Recipe: Summer Vegetable Skillet with Peanut Sauce

Skillets Are Great Way to Get Good Food Fast

Picture of Summer Skillet

Green Bean and Eggplant Skillet with Peanut Sauce: Super Simple Way to Get Tasty, Healthy Meals on the Table–Fast

An earlier post described a friend’s go-to trick for making tasty, healthy food fast:  melanges.  For me, it’s skillet dishes, hands down.

Why Skillets?  Learn to make one and you can vary it a hundred ways, never have to struggle through a recipe, and almost invariably end up with a darn tasty meal.

The Basic Structure  In our summer meal making series we learned the basic structure for a skillet dish:  Saute some aromatics, add and cook some vegetables, add and cook some protein and/or a starch.  Voila! You have a quick, healthy and tasty one dish meal.

The Key to Skillet Speed:  Minimal Instructions  The recipe below is an easy riff on the basic skillet. You might notice the instructions–or lack thereof! Having to wade through long instructions can keep us from trying a new dish. That’s why, in our classes, we learn basic, building block techniques so you don’t have to wade through long instructions. You can cook from your head, easily and naturally with just a few recipe prompts.

Green Bean and Eggplant Skillet with Peanut Sauce

Saute vegetables in order given:

  • 1 Tbsp. neutral-tasting oil like safflower
  • 1 med. onion (preferably red), diced to ½”
  • 1 med, 5-6” globe eggplant (or roughly equivalent amount of smaller eggplant), diced to ½ to ¾”
  • ½ to 1 lb. green beans, trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal
  • 4-6 large cloves garlic, minced (fresh or prepared), more or less to taste

Stir in, de-glazing pan with liquid.  Simmer until green beans reach desired tenderness, about 10 minutes:

  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth (preferably Shelton’s), more or less for a thinner or thicker skillet dish
  • ¼ to ½ cup San-J Thai Peanut Sauce, to taste.

Serve over cooked brown rice (basmati is especially good.)

Want to Learn to Make Skillet Dishes?

Want to learn how healthy meal making can be easeful and natural? Join one of our upcoming classes.

Need a Dish That’s Even Faster?

Using leftover chicken, bottled peanut sauce and prepared garlic make this dish super fast.  Of course it’s a given that you also have a pot of rice cooked and waiting in the frig for this kind of dish.

Have A Few Minutes for Creative Fun?

Make your own peanut sauce and/or add some finishing touches:

  • Ÿ        Fresh chopped cilantro
  • Ÿ        Lime wedges
  • Ÿ        Coconut milk
  • Ÿ        Chilies flakes or minced jalapeno
  • Ÿ        Chopped peanuts
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Kitchen Tip: Miracles with Baking Soda

I may be the last one to the baking soda party, but I’m solidly there now.  After buying a new box the other day, I happened to notice all the uses listed on the package.  

Baking Soda Miracles

Just for fun, I tried it on the microwave, on some tea-stained pans and even on my beautiful brushed steel dishwasher.

The stuff worked beautifully–easy, pretty shine and nothing that will harm our health or the planet’s health.  And lest I forget–cheap, cheap, cheap (e.g., around $2.00 for a big, 2 lb. box).  Notice how I made a convenient shaker by punching holes in a lid.  

So don’t worry if things get messy in the kitchen from cooking.  That’s just part of making good, health-giving meals.  Cleaning up is easy enough. 

Use Tip:  Shake soda onto a barely damp sponge and just moisten surface to be washed.  Too much water dissolves the soda and it loses its light abrasive abilities.

And Don’t Forget the Bathroom:  Great way to clean glass shower doors as well as sinks and other surfaces. 

Recipe: What the Heck Is a Melange . . .

. . . and What’s It Got to Do with Fast and Healthy Meals?

Lately, my friend Ray has been talking a lot about his “melange.”  You, like me, may be wondering what he’s talking about, so I did some investigative work.

Melange, a French word, means “a mixture, often of incongruous elements.” Pretty perfectly describes Ray’s melange, an odd mixture of everything from yams and cauliflower to green beans and cabbage.

Here’s what Ray has to say about his curious combo and why it’s such a valuable cook’s trick:

My aversion to salad making got me melanging. I like making big batches of food that can last a week, but salad always seemed to be a one-meal-at-a-time thing. Not my forte.

Breakfast Sandwich with Melange

Quickly fortify an easy breakfast sandwich with some finely chopped melange

However, a salad with a veggie melange in the fridge takes literally one minute. Tear up some lettuce, add melange, sprinkle something crunchy on top (e.g., pumpkin seeds), dash on some dressing, and you’re good to go.

