The Freezer: Are You Friends Yet?

Deals and Convenience Await Those Who Make Friends with this Wonder Appliance

I’m always singing the praises of the freezer pantry, and  in September’s newsletter I alerted readers to a frozen fruit and fish buying opportunity.  Apologies in advance for being an “I told you so” person, but I’m now reaping so many benefits from my purchases.  I want you to reap the same benefits, so I’m going to engage in some teasing and tempting now.  Hopefully, a seed will be planted and by fall, you’ll be ready to begin stocking up and experimenting.

Frozen Strawberries

Frozen Fruit is especially wonderful in late winter and spring, since fresh fruit is limited, not that great tasting and/or quite expensive (think peaches, pears and berries flown all the way up from Argentina and Chile.)  Meanwhile, local fruit frozen at the peak of perfection or trucked from Oregon or California in the summer and fall is much better tasting, less environmentally damaging and not nearly as expensive.

Here are just a few of the many, easy, good things you can do with a freezer full of frozen fruits:

Fruit “Candies”

So easy:  Just keep a bag of individually frozen berries handy in the front of the freezer, with a small scoop inside.  Kids love scooping out a few for a treat (and adults are allowed to do the same!).

Breakfast in a Bottle: Good For You Fast Food

Just this morning I visited with a young woman working in her office while drinking a smoothie containing all sorts of good for you ingredients.  Truth be told, I’m not a smoothie person.  I love the melding of flavors that happens with cooking, but the speed and convenience of smoothies makes them a doable healthy breakfast for many people.  And the nutritional benefits and indisputable.  Joseph DiMasi is a local nutrition consultant who can fill you in on that aspect.  In the meantime, give this combo a try:

Kristen’s Vegetable-Fruit Breakfast Smoothie Note:  Amounts are very rough, because that’s the nature (and another benefit) of smoothies.  There are no rigid formulas.  Just get in a good amount of vegetative matter and do the rest to taste.

Base:

  • Kale, stems and all, a couple good handfuls
  • Orange Juice, fresh or from frozen, a cup or two

Mix Ins:

  • Frozen Fruits (berries are especially good), a cup or two
  • Almond (or Peanut) Butter, a tablespoon or two
  • Cinnamon, about 1/2 tsp. *

*Cinnamon is not only a tasty addition, but could be a beneficial one, too.  Some studies have shown that “cinnamon may lower blood sugar by decreasing insulin resistance.”  Other studies indicate that “consuming roughly one half of a teaspoon of cinnamon per day or less leads to dramatic improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides.”

Strawberry SmoothieTraditional Fruit Smoothies

These kinds of smoothie may be more familiar to you.  They are especially nice on warm summer days.  Seasonal eaters know, however, that serious fruit production doesn’t happen until mid-summer in the Colorado area.  So from now until then, use frozen fruits to quench your craving for the cool refreshment.  Follow the format for Kristen’s Smoothies but skip the vegetative matter.  Here are a couple notes and other mix-in suggestions:

  • Juice:  If possible, use whole juices, rather than those made from processed concentrates
  • Fruits:  Just about any kind can be used.  Try different combinations of juices and fruits to find ones you like.  As fresh fruits come in, they can be combined with frozen.
  • Yogurt and Milk:  Add a little protein
  • Low-Sugar, Whole Grain Granola:  Add a little more substance
  • Sweet Spices:  Add flavor without sweeteners, e.g., cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg.

Fruited Juice:  Whole Fruit Substitute

My husband likes a glass of juice and piece of fresh fruit every morning.  As mentioned above, however,  it gets harder and harder to find good tasting fruit as winter wears on into spring.  So we blend whole frozen fruit with his juice, e.g., frozen bluberries and cherries with Big B’s 100% apple juice (i.e., not from concentrate.) *   To save time, we blend up a pitcher-ful  that lasts several days.

*Big B’s is from the western slope of Colorado and can be found at both Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage.

