One Simple Trick For Quick Kitchen Clean Up

I love to cook.  But hate the clean up afterwards… Sound familiar? I know I’m not alone in this.

In the frenzy of preparation, it isn’t uncommon to find that I’ve used nearly every dish and utensil in the kitchen. By the time the dust settles, and I’m weary from all the chopping, peeling, sauteing and stirring, the sight of piles of dirty dishes all over the counter can really take some of the satisfaction from my culinary efforts… It’s enough to make me seriously consider Chinese take-out and frozen pizza as viable menu options.

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Just say no…

Using one simple trick, however, can help make clean up easier and speedier than ever. I like to refer to it as “the dishes that clean themselves”.

Well, almost

Whenever I am about to begin a whirlwind round of cooking, I fill the sink with hot soapy water. That’s it!

As I  measure and mix, pour and puree with wild abandon, I drop the dishes immediately into the water–sometimes with a little rinse beforehand if they’re especially messy. When I’m finished, if I’ve been putting away my ingredients as I  go, the counter tops are free of clutter and wipe down quickly.

And all those dishes? They are ready and waiting.  Remaining bits of food matter slip off with a swish of a sponge and without requiring the muscles of a lumberjack. Super fast and extremely easy.

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It’s a little “smoke and mirrors” to be honest. I still have to do the work but changing how I do it does seem to make a difference.  And while a sink full of hot soapy water may seem a poor substitute for maid service, it definitely fits the budget.

What kitchen clean up strategies work for you?

The Candy Bar Alternative

The more I learn about sugar and how my body processes the stuff, the less I worry about the particular source–be it low glycemic coconut sugar or the demonized high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

I definitely don’t go out of my way to eat products containing HFCS. I don’t keep it in my kitchen or cook with it, but I agree with the Nutrition Diva on this one.

We should be less concerned with the form sugar takes and more concerned about the quantity. Excessive consumption seems to be the American Way. I wrote about recommended levels of sugar intake in a previous postAll sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.

That said, there’s a ginormous difference between a homemade treat and a Snicker’s Bar.

SNICKERS® Bar

This candy bar contains almost three-quarters of the recommended maximum amount of sugar for a teenage boy!

Check out the ingredient list: MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, MILKFAT, SKIM MILK, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, LACTOSE, SALT, EGG WHITES, CHOCOLATE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. MAY CONTAIN ALMONDS

Definitely not real. Highly processed and not something I could make in my own kitchen. Not to mention a rather alarming amount of sugar.  I definitely wouldn’t send one with my teenager for quick energy before after school sports.

No calorie counting here!

No calorie counting here!

The question then is what can be sent that is easily portable, real and sweet enough to appeal to a teenage boy more concerned with taste than nutrition.

The inspiration for one of the sweet treats that can be commonly found in my son’s backpack came from a vegan cookbook I found at Costco. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook has an awesome dessert section and, with a couple of improvisations, the following recipe was born…

A Better Granola Bar

  • 1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can use all vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8-1/4 cup uncooked millet
  • 2 cups whole rolled oats (not the quick kind)

Line the bottom of an 8×8″ pan with foil that extends up the sides. Lightly grease with cooking spray.

Heat nut butter and sweeteners together in a bowl in the microwave–just enough to mix easily, then stir together until smooth.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extract, cinnamon and salt.

In a large bowl mix oats and millet with the syrup mixture. Stir well until oats are evenly coated. Use wet hands or the back of a wet spatula (water will keep it from sticking) to very firmly and evenly press the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for approximately 15 minutes–or until the edges look a bit browned. Cool to room temperature, remove from pan, remove foil and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before cutting with large kitchen knife (pressing straight down for a clean cut) into 8 equal rectangles.

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To make it even more decadent, add 1/3 cup chocolate chips to the oat mixture before pressing into pan. Try chopped, dried apricots, toasted and roughly chopped almonds or whatever else appeals to you.

Perfect for packing! Only 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar.

Friday Feature: Avocado 10 Ways

There are lots of great ways to eat an avocado–one of the superstars of a Mediterranean Diet. Easy to peel, they contain good fats and are linked with a reduced risk for chronic diseases. Here are ten ways to enjoy their buttery, creamy flavor and vibrant color:

1. Mash a quarter of an avocado on toast for a quick breakfast or lunch.

2. Top chili with chopped avocado and cilantro.

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3. Use chopped avocado in place of tomatoes in salsa or add to a tomato based salsa, homemade or store-bought, to create a tasty dip for chips.

