Happy Spring! It’s Time To Eat Your Dandelion Greens!

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

Happy Spring!! Astronomically speaking that is. But that doesn’t mean its warm outside and flowers are blooming here in New England. Mother-nature can be cruel sometimes and tease us mercilessly with a beautiful warm sunny day and dump a foot of snow the next.

So technically (at least around here) we wait until the end of April to officially declare spring. In the meantime, if you live in a similar climate as we do, why not begin work on your winter body now. So when the warmer weather is here to stay, you’re looking and feeling pretty darn good!

On another note, did you also know that today is also International Happiness Day? What are you happy about? Post it in the comments below. I’d love to know.

I’m happy that today is a bright, warm sunny day. This is the first day I opened the greenhouse to cool things off and bring in some fresh air. I’m excited that soon, I’ll be back in the garden planting this seasons herbs and flowers for our Farm to Bath herbal bath and body products. Cue the confetti… Whoohoo!


It’s Our Ancestors Fault Or Is It?

According to scientists we consume an additional 200 calories per day during the long winter months because of low levels of Vitamin D. Other researchers believe its part of our DNA we inherited from our ancient ancestral relatives.

Back in the day eating more calories was critical to surviving a long winter. The more “fluffier” our relatives were the better chances they survived the cold, harsh winters than the skinny rail thin ones. Remember there were no McDonalds or grocery stores to supply them with food when it ran out.

They either starved to death, froze to death, or survived on their reserved body fat. It was survival of the fittest or in this case the fluffiest. Thank goodness we don’t have to live that way anymore and can control our environment and what we eat!

Whatever the reasons we gain weight, come spring, what goes on, must come off. Whether it’s our DNA flipping its hibernation switch (my analogy) or we’re getting more Vitamin D because the days are longer. Our body is telling us its ready to shed the extra pounds.

What Are Detoxifying Foods?

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There is a whole industry devoted to detoxifying one’s body, and sometimes it can be confusing and misleading. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is some middle ground without committing to a strict detox cleanse and spending hundreds of dollars for someone to tell you what you already know. Stop eating junk!

There’s no one size fits all to detoxing. You just need to be aware of what you’re eating. I call it “conscious eating.” Eat more plant-based foods and herbs. Eliminate foods high in sugar, fat, carbohydrates, and processed foods.

Here is a general idea of what a detox lifestyle looks like. Typically there are 3 goals:

“(1) to remove potentially “toxic” foods, (2) to eat a simple diet so that detox organs like the liver can focus less on digestion and more on detoxification, and (3) to increase your consumption of water and foods that encourage the detoxification organs to do their job more efficiently.”

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

Just stated, eat a simpler diet, especially in the spring. This is when your body is ready to shed its winter weight. This may be the reason why trying to stay fit during the winter is like pushing a car uphill. Your body isn’t listening because you may be Vitamin D deficient and its in hibernation mode.

Don’t get me wrong, weight loss can be made at any time of the year, but it’s tough to fight those comfort food cravings during the cold winter months if you’re low on Vitamin D. Just be aware of what you’re eating and have a plan.

Talking to your doctor is also a good idea. Have your Vitamin D levels checked as a precaution. It’s important to have a baseline, so you know if your weight gain is related to a Vitamin D deficiency.

I get mine checked annually, and my doctor adjusts my Vitamin D supplement dosage as necessary. The bad news is as I get older, my Vitamin D levels drop too severely low levels during the winter months; which is triggering other health problems.

The good news is, all of this is in my control. My doctor tells me I can mitigate any future damage by merely getting outside and walking and eating more nutrient-dense foods.

After doing a lot of research on winter weight gain and Vitamin D deficiency, I found some detox and weight loss friendly herbs and vegetables that are nutrient dense that I’ve added to my diet. I thought this would be helpful to you in achieving your own health goals.

