RECIPE: Microwave Soy Sausage, Egg & Cheese Scramble-Perfect for Work

Pin It Many people are surprised to find that you can microwave eggs for a quick breakfast. I have pretty much been doing it for a year now for South Beach, and it works wonderfully at work. The great thing about making eggs in the microwave is that it gives you a protein boost (conveniently) in the morning. It takes 5 minutes and you don't need to eat carbs just to keep things quick and easy-especially at work. Below is how I make them. I have been using butter because I am out of Trader Joe's soy butter which is way lower in fat and tastes delicious. You can use any butter substitute as a base to the eggs. Also, soy sausage is low in fat and high in protein, but if that does not float your boat you can use turkey bacon, or go for the real deal.




Ingredients:

1 Tsp. butter or butter substitute
1 frozen soy sausage patty
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. low fat shredded cheese (cheddar is good)
Microwave safe bowl & a fork



In a microwave safe bowl, place the butter. Microwave butter on high for 15 seconds to melt. Take out and crack the egg in the butter. With a fork, whisk the eggs in the butter for 30 seconds. Place in the microwave for 25 seconds on high (you are cooking the eggs 3/4 of the way-so microwaves vary in time and heat, so gauge yours).




While eggs are cooking, wrap your patty in a napkin or paper towel for cooking.



Take out your partially cooked eggs, add cheese, salt and pepper. With a fork, whisk an break up the eggs one more time. Cook in the microwave for an additional 10-15 seconds. Take out the eggs and cook the patty in the paper on high for 45 seconds.



While patty is cooking, break up the eggs one more time. When the patty is done, pop it in the bowl and cut it up in the eggs and mix. It may not look pretty, but it is delicious. The yummy smells make my coworkers jealous every day. Now go enjoy a protein punch while getting caught up on emails!

PARENTING: How about a kid's class that accommodates working families? Anyone? Bueller...?

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Well, just when the city of Chicago doesn't surprise me anymore, it does. I have tried for two years to find classes to register my daughter in. I have been looking at drama, movement, martial arts, improv, tumbling, ANYTHING! Oh there's a lot out there. But try and find something that actually is available after work or the weekend so you can actually get your child there and forget it!

I know. It is hard to believe. I live in a big city, there should be something I can register her in for Saturday mornings at least. Well, the few things I did find were very expensive to boot. And here is the kicker. The Park District of Chicago in which my family's tax dollars supports and pays for, has very few classes that accommodate working families. How ironic considering it's working families that are the engine for this city. I absolutely should be able to get my daughter in some class for 25 dollars a session at a time when we can attend. Why should I be forced to have to look elsewhere for quadruple the amount because I have to work for a living? Believe me, I sent an e-mail to the Chicago Park District and we'll see what I get back. Come on people, this is the big city! What happened to options?

The other baffling thing to me is even privately, there is still very little available for working moms. I have scoured the YMCA programs, private dance schools, private acting schools, etc. and it is slim pickings for Saturdays or evenings. I mean, this is 2010-right? Baffling... Please share any ideas. I am open!

GARDENING: Dust off your garden journal-its planning time!

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So Christmas fun is over and you feel like hibernating away for January and February. But guess what? If you are in the Midwest cold zones, these quiet months are a perfect time to review your garden notes and start planning. The fact is, we are only a few months away from spring time. If you have a plan and laundry list of plants you wish to purchase, when the early deals from nurseries start getting mailed to you, you'll be ready too take advantage of deals.

The other thing about planning early is planning for seeds. If you want to save money, planting seeds is a great way to have a bounty of plants ready to go in late April. The key is to start them in February. I started mine a little late last year, and some of my plants did not get established enough before transplanting them. The other things I learned about seeds are...

1: Using sterile seed soil is a must-if you don't do this, you will get "dampening" with the seedling shoots (they droop over and look sad from an overgrowth of bacteria in the soil)

2: Try watering techniques from the bottom v.s the top. Here is a link to a discussion about this. If you invest in a starter kit with a watering system, it's figured out for you. http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/tips/msg0922144632402.html

3: Give them enough light (whether its natural or artificial)

4: Sprinkling unflavored gelatin with very fine seeds helps separate them and gives the young shoots nutrients

5: Burpee Seed starter kit was worth every penny (see post-http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/05/gardening-burpee-seed-starter-kit-rocks.html)

6: Have a mister or humidifier near the seedlings to keep things moist and happy. Don't overdo it-and make sure good air circulation and sunlight keep things balanced with the humidity. If you don't you will have fungal problems.

There is a bit more to seed sowing indoors, but this is a list of watch outs that I learned the hard way. Back to planning, a great online resource that's FREE is the Better Homes and Gardens site. (http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plans/) They have pdfs of many garden plans, as well as some online tools to help you on your way.