Going to a Potluck?  Frozen Fruit Makes for Easy Entertaining Fare

My friend Susan always brings the best fruit salads to potluck events.  I always wondered how, in between her many pottery classes, she cut all the pieces so nicely?   And how can the blackberries taste so good in mid-winter?  Pre-cut frozen fruit  is the miracle ingredient, of course, a long with Susan’s preparation secrets:  1)  Think ahead  so there’s time to defrost the fruit in the refrigerator.  This way, the fruit stays plump and almost fresh tasting.  2)  Bring a cooler to the grocery store so the fruit doesn’t thaw on the way home.  Fruit that is re-frozen loses texture (but is still fine to use.)

A beautiful bowl of frozen fruits can be gussied up in lots of ways:

  • Nuts:  Chopped pecans are especially good, or my favorite, sliced almonds
  • Sweet Spices:  E.g., Cinnamon and nutmeg
  • Fresh Citrus Juice and Zest:  Orange or lemon brings out flavors nicely
  • Yogurt:  Whole milk varieties have much more body, so it takes very little to provide a nice, non-watery creaminess  without all the added sugars of low-fat yogurts
  • Fresh Fruits:  To bump up the texture, supplement frozen fruits with whatever fruit is in season, e.g., oranges and apples in winter, Mejool dates in spring, strawberries in early summer
  • Dried Fruits:  Used as accents, add a little chewy texture
  • Granola:  Another accent for crunch; sprinkle over salad just before serving so it doesn’t get mushy
  • Sweetener:  If you’re having trouble drumming up enough flavor with the ideas above, you’re likely dealing with fruit that wasn’t flavorful enough to begin with.  Try drizzling with a little agave nectar or warmed honey.  A teaspoon or two of sugar can also be used.

Mary’s Simple Winter Fruit Salad  with Orange and MintFruit Salad

  • 1-2 cups each, frozen blueberries and cherries (or another combo to suit your tastes)
  • 1 apple diced to 1/2″
  • 1/4  to 1/2 cup sliced almonds.

Combine the thawed and diced fruit in a pretty bowl, then sprinkle with 2 to 4 Tbsp. fresh or frozen orange juice and 1 to 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh mint.  Toss gently to coat and again right before serving.

OK, I’ll stop.  But there are so many other ideas.  I’ll share a few more next month, as well as the Mushroom Ragout which I promised.  I made it at home after our hut trip to make sure it tasted as good as when we were starving in the mountains.  It did and it was also good on cod the next day.

Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Spinach in Salad Spinner

Unless it is pre-washed, be sure to clean spinach thoroughly. A salad spinner is perfect for the job because you can spin dry completely, so spinach doesn't become soggy or water down other ingredients.

We’ve been told that bacon is unhealthy,but is it really as bad as they say?  Check out how that question got answered in the previous post, Bad Boy Bacon VS. The Cheese Danish.  Then enjoy the incomparable flavor of (a little) bacon in this dish that’s perfect for spring and autumn, when spinach is in season and winter pears have become, or are still, available.

Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Bacon does all the work of flavoring this dish so you can have a delicious dish that’s easy, too

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed saute pan, cook 2-3 pieces of lean bacon over medium heat.
  2. While it cooks, dice a medium pear roughly into 1/2″ to 3/4″  cubes.
  3. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a paper towel to cool.  Pour off all but about 1 Tbsp. of the fat from cooking bacon, then add pears to pan and saute about 3-4 minutes.
  4. While pears cook, cut stems from a large bunch of spinach, then cut the leaves roughly into 2” squares.  Add spinach to pan and cook just until wilted, stirring gently to combine.  Crumble bacon over the top of cooked spinach and serve immediately with a grind or two of fresh pepper, if desired.

Bad Boy Bacon VS. The Cheese Danish

What a way to stir up controversy, angst and anxiety:  At a health fair last week, we demonstrated Spinach Sauteed with Pears and Bacon.  Yes, you read that right.  We made a dish featuring none other than bad boy bacon.  Not turkey bacon, not a vegetarian imitation, not a special lean variety, just good old pure bacon.

As the smell of frying bacon wafted through the exhibit area, people started drifting our way, sheepishly yielding to the scent of a food at once reviled and adored.  Arriving at our booth, their bacon stories and angst poured forth.  It was an interesting window into the conflict and confusion that permeates our food and health thinking.  As we’ve all been taught, bacon is supposed to be a clear cut bad boy, and yet . . .