4. Slices of avocado taste great in sandwiches or wraps.

5. Try adding chopped or mashed avocado to pasta. I like the looks of this dish from Inspired Taste. Simple enough for a quick dinner.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

6.  Add chopped avocado to salads–both green and grain varieties.

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7. Add to eggs or omelets before cooking.

8. Coarsely mash with a lemon juice and salt as a dip for chips or crackers. Or spread on sandwiches as a healthy alternative to mayonnaise.

9. Feed it to your baby! Avocado is recommended by baby expert, Dr. Sears, as a great first food for its healthfulness and versatility.

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

10. Make an avocado butter by mashing a ripe avocado with one tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper and use a topper for a baked potato.

And remember, if you find a good deal on them at the store, they can be frozen! (Best used in mashed form.) Stock up!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

Kids in the Kitchen: Dipping Oil

Several years ago, the memory is a little hazy about the when and where, we were eating a family meal at a very nice restaurant. Definitely not McDonald’s. The kind of place with candles and white tablecloths.

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This is an especially notable detail as I would never, in a bazillion years, ever put a white tablecloth on our own dinner table.  What would be the point, after all? One use and it would never be the same.

But, back to my story. It was here, at this unlikely eatery, that we were introduced to bread and….olive oil. A small white dish with dark, fruity olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar and freshly chopped herbs.

Where was the butter, Sam, the bread hound, wanted to know.

There wasn’t any. A moment of unhappiness (with Jim and I wondering what insanity had brought us here with a child) until he was persuaded to dip his bread. By this time, the two adults in the party were enthusiastically dipping with abandon.

And, if you haven’t already guessed, with one dip, he was hooked.

In fact, to this day, whenever we bring home a nice crusty loaf or baguette, Sam is quite ready to throw together a little dipping oil of his own for the dinner table.

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Here’s the recipe at it’s most basic.

All you need is a good quality olive oil and a nice aged balsamic vinegar.

Simply pour some olive oil onto a plate or shallow bowl to cover the bottom. Then pour or spoon on a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

The young chef in action.

The young chef in action.

And there are definitely benefits to ditching the butter. Researchers have found that consuming a Mediterranean diet heavy in olive oil can help lower some heart risks. Consuming more than four tablespoons a day can significantly lower your risk of having a heart attack, suffering from a stroke or dying of heart disease, according to the recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For more dipping ideas, check out these recipes:

Parmesan and Garlic Dipping Oil

Italian Herb Dipping Oil

Dip away...

Dip away…

Fava Beans: They’re Worth It!

I have many food weaknesses. Ice cream, gummy bears, white bread with lots of butter. I share this as a form of therapy. My public declaration will give me the strength to keep on the righteous path of wellness. Won’t it?

But not all of my culinary longings involve large amounts of sugar, fat and refined grains. Every spring I get to indulge my nutritionally acceptable desire for….fresh fava beans! And just in time for Mediterranean Diet Month.

Fava beans.

As I understand it, they were brought to this continent thousands of years ago from countries located near and around the Mediterranean. Sadly, they haven’t made great inroads into our eating consciousness. Probably because they’re, er, a little labor intensive. They actually have to be shelled and then peeled. Which is why maybe it’s a good thing that the growing season is a short one. I’m quite happy to do all the work (with help) until, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill.

Here’s what you do:

1.  Shell the beans in the same manner as you would peas. This happens to be a perfect job for the kids. They’ll love it, really.

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2.  Of course, you aren’t done yet. There’s still that second coat that has just got to come off. Some people claim that they’re fine left intact, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Boil a pot of salted water, and toss them in for a minute or less. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

3.  The next job is for adults or older kids with good motor skills. You must delicately pinch a hole in the light outer skin before popping out the fava bean with your fingers. It’s actually not that hard but, again, time-consuming. Better yet, do it with your kids as you talk over their day. Family bonding time.

At this point, they’re ready for anything. I feel about fava beans the same way I do about strawberries. They’re so delicious I only want to eat them plain–without a lot of adornment. This means I usually just saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Just long enough to ensure that they are tender throughout.

Dinner tonight?

I toasted slices of whole wheat sourdough and spread on a thin schmear of olive tapenade. Next came a slightly thicker schmear of hummus (yes, we’re embracing the Mediterranean theme) followed by a generous sprinkling of the pan cooked favas and fresh ground pepper.

first layer, olive tapenade

first layer, olive tapenade

Simple dinner

Simple dinner

If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few good ones.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodle and Fava Bean Salad from Food52.

