Much Ado About Root Vegetables

Much Ado About Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are still in season at the moment I'm writing this. Don't turn up your nose at the turnip.  It's a wonderful and inexpensive vegetable that can be a great part of your meals.

How to Choose the Vegetables

If you buy organic, the veggies won't be completely free of blemishes. Some find that organic veggies taste better. I subscribe to a CSA and I have a garden. Since I grow in self watering containers, you might think I won't get as good of root vegetables as if they were in the ground. But you'd be surprised!

Plus some like celery root and kohrabi look pretty crazy to begin with.

So how do you choose? Well they should be firm and a bit springy in general. Secondly, it depends upon what you want to do with them.

There are two types of root vegetables – older and younger. The young root vegetables can be good raw or lightly cooked. I have some young turnips that I'm going to steam. You can think of these like new potatoes. They're best when kept fresher.

The older root vegetables are better roasted or stewed.

Watch this fun video with Jamie Oliver. I adore him and saw him live once about ten years ago making risotto and pasta.

But What About Radishes?

Ok, you got me. There are root vegetables that are grand raw like radishes, carrots and jicama. But they do fall sort of into the younger category. If you have old radishes, you should try roasting them rather then trying to slice them for a salad.

Root vegetables are quite nutrient dense. You can make a lovely vegetable soup or stew out of them and feel quite satisfied. I use kohrabi and celery root (also called celeriac) in place of potatoes sometimes and you can't taste the difference.

If I have a younger celery root, I'll dice it up and cook it with my eggs in the morning and I don't miss potatoes.

Roasting vegetables brings out a sweeter side to them. So be careful of seasonings and sauces if you serve roasted vegetables.  You can also roast veggies and puree them as the side to the meat rather then putting the vegetables directly on the plate. Also, if you have leftover roast veggies, you can puree and then thin it out with some broth for a lovely soup.

Start by adding in one weird root vegetable and see what you think.

Cook Yourself Thin is the resource hub for women 35-55 looking to lose stubborn pounds by cooking and eating the foods you love.

Bacon Wrapped Avocado Egg

Bacon Wrapped Avocado Egg

When I first saw this video for a bacon wrapped avocado egg, I thought it was weird. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it could be a great Paleo breakfast. And since tomato season is coming up, it would be a nice low carb lunch with slices of tomatoes.

Watch the video and see what you think:

Avocado is a Good Fat

I'm always telling you to use avocados. They're a healthy fat and can be used in place of mayonnaise.  Some people think they don't like them.  (OK, they probably really don't. I still have some egg issues and probably couldn't make this for myself since I don't like runny eggs).

What Would I Change

A lot of the comments felt that the avocado they chose was underripe.  I don't agree. I think it was perfectly on the lighter edge of ripe and would be delicious.

Others found that you really needed to dry off the avocado really well to get the egg to sit in properly as well as get the bacon to wrap well.

I found PaleoHacks had their own version that seems to come out better than the Thrillist one. They used prosciutto so perhaps that cooked faster and more evenly than two rows of bacon.

Think you'll try it?

Cook Yourself Thin is the resource hub for women 35-55 looking to lose stubborn pounds by cooking and eating the foods you love.​​​​​​​

Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts Salad

I'm in love with Brussels sprouts salad. My biggest challenge is shredding them finely enough. However, this recipe has you roast the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts before tossing with the salad dressing. So you don't have to shred them as fine as if it were a raw Brussels sprouts salad.

Watch the video!

Some Cool Modifications

You could use butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes. You could also use parsnips since they are also naturally sweet. The recipe seems to make a ton of the salad.

So if you like the salad, make a big batch on Sunday and then set up a few Mason jars. Put the dressing in the bottom and the salad on top, and it's good to go for lunch time. Just shake up the jar and pour it out.

You could also toss in some roasted beets and cooked broccoli. If you like carrots, you could roast them along with the sweet potatoes. Or you could shred them and leave them raw for a crunchy counterpoint.

If you want something “meaty” flavored, add in some mushrooms.

This recipe lends itself to bean sprouts. You could add in tofu if you wanted more protein. Also, if you have leftover rice or couscous, you could blend that in.

