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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Colors Blue/Purple: Blueberry Sauce

Today is sort of a two-fer, not only am I featuring blueberries as my blue food, but they are also a superfood which means they are Good and Good For You.

The BLUE and PURPLE category get their coloring from natural pigments known as anythocyanins.  The anthocyanins in purple grapes, raisins, and blueberries are especially powerful antioxidants which help prevent cell damage.

Blueberries in particular among this group are high in vitamin C and fiber.  Whether eaten raw or cooked lightly to preserve their juices, they maintain a high nutrient level and in fact, add nutritional value to whatever they are baked or cooked into.

Eating even a small handful of blueberries a day can help with healthy aging and prevention of memory loss.  They also contain a compound that aids in lowering cholestrol.  So blueberries basically rock.

Other fruits and veggies that fall into the blue/purple group are blackberries, blue corn, blue potatoes, eggplant, figs, plums, prunes, purple grapes, and raisins.

Blueberry Sauce

1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of salt
1 cup boiling water
2 cups fresh blueberries
3 tbsp lemon juice

In a deep sauce pan combine sugar, corn starch, nutmeg, and salt.

Stir in a cup of boiling water and whisk until well-blended. 

Bring to a boil over medium high heat (dial level 8), stirring contantly. Once the mixture is thickened and boiling, continue to cook for 2 minutes, stirring all the while.

Add in blueberries and bring to a boil again.  Cook for 2 minute, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and mix in lemon juice.  Transfer to a non-reactive dish (i.e., not metal), cover and cool in the fridge.


You can substitute frozen unsweetened blueberries, but they need to be thawed and drained.  Increase cornstarch to 3 tbsp.  Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and add in blueberries and lemon juice at the same time (do not cook). 

For the record, I am not being sponsored by the Ground Nutmeg Association, it's just coincidence that this makes two recipe in a row with nutmeg as the featured spice.  If you aren't crazy about it, you can substitute 1/2 tsp of cinnamon in lieu of the 1/4 tsp of nutmeg.

What can you do with blueberry sauce?  What can't you do is my question.  You can serve it over poundcake, pancakes or waffles.  You can serve it over ice cream, frozen yogurt or pudding.  You can add it to a smoothie or milkshake.  You can serve it with oatmeal or use it to layer a trifle or yogurt parfait like I did.

Blueberry Yogurt Parfait

Vanilla yogurt
Sliced almonds
Blueberry sauce

Altermate layers of yogurt, granola, nuts and sauce in a tall thin serving dish (like a clear coffee cup or drinking glass).  Garnish with fresh berries and almonds.  Pretty and pretty good!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mini Cinny "Donuts"

So you're probably noticing that tonight is not a "color" food post.  I fully intended to go all blue on you, but couldn't settle on a blue recipe that I liked.  And then I kept getting distracted by another recipe that kept popping into my head.  So blue will be coming at you this weekend and in the meantime, here is something fun-ilicious to try out instead.

I don't remember where I saw this recipe exactly.  I know it was in a book in a bookstore somewhere in Durham, and I remember wondering if I would remember the recipe if I didn't get the book.  The answer would be yes, I mostly kind of remembered it.  And you go.

Mini Cinny "Donuts"

1 box yellow cake mix
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a medium-sized bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon together.  Set aside.

Prepare the yellow cake mix according to box directions.  Add in the nutmeg and blend well.

Grease a mini muffin tin and fill each muffin space no more than 2/3 full.

Bake for 10-11 minutes until cake springs back from your touch (mine took exactly 10.5 minutes each time).  Remove muffin tin from the oven and immediately remove "donuts" and roll in the cinnamon sugar mix.

Set on a rack to cool to room temp.  Just remember to chew after you start shoving them in your face.

Makes 4-1/2 to 5 dozen mini DONUTS!!!!!!


As I learned in experimenting with my mostly remembered recipe, a little bit of nutmeg will go a long way.  I used a full tsp of nutmeg, but cut it back in the recipe for you because it got a little's not going to stop anyone from eating them, but you don't want them sitting around forever.

As I also learned, in order to avoid donuts with muffin tops, it is key not to fill your muffin tin spaces any more than 2/3 full.  That way they will bake up to just the rim of the space and not over.

I would recommend putting some paper towels or a sheet of wax paper under your rack to catch any sugars that fall off when you rack the donuts.

