Monthly Archives: March 2013

Salad Dressings: Made from Scratch!

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As a part of my effort to eat more fruits and vegetables, I started eating more salads. I was never a big salad person before; it was just something my mom served along with more delicious items such as spaghetti or pizza. But I have truly grown to love salads and everything they can be. I’ve started roasting different vegetables, such as broccoli or sweet potato, and throwing them on as toppings. And experimenting with using spreads like hummus or salsa along with my usual dressing. Salad dressing – that’s what I wanted to talk about here. I had no idea the excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and unnecessary chemicals that end up in your average benign-looking bottle of salad dressing. It’s shocking! And such a shame since it’s so easy to whip up your own salad dressing at home.

For the most part, I make salad dressing in little individual servings when I need it – but I’m going to write this basic recipe for both that circumstance and if you’re making a larger batch for more people, or for a week’s worth of salads. I am also very fluid when it comes to my dressings, meaning I add in whatever looks good and I don’t really measure. But don’t worry – I used a measuring cup/spoon to figure out approximately what I usually use so I can write it up here for you guys . My go-to dressing is a vinaigrette-style. For this style of dressing, the basic formula is one part acid to three parts oil. The types and add-ins from there are up to you. You can make the dressing in any container large enough to fit about 2 cups, but I find a mason jar (or re-used spaghetti or salsa jar) makes for a good storage vessel.

Foxy Whole Foodie’s Basic Vinaigrette
Makes approximately 2 cups of dressing

    ½ cup of your choice of acid – vinegar (any type, balsamic is nice), lemon/lime juice, etc.
    1 ½ cup of your choice of oil – I almost always use olive but others such as avocado would work fine too

Whisk the oil into the acid until the mixture emulsifies (i.e. doesn’t separate anymore). Serve over any kind of salad you like and enjoy! 

Optional add-ins:
Use a teaspoon or two of any one or any combination of the items below. Or get creative and add in one of your favorite ingredients!

    Dijon mustard – my favorite that goes in almost every dressing I make
    Minced garlic
    Minced shallot
    Fresh chopped or dried herbs such as dill, parsley, cilantro or basil
    Freshly chopped chili pepper or dried red pepper flakes (for heat if you’d like)

That’s my basic recipe! It’s so easy. In the case of making it for one, I use about a teaspoon of acid to about 3 teaspoons of oil and whisk it together with a fork in a small bowl (or you can put it in a small Tupperware and shake to combine – which is good for packing dressing for lunches). Honestly, I use whatever combination of ingredients looks good that day, or will go with the food I’m having. My favorite combination is Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and dried dill. Yum!

Personally, I don’t usually eat creamy dressings like ranch or blue cheese, but I do occasionally make them if I’m having guests over who would like them or if the food I’m serving calls for it. For example, I made both last year for the Super Bowl because I made Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, and I knew I would need them for dipping. Just like with the vinaigrette, I made them both in mason jars for storage. Below are the recipes I used:

Creamy Ranch Dressing

    1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, use 1 cup regular milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
    ¼ cup Greek yogurt
    1 clove grated/minces garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
    A few dashes of hot sauce
    1 tablespoon dried parsley (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
    1 tablespoon dried dill (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
    ½ tablespoon dried chives (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
    Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and serve.

Blue Cheese Dressing

    ½ cup heavy cream
    ½ cup Greek yogurt
    1 container blue cheese crumbles (6-8 ounces)
    A pinch of cayenne pepper
    Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and serve.

I would say that the blue cheese and ranch dressings should be used up within a week and a half or so. The vinaigrettes should last longer – up to a month depending on your ingredients. With the vinaigrette, the oil may solidify in the refrigerator (especially with olive oil) – no worries, just let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes and it will re-liquefy.

Note: The vinaigrette recipe is my own – from practice and playing around with the ingredients. The Ranch and Blue Cheese dressing recipes are based on recipes from one of my food idols – Rachael Ray.  All her recipes (and she has some genius ones!) can be found at foodnetwork.com.

Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

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Shepherd’s Pie is one of my absolute favorite foods. It truly is a comfort food classic. For a long time, I only got it when I went out to Irish pubs but a few months ago I tried making it at home and it was so easy and delicious! Plus, I had control of what ingredients went into the dish. After my delivery from Washington’s Green Grocer last week, I had some great local ground lamb from Border Springs Farm just waiting to be cooked up into Shepherd’s Pie deliciousness – so that’s what was on the menu for dinner last night. Granted, Shepherd’s Pie is not a light dish – and it’s definitely not veggie-centric, but it order to eat healthy we have to let ourselves have some of the things we love – in moderation. So my solution is to have Shepherd’s Pie at home, in a reasonable portion size, with a nice big green salad on the side. Yum.