Fava Bean and Radish Bruschetta from the Kitchn.

Grilled Fava Beans from 101 Cookbooks.

Remember a little hard work never did anybody harm. And since favas are a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorous and folate, they will only do good things for your body. Enjoy some this season!

Selling Soda at School: Is It Legal?

Last February my son’s school had a fundraiser on Valentines Day. Called “A Crush for a Crush”, students had the option to purchase an Orange Crush to send to another student for a mere $1.

Cute, huh?

But technically illegal. Ed Code SB 965 specifically outlines what kinds of drinks can or cannot be sold on K through 12 campuses, and soft drinks are definitely NOT on the list of approved beverages.

Yesterday I attended my son’s middle school track meet. It was a beautiful day–but warm for this time of year. I was thirsty. As I walked past the school snack bar on my way to the drinking fountain, I happened to notice that the parent club was selling candy and soda.

Having read the school wellness policy, I know that these items cannot be sold on campus during the school day. Just out of curiosity I asked a couple of my son’s teachers/track coaches if they were aware of the policy.

They were not. In fact, they seemed rather surprised. And, truth be told, I’m not quite sure they believed me. One of the coaches even asked me why.

Here’s a solid answer to his question from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

Rationale:
Students buy and consume fewer unhealthy snack foods and beverages when there are
school policies in place to prohibit or restrict the sale of these items in school.

Selling low-nutrition foods in schools sends children the message that good nutrition is
not important and conflicts with what children learn in nutrition education. 

• Selling junk foods and sugary drinks in vending machines and a la carte lines undermines the recent efforts schools across the country have made to offer healthier school meals.

• It is shortsighted to supplement school budgets at the expense of our children’s health.
In the long run, we are sure to spend more on diet-related health-care costs than we
can raise by selling sugary beverages and junk foods in schools.

• Many assume that schools will lose money if they replace junk foods and sugary drinks
with healthier foods and beverages. Research and case studies from schools across the
country show that this is not the case.

I later spoke with the district superintendent who assured me that this problem will be addressed. Most likely during the next school year.

Check out the legislation for yourself. SB 965 addresses beverages and SB 12 details the requirements for foods sold outside of school provided meals.

If you live outside California, here’s a link to the National Association of State Boards of Education to find out how your state deals with vending machine and other food/beverage sales at school.

Does your child’s school have a wellness policy? Tell us if you’ve read it.

If you have personal experience/knowledge about what type of food and beverages are sold at schools in your area, please share it with us here.

The policies/laws are changing. Slowly. These changes are long overdue. It’s time to get the word out so there can be some oversight. Parents, teachers, food service workers and administrators need to work together. We all share common goals of improving the quality of the food and drink our children consume while at school and protecting their health in the long run.

A+ for apples.

A+ for apples.

Thanks!

Eat Like an Egyptian

For thousands of years, the people who lived along the Mediterranean coastline have been eating one of the healthiest diets on the planet–one rich in plant foods and healthy fats. This includes the ancient Egyptians who feasted on plenty of the same tasty foodstuffs that we eat today–including hummus, a popular dip, both then and now, made from garbanzo beans.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great dip for pita or other breads as well as vegetable crudites such as carrot sticks, cauliflower florets and cucumber chips. It usually comes packaged in small plastic tubs found in the refrigerated section of just about any self-respecting grocery store. But, as with a lot of foods, it’s better homemade.

It’s a lot cheaper too!

A while back I cooked up a big pot of garbanzo beans. We eat a lot of hummus so I portioned these beans into bags slated for the freezer. I like to have them on hand so I can whip up a batch of hummus on a whim (or a request).

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There are tons of recipes out there. You can easily mix it up by adding other ingredients such as roasted red peppers, jalapenos, roasted garlic or olives.

Here’s the basic recipe that we use:

Hummus

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
  • 2 T. tahini
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 clove chopped garlic (or more if you are so inclined)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • paprika

Place all ingredients, except paprika, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add additional water by the tablespoonful if needed until hummus is easy to spread and dip.  Sprinkle paprika generously over the top.

Can’t get much simpler.

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Popular with the kids!

3 other ways to enjoy garbanzo beans:

1.  Add them to salads.

2.  Make soup.  Try this very simple Marcella Hazan recipe for a traditional Italian soup.

3.  Use as a vegetarian sandwich spread.

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Hummus. Fit for a Pharaoh!