Thursday, October 28, 2010

My favorite 'fast food'

Mexican Cheese Tacos with Avocado and Arugula

Ole Corn Tortillas
Kraft Natural Authentic Mexican Cheese (finely shredded)
Chopped tomato
Butter (room temperature)
Pace Picante Sauce (medium hot)

The only way for this delicious homemade taco to be 'fast food' is for these ingredients to be on hand in the refrigerator, staples so to speak. I do. Frankly I'm addicted to this fast and easy recipe. It takes about 10 minutes total to fix and about the same amount of time to eat. Unless of course, you're feeding more than one person (yourself!)

I usually make two and start by placing two small nonstick skillets on the two small electric units on the stove. (I would love to have a gas stove but don't.) These skillets are always ready on my stove top, stacked together with a larger nonstick one.

Then, I get the tortillas and cheese out of the fridge. I quickly spread a small amount of butter (unsalted, kept at room temperature) on one side of each tortilla and place them in the two skillets, buttered sides down.

Since these skillets are nonstick it's not healthy to get them too hot. I usually set the "clock" dial at quarter after to start, then switch to 30 after soon after. I flip the tortillas when they get a little brown on one side.

Then, I add the fabulous shredded cheese to the crisped side of the tortilla. Kraft markets its Authentic Mexican Cheese with other shredded cheeses in hanging resealable plastic bags. The label says quesa quesadilla, asadero and manchego cheeses are included. The mixture is delicious!

While the cheese is melting I prepare the avocado and chop enough tomato for two tacos. I add these ingredients plus a few arugula leaves to one side of each cheese tortilla. Then, I slip them on a plate, add a little Pace picante sauce to each, sit down and eat them.

I invented this recipe this summer, partly as a means to use my homegrown tomatoes and arugula. Mid-summer, I ran out of arugula and found out it was an indispensable ingredient. I planted more seeds and could hardly wait to harvest some leaves. Nothing compares to the way the arugula combines with the other ingredients, especially the avocado, to make this recipe unforgettably delicious.

I'm still growing arugula in my patio garden and, since it is a cold weather crop, plan to grow it all winter. When I finally run out of home grown tomatoes -- I still have several productive vines -- I will just use the picante sauce. After growing my own tomatoes, I refuse to buy them in a grocery store. Too expensive and not as good.

These tacos are flexible enough to be eaten folded over. They have a slight crunch though from the lightly buttered and toasted inside.

This IS a fast food: No more than 20 minutes, start to finish. Compare that to driving to a fast food restaurant and running your engine for a while in the take-out line. However, it does require a degree of future orientation. You must plan ahead to have the ingredients on hand.

Furthermore, despite the cheese, it is less fattening and far healthier than a fast food burger. Two (2) Ole corn tortillas have just 130 calories. The avocado is a high calorie food but is an extremely healthy source of vegetable fat.

This recipe is also gluten-free! More protein can be added by including a slice or two of delicatessan turkey.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garden food cures 'breakfast food blahs'

For days now, I've had the "breakfast food blahs." I don't eat gluten anymore; so no toast, frozen waffles or pancakes for me. Nor do I eat oatmeal or farina. For a while I was enjoying hash browns (freezer case variety), eggs and turkey bacon. But anything all the time gets boring after a while. I've also had homemade yogurt smoothies on occasion. But lately, nothing seemed to suit.

Until this morning when I really looked at the three red potatoes I recently harvested from a "voluteer" potato vine in my garden. One was of medium size; the other two were small and one of those had a very crusty-looking skin.

I call the potato vine a volunteer because I didn't plant it this spring. Two years ago, I cut up a nearly rotten red potato and planted the pieces in a patch of earth around my witch hazel tree. They came up and I harvested some red potatoes believe it or not. I ate them, too. Some volunteers came up last spring and I pulled them out when they got to looking scroungy, eaten alive almost from flea beetles. When a new vine sprouted this spring in the very same place I let it go until it, too, got that moth eaten look. It was offensively ugly. When I jerked it up, however, I found the three potatoes mentioned above and lots of tiny red balls which could have turned it more if I let them grow.