The final thing that garden planning can do in these chilly months is cheer you up and shorten winter. Looking at green pictures and getting excited and inspired is a nice way to brighten cold, dreary days. So open that journal and garden catalog and get creative!

RECIPE: Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I have had a few requests after Christmas for my Pistachio Cookie recipe that I make every year. Believe it or not, I do have it buried on my website www.floracaputo.com but I decided to post it here for all to access. This recipe was a cookie I made when my sister and I were very young and still learning to cook with my mother. They were absolutely delicious and for years I wanted to make them again, and my mother lost the recipe! After years of searching, I found a similar recipe that I tweaked to achieve that delicious cookie of my youth. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 cup butter
, room temp
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped pecans (or try chopped pistachios to kick
up the pistachio flavor)
1 3 oz. package instant pistachio pudding mix
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

extra chocolate chips
for garnish on top

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375ยบ. Lightly grease cookie sheets. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla, stirring after each addition. Add the dry ingredients and mix until stiff dough forms. Separate a 1/4 of the dough from the rest and set aside in a small bowl. Add the nuts to the dough in the small bowl. Add the pudding mix and the cup of chocolate chips to the large portion of dough; mix until blended. Roll the pudding flavored dough into walnut sized balls, and place 1 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Flatten the balls using your hand or the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Roll the nut dough from the small bowl into marble sized balls, place 1 ball on top of each of the flattened cookies. Then, on top of each cookie, on the lighter dough, place one chocolate chip on each marble dollop (nestle it in firmly). Bake for 8-10 minutes, in the preheated oven, or until cookies are set. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. Makes 5 dozen.

COOKING: The Great Grains 101

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In early 2009, I made a resolution to lose weight and get healthy. I used South Beach as my guide to do so. Now starting 2010, my family and I have been eating like this so long, it has become a lifestyle for us. Eating a high fiber, low sugar diet has not only helped me get to a happy dress size, but it has made me a lot healthier. My Crohn's disease has quieted from the lack of gluten and sugar (known to be an inflammatory), and my skin and hair look healthier and clearer.

A staple of this diet in the phase 2 & 3 are whole grains. This has really opened up my culinary world as we have learned about them and learned how to cook with them. There are 300 page cook books out there dedicated to whole grains and recipes for them, so this post is just scratching the surface. I am just going to give you a quick run down of the variety of whole grains out there as well as the flours. Surprisingly, a lot of these items can be found in your grocery store.
Bob's Red Mill is one grain company that has made it into a lot of our large grocery chains and even our smaller certi-saver stores. Some of the smaller ethnic markets are sure to have some different flours and grains because its other cultures that really cooks with them. The American diet consists of a lot of refined white flour-but whole grains are slowly becoming more main stream.

Here is the overview I promised:


Flours:


Semolina-
This grain is made from durum wheat, the hardest type of wheat grown. This is the highest in gluten and is often used to make pastas, custards and desserts. It comes in 4 refined ways:

Semolina flour is finely ground endosperm of durum wheat.
Semolina meal is a coarsely ground cereal like farina.
Wheatina is ground whole-grain wheat.
Durum flour
is finely ground semolina.

Whole Wheat Flour-This is ground wheat in its natural form, ground
from the whole kernel of wheat. It has a heavier texture that white flour because it keeps its fiber and nutrients. It is good for baking.

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour-This is milled from lower protein flour which is it's only
differentiator from regular whole wheat flour. So it is a little more tender so it's better for muffins, quick breads and pancakes.

Spelt- The ancient form of the wheat we have today. It is in fact part of the wheat species. It has some gluten, so it is good for quick breads and muffins.

Kamut- is the ancient form of today's durum wheat, and therefore part of the wheat species. It was originally cultivated in the fertile delta. Some say it has a natural sweetness and is very well tolerated by some people with wheat allergies.

Amaranth-This has a unique taste so it is often mixed with other flours when baking. Amaranth is technically a fruit plant and it is the seeds that get refined into flour. It has a lot more protein than wheat.

Brown Rice Flour-This is ground rice, turned into flour. It has no gluten so if you make this for bread it won't rise. This is a good flour for people with wheat allergies.

Buckwheat Flour-Buckwheat is not a grass or a cereal. It is a flowering plant that it's seeds are used like a grain. This is another flour with a very strong, robust flavor, so use it wisely. It is also Gluten free.

Cornmeal-To mill this, most of the fiber has been removed, but not the germ which has all the nutrients.


Oat Flour-This is the oat groat milled to a fine powder. This has no gluten, so it too will not rise without some wheat flour or a binder of some sort. You can make it yourself by putting oats in a food processor and pulsing until you achieve a fine texture.

Rye Flour- A natural for rye bread.
Dark rye flour contains the bran and the germ of the rye grain; light rye flour does not.

Triticale Flour-This is a grain hybrid from wheat and rye. It has more protein than typical Rye flour.