Detox Friendly Foods:

Bitter veggies:
Artichoke
Lettuce
Escarole
Radicchio
Arugula
Bitter greens
Bitter Melon

Diuretic Veggies:
Dandelion (greens, flower and/or root)
Parsley
Burdock Root
Celery

Cruciferous Veggies:
Broccoli
Kale
Watercress
Cabbage
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts

Others:
Asparagus
Avocado
Beets
Berries
Sour Citrus
Cranberries
Pomegranate
Garlic and Onions
Mushrooms (cooked in Broth)
Green Tea
Flax and Chia Seeds
Walnuts
Water

Culinary Herbs and Spices (especially Turmeric)

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

All of these foods listed can play a superstar role in detoxing your body naturally and should be easy to incorporate into your diet daily. However, there is one green that is a real Superhero. It hits 3 of the most common health goals most people want to achieve.

Dandelion Greens – The Superhero Green!

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

I love this green and try to incorporate it into my diet as much as possible. It’s one of the few herbs that does so much good for the body. A once favorite herb/green during the Great Depression, it hardly gets a mention in herbal and culinary circles today. But, there are still a few diehard fans out there.

According to Rosemary Gladstar, International Herbalist, this green is:

“… One of the most widely used herbs in the world, dandelion is highly respected, both for its preventative and for its remedial qualities…”

Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28

The dandelion chemical composition focuses its energy on nurturing the kidney and liver. The most significant health benefit I discovered is dandelions act like a diuretic.
Unlike, synthetic diuretics, that deplete the body of potassium which can cause other health issues, such as muscle weakness, fatigue, digestive issues, just to name a few problems. Dandelions are high in potassium and replace K naturally at the same time helping the liver and kidneys eliminate excess water and toxins.

Health Benefits Specifically For Women:

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In some women, hormonal changes can have severe effects on their bodies. Research suggests that eating dandelion leaves and roots during a woman’s menstrual cycle can help with bloating, PMS and breast tenderness.

Also, dandelions are also known as a bitter. Bitter greens help stimulate the bile in the stomach which encourages better digestion, which detoxes the body and helps with elimination.

This can be important for women who have issues with cravings, bloating and constipation during their cycle. This green can help move things along and reduce some of the discomforts.

Personally, I can gain up to 20 pounds of water weight during my moon cycle. To help reduce the fluid buildup, and the uncontrollable cravings, I’ll take dandelion root supplement daily. I make sure I drink plenty of water and eat fresh dandelion greens several times a week to help flush my system. This keeps things moving through my intestines which is reducing the pressure in my stomach and back. Think of your body as a deflating balloon.

In addition, I cut back on the amount of gluten, starches/carbs (e.g., bread, pasta, white potatoes, white rice, and corn) and the worst offender for PMS sugar!

Move That Body!

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Dandelions are rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron and Calcium which are essential for healthy bones among other things. This is important for a woman who is menopausal or has been diagnosed with osteopenia which can happen to women over the age of 50.
Also, moving your body is essential to dropping that winter weight.

Our ancient ancestors didn’t continue sitting around when the snow melted. They got outside and started hunting and gathering to feed their family. So you’re already genetically programmed to move! No excuses here…

I try and go for a walk for at least 45 minutes to an hour a day. If I can’t get that much time in, I’ll find 20 minutes somewhere and jump on the treadmill and do a quick 20. I don’t have a perfect record, but I try to get more days in than not.

If you don’t have a treadmill, do circles around your coffee table, around your kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or in your yard, whatever. Just get moving and work up to an hour, its better than doing nothing. I promise you’ll feel better.

Dandelions Achieve 3 Health Goals:

  1. It is a bitter, that helps get a sluggish gut’s digestive juices moving. Yes, pooping is good for you when trying to lose weight!
  2. It’s a natural diuretic that doesn’t deplete your body of potassium and other essential nutrients. Dandelions are naturally high in potassium, Vitamin A, C, Iron.
  3. It’s perfect for bone health, especially for those who are diagnosed with osteopenia. Dandelions are naturally high in Calcium.

Honestly, I haven’t found another green that can do so much good for one’s body. It truly is a Superhero Green!