As time went on, I started finding other uses for this refrigerator resource. I chop it up finer and add to a sandwich or to an omelet that can go inside a breakfast sandwich.  Sometimes I just eat it straight with a glob of cottage cheese on top (Betsy’s Special).   I like that it takes less than an hour and it’s healthier eating for several days.

So after all that ramble, here’s the “recipe.”  It’s pretty loose, just think in terms of categories.  There are three (root, cruciferous, raw) and a pound of each is a good ratio for a week’s worth of easy, healthy meals:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound root vegetables (yams, rutabagas, parsnips, carrots, beets, etc.) cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1/2 large or 1 small red onion, roughly sliced into strips
  • 1 pound chopped cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) or other veggies of similar cooking time (green beans or asparagus)
  • 1 pound raw vegetables (I stick to grape tomatoes and cucumber, sprouts are great, whatever your pleasure, not too crunchy)
  • 1/4 cup oil and vinegar-type salad dressing (I like balsamic or some kind of gingery-soy, anything but creamy or sweet)
  • Salt, pepper, fresh or dried herbs, spices to taste

DIRECTIONS

Get a big steamer started while you cube the root vegetables. I’m a skin-on guy, your preference.

Put root veggies in to steam then slice and add the red onion.

Chop up the cruciferous veggies and throw them in.

Steam for 10 more minutes and then set steamed veggies aside to cool.

Once cooled, mix in raw veggies and toss with dressing and spices. Refrigerate.  Use creatively.

Happy Melanging!

Mary’s Note:  As winter comes on and it’s bearable to turn on the oven again, consider roasting the root vegetables and onions instead of steaming.

In the News: Sodas Linked to Kidney Stones

Good thing Americans are decreasing their soda consumption.  In addition to a multitude of health benefits, we’ll save ourselves a lot of pain by reducing the risk of developing kidney stones.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest just posted the results of a recent study:

“Drinking more fluids is thought to prevent kidney stones. But that may not apply to sugar-sweetened soda.  Researchers tracked more than 194,000 people for roughly eight years. Those who drank at least one serving of sugar-sweetened cola a day had a 23 percent higher risk of kidney stones than those who drank less than one serving a week.  Likewise, those who drank at least one serving of sugar-sweetened non-cola a day had a 33 percent higher risk than those who drank less than one serving a week.”  Read more

 

In the News: Positive Signs of Progress on the Healthy Eating Front

People Ditch Sodas for Water and Other Encouraging Shifts

Which do you think will come first:  we eat ourselves to death or we bankrupt ourselves with health care costs?  As dismal statistics continue rolling in about the state of our collective health, I find myself toying with that kind of no-win wager.

Take it with you! Better even than 7-11’s advertised water is a reusable container, made without BPA-leaking plastics.

So it inspired great hope to read a recent article about declining soda consumption.  The title alone was filled with hope:  “Is This the End of the Soft Drink Era?” the Wall Street Journal queried in its business section.

About the time of that article, I noticed a big banner at 7-11 advertising none other than water.  You read that right:  Home of the Big Gulp devoting prime outdoor ad space to plain old water.

Due to parent pressure, the Boulder Valley School District just announced that it will serve only hormone- and antibiotic-free beef and chicken

Not long ago, New York and Philadelphia as well as Mississippi and California reported modest declines in childhood obesity rates.

And just this week, the CDC reported the first evidence of a national decline in childhood obesity, based on declines in 18 states among low-income preschoolers.

Sure, the actual data of that CDC report may not quite measure up to the headline hype,  and the bigger health war is far from over, but it doesn’t hurt to celebrate small signs of progress.  In fact, it’s critical since hope is so critical in the quest for good health.  Year after year, dire statistics pile up while attempts to prevent us from a health collision are routinely derided as ineffective, heavy-handed, exorbitantly expensive or all of the above. The inescapable conclusion is that we’re doomed.

But here, finally, is proof that we aren’t consigned to an unalterable fate of poor eating and dismal health.  I attribute this germ of hope to positive people power. We are proving ourselves capable of ignoring predatory marketing messages and making healthier choices.  While I have no expensive scientific study for proof, what besides individuals responding to years of tireless educational efforts can explain the transition away from soda?

Let’s keep turning the numbers around. One by one, day in and day out, better choices mean that ill health and a sick nation are not our unalterable fate.  Join one of our classes; learn how you can make health-giving choices, beginning today!