For this recipe, you are going to need some prepared mashed potatoes for your shepherd’s pie topping. It’s a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes – but if you don’t have any take the time to peel and cube up some potatoes now (any kind you like) and throw them into some water to boil while you cook. Once the potatoes are tender, drain and mash them up with a few tablespoons of butter and enough milk to make them the proper consistency. You can add shredded cheese to your potatoes if you like, I personally keep them plain.

Now first thing’s first – get yourself a cast iron skillet. Nothing sears meat and imparts flavor quite like cast iron. And they are pretty cheap, and last forever. Literally, some people have cast iron skillets that have been passed down from their grandparents. I’m not that lucky, but I do have a fresh cast iron skillet of my own to season over the years. Now, get the skillet nice and hot and add a little oil of your choice (I use olive oil for just about everything). When the oil starts to ‘ripple’ – it’s ready for the meat to hit the pan. Sear the meat in a hot pan, and after a few minutes add a chopped onion and a few cloves of grated (or minced) garlic.

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Of course when I made this last night, I didn’t have any onion in the house. Never mind the fact that I had literally been to the grocery store 30 minutes before cooking this dish. Oh well. This time I used a little granulated onion. Once the meat is nice and browned and the onions are translucent, add a tablespoon of tomato paste. Have you discovered the tomato paste in a tube yet? It’s amazing! Use what you need, recap, and then throw it back in the fridge. No reason to do the canned-tomato-paste dance and buy a can, only use a portion of it, try to save it in the fridge in a Tupperware and inevitably forget and end up throwing it away. No sir, those days are over. Sauté the tomato paste for a minute or two, until incorporated, and then add a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. At this point, you can add about 1/2 cup of broth if your pan is looking dry. Personally, I had enough liquid from the fat of the lamb to skip this step and move right to tossing in the frozen carrots and peas!

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Feel free to use fresh carrots and peas (in which case the carrots would need to be added in at the same time as the onions and garlic in order to have time to soften), but I always keep some Alexia Organic frozen carrots and peas in the freezer for throwing into soups, stir-frys, etc. so this is a great use for them. Once the peas and carrots are mixed in, you can top the whole dish with the mashed potatoes and place in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes to crisp up the top.

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Yum. I think Shepherd’s Pie is my favorite comfort food.

5 Steps Towards a Clean Diet

5 steps to clean eating

As I’ve mentioned before, about a year ago I started my transition to a green, clean diet. At first I didn’t realize that was what I was doing, but as I learned more about it – it’s become the lifestyle for me. A green (or clean) diet focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – accented by lean meat and whole grains. It is a huge change, especially in a society that has focused so much on created ‘convenience foods’ and has advertised foods as ‘low fat’ and ‘low calorie’ as good for your body. It’s a confusing health world out there, with articles one week saying that paleo is the way to go, and the next week saying that juice cleanses are the best thing. So here’s my philosophy: forget the diets, forget the rules and eat whole, unprocessed foods from nature. If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it. I promise, after you eat this way for a while your body will get over its sugar addiction and you’ll be able to enjoy the taste of real foods so much more than ever before. And those unhealthy, processed foods will start to taste like the chemicals masquerading as food that they are.

As I’ve said, this was a long journey for me. Mostly because I didn’t realize what I was doing as I was doing it, I just slowly started eliminating various unhealthy practices from my life (i.e. fast food, sugary drinks, processed food). I also took the approach of using up something I had around my house before starting a green alternative. For example, I finished using the laundry detergent I had and then replaced it with my homemade version (recipe here). Some people choose to purge their house first and start a green life from there. Here are a few of my tips to get you started.

1. Don’t drink your calories.
Luckily I stopped drinking soda in high school so this step wasn’t as hard for me as it is for some. Soda, not to mention being full of chemicals, is nothing but sugar that is doing absolutely nothing to improve your health. Your average soda can range from 100-200 calories for a 12 oz portion – and provides no fiber, protein, or other vitamins to make those calories count. Empty calories such as soda don’t fill you up – so you just end up eating more later. Need the caffeine? Try tea or coffee, both of which have healthy antioxidants and no (or in the case of black coffee, very few) calories. And increase your water intake – you should drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. That means if you weight 140 pounds, you should be drinking 70 ounces of water a day.

2. Read ingredient labels.
Maybe the most important step you can take is to learn to read the labels on the food you buy. While the nutritional panel is also good to read, it can be misleading. For example, if a product contains less than .5 grams of trans fats – they are allowed to list 0 grams of trans fat on the label, and advertise the item as ‘trans-fat free’ on the front of the box/can/etc. However, .5 grams per serving size of the incredibly harmful trans fats is a lot considering the maximum daily allowance is set at 2 grams total. Personally, I prefer no trans fats at all. But in the case of products with less than .5 grams, the only way to tell is by reading the ingredients label – anything with ‘partially hydrogenated’ oil in it has trans fats.