Recipes:

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Dandelion greens can be eaten raw, sautéed or steamed. I often add them to a brown rice dish or just saute them in a little olive oil and garlic which is my favorite way to eat them.

If you’re interested in eating them wild, the best time to harvest them is in the spring and early autumn. Make sure when harvesting that no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed or sprinkled on them. So please be careful if you decide to harvest wild dandelions.

Otherwise, you can pick them up fresh at your local health food store or grow them yourself. There are seed company’s that sell the seeds. Just do an online search.

According to the Flavor Bible, dandelions go great with the following foods:
Anchovies
Bacon
Garlic
Dijon Mustard
Peanut Oil
Onions
Ground Pepper
Salads
Salt
Vinegar

Dandelion Greens with Salsa Verde

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

 

2 – 3 pounds dandelion greens, roughly chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Salsa Verde Sauce:

 

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

1/3 cup parsley chopped fine

Zest of a graded lemon

2 garlic cloves pounded into a puree

1 tablespoon drained, rinsed and finally chopped capers

Salt and ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice or  champagne vinegar

Mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside for flavors to blend together. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature first, then drizzle over greens toss well, before serving.

Note: This recipe is enough for several dishes. Only use a tablespoon or so on these greens. Refrigerate the rest.

Dandelion Greens Cooking Instructions:

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat gently infuse

the olive oil with the chopped garlic. Don’t burn the garlic!

Add dandelion greens and sauté until greens are wilted. Salt and

pepper to taste.

Drizzle a tablespoon of the salsa verde over greens and give a quick toss and then serve.

 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, if you have questions about your health please consult with a licensed medical professional. The information in this article is for educational purposes and not meant to treat or diagnose any medical conditions.

Links within this posting are affiliate links to Amazon

References:

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

WebMD, What is Osteopenia? DerSarkissian, C 

The Flavor Bible, Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg, 175

Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28

The Woman’s Herbal Apothecary, JJ Pursell, 167

The Art Simple Food, Alice Waters, 45

Why you get fatter in winter… even though you eat LESS, Laura Topham for the Mail on Sunday, dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2052975

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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Over the last few weeks I’ve seen many postings using natural dyes for Easter Eggs.  The pictures are beautiful and I wondered if I could get my eggs to turn out as nice as the pictures.  Over all I had mixed results.  Some colors were the same as the pictures – other colors I didn’t come close.

If you want to try naturally dyeing eggs here are two important things to know before you start:

  1. Natural dyes are not going to be as vibrant as commercial dyes.
  2. The process will take hours – at least a 1/2 a day or more.

But first I recommend you read these two blog postings on natural dyes and decorating techniques from the Herbal Academy of New England. I thought they had some great suggestions for natural dyes.

The Day Before Cook your Eggs:

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Cook your eggs gently by starting with a pot of cold water on low heat.  Don’t bring your eggs to a full boil but just to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Cover and remove from heat and let stand until completely cool.  I recommend you do this the night before.  By morning you will have perfectly cooked un-cracked hardboiled eggs.

Select your Dyes:

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What I liked about natural dyes is that you can use what you have on hand. In my freezer I found a bag of frozen blueberries (blue) and cranberries (red).  In my spices I found turmeric which I thought would make a great yellow dye. I wanted a green color and I decided to try using green tea.

Berries Smashed or Cooked:

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The blueberries I smashed and added enough boiling water to the bowl to submerge the eggs. The cranberries needed to be cooked until the berries popped open and I could mash them into a pulp.  For the turmeric and green tea (4 tea bags) I just added boiling water to the bowl and let them steep and cool. Do not add your cool eggs to the hot dye mixture – this will result in cracked eggs.

Don’t forget the Vinegar:

March 28, 2015 005I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to the all the bowls so the dye would set.

