Tag Archives: Recipes

Just call me Ms. Schweppes

I’m a cook-from-scratch-er.  I would never think to buy pancake mix or one of those frozen vegetables in butter sauce.  No instant oatmeal here.  I make my own marinara sauce. My own lemonade. Cake. Guacamole.

Of course, there are many things that I don’t make from scratch. Here’s a partial list: ketchup, mayo, chicken stock, BBQ sauce, bread, pizza dough.  I am able to make these things (and in fact I’ve made all of them before), but I just don’t.  No desire to.

This week I expanded my repertoire and made something from scratch that I’m really excited about: ginger ale.

I’m a big time ginger ale drinker – I have mild Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When I’m having a flare up of intestinal woes, I open a little can of ginger ale and sip on it. It makes me feel better. It’s mostly psychological, of course, because really it’s just a can of fizzy sugar.

When my stomach was bothering me a few days ago my trusted cans of ginger ale just did not appeal. Too syrupy. Not gingery enough.

I poked around my recipe collection and found this one for homemade ginger ale.  My husband thinks it’s too lemon-y, but I think it’s perfect. Fresh, crisp, gingery. The kids liked it too. And it’s not a scientific assessment, but I do think it did a better job than ginger flavored corn syrup at easing my nausea.

I’m going to freeze a bunch in an ice cube tray so I can always have it on hand.  Poor Canada Dry. Just lost a regular customer.

Ginger Ale* – makes about 8 servings

1/2 cup grated ginger (use a box grater)
4 teaspoons sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Seltzer (I make my own, courtesy of my Soda Stream seltzer maker)

1. Put grated ginger in a bowl and stir in sugar. Set aside for 1 hour.
2. Place a strainer over a cup or bowl. Spoon the ginger/sugar mixture into the strainer and use the back of the spoon to press down on the ginger to extract ginger juice. Discard left over ginger pulp.
3. Stir lemon juice into ginger juice.
4. Stir in brown sugar and dissolve completely.
5. Store the ginger mix in an airtight container in the fridge. When you want a glass, give it a shake and then add about a tablespoon of ginger mix per cup of seltzer, adjusting to your own preference.
6. Use within a few days or freeze for future use.

*I have no idea where I got this recipe. It’s not my own.  If you happen to know where it’s from, please let me know!

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About last night…

I served the fam stuffed baked potatoes for dinner last night and I didn’t know I was stepping into a hot-button issue until I read the paper.  An article in the Wall Street Journal  (“Spuds, on the Verge of Being Expelled, Start a Food Fight in the Cafeteria”) highlights a provision in a proposed USDA regulation which would limit the amount of starchy vegetables (i.e., white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and peas) served as part of the National School Lunch Program to 1 cup per week. The rule is based on Institute of Medicine recommendations noting that kids eat too much starch and not enough other vegetables.  The USDA’s intention is to “encourage students to try new vegetables in place of the familiar starchy ones.”  (See here for the complete language.)

Perhaps because they have a louder lobby than, say, the lima bean folks, potatoes have been the starchy vegetable to make the headlines about this proposed rule. So, let’s talk for a moment about the potato.

A medium potato grows in the ground, not in a factory. It contains about 160 calories, mostly from carbs.  It also provides about 4 grams fiber, 10% of your iron for the day, 28% of your vitamin C, 27% of your B6, 26% of your potassium, good amounts of magnesium and phosphorus, and even a few grams of protein.

Yeah, this sounds like a terrible food. Better serve the kiddos pizza boats instead.

I’ll spare you ALL of my thoughts on this issue, and let’s put aside for a moment the fact that it’s probably the case that too many potatoes served in schools are in the form of French fries.  My problem with this rule is that placing limits on an entire food group feels like ” nutritionism” – the focus on specific nutrients and dietary components of a food to decide whether or not it’s “good” for you or to decide whether or not it fits into a healthy diet. This kind of rule-making leads to the absurd reality that schools can serve processed foods as long as they are specially formulated to meet all of the NSLP requirements. Why would we want make a rule that will in effect limit the consumption of a whole healthy food?

(Perhaps it’s odd for an RD to express anti-nutritionism leanings, but I’m definitely concerned with the way food manufacturers and marketers and uninformed consumers can use this kind of perspective to build a diet full of processed foods.  Attention to nutrients certainly has its place, especially in Medical Nutrition Therapy for certain medical conditions, but for me personally, when selecting manufactured foods I tend to read the ingredients list but not the Nutrition Facts.  But I digress.)

And finally, does anyone honestly believe that by eliminating potatoes and corn it will force kids to try other vegetables? (“Well, there’s no mashed potatoes today so I guess I’ll eat this over-boiled asparagus instead!”) I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.