 

Cook Yourself Thin is the resource hub for women 35-55 looking to lose stubborn pounds by cooking and eating the foods you love.​​​​​​​

Slow Cooker Hawaiian Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Hawaiian Pulled Pork

Hawaiian pulled pork in a slow cooker is a match made in heaven. Pork shoulder is generally used in restaurants, but they're rarely available in grocery stores. If you have a good butcher, you could order one and make a lot. Pulled pork does freeze well.  Or share with friends and have them return the favor.

If you can't find a shoulder, look for a Boston butt, which is half of the shoulder. The other half is called the picnic shoulder.
Watch the video to see how easy it is

Recipes

The basic recipe is sugar and spices for a dry rub on the pork. Then you put it in the slow cooker with some form of barbecue sauce. You could make it yourself, or buy a bottle.

You can vary how it tastes depending upon the type of barbecue sauce that you use. You'll get a very different flavor with mustard based than you will with a tomato based sauce.

For a more Hawaiian flavor, you will want to use honey, pineapple and soy sauce if you make your own.  You can find Kings Hawaiian's recommended recipe along with a slaw here. Of course, they recommend their brand of barbecue sauce!  (and why not…but feel free to make your own)

Another type of Hawaiian pulled pork is the Kalua pork. It's a lot simpler. NomNom Paleo recommends a 5 pound Boston Butt with 5 strips of bacon and Hawaiian sea salt. The bacon and salt provide the smokiness that's the hallmark of the dish.

Other recipes call for sea salt and liquid smoke. See what you have on hand. Some people pop it in their slow cooker for 16 to 20 hours to cook it like it's pork for a luau.

What to Do With It

You could make a sandwich or sliders. It's delicious on its own with sides like spinach or chard. If you're going Hawaiian you could have poi as well. Cole slaw is always a great side.

You could turn it into a salad with a variety of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and whatever else you like. The sauce would act like a dressing.

Pulled pork also makes great nachos. If you want to be more Paleo, then use sweet potato chips instead of corn chips.

Cook Yourself Thin is the resource hub for women 35-55 looking to lose stubborn pounds by cooking and eating the foods you love.​​​​​​​

Restaurant Quality Mussels

Restaurant Quality Mussels

Today I'll go over some tips on how to make restaurant quality mussels.

We love eating out at restaurants. It's not just because someone else is cooking and we're getting served. But there's something about the flavor that's difficult to recreate in the home.

Or we think it is.  Usually, they're using a lot of butter. And I do mean a ton of it.

The second is that they use good quality ingredients.

Choosing the Mussels

Unlike clams, some mussels are open when you purchase them, and they're alive. They should close quickly when you touch them.  If not, they're dead and should be tossed.

After cooking, if a mussel hasn't opened, it's dead, so go ahead and toss it as well.

Shells should be intact with no signs of cracks or chips.

Mussels are delicious, cheap, fast to prepare and very satisfying.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are some pretty simple steps for making good mussels.  Make sure you don't make these mistakes.

Not cleaning your mussels

We talked about removing the beard in a previous post where I made mussels and clams with linguine. Scrape off any barnacles you see with a paring knife. And rinse them off well.  I prefer soaking in salt water for awhile as well.

Add in aromatics

This really helps develop the flavor for the broth. You want to use chopped onion, garlic, shallots ginger, or a mixture.

Alcohol adds flavor

Using a crisp white wine or lager will infuse flavor into the mussels and make the broth lovely. If you don't want to use alcohol, use something else like coconut milk or chopped tomatoes in juice. Don't just use water.

Always Simmer

You want to slowly cook the mussels using a simmer and never a boil. Simmering is when there's small bubbles coming up. Boiling is larger bubbles.

See more in this video with Jamie Oliver

Remember the herbs

I love using fresh thyme and parsley in my mussels. It's also wonderful with dill, cilantro, and tarragon. Rosemary and sage wouldn't be good choices as they're more woody flavors and you want to appreciate the brininess of the mussels.

Some people also love adding in hot pepper flakes.

Move Them Around

Gently shake the pan to move the mussels around.  You can stir but don't be constantly in there moving them around.  Some people prefer to put a lid on the pan thinking that the shellfish will cook faster.  In a professional kitchen, they rarely have time to find lids and the mussels cook just fine.  So you can use a lid but you don't have to.  And gently move them around but don't be too rough.