And the reason you want to let the donuts cool is so that they will set.  The warmer they are, the softer they are and the more likely they are to fall apart in your hand.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Colors Orange/Yellow: Mandarin Almond Smoothie

It’s a rainy day in NC so to bring a bit of sunshine, I’m going to focus on the sunny food colors of ORANGE and YELLOW. The orange/yellow fruits and veggies are colored by carotenoids, another natural plant pigment.

Foods that are rich in carotenoids can help improve the function of your immune system and help reduce heart disease and the risk of cancer.

The beta-carotene found in the orange fruits and veggies is converted to vitamin A when you eat it which is good for maintaining healthy mucous membranes and also good for your eyes.

Orange/Yellow fruits and veggies include apricots, bananas, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow apples, yellow peppers, yellow squash, and yellow tomatoes.

Though I’m not a huge fan of bananas I know they are good for you so I do eat them but only if (1) they are smothered in ice cream and sundae toppings or (2) smooshed up in a smoothie.

I know there are oodles of ways and means to make smoothies and everyone has their favorite, but this is my basic smoothie recipe. I always use the same base ingredients – banana, yogurt, and skim milk – but change up the add-ins depending on what other ingredients I have laying around when I make them.  This is one that has both an orange AND a yellow in it.

Mandarin Almond Smoothie

1 banana, sliced
2 cups Mandarin orange slices, drained
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp almond extract
skim milt to fill

Thick slice the bananas into a blender and add in Mandarin orange slices.

Scoop in your yogurt and add the almond extract.  Fill the blended with skim milk until you the level reaches 4 cups (32 oz).

Run on "Blend" until the bananas and Mardarin are blended in.

Serve up.  Makes two 16 oz servings.


I keep all my ingredients in the fridge (including the banana) so that I don't have to add ice to the mixture.

I usually use plain yogurt, but for this taste experiment, me and the Parentals used Greek yogurt which added a slight tang to the overall taste which was pretty good.  You can also use vanilla yogurt too.

If you want a slightly thicker smoothie, use less skim milk and add in more yogurt.  I would not suggest adding more banana because it tends to take over the flavor of the smoothie if you use more than one.

If you want to try something different you can substitute frozen blueberries, fresh raspberries, strawberries or blackberries to the mix in any combination.

As an alternate flavor additive you can use honey or vanilla instead of almond extract.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Color Green: Lima Beans with Bacon Dressing

The GREEN group gets its coloring from chlorophyll, a natural plant pigment. Your darker greens are rich in antioxidants. Some of your darker greens contain a chemical called lutein which when consumed with foods that contain another chemical called zeaxanthin (found in your yellow and red fruits and vegs) work together to keep your eyes healthy. They have been known to help reduce the risk of cataracts.

Some of your more cruciferous greens have something known as indoles which can help protect against certain types of cancer. Your leafy greens tend to be high in folate (a vitamin B).

Green fruits and vegs include asparagus, artichokes, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cucumbers, green apples, green beans (meaning beans that are green), green cabbage, green grapes, green peppers, green onions, honeydew, kiwi, lettuces (of a leafy great nature), limes, peas, spinach, and zucchini.

With so many greens available, I wanted to try out a veggie that I haven't spent a lot of time with -- lima beans. Did you know limas are named after the city in Peru? Yeah, now you do.  And they were planted alongside corn as one of the earliest harvested crops. So have been good for you for a looooong time. 

This recipe was also inspired by one I found in my 1965 Better Homes and Garden Vegetable Cookbook (just can't help myself, yummy stuff back then).

Lima Beans with Bacon Dressing

1 (16 oz) bag frozen lima beans
4 slices bacon, cut into 1" pieces
2 tbsp onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup tomato juice
1-1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp celery seed
Pepper, to taste

Cook the lima beans according to bag directions, then drain and set aside.

In a skillet, brown the bacon lightly. 

Add in onion and cook over low heat until tender but not brown.

Add remaining ingredients except beans and simmer for 5 minutes.  Pepper to taste.

When ready, pour dressing over lima beans and serve.


To make this a vegetarian veggie dish, substitute 1 tbsp olive oil in lieu of bacon to cook the onions in and add 1 tsp of salt to the sauce.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Color Red: Nippy Beets

So the first color group I'm going to look at is RED.  Red fruits and veggies get their coloring from lycopenes (nutrients) and anthocyanins (antioxidants) which are linked to helping reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, helping protect cells from damage, keeping your heart healthy, supporting a healthy memory, and improving urinary tract health too.