Hurry Up and Wait:

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When the waters were cool I set my eggs into the cups. I first started with bowls but the eggs weren’t submerged enough to be completely covered. I didn’t want to add more water because I felt it would dilute the dye so I switched to using cups and glasses.  And I waited and waited…and waited…

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After 4 hours of waiting the other colors were ready and I pulled them out.  However, the red egg in the cranberry pulp wasn’t doing a thing. So I found some Red Zinger Tea and frozen raspberries in the freezer. I made up a new bowl of red dye and dropped my egg into it and waited another hour to see what happened.

5 Hours of dyeing:

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After working on this for 5 hours I decided to throw in the towel! I wasn’t going to get a red Easter egg. Oh well…

Final Results:

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Left to right: Red (cranberry, raspberry and Red Zinger Tea) Yellow (turmeric) Purple (blueberries)

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Left to right: Blue (blueberries) Yellow / Green (if you look close…) (green tea – however, I think some turmeric accidently got in my bowl of tea resulting in more yellow than green color).

Final thoughts: If you decide to do this I don’t recommend this for really young children – the process takes a long time and unless you have patient children the waiting will be difficult.  On the other hand, this process allows for some really cool creative thinking about the natural dye world and playing with other ingredients would be fun.  Some of the suggestions from HANE on dyes are:

  • Turmeric
  • Coffee
  • Nettle
  • Spirulina
  • Hibiscus
  • Onion skins
  • Black tea
  • Elderberries

If you decide to try using natural dyes and you have success with red or green – please let me know!

Happy Easter!

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Strawberry and Chia Seed Pudding – Recipe Review

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I love pudding but unfortunately puddings made with any kind of mammal milk do not like me.  Over the years I’ve developed an allergy to milk.  If I ignore the allergy I pay dearly for it with a serious sinus infection and fever blisters.  Those who know me well can always tell when I’ve cheated – the signs are always on my face.  Its not pretty…

Not being able to enjoy milk products has been a major bummer for me, as I love artisan cheese, milk, ice-cream, fresh yogurt, puddings and thing else made with milk.  So when I saw this recipe on “Cooking Without Limits” blog for a pudding that:

  1. didn’t require milk
  2. didn’t require cooking
  3. used simple ingredients
  4. interchangeable ingredients
  5. low calorie

I had try the recipe.

In the original recipe she calls for 200 ml of either soya milk or almond milk.  We drink almond milk, but last night we were running low so I dug around in my pantry and found a can of coconut milk.  So here is my version of the recipe. (click here for a link to the original recipe Strawberry Chia Seed Pudding)

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1 can coconut milk (400 ML)

 

 

 

 

 

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   3 Tablespoons chia seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract

(I make my own extract using the a bunch of vanilla beans split down the middle and stuffed into a bottle of the cheapest vodka I can find. It works like a charm!)

 

 

 

 

 

Mix the milk, chia seeds and vanilla together in a bowl cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour to 24 hours.  The chia seeds will develop with gelatin coating which makes the milk become a pudding consistency.

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When pudding is ready spoon into a bowl and add fresh fruit and serve.  Its that easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you prefer a sweeter pudding add Agave syrup, honey or maple syrup.  I added a drizzle of Agave syrup because it has a lower glycemic index.

For those that really counting calories – use the 30 calorie Almond Milk instead of the coconut milk.

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“Cooking Without Limits” hit this one out of the park! She gets my highest rating

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Fresh Chopped Green Onions


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I always leave plenty of green onions to overwinter in the garden because, in the spring, it’s a treat to be able to go out and harvest them to add to my salad and/ or salad dressings. Over the years, I’ve created a few short cuts so I have onions ready to go into whatever I’m making.

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Chop by hand

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If you don’t want to chop the onions by hand, an easier way is to chop them in a food processor – the goal is to chop the greens into small pieces.

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The food processor chops the onion into really fine pieces.

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Finely chopped onions make great additions to salad dressings.

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They are perfect to add to add to hamburger or meatloaf dishes.

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Chopped onions are also perfect in a fresh salad.

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Fresh green onions in a container store well in the refrigerator so they are always ready when I need them.

