Hostess Gifts to Melt Me

In: Mish-mash, What's Cookin'?

macaron 2I adore these delightful pastries made of eggs, sugars, and almonds! They come in a variety of flavors and coordinating colors- pistachio and lemon are my current favorites. And how fun to be the recipient of such a thoughtful gesture as a variety box of these confections. Opening the baker’s box to find an assortment of specifically chosen treats tells me what the gifter thinks of me much like a particular flower offers a certain message.

So for those of you traveling to other’s homes for the holidays or attending holiday parties, I suggest choosing a selection of these yummies. Create a visual display of color like a box of ornaments and choose those flavors that tell your host that you notice their preferences- chocolate and mocha versus fruit-flavored, for example. And remember, hostess gifts are just that- gifts for the hostess or host. They are not meant to be shared with guests but rather enjoyed at her or his discretion…maybe while cleaning up after you’ve gone along with a cup of tea. Each bite is sure to bring up fond memories of your visit and an invitation back!

bouquet garni

In: Mish-mash, What's Cookin'?

A handy dandy way of keeping your teeth margins free of those pesky green remnants, a mouthful of the culinary masterpiece you have sent down the pipes left behind to cause you embarrassment, or for a reminder to floss is by using a bouquet garni in your soups and sauces. Just wrap up those fresh sprigs in some cheesecloth, and tie with some hemp, crush a bit to release the flavors and then pop into your pot to extract easily later. Voila!


Lunch for Two for $10!

In: What's Cookin'?

Over the last decade, I have spent the same amount of money each month on food. Ten years ago, that meant that I had a dinner party at least once-a-week, provided snacks for all the neighbor kids, had a liquor cabinet stocked with premium brands, and bought food at gourmet shops, both for guests as well as my family of four who ate nearly all meals at home since “school” took place at our dining room table. Today, it means that I feed myself and one child with the occasional Whole Foods gift card tossed my college kids’ way…and no dinner parties…and no liquor. Nobody can tell me that the price of food has not quadrupled in that time as I have spreadsheets to prove otherwise. And yet, you can still eat a clean, tasty, and nutrient-rich meal for less than what it  costs to go to McDonald’s. I am going to have a conniption if I have to explain the obvious health benefits.

But with the recent conversations about healthcare coverage, people are focusing on the wrong thing. Sadly, people do not consider the backend expense of poor eating habits and lack of nutrition. I save a bundle by having a healthy family. According to Forbes, medical expenses for the average family of four exceeds what they spend on groceries. Well that is stupid!

If you want to save money on both food and health care, consider eating at home as a start. Step two is preparing fresh foods for your family. And include them in the process. One of my “rules” for my children was that they learn to make 50 meals before they left home. I implemented that “rule” when they were young enough that they thought it fun to chop, stir, slice, and pour; by the time they realized that I could not make them do anything, they already knew a tremendous amount about nutrition, food pairings, and taste, not to mention how to use food to heal themselves.

The next time you are tempted to grab something quick and easy,2013-05-02_14_24_29 try making some grilled fish, rice, and salad. The dishes featured in this post each took me less than fifteen minutes to prepare and cost $10- for two people! That is $5 each. You cannot even get a fastfood meal for that much. And if you are truly that short on time, grill some meats or tofu one day and use it for salads the next three.

Enrich yourself with healthy eating; enrich your life cooking with others; and enrich your savings by abstaining from empty calories. Bon appetit!



Vegies and Carbs it is!

In: What's Cookin'?

If you’ve ever read my “about” page, you will see that my son, Omar, claims that our family is about food. That is a bit of a generalization, but I would definitely agree that his and my relationship is, ever since he was conceived and could cause me to have cravings, to when he would sit on the counter while I prepared meals gleeful as Scooby awaiting snacks, to our vacations together where culinary exploration was paramount to our trip, to when we grew vegetables and canned them, until now, when he lives hundreds of miles away but keeps me updated on how he can eat on $3 a day as I make lists of what to prepare this Easter Weekend to delight him and keep him coming back for more.

With each of my three pregnancies, my children’s palette’s dominated my existence. I ate when they were hungry and only what they wanted or I paid dearly for it. I could not stomach tomatoes while pregnant with Aziza to the point of having to walk out of a room if tomato sauce was being brushed onto a pizza…on television! And to this day, she cannot stand them and avoids them at all cost. Faisal, my little sugar fiend wanted fruit and sweets. He nearly popped out of the womb declaring that he was about “fruit, candy, and playing!” And Omar, the little gourmet wanted nothing less than sophistication of flavors and textures to give him pause several times throughout the day. Even now, he will not sit in front of a computer or tele to eat, but will sit himself down at the dining table, placing his cloth napkin on his lap and bowing his head to give “thanks” before commencing to savor the culinary delights set before him.