Look for ingredients labels that have few ingredients, and ingredients that you can pronounce. A good goal is to avoid processed items with more than 5 ingredients, and avoid anything that has ingredients you don’t recognize as food.

3. Make your home, work, car, etc. a safe space.
I think the simplest and most effective thing you can do is remove unhealthy choices from your home, office, car – wherever you snack. When your cabinets are stocked with nuts and other healthy snacks it’s easier to make good choices. Also, if there are no donuts, chocolate bars, or chips around to snack on – then you can’t snack on them! Whenever I make a healthy meal, I like to double the recipe and freeze half so that I have healthy meals at the ready for nights when I didn’t plan dinner ahead. Make healthy choices easy for you to make – and you’ll make them more often.

4. Educate yourself.
This step is really where it all started for me. I subscribed to ‘Eat This, Not That’ and the health newsletters continued from there. Studies have shown that people who read about health regularly lead healthier lives – because that are more educated about food and their bodies. Makes sense to me! 🙂 So subscribe to a few healthy twitter feeds or blogs or newsletters. I’d like to think reading this blog is a good first step 🙂 but here are some of my other favorites:

Most of these blogs also have twitter and/or pinterest – so don’t forget to follow them there as well!

5. Harness the power of [organic] whole fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Make fruits and vegetables a big part of your life. Structure your meals to include more fruits and vegetables – and make them the focus of more meals. One way I’ve started doing this is through Meatless Mondays during which I eat vegetarian for the day. It helps me think of fruits and vegetables in a new way, as the main component of a meal and experiment with new recipes. As a result, I find myself craving meatless options on a more regular basis. I wrote about this in detail in this post. Also, when you’re eating in this manner there’s less room in your life for unhealthy foods. Try adding a new, seasonal fruit or vegetable to your diet each week – through experimentation you’ll find the foods that you can crave just as much as unhealthy choices!

I hope these tips help – there are so many more but I didn’t want to overload one post. What are your favorite tricks for eating healthier?

Becoming a Runner (?)

I want to preface this post by saying that I am not a runner – at least not yet. I’ve tried many times to develop running into a habit over the years, but I haven’t been successful. For the past four years or so, I haven’t even tried. I had adopted an attitude of “I’m just not a runner” and frequently made jokes that if you ever saw me running, you should run too because something obviously must be chasing me. I had given up hope that I would ever be one of those people who crossed the finish line of a race, looking exhausted but so absolutely proud of themselves. But yesterday I ran 3.1 miles (5k). And I did not die, as I feared I would. In fact, it felt great. Let me start at the beginning.

It all started with a pair of shoes.

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And if there’s one thing Cinderella taught us, it’s that a great pair of shoes can change your life.

A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents and went shoe shopping with my mom. And I figured while I was at the shoe store, I figured I should get a new pair of sneakers – you know, just in case I actually decided to do some kind of physical activity. The pair of New Balance sneakers above caught my eye. Of course they weren’t the cheapest shoes in the store by any means, but after picking them up and discovering how unbelievable lightweight they were – and then trying them on and discovering how incredibly comfortable they were – I was hooked. I had to have these shoes. And then a funny thing happened, the shoes made me want to go for a walk. So the next day my dad and I took a 1.5 mile walk around the neighborhood first thing in the morning. And when I got back home to DC, I took a walk around my neighborhood in the afternoon that was another approximately 1.5 miles. I actually was anxious at work all day to get home and take a walk. It’s like the shoes were at home begging to be used.

I also think the shoes may have just been the catalyst, and the true motivator is my new, healthy lifestyle. I’ve been on a green diet for almost a year now, and I feel better and better each day. And the next logical step in my transition was to become more active. And this all coincided perfectly with the start of warmer weather (except for our freak snowstorm yesterday), so it was the perfect storm. Yesterday, despite the snow and cold, I walked to the gym and ran/jogged/walked (mostly walked, but never too slowly) 3.1 miles. Why 3.1? Well, yesterday I signed up for ‘Run or Dye’ in DC with a friend of mine. It’s a 5k color run on June 8th, where you run through the course and get splattered with paint. Sounds amazing, right? I signed up yesterday at lunch, but then I had to prove to myself that I could actually get through 3.1 miles without dying or making a fool of myself. Which fortunately I didn’t.

Actually during the first 1.5 miles, I was thinking that my training strategy was all wrong and that I should stop at 1.5 and then work up from there. But a funny thing happened after 1.5 miles – it got easier. I hit my stride and finished out the last 1.6 feeling great. I have to believe that my healthy diet has provided my body with some inner strength – some store of energy – that I never had before. I walked/jogged 3.1 miles in 51:00 minutes which is severely embarrassing to admit (how long it took me) but at least I did it. And I figure I can keep doing the same 3.1 and work to get my time down – and this time I feel like it’s a goal I can manage. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of it all I’ll be a runner.