  • I used bacon grown on a small family farm where the pigs are not confined to live in their own excrement, are fed a wholesome diet and aren’t pumped with growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • The bacon had only four ingredients:  pork, salt, spices and sugar (and the sugar and salt were nominal, just enough to accomplish the curing process.)
  • I combined the bacon with two other pure, whole, real foods (pears and spinach) for a dish rich in nutritional benefits.
  • The bacon was so lean it barely rendered enough fat to saute the pears and spinach, plus I used only 3 ounces of bacon to generously serve four people so each full serving contained only 3/4 of an ounce.)
  • Because the bacon was so flavorful, no fancy preparations or ingredients were needed for great taste, i. e., this is a vegetable dish anyone could make on a weeknight
  • And because the bacon tasted so good, the whole dish was irresistibly good, meaning that vegetable eating became a delightful experience and getting us exactly where we want to be: eating lots of vegetables and fruits because they taste so good.

Far from being a nutritional disaster, then, this scenario represents a nutritional success!

The moral of this story: real, whole foods were never and are not now the source of our nutritional problems.  Manufactured and adulterated foods are the problem.  And at the health fair, there was a perfect example of manufactured, adulterated food in the central exhibit area.  There, as official foods of the fair, were grapes, orange segments–and trays of cheese Danishes that were being eaten without any conflict or angst.  In fact, some visitors to our booth were munching a cheese Danish as they debated whether to partake of our bacon.

Did those pastries really deserve an honored position at the fair?  Did they deserve to be eaten without at least a little angst?  Take a look at the ingredient listing for a typical Danish:*

Enriched flour (wheat flour [translation: refined white flour], malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), folic acid), water, vegetable margarine [palm oil, water, soybean oil, salt, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, annatto (color), calcium disodium EDTA (preservative), Vitamin A Palmitate], sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, coconut, corn syrup, palm oil, raspberry puree concentrate, yeast, egg yolk, whey (milk) wheat starch, soy flour, mono- and diglycerides, modified cornstarch, raspberries, salt, tapioca dextrin, soybean oil, natural and artificial flavor, orange juice concentrate, soy lecithin, pectin, sodium stearoyl lactylate, corn flour, maltodextrin, citric acid, gellan gum, calcium sulfate, potassium sorbate (preservative), calcium carbonate, xanthan gum, black currant juice, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, malic acid, nut paste, sodium citrate, cellulose gum, agar, sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, egg whites, cornstarch, calcium citrate, artificial color, caramel color, sorbitan monostearate, glycerol monooleate, spice and color, azodicarbonamide, sulfiting agents (preservative)

Seriously?  We’re supposed to eat things that contain stuff like this?  They’re just manufactured products, like crayons, Play Doh, and craft glue.  No one would suggest that you eat those things.  So why eat manufactured products just because they are made with food grade commodities and shaped and colored to look like a food?

  • Food grade commodity wheat is processed, refined and adulterated just like the filler material for Play Doh.  The wheat is stripped of its natural nutrients, leaving a lifeless calorie material which is then sprayed with artificially created nutrients.  Like Play Doh, the rich yellow color in Danish dough comes as more from artificial color than egg yolks.
  • Like red crayons, the “raspberry” filling is mostly just industrially processed corn syrup colored with fruit juice concentrate and food dye.  There’s maybe a thimbleful of real raspberries in the entire Danish.
  • The snow white frosting drizzled artfully over the top is just white sugar in another form.  Maybe it is less harmful than white glue, but it is no better for the body nutritionally.

This sounds so radical.  Can it really be that all our yummy, supposedly healthy breakfast pastries aren’t really that good?  Could it really be better to simply eat one or two real eggs, an ounce of pure bacon plus vegetables and fruit?  Try and see for yourself!   I’ve gravitated toward vegetable and protein breakfasts followed by a mid-morning, whole grain granola snack.  I feel much better.  Get easy ideas from my Tweets and remember this “radical” takeaway:

Healthful eating for wellness is a lot easier than you think:  Eat just real, whole foods.  Ditch the boxes unless they contain products made with only real, whole foods.  Easy.

Next Time:  But cheese Danishes taste so good!  How do I resist?