I try to eat every food item my sloppy gardening produces. So this morning I set to peeling my little 'volunteers;' then, I sliced them very thinly and began to fry them in two little skillets with tiny amounts of butter and olive oil. I added some sliced onion (store bought) and some minced red pepper from the garden I was drying. And a small tomato, also from my garden, chopped up. Then I added one small piece of summer squash from the farmer's market, sliced but not so thinly, and finally some chopped up arugula. I seasoned with some Spike and a little garlic powder.

This made a good little golden-looking breakfast for me. Yum!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cool carrot salad

Today I cleaned out the fridge. As a result, I had fried cabbage and onions for breakfast. I also made a carrot salad out of the floppy carrots I found in the vegetable drawer. Some of them were growing hair (roots?). No worry; I chopped off the ends of each carrot, scrubbed them with a vegetable brush and used a peeler on them. Then, I shredded them with the little Black & Decker mini-processor I bought 14 years ago.

I think I used about 8 rather small carrots. I added a tablespoon or two of orange juice, some Craisins and a quarter cup of raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing.

I let the carrot salad chill in the clean refrigerator all day and had a little for dinner with hash browns and romaine and avocado salad. Yummy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blackberries! No jam

On a recent visit to my sister's home in Georgia, I joined her as she walked her miniature dachshunds, Cinnamon and Ginger. We decided to venture beyond her well kept subdivision to explore an abandoned housing project. One of several near her neighborhood north of Atlanta which bit the dust during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007, the project area is huge. At one end a construction pond has morphed into a marshland replete with cattails bursting in the summer sun. At the other end we found a trove of wild berry patches. Blackberries, I'm almost sure. It was early in the day before the summer heat had taken hold but we had nothing to hold the easily available pickings and decided to come back later.

We did that, dragging my just awakened daughter Katie with us. Actually Katie and I got there first. Laura came later with the dogs which she tied to a small tree in the midst of one of the blackberry patches. It was mid morning and hot so we didn't stay long. Among the three of us we gathered at least 12 cups in a short time. They sat on Laura's kitchen counter for a day. Then she rinsed about half and froze them. I rinsed the rest and brought them back to Tennessee with me.

The berries were extremely tart, but I dumped them in a pot thinking I'd add gobs of sugar and make a little jam. Big Oven has a simple recipe. After the berries had cooked down quite a bit I plopped a sample spoonful into a bowl and added sugar. After mixing this up I tasted some and found the sweetened berries had a good musty flavor.

But... The berry seeds were so big and so many that the texture was just unacceptable. I didn't know what to do.
I finally strained the cooked berries and got a little more than a pint of thick bitter juice.

I know dark berries have great anti-oxidant qualities so I'm drinking the stuff. Instead of adding sugar to the bitter mix, I add a couple of tablespoons of berry juice to 8 ounces of apple juice.
It tastes fine and I think it's healthy, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Tarting up' brown rice

A few days ago I wrote about brown rice as a great gluten-free staple food and credited it with helping me lose a little weight. One of my faithful readers, Kishia, immediately responded that she liked the idea BUT that brown rice can get boring sometimes. Kishia is a Facebook friend and one of my daughter Katie's best friends from childhood.

Then, my friend Irene quickly came to the rescue with a few ideas for "tarting up (her phrase)" brown rice dishes. "Herbs, hot sauce, or lemon pepper are just three ways to liven up brown rice," she advises.

I use a little unsalted butter and some soy sauce to season plain brown rice. These may be counter-productive for those on fat restricted or low salt diets. When I have leftover brown rice for breakfast, I add half a banana, chopped, a pat of butter and some honey before I microwave it.

I also think short grain brown rice has a more interesting texture than long grain brown rice.
I mentioned before that I am partial to the Lundberg brand. Then today while sorting through piles of clippings and unopened mail I found the following recipe for Short Grain Spanish Rice, clipped from my last bag of Lundberg.

Short Grain Spanish Rice

1 can (14.5 oz) undrained diced tomatoes
2-3 cups water or chicken broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 and 1/2 cups Lundberg Short Grain Brown Rice
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Drain tomatoes, reserving liquid. Add to the reserved liquid enough water or broth (or combination, thereof) to make 3 cups. Set aside.
Heat oil in 4-quart heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
Add bell pepper, onion and garlic; saute briefly. Add rice and cayenne; stir.
Add the 3 cups reserved liquid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cover and continue cooking 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, let stand in covered pot for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork, salt to taste.
Yield: 5 cups, 6-7 servings.