Turnips get a Bad Rap

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There are a few vegetables that I refuse to eat and butter beans is on the top of my list!  My Mother is an awesome cook but sometimes she missed the mark on some of her creations.  She used to make a dreadful dish consisting of several cans of butter beans (including the liquid) dumped into a round glass casserole dish, layering bacon on top and baking it.  The mere smell of it made me sick to my stomach and I hated that dish so much that, at times, I refused to eat.

hate butter beans

 

The turnip was, for reasons I can’t now recall, also a veggie that was once on my banned list.  Once while having dinner at a friend’s house, I mistook them for mashed potatoes and fell in LOVE with them right then and there! How could I have disliked the turnip when it tasted so good?

 

 

 

 

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Years later during a Christmas dinner, my Mother discovered she was eating turnips instead of mashed potatoes and we had a family crisis on our hands!  (True confession – she was technically eating mashed potatoes, turnips and rutabagas, but I didn’t tell her that). My Mother hated turnips and never cooked them or even allowed herself to try them until she unknowingly ate my mashed medley of root vegetables (recipe will follow below).  She projected her dislike of turnips on her children as we grew up and so we developed the impression that turnips were bad.  My repulsion to the butter bean was similar to her repulsion to the turnip.  Who knew?

I have since learned that the turnip is a wonderful vegetable and I’m surprised that so many people don’t like them.  This year, I have included turnips in my CSA distribution and I love to hear customers’ comments about what they are doing with them each week.

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Some have also grown to love the turnip and gleefully share the different ways that they cook their bulbs.  Others are not so much in love but have a favorite recipe or two that will do the job.  Then there are others that just plain hate turnips (a similar disdain that I have to the butter bean) and ask to take them back.

 

 

According to Wikipedia, the turnip has a long history and was domesticated before the 15th century.  Throughout the world, the turnip has been a popular and a not so popular veggie.  In Ireland and Scotland, turnips have been used as Halloween lanterns.  In traditional Celtic festivals, rutabagas (which are larger turnips) were hollowed out, carved with faces and placed in windows in the hopes of scaring off evil spirits.

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In Nordic countries, turnips provided the staple crop before their replacement by the potato in the 18th century.  In Turkey, turnip flavored salgam, is a juice made from purple carrots and spices served ice cold.  In Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, turnips are pickled.

The Japanese also like their turnips pickled as well as stir fried in salt and soy sauce.  In addition, they are fans of turnip greens, the very nutritious top of the turnip. In Brazil, the turnip is not a favored veggie as it is in other parts of the world and is thought to have an unpleasant taste.

 

 

 

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However, part of the bias may be more of a social stigma vs. actual taste as, since the Middle Ages, turnips were an inexpensive crop that were associated with the poor and avoided by the nobility.

 

 

Here in the United States turnips are popular throughout the country.  In the 1800’s, Westport Massachusetts was considered the turnip capital of the U.S thanks to two brothers, Aiden and Elihu MaComber.  In 1876, they returned from the Philadelphia Exposition with a pocket full of turnip seeds and decided to go into the turnip business.  The Bristol Whites were descendants of Swedish and Russian turnip seeds and flourished in the fertile ground of Westport. They soon became a popular and sought after commodity from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island.

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Today they are a popular root crop used in all kinds of dishes.  Personally, I prefer to treat them as a potato.  If counting calories, the turnip is a good substitute for potatoes.  The turnip root is also high in vitamin C and turnip greens (the tops) are a good source of vitamins A, C & K as well as folate and calcium.

 

 

The USDA states that one medium turnip (122 g) contains the following nutritional elements:

  • Calories: 34
  • Fat: 0.12
  • Carbohydrates: 7.84
  • Fibers: 2.2
  • Protein: 1.10
  • Cholesterol: 0

As is the case with potatoes, there are many different ways of preparing turnips.  All that’s needed is a little imagination and you will have treasure trove of recipes.  There are simple techniques like simmering in water (low boil) to the more detailed techniques such as Turnips Au Gratin.  All in all, turnips are one of the most versatile root vegetables imaginable.