Mexican Food, Healthy Style

8 Ways to “Healthi-fy” Mexican Favorites

Mexican Tacos with Red Peppers

Mexican food doesn't have to be a nutritional disaster! In fact, the building blocks for most Mexican dishes are perfectly healthful. And with a few easy modifications, Mexican recipes can be a great part of a wholesome diet.

Recently I’ve had a couple people ask if there’s a way to make Mexican food healthy.  Of course there is.  To the extent we think of Mexican food as unhealthy, it is generally the Americanized version that is a problem, not the cuisine in its simplest form.  In fact, as a general rule, most cuisines in their original form are perfectly healthful, relying as they do on real, fresh, seasonal foods and quantities moderated by natural food supply constraints.

Think about the foundations of Mexican food:*  beans, corn, beef, chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and so on.  There is nothing wrong with these foods in and of themselves.  Problems only arise when they are not used in balance, with variety,  in their real form, and in decent portion sizes, e.g.,  nachos drowned in melted cheese product, burritos made from white flour tortillas that are big enough to feed three, refried beans made with lard and smothered in cheese,  vegetables limited to a dab of shredded lettuce and a couple pale tomato slices.

Happily, these weaknesses are easily remedied:

  1. Pump Up the Vegetable Color Standard Mexican fare can be pretty beige, for no good reason.  There are a lot of vegetables that pair well with Mexican flavors.  Familiar partners are spinach, avocado, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, onion and sweet bell peppers (green, red, yellow, etc.).  But it’s also ok to fusion in some new color, like eggplant, asparagus, winter squash, chard, broccoli, carrots and green beans.
  2. Sub Green for White Speaking of vegetable color, don’t even bother topping tacos and burritos with all-but-white iceberg.  Instead, pile on verdant green and red leaf, Romaine or Bibb lettuce and reap the nutritional benefits.
  3. Add Sparkling Sides There’s no rule that says Mexican food can’t be accompanied by vegetable sides.  Crunchy raw vegetables go  especially well with the soft textures of many Mexican foods–and can help moderate how much of the heavier fare we eat.
  4. Use Whole Rather Than Half Grains White rice and white flour and refined corn tortillas are a bad deals, providing the starchy calorie half of a grain, but only a miserly few of its astounding array of vitamins and minerals.  It takes nothing to substitute whole grain tortillas and brown rice–and the folks at your table will barely notice!
  5. Meats Simple.  Use leaner types of protein ( e.g., chicken, fish, low-fat tofu) or drain excess grease from cooked meat before incorporating into your dish.  Also, consider pasture-raised meats for a leaner, and usually more sustainably grown option.
  6. Non-Meat Options Beans are a natural fit for Mexican food, but not just the refried variety.  Whole beans–white, red, aduki, lentils and black–are highly nutritious and tasty, low fat additions.  Substitute them entirely for meat and see how easy it is to have a Meatless Monday for the environment.  P.S. Low fat beans are a perfectly fine substitute for the full-fat variety.
  7. Cheese “Lighten up” is the word here.  Mexican flavors are delicious–but you’ll never experience them when a dish is swimming in melted cheese.  Gradually begin to reduce the cheese load in your dishes and your taste buds will be grateful for the opportunity to really taste the Mexican flavor palette.   Grate cheese on the fine holes of your box grater to make smaller amount spread further.
  8. Sauces Most salsas are pretty decent, but watch out for added sugars (no need for them) and excess salt.  Other prepared sauces (e.g. enchilada, taco seasoning mixes, green chili) often require more caution as they are frequently carriers for artificial colorings, preservatives and flavorings.

Think there’s no way you could like Mexican food healthy style?  I would have had the same concern when I first started eating for wellness.  so I can say with assurance:  Don’t worry, your taste buds will adapt if changes are made gradually.  You might well discover, as I did, that you prefer the truer taste and lighter feeling that comes from eating Mexican food unburdened by all its Americanized traits.

Want to learn more about making your favorite foods in a healthy way?  Join Mary Collette in one of her many Whole Kitchen Meal Making Classes.

* This refers to that narrow category of the cuisine that we Americans call “Mexican food;” the cuisine is actually far more diverse.

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