And you can finish up the disk with just a little butter to add a lovely depth to the broth.

Serving Them

I like them steamed with the broth and fresh herbs over the top. I'll also make a salad with a vinaigrette dressing. I also love some crusty bread to dip into the broth.

You can slice the French bread thinly and toast it. Then rub a garlic clove over it. It's the perfect accompaniment to your meal. And you will be satisfied with less.

Noodle-less Lasagna Options

Noodle-less Lasagna Options

Continuing on with Low Carb and Grain Free, let's explore Noodle-less Lasagna. I found a good recipe that uses eggplant and zucchini. But you don't have to stop there.

But first, watch the video to see how easy it is.

You can get the full recipe at Eating Well.

What Would I Change

I remember the first time I had zucchini lasagna back in 1987. I wished all lasagnas were made that way. It tasted so much fresher than with pasta.

But I can also see family grumbling. So feel free to make this as a compromise. Maybe you can use lasagna noodles for one of the layers.

Also, feel free to swap in ground turkey that's seasoned like Italian sausage. Some people also prefer ground chicken. And of course there's always ground beef and ground lamb. Just cook it thoroughly and drain off the excess fat. You do keep a fat jar by your stove, don't you?

You could also swap out some of the meat for chopped mushrooms. They have a lovely toothiness and absorb the other flavors. Also, I love adding in some spinach.

I also love straining plain Greek yogurt and using that in place of ricotta. It's higher protein and you honestly can't taste the difference.

But I'd never mess with the mozzarella.

Other Variations

Not everyone likes eggplant.  Shocking!  But you could slice portobello mushrooms as well as butternut squash.

If you want to go more paleo, you can make a ricotta out of cauliflower.  It sounds crazy but the recipe makes it sound delicious.

Then there's also

Crock Pot Sweet Potato Lasagna

Paleo Butternut Squash Lasagna with Cashew Cheese

Cabbage Leaf Lasagna

Those are all gluten free recipes.

Lasagna-Like Dishes

You can layer the lasagna and use different spices and sauces.  If you used lamb and a white bechemel sauce, you'd make something like a mousakas.

You could use a white cheese sauce and layer in some asparagus as well.

And the list goes on:

Turkey Parmigiana Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna

Vegan Lasagna

I hope you're inspired to try something different.

Greek Spaghetti Squash Toss

Greek Spaghetti Squash Toss

I love spaghetti squash. My mom used to make it in the 70's and 80s. I loved it with marinara or just butter and some grated Parm cheese (yeah, the stuff in the green can).

But one squash can product an awful lot of spaghetti. So get creative with it.

Watch this video for inspiration

And you can find the full recipe at Cooking Light.

How to Prepare Spaghetti Squash

I know I didn't like to buy large, oddly shaped squashes. Butternut? Forget it. I'll buy it pre-cubed. But it doesn't taste the same.

Spaghetti squash is another one. I worry about my knife slipping or getting stuck.

Just an aside, delicata squash is wonderful. No peeling or de-seeding really necessary. And it has a thin skin so it's easy to cut up and toss in a pan with onions and olive oil for a delicious side.

If you don't have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, you should slice it in half lengthwise.

Fresh spaghetti squash cut in half on white background

Then scrape out the seeds. If you have a jack-o-lantern scraper leftover from Halloween, it does a GREAT job on this. Then put the halves flesh side down, skin side up in a baking dish.

If you're using an oven, roast it at 400 for about 30-45 minutes. It depends upon the size of your squash.

If you have a microwave, add 3/4 to 1 inch of water and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 10-12 minutes, turning your dish halfway through cooking if necessary, until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork.

Then you let it cool down and scrape out the goodness.

What If You Have Kitchen Appliances

You definitely may want to go to your local thrift store and get a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Or ask a friend to play around with it. It's not for everyone, but I think it can short-cut a lot of the boring work.

You cut out the step of having to cut open the squash and scrape out the seeds if you use a slow cooker or pressure cooker.

For a slow cooker, poke about 10-12 holes into the skin. I use a fork so I don't have to do as many punctures. Then place in the slow cooker with about a cup and a half of water. Turn it on low for 4-6 hours. Then let it cool on a cutting board until it's ok to touch.