Consumer Alert:  Nobody makes money on plain old water.  So our choice to drink plain old water is causing big headaches for Big Soda, which makes 60 to 90% of its revenue from soda sales. So we will soon be bombarded with aggressive–actually very aggressive–efforts to reverse our choices for health.

  • Watch Out!  PepsiCo is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing to turn around it soda business.
  • Watch Out!  Coke is launching a new ad series “to counter our concerns about obesity.”  The ads argue that “soda shouldn’t be singled out for weight gain.”  They go on to “encourage Americans to have ‘fun’ burning off calories through activities.”

As clever, cute and funny ads roll across your screen, ask the unasked question: Is it fair or right for companies to ask that we sacrifice our health so they can maintain profit levels for shareholders?  If you have children, be sure to discuss this question with them, too.

 

Data Sources

  1. “Is This the End of the Soft Drink Era?” Mike Esterl, The Wall Street Journal, January 19-20, 2013, p. B1
  2. http://www.thenation.com/article/170485/michelles-moves#
  3. http://www.downeyobesityreport.com/2013/02/mission-accomplished-michelle-obama-style/

Are Microwaves Safe?

They’re everywhere, they’re used everyday, but are they safe?

While general microwave safety has yet to be resolved definitively, there seems to be growing consensus that microwaving in plastic poses dangers.  The problem is that chemicals in some plastics–Phthalates and BPA, for example–can leach into food when cooked or reheated in the microwave.  The potential for leaching with these types of plastics is increased

  • with longer cooking times,
  • with containers that are old, cracked and have been washed hundreds of times (like most of the containers we own!), and
  • when the reheated food is heavy in cream and butter, since fatty foods absorb more harmful chemicals.*

The Immediate Bottom Line  Microwave in glass, not plastic.  While perhaps some plastics don’t contain “leachable” chemicals, it’s difficult to know for sure.  And how do you know if your plastic containers have reached the “old and worn” threshold?  With potential dangers that include hormone imbalances, birth defects and developmental delays for children, why not just avoid the issue and heat in glass?

Don’t Stop, Strategize  The problem, of course, is time.  As always, modern technology presents us with a choice between worrisome health aspects  and time-saving convenience.  Except that it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice.  Instead of stopping and giving up, strategize and discover the multiple options that are out there:

  • I began by simply transferring my leftovers to microwave safe plates or bowls before reheating.  This is a good option for the workplace, too.  Transport your lunch in tight-seal plastic containers, but store a couple dishes at the worksite for reheating (or convince the office manager to invest in a small set for everyone’s use.)
  • Second, I gradually acquired a collection of glass storage containers.  Pyrex and Corningware (on the left) have fairly good rubber seals (remove and cover with a glass plate when reheating.)  They can be found everywhere at very reasonable prices.  Great vintage sets can be found at estate sales.  Crate and Barrel dishes (on the left) are nice enough to use as serving dishes.  All double as handy baking dishes.  Look for square containers to maximize storage space in the frig.

  • Next, when stashing leftovers, I gradually got in the habit of reaching for glass containers.  (It helps that they are located right next to the stove.)  I now use plastic containers only when I need that airtight seal for transporting foods or storing cut vegetables.
  • Finally, addressing the general issue of whether it’s safe to microwave at all, I’m gradually decreasing my reliance on this appliance, reserving it for just those times when I really need it.  Very often, when I make a big dish to enjoy for two meals, I’ll save the leftovers in the same pan and then reheat it in that very pan, as shown below, where I’m heating up greens and beans cooked the previous day to make a breakfast scramble.

The Bigger Issue  No one really knows whether a particular technology is safe.  Basically, we are modern science’s guinea pigs.  From nanoparticles and GMOs to neonicotinoids, irradiation and “natural” flavors made in test tubes, new technological “break-throughs” roll off the line continually.  None are tested for the many years that are required to determine whether small effects add up to big consequences.  Nor are they tested in combination with each other to see how small effects react with small effects from other technological advances.

Rolf Halden, director for the Center for Environmental Security at the Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute puts it this way:

“We don’t know if and how many people die from plastic exposure. . . But we do know that in the developed world we suffer from a lot of diseases–breast cancer, obesity and early onset puberty–that are less prevalent in developing countries.  These are a result of our lifestyle.  From a public health perspective,” he adds, “we should consider heated plastic an unnecessary source of exposure to harmful elements and eliminate it.”

That’s the approach I’m taking for all things related to whiz bang technology–minimize as much as possible.

*  Above information and quote based on “Burning Question:  Is It OK to Heat Food in Plastic?” The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013, p. D4

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