Despite it being eighteen years since I was last pregnant, my life still revolves, to some degree, around my children’s dietary requirements and preferences. Why? Well, ‘cuz I’m their mom and it’s my job. But besides that, it is my pleasure. I love to feed people! So whether it is juicing alongside my daughter while she fasts in preparation for her role as Tessie the Stripper, changing up the “I only eat these things” list for Faisal who tends to become enamored with a meal and eats only that, much like I find a song and play it to death, to developing new plates that make Omar go “Oooohh!”, my life is still about my children’s appetites. Lucky me!

So since he is on a $3-a-day grocery budget, $9-a-pound buffalo meat or $26-a-pound halibut is out and vegies and starches are in. And no, he is not getting fat, but that may be the three hours-a-day of rowing or the fact that he bikes around Boston since he is without a license and car. So what will $3 a day buy you? Oatmeal and a banana for breakfast, a cup of rice and vegetables for lunch, and a plate of vegetables and 3 ounces of fish for dinner. (Yes, working at Chipotle is a godsend for someone who consumes 4000 plus calories per day!) Imagine my joy when he informed me that living on the cheap has made him incredibly frugal and that he now understands why I saved the juice, oil, and herbs in jars even after the pickles, artichoke hearts, or olives were eaten…marinades!

I cannot wait for him to visit for the Easter holiday. After he walks in and says, “He is risen”, I will respond with “He is risen, indeed!” and then we will eat for 72 hours. My nearly famous deviled eggs, lamb chops with a garlic and rosemary marinade, and creme brulee with zest of lemon will be some of the things we prepare and then devour together. After which time, he will return to his $3-a-day regimen and I will begin working on a snack bar for him to eat while he rides his bike from San Francisco to Boston to raise money for ALS this summer. Food does more than feed our bodies. For Omar and me, it feeds our relationship.

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Juicing Juicy Juice

In: Fit-n-Fab 40's, What's Cookin'?

Cleaning out the tank from time-to-time is a good thing! It is sort of like re-booting your body, wiping out the gunk and clearing the path for the good stuff that feeds your organs, cells, and blood. I have used juicing for general health purposes as well as to treat illness. Aside from the fact that you cannot possibly eat as much in vegetables as you can if the juice is extracted and the pulp discarded, a liquid diet for a time enables the digestive system to rest.

There is a really good video titled “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” that I saw for the first time just over a year ago. It was educational and a fantastic “pay-it-forward” story of redemption and renewal. Indeed the gentleman who created it overcame tremendous health problems and earned himself a hot bod, but he also cleared his head and has admittedly become a much happier person.

I would argue that not all juicers are created equal. I have a slow juicer made by Hurom that is my favorite one yet. (I believe that Joe Cross uses a Breville, which may even be a step up from mine.) It acts like a masticating juicer in that it is able to extract the juice from leafy greens better than the less expensive models that simply press, but is upright, much easier to clean, and completely separates the pulp, which comes out nearly dry.

I try to include both green and orange/red vegetables, incorporating either a squeeze of lemon, some fresh ginger, or some green apple to cut the grassy flavor of the greens. My kids shy away when the juice is loaded with beets, but I love the earthy flavor. Warning, your poop will be red if beets are used. Just sayin’.

So as spring is upon us and you get the urge for some cleaning, don’t neglect that which is the most important- your own health. Clean out the toxins, waste, and indigestible stuff that sits in your belly and watch your skin become more radiant, eyes more clear, tummy less bloated. I will be doing a juice fast starting March 1st if you care to join me.


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Bill’s Chili

In: What's Cookin'?

Very few positive things came out of our year in Alabama, but our interactions with our neighbor Bill was one of them. He and his wife were in their 60’s, Auburn fans, and very kind to my youngest son, Faisal who sometimes found himself in a bit of a situation that Bill was more than happy to help him out of. Like when he’d “caught” a turtle with a fish hook which required doctoring to remove.

IMAG1219When our year was up and we were moving to Tennessee, they brought us over a dinner of ribs and chili as we packed our last box. It was a much needed and appreciated act of hospitality and kindness. Bill happily shared the recipe with me and it has become the chili standard in my house…with a little somethin’ somethin’ added each time to mix it up. And this most recent batch included harbanaro chilies and cocoa. Some fire tempered with a little sweetness. Kind of like me! So start with the base and make it your own.

3 lbs ground chuck (I sometimes use buffalo meat.)
4 c. chopped onion
12 cloves minced garlic
1 lg bell pepper, chopped
4 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp flour
4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp ground Cumin
1 tbsp ground Coriander
1 tbsp ground Oregano
2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 cans (16 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can diced chili peppers
2 cans (15 oz) tomato sauce *
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
3-4 cans chili beans

*I deglaze the pan after sauteeing all of the meat and vegetables and use that liquid. Otherwise, add another can of tomato sauce.

Brown meat in a large skillet. Drain the fat. Saute onion, bell pepper, garlic until tender and then put together in a large pot (7 quarts fits perfectly). Combine spices and dry ingredients, mixing well before adding to the pot. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, paste, and chilies. Mix well and then reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour. (I put my Harbanaros and chocolate in at this point.) Add drained beans and simmer another 30 minutes. Make sure and stir often so it doesn’t scorch.