Here are my favorite techniques:

Quick Simmering/Low Boil Method: 

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Water: Peel, cut into chucks and place in a pot big enough to cover them with cold water. Simmer on low heat until fork tender and then drain well.

In a bowl, add a few tablespoons of butter (or coconut spread will also work well – vegan option) to hot turnips and mash in salt and pepper to taste and serve.

or

 

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Leave in chucks, add butter, favorite spread and chopped herbs such as parsley, rosemary or thyme. Then add salt and pepper to taste.

Milk: Peel and cut into chucks and place in a pot big enough to cover them with milk.  For a different twist, add either a sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme to the milk while the turnips are simmering.  Since I don’t drink milk, I use Almond Milk and the turnips taste wonderful.  Simmer  drain well, discard the herb and reserve some of the cooking milk.

 

 

 

In a bowl, add a few tablespoons of butter (or coconut spread – vegan option) to the hot turnips and a little of the reserved milk and mash.  Don’t add too much milk so that the consistency of the turnips will be smooth and not runny. Add salt and pepper to taste while stirring in some newly chopped herbs used in the cooking and serve.

Dressed Up Boil Method:

This is my all-time favorite recipe from “The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas: The History of the Season’s Traditions, with Recipes for the Feast” by Jeff Smith (copyright 1991).

Mashed Rutabaga, Turnip, and Potato

1 ¾ pounds rutabaga, peeled and quartered

1 ½ pounds turnips, peeled and quartered

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

½ cup whipping cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The vegetables can be peeled ahead of time if you keep them in separate containers covered with water and Fruit-Fresh to prevent browning.  Drain before cooking.  Place the drained rutabaga in a 6-quart pot with ample fresh water and a pinch of salt.  Boil 15 minutes.  Add the turnips and potatoes and boil an additional 15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.  Drain well.  Mash the vegetables with the remaining ingredients.  They can also be pureed in several batches in a good food processor.

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Roasted Method:

 

 

 

 

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut turnips into chunks and put in a bowl.  Drizzle olive oil over the chunks and season with your favorite herbs such as rosemary, thyme or your favorite herb blend.  Salt and pepper and pour onto a cookie sheet.  Place in pre-heated oven and roast for 5 – 8 minutes.  Remove cookie sheet and stir turnips and place back in oven for another 5 – 8 minutes and stir again.  Total cooking time should be 20 minutes but will vary depending on the size of the chucks.

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Baking Method:

The final cooking option is baking and there are some great recipes online such as Turnips Au Gratin that can be found by searching your favorite cooking site.

 

 

 

 

 

My Romance with Chocolate

Romance of chocolate

Yes, I admit it. I’ve been having a love affair with chocolate for a very long time.  My earliest memories are when I was a young girl sitting around the campfire somewhere in northern California burning my marshmallows into a charcoal stage and smashing it between a piece of Hershey’s chocolate bar and graham cracker squares.  Life didn’t get better than that!

At that time, I was naïve about all the things you can do with chocolate.  In our house, we had chocolate candy bars and other pure chocolate candies (kisses etc.).  On occasion when fondue became a big rage in the 1970’s, I stepped out of the ordinary and had my first chocolate dipped fruit and bread.  It was a learning experience for me and opened a few new doors of possibilities.

Then, one day, I got a real education on the coolest use of chocolate when a new girl in my neighborhood who had just moved here from Sweden invited me home for lunch.  Her mother served me a chocolate sandwich!  Did I hit the jackpot on that lunch!  These Swedish kids certainly knew how to live!  What is a nine year old supposed to do but eat what’s served to her and compliment the cook by asking for seconds?  I thought it best not to tell my Mother what I ate for lunch that day and I never did.

Today, nothing surprises me anymore as everything is covered in chocolate.  I still consider myself a chocolate purest and haven’t yet jumped off that cliff to taste all the wacky things dipped, mixed or fried with chocolate.  Eating chocolate sandwiches is one thing but I draw the line at chocolate covered bugs!  No thank you.  I’m good with what I know and love…honestly.