I haven't tried this but it does sound yummy.

Now, after finding the above recipe, I decided to go online to find a recipe for rice pudding made with brown rice. I've always loved rice pudding which I learned to eat in the school cafeteria in Benton, Arkansas. Of course, that was long ago when school cafeterias first started getting federal funds and all the food was cooked in house and served from steam tables and there were no snack food or drink machines to be found.

Brown rice requires more water and more cooking time so regular recipes for rice pudding just don't work. I'd never thought to look online before, but I found several at the Lundberg website:

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

1 1/2 cups cooked Lundberg® Short Grain Brown Rice
3 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins or chopped dates (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups milk
finely chopped nuts (optional)

Beat eggs, add sugar, beat until smooth. Add milk, salt and extract. Add rice and raisins. Pour into greased shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Set in pan of hot water and bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes or until custard is set. After baking for approximately 30 minutes, gently stir custard to suspend rice. Serve warm or cold with milk or whipped cream. Serves six.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bacon and eggs with cheese, no toast

This morning I went by my doctor's to have my blood pressure checked -- I actually had to make an appointment for this -- and my reading was 120/80. Hurray! For a while now my readings have bordered on being high: 135/89 or 140/85. My daughter told me the lower number represents your resting blood pressure and that nowadays doctors like to see that number in the 70s. But when I was young 120/80 was considered normal.

The LPN (licensed practical nurse) who took my blood pressure was young African American woman. Shorter than me (I'm 5'3"), very pretty and with a lovely sunny disposition she smiled and said, "You're doing something right!" I wanted to hug her.

My blood pressure is extra important now because I'm seeking to donate a kidney to my daughter who lost kidney function in January of 2008. A beautiful twenty-something she went to an Urgent Care clinic with what she thought was a bad cold or the flu. They took blood and urine samples and sent her home with a prescription for an antibiotic. Her tests revealed her kidneys were functioning at 10 percent and that she was severely anemic. (The kidneys secrete a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow.) The clinic called her and told her to get to an emergency ward immediately.

Like many seemingly healthy young people my daughter is a victim of IgA nephropathy, an auto-immune disease that can result in permanent kidney damage. As soon as we heard the diagnosis -- permanent kidney damage -- I volunteered myself as a possible kidney donor. I remembered an aunt who donated a kidney to her daughter way back in the 1940's. They both lived long healthy lives afterwards.

I was ready to get on the operating table in January of 2008. But we soon learned things were not that simple. She's been on dialysis for two years now. In the first kidney transplant program she registered with her transplant coordinator resisted me as a possible donor from the beginning. Because of my age. I am 67. She would not even agree to test my blood until I proved myself exceptionally healthy. I made the mistake of telling her my blood pressure was sometimes borderline. That made things even worse.

Recently, Katie applied to Vanderbilt's Kidney Transplant Program here in Nashville. I accompanied her as a post-operative care-giver and possible donor. They took my blood the same day (right after they took hers) and I soon learned that I am a blood match for her. Hence, my double excitement about my good blood pressure reading.

But what have I been doing right, as my beautiful nurse said?

For one thing, I've lost seven pounds. For another, I've been on a gluten free diet for about two months now. Of course, this second thing has helped with the weight loss since it eliminates bread and anything else made with flour. It has also alleviated my irritable bowel syndrome, something that has plagued me ever since I can remember. I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease for which a gluten free diet is recommended (in fact, it is the only treatment for it).

In a roundabout way, the gluten-free diet has improved my eating habits overall. I eat more fruits and vegetables, partly to replace toast and sandwiches and partly because I seem to crave them more. I've also cut down on fats, red meat and have switched from regular to turkey bacon.

Finally, brown rice has become the gluten-free starch that holds my diet together. I cook it in a ricer two or three times a week. It's always on hand so I can eat it when nothing else is. I buy Lunden's Short Grain Rice in bulk at Cost-Co (NOT at Whole Foods! I boycott them because of their right-wing, anti-union Chief Operating Officer.)