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10, 10, 10 Can you hear me now?

In: What's Cookin'?

lambToday’s lunch consisted of lamb ribs chops on a bed of mixed baby greens, mache, with red bell peppers and a little caprese salad. So delicious. All for under $10, 10 minutes, and 10 grams of animal fat. Yes, indeed, I bought the ingredients for under $10, all organic and from Whole Foods. It took me 10 minutes to prepare this meal, including making my own vinaigrette and sauteeing the lamb.

There is no excuse for not being able to eat well because of either time or money. But if $10 is too costly for a meal, substitute 6 ounces of chicken or even a can of tuna…or grow your own greens and tomatoes. And shop somewhere other than Whole Foods. The point is that the value, even on the front end, is much more than what BS is being purported by the soccer moms who don’t know how to cook, or are too lazy, and think that McDonald’s is a time saving, economical, and nutritious option if you don’t eat the bun!

However, for my family, we invest money in food rather than health insurance. It is crazy to me that people will spend $1000 per month for a family of four to have basic health coverage and yet will eat total crap, get sick, miss school, work, functions, only to complain about the crappy health coverage they have. You’ve heard it before: “you are what you eat; garbage in, garbage out; you get what you put into it”. The same applies to food and the health of your engine. Keep it clean so your motor is hummin’  a long time!



‘Tis the season for soup!

In: What's Cookin'?

Portuguese soupKale and Potato Soup, Portuguese Soup, whatever you call it- it’s delish, savory, hearty, and good for you! I have used Swiss chard in place of kale as well as different sausages: linguica, chorizo, or andouille but my family and I agree that the kale and linguica are our favorite combination. And once again, I have cooked the longest and the most for a family of four, so the measurements are appropriate for that number. It has been a favorite and a meal that each of my children could prepare by the time they were 12-years-old.

1 bunch kale
1 yellow onion chopped (shallots if you prefer less stringent flavor)
olive oil…of course
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 lb red potatoes (yellow are fine, but the red hold up better in soups)
6 cups chicken stock (Be frugal and toss a chicken carcass in with some root vegetables and make your own!)
1/2 lb plus of sausage
Salt and pepper

Saute onion on a medium heat until soft in olive oil. Add the garlic. Stir those two together until there is a nice aromatic marriage of the savory ingredients. Add the kale which you’ve hopefully sliced, chopped, or shredded to ribbons. Coat the greens with the mixture and then add the potatoes (I like walnut-sized pieces. Just make sure they are uniform in size so they cook evenly.) and cover with the stock, adding some salt if you have used a homemade one, but not if you’ve used prepared, which tends to have a lot of sodium already. Simmer for approximately 45 minutes to an hour- just whenever the potatoes are tender enough to cut with a fork. You now have time to shower, set the table, have a drink, and do some reading while you inhale wafts of the soup.

Cut up the sausages into chunks and fry them in oil. Not too small and not too long or they dry out giving a disappointing texture. Add them to the soup. I put in the oil too but hey, I like fats. Continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes. Just long enough to heat up a round of artisan bread which will happily sacrifice itself to dipping and sopping. Season with salt and pepper after it is cooked, if necessary.



Kim Chee Soup

In: What's Cookin'?

Asian flavors are tantalizing! The blend of savory onions, piquant spices, and hearty greens are particularly stimulating in this easy-to-make, nutritionally-rich soup that I like to prepare when someone is in need of comfort or healing. It is also visually appealing with the mix of colors and array of micronutrient-filled vegetables. As I am a “flexitarian” when it comes to my diet, I use meat, typically ground buffalo, but tofu could just as easily absorb the essence of flavors and bring satisfaction.

A large handful of the following: Bok Choy, Leaks or Green Onions, Trimmed Green Beans, Shiitake and Oyster Mushrooms
A Tbs of oil (I like coconut oil…just don’t use lard!)
1 jar of prepared Kim Chee
A Tbs of fresh Ginger (Gingerroot is so good for you…definitely look up the health benefits.)
Dash of Sesame oil and Rice Wine vinegar
1 tomato
1 lb. ground meat or tofu
24 oz beef stock (I use organic jarred broth when I’m in a hurry. Otherwise, beef bone stock is perfect!)
8 oz of juice from deglazed pan and rinsed kim chee jar.

Sautee first four ingredients in a stock pot using a Tbs of oil on high heat, stirring to get a consistent sautee on the greens, allowing mushrooms to break down a bit. Add kim chee and ginger and stir for a total of 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and sliced tomato. Remove from pot and set aside. Brown meat but please do not overcook it. Thank you! Remove meat and then deglaze the pot using the juice made from rinsing the now-empty kim chee jar and set that aside. Return meat and vegetables to the pot and add warmed beef stock and juices, simmering for 15 minutes. Garnish with green onions. Voila, Flavor, frugality, and health!

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