Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday's Food for Thought

Use Fewer Cans and Cook Your Own Beans!




Let's face it, you've undoubtedly heard about the worries over BPA.  While the effects of this endocrine disrupter are still up for debate, I am trying to minimize my family's exposure to it.  One of the common items where BPA is found is in the lining of canned goods.  If you buy only organic canned goods, you may still be exposing your family to this chemical.  The organic certification is related to the food item itself, not the packaging.  

As a vegetarian, I find myself using beans often in my diet as a lean source of protein, fiber, and iron.  They are most often, unfortunately, found in cans.  Because of this issue, I have decided to buy dried beans in bulk and cook them at home.  It is really very easy - about as easy as opening a can!




All you need is a crock pot and time!  That's the hardest part - remembering the night before you need them.  Simply take the dried beans and rinse them under cold water.  


Then you place them in your crock pot and fill it with water.  You will need more than you think as the beans will double in size and you want them completely submerged the entire time they cook.  My 1.5 quart crock pot will easily cook 1 C dried beans with the water filled to the very top.   Plug it in and let it cook overnight (about 8 hours).  


The next morning, they will look like the above picture.  Just drain them and you are ready to go!  An added bonus of cooking your beans at home is the ability to minimize your salt intake.  All canned beans have added salt (just check the label!).  Now, none of the beans my family eat have added salt.  It is healthier for all of us!


The pinto beans I cooked for this post were used for my frozen bean and cheese burritos that I always have on hand for my three year old (I will post that recipe later).  Remember, cooking beans at home means less exposure to BPA, less salt in your family's food, and less energy used to make, transport, and recycle a tin can.  Give it a try!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Vegetable Lasagna




I love lasagna.  It's such a comforting and hearty meal.  You can pack it chock-full of veggies loading it up with colors and textures.  Sure, with the cheese it may not be a "health food", but it is a great meal that families can easily enjoy.  


I had been searching for a delicious vegetable lasagna for years, but they always seemed to fall short in my book.  After years of disappointment, I finally decided to create my own recipe.  I chose some of my favorite veggies in a rainbow of colors.  Also, instead of slicing them, I chopped them!  I always found the sliced veggies to be soggy in the finished product.  Chopping them gives the lasagna a more complex texture making it more appealing to meat eaters as well.


This recipe is so easy to make.  When you get down to it, you are basically making an especially chunky sauce layered with a cheese mixture and lasagna noodles.  What could be simpler?  


Ingredients
8oz lasagna noodles
8oz mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 small zucchini, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
10oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 26oz jars pasta sauce (or make your own)
1 tsp dried basil
salt
pepper
15oz ricotta cheese
3 C shredded mozzarella, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese


Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, zucchini, carrot, and bell pepper.  Cook until just tender, about 10 mins.  Add the spinach and cook an additional 2 mins.  
  4. Stir in pasta sauce and basil, salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  5. While the sauce is simmering, combine the ricotta, eggs, and 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.  
  6. In a 9x13 baking dish, pour 1 C sauce and evenly coat the bottom.  Layer the lasagna noodles.  Spread half the cheese mixture over the noodles and top with half the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with half the parmesan cheese.  Repeat with a layer of noodles, followed by the remaining cheese, then sauce.  
  7. Top with the last cup of mozzarella and remaining parmesan.  
  8. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. 



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fresh Idea

Reusable Produce Bags


Hopefully we have all made the transition to reusable shopping bags for our errands.  But there is one more arena where disposable plastic bags are the norm - the produce department and farmers markets.  Here, we often still feel the need to use those plastic bags on the rolls that are provided for us.  However, there are a variety of reusable bags  that are perfect for produce and bulk grains!


This mesh bag from ChicoBag is one great option.  They are designed to allow the ethylene gasses to escape keeping your produce fresh.  Not only will they prevent the need for those disposable plastic bags, they themselves are made of 94% recycled content!



These organic cotton muslin bags from Simple Ecology are wonderful for bulk items!  I always buy my flour, dried beans, oats, nuts, and grains in bulk from Whole Foods.  It is a great way to limit packaging waste.  These bags will hold even the smallest grains!  They have weight tags sewn inside to make checkout a breeze!  

These produce bags are great as well.  They are from Flip and Tumble and they are so convenient!  The mesh makes it so easy for employees to read the PLU on the label or count quantities.  They are great to store anything but leafy greens (they tend to wilt) in the fridge.  The bags are machine washable and very easy to take to the market.  

I hope you will give reusable produce bags a try and completely eliminate the need for plastic when purchasing your fruits and veggies!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Southern-Style Veggie Sliders




Hamburgers are one of those foods that are so wonderful for a warm-weather dinner outside.  What's even better than hamburgers?  Sliders!  Sliders are so much fun for kids to eat because they are just the right size for little hands.  These southern-style sliders are a wonderful twist on an old favorite.  They have bright veggies right in the patty, and the Cajun mayo is so yummy!!


Given the fact that my husband is a meat-eater, I can't make just any veggie patty.  I try to find options that have a unique flavor and a hearty texture.  He has learned that vegetarian burgers are not going to taste like beef, so he knows not to expect that.  They are a new category of food with an entirely different flavor.  


The patty has a base of mashed black-eyed peas.  They give the patty a great texture and the kids will have a blast smashing the beans!  The black-eyed peas are a great way to get more legumes into your diet for lean protein since each serving contains no fat or cholesterol.   They are also a good source of potassium and iron.


When you add the veggies to the bean mixture, the colors really pop.  The selection of chopped vegetables really give the patty a nice texture.   Give these sliders a try for a healthier alternative to ground beef.  They are just delicious!!


Ingredients
2 (15 oz) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 C finely chopped sweet red pepper
1/2 C finely chopped celery
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 C fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp garlic salt
olive oil for cooking
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
12-14 soft dinner rolls or mini hamburger buns
lettuce


Directions
  1. In a large bowl, mash the black-eyed peas with a potato masher or meat tenderizer.  Add the egg, red pepper, celery, green onions, bread crumbs, and garlic salt.  Mix well.
  2. When ready to cook, shape the bean mixture into 1/2 inch thick patties that will fit the size of your rolls - they will not shrink during cooking.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the patties and cook about 4 minutes on each side until lightly browned and heated through.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and Cajun seasoning.  Serve with lettuce.

Adapted from BHG


Monday, May 14, 2012

Weekly Menu



Our trip to the farm for this week gave us some beautiful red leaf lettuce, carrots, zucchini, baby sweet onions (I use them instead of green onions), celery, and strawberries.  This wonderful assortment has lead me to create this weeks menu.


  • Southern Style Veggie Sliders with Coleslaw
    • using the carrots, celery, green onions, and the remaining half of the cabbage from last week

  • Gardein Chicken Scaloppine with Tarragon-Mushroom Sauce and a Strawberry Tarragon Salad
    • using the strawberries and red leaf lettuce

  • My Hearty Vegetable Lasagna with Baked Zucchini Fries
    • using the onion, zucchini, and carrots

What wonderful food are you making this week?