbook, and it’s fantastic.

I have to warn you, though, that when I made it (all four or five times!) it looked–well–not like the photo.

It looks like orange glop.

But trust me. Try it. It is soothing and satisfying without being boring–comfort food, but with an exotic spin.

The only change I made was to cut the oil back to one tablespoon. I used olive oil, as I generally do, because that’s what’s next to the stove, and it was plenty. I worry with stir-fries that olive oil will burn; that might happen if your stove gets really hot, so use your judgement and pick something with a higher smoking point if you have a really hot range instead of a sissy stove like mine.

I am loving this cookbook more and more, by the way, and I recommend it. This recipe is typical: lots of vegetables, a smaller proportion of meat, and enough interesting spices to make the result into something more than you expected. (The braised chard with chicken and steel-cut oats turns out to be the only thing I’ve ever cooked that somehow fulfills the void left in my life when I stopped cooking chicken breasts in cream of chicken soup from a can, over rice. I have no idea why, but the sauce reminds me of that, in the best possible way.)

recipe: roasted chickpeas

26 Jan

Okay, stay with me here: these are really good. Seriously. I saw recipes for these all over the place, but I don’t actually like chickpeas. (I like hummus and falafel, but just chickpeas themselves? Nah.)

When you roast them, though, they get crunchy and delicious. It’s quick, it’s easy; it’s high-protein; it’s easy to take along for portable snacks or lunches.

This is more of a method than a recipe. Use whatever spices you like. I’ll list a few of my favorite spice variations at the end.

* canned chickpeas (you could also cook your own dried ones; I just don’t usually plan ahead that far)
* a drizzle of olive oil
* spices of choice (see below)

Rinse the chickpeas well in a colander, until bubbles are gone (you’ll see some bubbles when you start rinsing). I don’t bother to remove the chickpea skins, though I have read that you should; they get crispy and delicious, too, in this setting.

Toss chickpeas with olive oil in a baking dish. I like to use a glass one.

Add your spices and stir. Bake in 450-degree oven until the chickpeas are brown and toasty. Make sure you really let them brown; they are not nearly as good if they’re not crunchy!

Spice Suggestions:
* garlic: add two or three cloves minced or crushed garlic and some ground pepper.
* lemon-pepper: sprinkle with lemon-pepper seasoning.
* Chesapeake: sprinkle with Old Bay or other Chesapeake-style crab seasoning.
* Indian: sprinkle with curry powder, cumin, and/or garam masala.
* Mexican: sprinkle with cumin and chili powder (for a smokier kick, use chipotle powder).

reflections on the New Year

22 Jan

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions.* Some even keep them. But I like to think of the New Year as a good time to assess things: what is going well? What changes would I like to make? What kinds of things do I hope for the next year?

In terms of your health, this is a good time to start asking those questions, because you’re past the crush of the holidays; many of us have a slower-paced lifestyle through January and February, which you might be able to use to take stock of your lifestyle and your health.

In case you are interested in evaluating your own health as the new year begins, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:

1. Am I happy with my progress toward controlling PCOS and any other health problems? (This really is about progress, by the way, not perfection. PCOS isn’t something that goes away, but you can think of your life choices as management choices. Are you happy with those habits and decisions?)

2. Do I have a doctor I trust? This is important, because many of us feel trapped by insurance or convenience or whatever, so we don’t feel that it’s feasible to look for a doctor who has more expertise or whose approach more closely reflects our own. But your doctor is important, and if you don’t have at least one good doctor in your corner, maybe your project for 2012 could be looking for one.

3. Do I have a specific health goal? For a lot of PCOS ladies, that goal is conceiving a baby (or at least maintaining the health habits that would be most likely to lead to conception). But if that doesn’t apply to you, you might still benefit from thinking about a concrete goal. My goal for 2012, for example, is to establish (or, more accurately, re-establish and solidify) a habit of exercising five days a week. I have done well at this in the past, but it is the first thing to go when my schedule becomes hectic, so my goal is to maintain that habit even when time is tight.

4. How do I feel? This is a hard question sometimes. How DO you feel? Are you tired or energetic? Are you feeling burned out, or have the holidays left you refreshed and ready for a new year? If you are feeling tired and depleted (or if you are suffering from a specific health problem that’s bothering you), then maybe self-care needs to be at the top of your 2012 list of priorities.

These questions are general, and that’s intentional. You will need to think about your own experiences here and figure out what’s most important to you. If you ARE trying to conceive a baby, for example, you might want to make a specific commitment to keeping a full and accurate chart (try to help you track your cycles and judge how well your PCOS management regimen is working.

In a lot of ways, specific resolutions can be difficult, because they seem like rules. This time of year is a natural time to evaluate, though: things move more slowly, and you’re waiting for spring to appear and give you a new sense of vitality, right? Well, be ready for it. Take some time to take stock of what you want out of 2012.

* One of my 2012 resolutions is to keep up this blog. Last year was rough, but I finished my Ph.D.–and now I have more time and more mental space, so 2012 is the year!