Everyone has their “go to” chocolate, whether it is the high-end stuff or shall I say the “economically” priced stuff.  Personally, I have no complaints with high-end chocolate.  However, if I really need a hit of chocolate, a plain Hershey’s Kiss or a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar does the trick.  No fancy added stuff other than slipping in an almond.

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On the other hand, if you ask my Mother what her all-time “go to” favorite brand of chocolate is, she will tell you its Sanders.  She grew up in Detroit and Sanders was a local chocolate and ice cream shop that was known for its unbelievably delicious chocolates.   If you mention any other brand, she will argue with you until the cows come home that Sanders IS THE ONLY CHOCOLATE WORTH EATING.  There is no other company in the world that meets her chocolate standards other than Sanders!

Sanders was founded by German-born Frederick Sanders Schmidt on June 17, 1875, when he opened a candy store on Woodward Avenue at Gratiot in downtown Detroit.  (For more information about the Sanders chocolate company click on this link.)

I agree that, for the most part, Sanders does make a wonderful milk chocolate fudge sauce.  It’s light years better than that canned liquid syrupy stuff that Hershey’s makes, which I refuse to touch.  However, while we waited for a few coveted jars of Sanders chocolate to arrive from our Detroit relatives, my Mother would often make a homemade chocolate sauce that was a lot better than any store bought version we could buy in our dusty high desert town.  In fact, I prefer this sauce over Sanders (shh, don’t let my Mother hear this).

Yes, I realize I’m talking heresy and could be disinherited.  Sander’s chocolate is close to a religion in my family.  But seriously, Grandma’s homemade recipe is pretty darn good.  It’s easy to make, the ingredients are simple.  I’ve even tried swapping out the evaporated milk for high quality heavy cream, and it’s not the same.  You can’t mess with perfection!  The evaporated milk just works for some reason.

So my gift to you is share with you my Grandmother’s Homemade Chocolate Sauce Recipe.  I think you will enjoy the simple taste of chocolate as much as I do.

Grandma’s Homemade Chocolate Sauce

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

3 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup or 1 small can of evaporated milk

Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium to low heat for about 2 – 3 minutes.  Just to low boil and stir constantly.  It will burn if you let it boil too long.

Serve hot immediately or let it cool and it will set up to a nice thick spreadable fudge.

 A New Spin on Grandma’s Recipe – Vegan Style

I have also created a vegan version of this recipe out of necessity.  I’m now allergic to dairy products and I’m sad to say I have to limit my consumption of grandma’s chocolate sauce.  I created the next best thing.  A coconut, chocolate, almond version which I think it tastes pretty good.

Brenda’s Vegan Chocolate Sauce     

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

3 tablespoons liquid coconut oil (see note below)

½ cup Almond milk unsweetened

Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium to low heat for about 2 – 3 minutes.  Just to low boil and stir constantly.  It will burn if you let it boil too long.

This sauce is not as thick as the other sauce but it still is pretty nice.

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Expanding Chocolate into an Out of Body Experience …

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Do you love to bathe in chocolate?  I do!  Well… not like the woman in the picture above.  To bathe in a tub of chocolate is more of a fantasy of mine.  However, the next best thing to being in a bath of chocolate is to wash with a nice decadent bar of chocolate soap!

chocolate soap

I worked hard on creating this chocolate soap recipe.  It had to have that wonderful chocolate smell and feel, plus have the health benefits of leaving your skin moisturized.  I use a high quality organic fair trade cocoa powder (70% + cacao) along with fresh local goat’s milk and 3 different oils, which I call my Mediterranean recipe.  Nothing is more decadent than bathing with a bar of solid chocolate – you won’t be disappointed!  Oh my! Oh my! The smell, the feel! Mmmm – pure heaven.

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In addition to washing with a bar of chocolate, try giving yourself a chocolate moisturizing mask. According to Discovery Health and Fitness website they state chocolate is very healthy for your skin.