Meatless Monday

So I’ve been doing meatless Mondays for a few weeks now. Cutting back on meat is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, reduce your grocery bill (meat is one of the most expensive forms of protein), and eat healthier! I’ve found that I end up eating meatless more than just on Monday because I’m finishing off leftovers from Monday night. Also, I’ve been working on changing my diet to plant-based diet, so I find myself making meatless choices more often, and I feel great!

Tonight I decided to make a cheese pizza using my homemade whole wheat pizza crust (recipe to be posted soon) with a big salad on the side. I make a batch of whole wheat pizza dough, roll it out into crusts that are big enough for approximately two servings (small servings) and then pre-bake and freeze them for nights like tonight. I set the crust out to defrost while I went to the gym, and it was ready to top when I got home. I topped it with a little grated garlic (which is probably overkill on the garlic, but I am a well-documented garlic addict so it was just right for me), pizza sauce and mozzarella. Currently I’m using a canned pizza sauce – but it has less than 5 ingredients, and they are all real foods so it’s still green eating! I am planning on making my own pizza sauce this summer when tomatoes come back in season. Here’s the sauce and my topped pizza.

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It is a very small pizza. It’s probably closer to one serving but I prefer to have my veggies be the main component on the meal, with other things like carbs and meat as an accent. I served half of the finished pizza with a salad of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and sliced pimento-stuffed green olives. I made a very simple balsamic vinaigrette to top the salad (just a few tablespoons of olive oil whisked together with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar). Such a simple and delicious meal!

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What’s your favorite meatless meal? Have you tried to go meatless at any point?

Recipe for Homemade Whole Wheat Pancake Mix

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So I used to buy pre-made pancake mixes and, don’t get me wrong, there are some great mixes out there. I especially liked this one 9-grain mix I was buying at Harris Teeter that even had flax seed in it. Yum. But then I started to think how easy it would be to make my own mix. Basically, I just pre-mix all the dry ingredients in an air-tight container and then add the wet when I’m ready to make pancakes. So easy – and so delicious! I was so surprised the first time I made them at home fluffly and delicious these pancakes are – and they’re whole grain!

Whole Wheat Pancake Mix

    4 cups whole wheat flour
    4 tbsp ground flax seed
    9 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    4 tsp cinnamon (optional – but I love the flavor!)
    2 tsp sugar

Mix all ingredients together in an air-tight container and store. When it’s time to make pancakes, use an egg for every cup and a half of mix, and add milk until the batter comes together, but is not too thin. It should look like the pancake batter that you are used to. I do this by sight only, but it’s probably about a 1/2 cup of milk for every cup and a half of mix. Butter a griddle and cook the pancakes until the bubbles that form on the top “stay open” when they pop instead of re-forming, then flip. Cook until golden brown. The combination below makes approximately 8 pancakes, depending on size.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

    1 1/2 cups pre-made mix (recipe above)
    1 egg
    approximately 1/2 cup of milk (add milk until batter comes together but is not too thin)
    optional – 1/2 tsp of vanilla

Enjoy! I usually have a fruit smoothie for breakfast during the week – but whole wheat pancakes and fruit are a nice treat on the weekends! 🙂

Homemade ‘Taco Seasoning’

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I don’t see any reason to spend money on pre-mixed seasoning packets when it’s so easy and inexpensive to assemble them from your own spice cabinet! One of my favorites is “taco seasoning” although I use it for a variety of recipes that I want to have that tex-mex quality. For example, last night I used it to season a combination of 1 lb ground pork and 2 cups of cooked lentils to make a filling (along with my homemade refried beans) for tacos. It made a ton of filling! I’ll probably be eating it in both tacos and on salads for the rest of the week. Which is fine by me 🙂 When you have good, healthy, food handy in the fridge then you aren’t as susceptible to eating quick, processed foods. And, since I used up the last of my homemade seasoning last night it was the perfect time to make some more! Here’s the line up…

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Homemade ‘Taco Seasoning’ – makes approximately 1/2 a cup

  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 teaspoons hot, smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients in your chosen storage container (I use a small mason jar) and shake to combine. This recipe makes about 1/2 a cup but you can double or triple it based on the size of your container. I use approximately 2 tablespoons of seasoning for around a pound of meat (I usually season to taste) so this little container makes plenty for a couple of months. Also, you’ll notice that I didn’t include any salt in my mix! It seems unnecessary to me as I prefer to salt and pepper the meat separately when it hits the pan. It’s just SO easy to over salt food and most of us eat WAY too much sodium so I feel like this is a better approach.

I use this seasoning mix on ground meat or chicken pieces for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salads, etc. There are a lot of different options – and it’s easy and healthy!