Red fruits and veggies include beets, cherries, cranberries, pink grapefruits, pomegranates, radishes, raspberries, red apples, red cabbage, red grapes, red peppers, red potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes.

The red veg I'm featuring in today's recipe is beets.  Beets contain vitamin C, vitamin A, folates, and potassium to name but a few of their nutritional highlights.  They also contain betaine which not only gives them their deep rich color, but is good for lowering blood pressure and may have some anti-inflammatory qualities too.

Beets are one of my favorite vegs and I was excited when I dug up this recipe in one of my 1965 Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks.  I tweaked it a tidge and I think you're going to like it.

Nippy Beets
(their word, not mine)

1 (15 oz) can beets, cuts or slices
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Crumbled bacon (optional)

Heat the beets in the juice they came in.

In a separate saucepan blend the butter, mustard, honey and Worchestershire with a whisk over medium-high heat.  Bring just to boiling then remove from heat.

Once the beets are heated through, drain them and add to the saucepan with the butter sauce.

Stir until well-coated. You can garnish with crumbled bacon or serve as is.


Though the recipe called for canned beets, if you have the time and inclination, you can make them from fresh.  Just boil, peel, chop and sauce.

It was decided over dinner with the Guinea Pig Parents that the sauce would also go well over steamed carrots or served over a nice thick slice of ham too. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Plate Palette: Variety IS the spice of life

So I want to talk to you about variety and how key it can be in taking your meal from good to remarkable. 

You know what puts the Wow! factor in a meal when you go out to a nice restaurant?  Okay maybe the exorbitant price at first...but other than that, it starts with presentation, followed by aroma, and then taste, and the gradual discovery of how each item on your plate both stands out and works together with everything else.  It engages all your senses and makes your meal an eating experience.

And that's not just a happy coincidence.  Someone put thought into making that happen for you.  A variety of texture, consistency, form, flavor, temperature and color, these are the elements that will engage your diner and keep them coming back for more.

Texture/Consistency -- crunchy, smooth, creamy, raw, rough, runny (like a sauce, not a nose), thick, thin, flakey.  These are the types of different textures and consistencies you can incorporate into your meal. Cooking style and method will contribute a lot to the final texture or consistency of your foods.

Form -- small and round, long and thin, thick and beefy, slices, stacked, flat.  You want to avoid having all the same shaped foods on your plate.  Don't be afraid to get a little height in there too, something like those finely sliced deep fried onion crunchies stack really well and high without seeming like they're taking over the plate.

Flavor -- spicy, subtle, zesty, warm, sour, cool, bitter, sweet, zingy, bland (to provide a base for something more taste-attention-getting on your plate), herbed, fruited, citrusy.  Mix it up a bit.  You know a fruity sauce will help cool down a super mouth-burning taste, and sweet and sour always makes a great combo.

Temperature -- don't be afraid to serve something hot with something room temperature, or something warm with something cold, the difference in temperature will provide a nice contrast and add some interest to your plate.

Color -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and white.  There are so many articles these days about incorporating a variety of colors in your food choices because each one provides a different benefit (mostly health-realted) and it's also a great way to add some contrast and variety to your meal.  There's nothing I find more disappointing than to look down at my plate and realize that I made food that was all the same color or in the same tonal range.  It's amazing the difference it can make in how your meal looks and makes you feel by making a small adjustment or two to the palette.

So when you go to make your next meal, keep this in mind. Do some experimenting and remember that some foods may fall in several categories.  I think you'll have fun with it.

For the next couple of posts, I want to do a little more digging into the color food groups and bring you some info on what they can do and why they are good for you.  And then find some tasty recipes to feature them in.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fun with Peeps: Bedtime Bunnies

It's Easter, so I figured as long as everyone's going to be hopped on sugar anyway, I'd do some 'sperimenting and come up with something fun.  I was inspired by a treat I'd seen on -- s'mores made with Peeps and milk chocolate.

Unfortunatley, my trials in the kitchen were not successful on the s'more front, but with some tweaking, I came up with these instead.  While I am calling them "Bedtime Bunnies" I would definitely not suggest having these before you go to sleep tonight. 

Bedtime Bunnies

Peep Bunnies
Graham crackers
White dipping chocolate

Break your graham crackers into four parts.

Cut bunnies in half lenthwise so you get a full front and a full back.