It may seem counterintuitive, but using a chocolate face mask can help keep skin clear and hydrated, according to Jessica Wu, M.D., a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. The key is using the right ingredients. “Since prepackaged face masks may contain salt or sugar particles with jagged edges that can scratch your skin, I recommend making your own chocolate face mask at home,” says Wu. “They’re cheap to make and all natural so if you accidentally lick your lips, you know its safe enough to eat.”

So here is their recipe for a chocolate face mask. However, I would recommend that you use locally produced honey and organic yogurt from a local farmer instead of using commercial brands.  Most large commercial brands contain additional ingredients to prolong shelf life, which may affect your desired results.  Check your local co-ops they always have these ingredients in stock.

Chocolate Face Mask

2 – 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (70% cacao or more)

2 – 3 tablespoons of local organic yogurt (add more or less to get the right consistency of a brownie batter)

1 teaspoon of local honey (to keep skin hydrated)

1 teaspoon of olive oil (for really dry skin)

Apply with fingertips to clean, dry skin and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes; rinse with lukewarm water.

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Recipe Review: Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken

Last winter while packing up my kitchen for a long overdue kitchen remodel I had to face the painful truth that I had too many cookbooks and binders of recipes I had cut out of newspapers, magazines etc. Although my new kitchen would increase in size (by a lot) with more cabinets and counterpace (we were knocking down walls, ceilings, pulling up floors down to the subfloor and starting over) The space designated for my cookbooks was going to be smaller than before and I couldn’t keep everything.

Years ago I adopted my Mother’s habit of writing notes next to recipe; although, I now added faces. This helped when I was quickly scanning a cookbook looking for something good to make. A picture is worth a thousand words. And so, my purging criteria was going to be simple, toss the books that have little to no notes or more sad faces and straight faces than happy faces on its pages.

1 happy face

Happy face means very good, meets my expectations.

3 happy faces

Three or more happy faces means outstanding! It went beyond my expectations.

straight face

Straight face means the recipe is ok but not great and needs tweaking either add or subtract and ingredient or change a technique etc. I.e. Its not bad enough to toss.

sad face

Sad face means it was really awful. Don’t make that again!

Now that you understand my method to rating recipes, onto the new recipe from Ellie Krieger. Ellie appeared on “The Today Show” on January 28th doing a segment called “Get 5 meals out of crock pot Chicken!” You can get her original recipe(s) here. For this blog I’m only rating her first recipe which is the Southwestern Chicken – feel free to try her other 4 recipes and let me know how they turned out.

I rate a recipe on several criteria’s. For example: ease of adapting/substituting ingredient(s) with what I have on hand. Can I cook it in a single pot as I’m the Queen of one pot meals! How many steps are there in the recipe? What kind of special equipment do I need? Any special ingredients? Can I cut it down or expand it to make more if I need too?

For this recipe it was too much food for my husband and I cut it down. Below is my adapted version of Ellie Krieger’s Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken.

Serves 2:

1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
4 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed (or any kind of chicken pieces will work)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (or a pint of frozen homemade stewed tomatoes from your garden)
2 cups or 2 boxes of frozen vegetables (whatever you have on hand I used mixed peas, carrots, corn and green beans)

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In a bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper.

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Add spices to skinned chicken and toss.

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Chop onion and garlic and add to bottom of a large 6 quart slow cooker.

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Add the chicken.

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Add the tomatoes (I make my own stewed tomatoes which I freeze), chopped bell peppers and frozen vegetables.

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Cover and cook on high or until chicken is tender. I set my cooker to the 4 hours setting.

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Four hours later – presto it was done! Oh and it smelled wonderful!!!

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I put the chicken and vegetables over quinoa and served.

When I went to clean up I discovered there was still a lot of vegetables left over in a nice chicken tomato broth so the next day I made myself a nice bowl of vegetable soup with a chopped parsley and a dollop of plain coconut yogurt (or substitute for sour cream – I’m allergic to dairy).

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1 happy face

Over all I give this recipe a happy face! It was easy to make and substitute ingredients and best of all my husband loved it! Its a keeper!