So about last night: I served stuffed baked potatoes and they were enjoyed by all.

Mushroom, Spinach & Feta Stuffed Potatoes  (adapted from Rachael Ray) – Serves 4 (2 adults, 2 kids)

  • Olive oil
  • 4 baking potatoes (I pick out larger ones for me and the husband, smaller ones for the kids. And I prefer organic.)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 bunches spinach, stems trimmed and leaves chopped.
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • S/P to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the potatoes until cooked through, about 50 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add a little more olive oil to the skillet; add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the spinach to the mushrooms; add the feta and stir until mostly melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cut a deep “X” into the top of each potato and squeeze together to open. Generously stuff each with the spinach mixture.

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The Taco Salad Stratosphere

My husband Josh and I enjoy a good taco salad.  What’s not to like about a meal that’s super easy to make and is what nachos would be if they were a salad?

So, I made a taco salad recently. The kids had heard only part of the menu and were excited for tacos. After they saw no shells, and instead a large bowl of chopped lettuce, they eventually managed to choke back the bitter disappointment and try it out. Nonchalant but praying that they would eat it, I waited for the verdict.

“I will eat 18 bowls of this salad!” declared my 6 year old. Score! “I will not eat this. It is yuck. I want just the lettuce, cheese, and beans,” declared my 3 year old. Fine, I’ll take that.  And my husband… well, he declared (on Twitter to all SEVEN of his followers – @joshmarlow if you’d like to show him some follow-love) that we had reached the “taco salad stratosphere”. It was a bold (and quite ridiculous) statement. It was not untrue.

Here is the now-legendary Taco Salad recipe for you.  It’s not fancy. It’s not for highbrow foodies. It’s not 100% made-from-scratch. It’s not low in sodium. But damn, it was a tasty weeknight crowd pleaser!

Amy’s Taco Salad – Serves 2 adults, 2 children

1. Slice some carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber rounds and serve (with or without a healthy dip) as an appetizer before the meal. This is not a veggie-heavy salad.

2. Chop enough lettuce for the family (I used organic romaine hearts) and put into a large bowl.

3. Make Cilantro Lime vinaigrette: This is a semi-homemade dressing which starts with a packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing (which seems like it could be junky, but it’s actually all-natural and I happen to like the flavor) plus 1/2 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup water, 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice, and 1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro.  Toss the lettuce with a small-ish amount of dressing, to taste. (Don’t skip this. I think that tossing the lettuce in the dressing first was key.)

4. Brown 1/2 pound ground beef or turkey (definitely organic), drain all fat, return to the pan and add 1/2 a packet of Old El Paso Mild taco seasoning (I hate to admit this part – these seasoning packets are full of sodium and preservatives and I should have just made a homemade seasoning but I just didn’t) and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 – 4 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl.

5. Drain and rinse a can of black beans and put into a small serving bowl. I used no-added-sodium Eden Organic beans. (I like that there’s no BPA in the lining of their cans.)

6. Shred about 1/2 cup of cheese into another small serving bowl. I used a delish queso blanco, made nearby in the lovely Hudson Valley by the Amazing Real Live Food Co., procured at my local farmer’s market.

7. Serve the salad make-your-own style with all the aforementioned components on the table, plus salsa (fresh, if possible) and reduced fat sour cream.  We also serve with multigrain tortilla chips on the side.

Superlative-worthy?  You be the judge. Enjoy!

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Snack time

My kindergartener eats lunch at 10:45am so they have snack in the early afternoon.  At the beginning of the year, I foolishly (brazenly!) packed his snack bag with “real food” – not chips or cookies or little fish-shaped cheese crackers. I gave a cheese stick one day, a yogurt another.  Half a sandwich.  An apple. Well, did I get a talking to. “Mommy, I DON’T want ANYTHING from the REFRIGERATOR!” (translation: “I don’t want real food – I want snack food from the pantry instead).

Of course, for the first few weeks I ignored his whines, secure in my RD-mom knowledge. But eventually these nutritious morsels started coming back home in the bag, uneaten, unwanted (and now spoiled after being at room temperature for 10 hours).

So, trying to reach a common ground, and accepting that he has his own opinions, I asked him what he wants for snack. “I dunno,” he said.  Well, what do the other kids eat? “Candy,” I was told.  This can’t be true.  Kids are given candy to get them through the afternoon?  Brilliant. (Actually, for you NY Magazine readers, it’s Despicable-Lowbrow.)