Lay them out with the sticky side down on the crackers (it will help keep them in place).

Dip the bottom half of the bunny graham to make a little blanket for it.

Sprinkle with spinkles and lay on a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet.

Once you have tucked in all the bunnies, put the cookie sheet in the fridge or freezer to help harden the chocolate.

When the chocolate is firm, carefully remove bunnies from the wax paper and enjoy the sugar rush!

If the kiddos want to know why half the bunnies don't have faces, just tell them that some bunnies like to sleep on their fluffy bellies. :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Plate Palette: A Plate Divided (with Horseradished Potatoes!)

Growing up, dinner always consisted of three main things -- a meat, a veggie (usually green), and a bread or starch of some kind.  This system of eating was so ingrained that when I went to college, my meals never felt complete unless I had those three things on my plate. (Side note: I gave up my meal plan 2 weeks into my freshman year because I realized that my own cooking was far more interesting and tasty -- it's amazing what you can whip up in a tiny dorm kitchen.)

What I didn't know then (but do know now) is that my Mom was conditioning me to put together "The Ideal Plate." In my last post I talked about ideal portion sizes, but how does that translate to your plate?  Well the experts recommend that you divide your plate into sections (as demo'd in photo above).
  • 1/4 of your plate should be dedicated to lean meats or proteins
  • 1/4 of your plate should be reseved for whole grain starches (which includes high carb/starchy vegs)
  • 1/2 of your plate should be filled with veggies and/or fruits
By doing this you will be able to help control your portion sizes (assuming you don't change out your regular-sized dinner plate with a larger charger) and to find a healthy balance in your meal.

Okay, don't want this to turn into a preachy thing so...hey look! is that a recipe? Yum!

Horseradished Potatoes

1 large Russet potato
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp butter (or favorite butter substitute)
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1-1/2 tsp horseradish
salt, to taste

Scrub your potato well then cut into large chunks, leaving the skin on.  If you really don't like the skin, you can remove it but remember, the skin is where the bulk of the nutrients are found.

Boil until fork tender then drain.  Add milk and butter to potato and rough mash.  If you really don't like lumpy potatoes, you can put them in a mixer or food processor to smooth out.

Add in horseradish and chives.

Mix potatoes until well blended.  Salt to taste and serve.


One large Russet potato will yield 4 ideal serving portions.

For the horseradish, you want the real stuff, not a horseradish sauce, but if you do use the saucy version, then double the amount listed above and reduce the butter by a tsp.  The sauce will help give the potatoes a creamy texture.

I enjoyed mine with some steamed carrots and green beans, and a nice lightly marinated piece of Talapia.  Mmm, mmm, great.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Plate Palette: Balance by Portion

So one of the things I keep in my culinary files is a copy of a photo from a National Geographic article titled "Why Are We So Fat?" (Aug 2004, Vol 6, No 6).  It's a plate filled with objects representing the ideal portion serving size for some basic foods -- meat, rice, potato, pasta, etc.  I love it because it really puts an image in your head and kind of brings the whole idea of portion into perspective. 

I was curious since the article was written eight years ago to see if any of the research had changed.  The only thing different was the suggestion service size for cheese, which I'm sad to report decreased.  So I thought I would share some of these images with you to get it into your head as we move into the whole putting together the ideally good for you plate.

I would share the actual image with you but unfortunately my copy is super dark and doesn't translate well in second transfer.


3 oz serving of chicken or beef = a deck of cards (or the size of your hand minus the fingers, but that seems gross)

potato = head of a light bulb

serving of pasta = a computer mouse (without the tail)

serving of fruit = size of a baseball

serving of steamed rice = cupcake holder (minus the cupcake...and icing)

bagel or muffin = hockey puck

serving of cheese = two playing dice (though some places say three, I like them better)

snacks like chips or pretzels = one cupped handful (with the fingers)

So that gives you some idea of what you should be looking for when doling out your portions.  And depending on your age and size, there's some room for variation I'm sure.

For more details about portions, there are several great web pages out there.  The one that I found that I liked the most was WebMD.  The WebMD printable portion control guide is ready to print-out and pop on the fridge for easy reference.  I found just a few variations from what I have above, but the differences are minute (my-newt, not min-ut), so check it out.

Next time, I will be talking about Balance by Nutrition, just a primer though because that could be a topic for a blog all by itself.  And I will have a recipe to share with you for that. Promise. :)