Grains:

Cracked Wheat- This is simply the whole wheat berry cracked dry. It is not preboiled or steamed like Bulgur, so it takes much longer to cook. This is the main difference between bulgur and cracked wheat.

Barley- A delicate, chewy grain, you can get it in different sizes. The unrefined, whole barley, sometimes called "Pot Barley", has the most fiber and vitamins. Refined barley is called "pearl" barley, and is the common one found in stores. Pearl barley has had its outer layer of the grain removed.

Buckwheat-This grain is also called "Kasha". As said above, Buckwheat is not a grass or a cereal. It is a flowering plant that it's seeds are used like a grain. It can be used in cereals, porridge, noodles and pilafs.

Bulgur-This grain gets confused with cracked wheat a lot.. It is different in its mill process from cracked wheat. Bulgur gets steamed and the outer layer removed. Because it is partially cooked during the refining process, it is quicker to cook than cracked wheat. It comes in three sizes, #1, #2, #3 & #4. As the size goes up the numbers go up as well, #4 being the largest grain size.

Corn-Corn is often mistaken to be a vegetable, but it is in fact a grain (with a high sugar content, I might add). Coarse ground corn kernels are made for grits while the more refined version is turned into corn flour.


Couscous-This is not really a grain, it just gets prepared like a grain that it is considered as such. But it is made with semolina flour. If you can find whole grain couscous, it will have more fiber and it would be better for you.

Millet- This grain comes from the pearl like seeds from a grass species. The protein content is very close to wheat.This cooks up pretty fast and can be added into a hot cereal or breads.

Quinoa-One of Man's oldest grains, it has a fluffy texture and very high protein content. It comes from the seed of a cereal like plant. If not prerinsed it can get bitter.

Rice-As you probably know, you can get different refined rices. Minute rice is the most refined out there (how else can you cook it in minutes?) Brown rice is the most unrefined rice, and it takes 40 -50 minutes to cook. It has
a nice, nutty texture and can come in short, medium and long grain. This is the rice that has the most fiber and nutrients. Short grain is the sweetest and starchiest of the three grain sizes. There are also exotic varieties of rice, like basmati (Indian) arborio (Italian) and Japanese. They all have a different texture, flavor and starch content. So if your recipe calls for these, I would urge you to not substitute.

Teff-This grain is very small and a very ancient grain. It comes in dark brown or white varieties and is made into bread in Ethiopia. It has higher protein that wheat grain.

Wild Rice-This grain is not even a rice grain, but a grass seed. It is indigenous to North America and comes from tall, aquatic grass. Wild Rice take longer to cook, about 40 minutes.

HOME: How Long Should you Freeze Things?

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The key to "domestic divaness"-urban or not-is the savvy use of your freezer. The freezer will allow you to make wonderful things on your time frame, store great bargains for later use, and save left overs for a wholesome meal when time is limited. The freezer allowed me to make great baby food for my daughter while working, and annually make 9 kinds of holiday cookies for sharing.

But the freezer can be a fickle friend. If you don't know how long things can stay in there, the freezer can be a frigid graveyard of the best intentions- gone rancid. It is good to keep a chart on the fridge of how long frozen foods last. Feel free to print out my chart below and cut it out! It is a combination of information from a fine cooking article, my own experience and a couple cooking blogs.



Also, when freezing, remember to label and date everything! Ziploc bags have writable areas now, and for Tupperware items adhesive white labels work great. As I wrote in a previous post, it is good to menu plan and before you do ANYTHING, take a look in the freezer. Is there a chicken you should probably put on the menu that week before it's past it's prime? Could you defrost that stew and have it for that busy basketball league night to save time? Be sure to be vigilant with your freezer, or else you will be throwing away food instead of being thrifty. It kind of defeats the purpose. Happy Freezing!

RECIPE: Low Sugar Yet Sweet Hot Cocoa

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I know many of you are on a New Year's Resolution diet. Sometimes, you just need a little sweet something to tie you over. One sweet treat I would make when I was a phase 2 "south beacher" was a cup of homemade hot cocoa with sweetener. It gave me a chocolate fix but kept me on track. When you get a chocolate craving, give this a try! It's quick, yummy and guiltless.

Guiltless Homemade Hot Cocoa

2 packets low calorie sweetener (or to taste)
2 rounded Tbsp. ground, unsweetened cocoa (I like Hershey's)
dash of salt
1 cup low-fat milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract or almond extract
2 Tbsp. water
1 mug

In your mug, mix the cocoa, salt, and sweetener. Add water, and mix into a smooth paste. Add a little more water if you need to until you have a smooth paste. Add the vanilla extract or almond extract and mix. Then add the milk and stir. Heat in a microwave on high for 1 minute 30 or so until hot (microwaves vary). Take out, stir again, and enjoy! (If you want something extra special, low-fat or low-sugar cool whip on top is a nice finish!)
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