Well, I can’t abide candy for a snack. But I also grew very tired of wasting food and arguing with my son. And so I got kinda lazy. Those fish-shaped crackers are really easy to throw into a baggie each day.  And granola bars aren’t so bad… I mean, I buy the organic ones. And Sun Chips are made with whole grains…and on and on.

And at this point I must let you in on a little secret: this post was going to be about how it’s not a big deal that I give my child processed snack foods every day because I choose the “right” ones and the rest of his diet is really healthy and I’m tired of fighting and I’m not an uptight food nazi, you know.

But as I’m writing this, I have decided that that’s just silly.  These snacks may be “healthy” processed foods, but they’re still too high in sodium, too high in sugar.  I do have these foods in my home and I think in moderation they’re ok.  But, a few hours after snack time at school it’s snack time at his afterschool program, where he is served a lot of junk like Oreos, Doritos, lollypops. (I’m thrilled when I hear he had something relatively wholesome like plain pretzels or Cheerios.) So, suffice it to say, he gets plenty of processed snack foods.  Also, I like to give him ice cream for dessert sometimes or make cookies together or other treats without feeling like he’s already so full of junk that I’m junking him up even further.

And so, as of this week, I’ve decided to fight back, get back to my good nutrition roots.  I made a batch of homemade energy bars with nuts, dried fruit, oats, wheat germ, and a touch of maple syrup (from Ellie Krieger’s cookbook, “The Food You Crave”). I’m making oatmeal applesauce muffins this weekend.  I’m going to make yogurt dip to go with some 100% whole grain tortilla chips and carrot sticks.  I’m going to make him try edamame again. And I’m giving him a cheese stick sometimes, darnit. Occasionally I’m going to throw some little fishies or Fig Newmans in a baggie and send him on his way.  But I’m not going to completely give up again. It’s hard, but gosh if I can’t give this a good effort, how do I advise others with a straight face?

That’s it for now. Go forth and snack healthy…er.

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The Beauty of a Go-To Meal

My birthday arrived this morning at the same time as my son’s stomach bug. A bummer, to say the least.  It got me thinking about the obligations of parenthood, and as they tend to do, my thoughts have turned to food.

Of the many obligations I have as a mom, getting weeknight dinners on the table (and by “dinner” I mean a balanced meal that is nutritious, mostly homemade, affordable, and has at least a 50/50 chance of being consumed by my two kids) is one of my most challenging.

Years ago, I leisurely created elaborate meals for myself (and my husband if he made it home from the office in time) during the week, wine glass in hand, good music on the stereo…   Nowadays, the scene is a tad different.  Sometimes I cook something the night before, bleary-eyed from a long day and racing through a simple (and usually boring) recipe. Sometimes, I cook dinner at 6:30am before leaving for work. And then there are the days when I leave pre-prepped meal components (marinating raw chicken, a cooked vegetable, and raw potatoes, for example) labeled and in the fridge for my nanny to throw together around 5pm before I arrive home from work at 6.

I could ramble on for hours – days, probably – about how I manage to feed my kids well, most nights of the week.  In fact, many future blog posts will be devoted to this very topic.

For today, I just want to share with you my “go-to” meal – the dinner I plan for those weeks when cooking time is painfully limited and creative ideas are few and far between.  It’s nothing magical. It’s not gourmet. It’s… tofu with vegetables over brown rice.

Step 1: Find a vegetable(s)  in your fridge or freezer. (My favorites for this dish include broccoli, baby bok choy, mushrooms, red bell peppers, spinach, cauliflower… really any vegetable works.)  Cook it the fastest easiest way you know how. Steam, saute, microwave… whatever you can manage.

Step 2: Drain a block of firm or extra firm tofu.  Cut into chunks or strips. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (on a lined baking sheet), or quickly saute in canola oil in a pan until lightly brown, or… hold on to your hats… don’t cook it at all and move to step 3.

Step 3: Toss cooked vegetable(s), tofu, and an Asian sauce together.  Truth: I usually use a bottled product – Soy Vay Hoisin Garlic Glaze.  Yes, it’s fairly high in sodium.  Yes, it’s fairly simple to make a homemade Asian sauce.  Yes, I plan to stick to my Soy Vay.

Step 4: Put it all over steamed brown rice and serve.  I use a rice steamer so making the rice is super easy and hands-off.  You can also serve over rice noodles, which take less than 5 minutes to cook in boiling water.

It’s cheap. It’s fairly easy. It’s very fast. It’s rather tasty. It’s ridiculously healthy.  Though I must admit the real reason it’s my go-to dinner: A certain gorgeous blue-eyed 5 year-old boy told me that it’s his favorite.

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