If you're using a pressure cooker, use a rack. Add in the minimum amount of water your pressure cooker needs to come to pressure. One of mine is about a cup and another is a cup and a half. Put the squash in and cook at pressure for 12-20 minutes. It depends upon the size of your squash. Do a quick release and let it cool on a cutting board.

Some people prefer to cut open the squash and scrape out the seeds. It's a personal choice. I'm lazy and would rather cut it open when it's soft. Nom Nom Paleo shows how to slice it in half in the middle and cook it in the pressure cooker.

When the squash is cool, slice it open and scoop out the seeds. Then take a fork and glide it along the length of the squash and pull out the strands that are like spaghetti.

 

Learn to Love Your Brussels Sprouts

Learn to Love Your Brussels Sprouts

For many years, it seemed cool to make fun of the poor Brussels sprouts. They smelled funny when you cooked them. They usually only showed up at Thanksgiving. And often, they were steamed within an inch of their poor lives.  But no more.

Learn to Love Brussels Sprouts

They can be easy to cook, and work well with a variety of flavors like bacon and apple. Here's a video on cooking them simply.

Did you know that those mighty little sprouts can enhance DNA repair in cells and help block the continued growth of cancer cells. They are best cooked by steaming, roasting, or boiling, and combined with a variety of spices and dressings. They vegetables make a fabulous base for casseroles and salads or work as a satisfying side dish.

And here are lots of light Brussels sprouts recipes to get you inspired.

The Favorites

Hubby and two friends all loved shaved Brussels sprouts salad. It's not my personal favorite way of preparing them. I'd suggest trying one and see if you like it. The difficulty is getting the sprouts shaved finely enough. But put it in front of my hubby and two friends? It's gone in a second and they're asking for more.

Want More Ideas?

Pasta with Bacon, Shredded Brussels Sprouts, and Lemon Zest
I love that this uses orecchiette pasta.  I think that means “little ears.” It's a fun shape and gives you a happy experience eating. And instead of  bacon slices, you could use pancetta. I have a bunch of Myer lemons right now that would go great with this.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo and Garlic
There are a few types of chorizo available.  I'm more used to the Mexican style than the Portuguese or Spanish style.  Chorizo is spicy so go carefuly with additional seasoning. That doesn't mean it's hot. I found that out once when I was in a Caribbean restaurant and wanted Cajun style spicing.  I was young and didn't know there were vast differences. Anyway, seasoning matters. Taste as you go and find what you enjoy.

Brussels Sprouts Braised with Cider and Bacon
I have braised sprouts before and didn't like it. But I think it was my recipe. I want to continue trying braised veggies. This could be good with plain cabbage as well.  Or I may be fooling myself and will never actually like them and always prefer roasted or grilled or steamed. The thing is you should try and get comfortable with different methods. You don't have to like it.  Just go on to the next method and find the way you do enjoy them.

Even MORE Ideas!

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Sauce
This is a whole meal. I love that it calls for whole-grain Dijon mustard which has a nuttier flavor to me. You can also add in 1 tablespoon of light cream to add a little bit of lovely luxurious flavor into a sauce without adding a lot of calories. I like the mouth-feel of a finished sauce that seems to be creamy.

In this Craftsy course Love Your Vegetables (w/ Anna Bullett), AnnBullett said that overcooking vegetables can take you past the sharp flavor and into a sweeter, more mellow flavor. When I overroasted Brussels sprouts the other night, they were very soft, and very sweet.

So are you ready to try preparing them?

Baked Potato Fries

Baked Potato Fries

Baked Potato.  And French Fries. Do you really have to choose one? Nope! Check out this cool video for making Hasselback baked potatos that has all the joy of french fries.

How to Make Baked Potato Fries

This recipe has been around for decades. It's official name is the Hasselback style potato and is sometimes served with sour cream and fresh dill.

Personally I like leaving on the skin so I can get more fiber and vitamins. However, if you prefer, you can peel the potato first. You may want to use a thin skinned potato like Yukon Gold or a red skinned potato for more flavor.

You can buy smaller potatoes in a variety of colors and slice them up and bake all at once instead of a big potato.

Hasselback style potatoesThe bottom line is you need a really sharp knife. Then you slice thinly almost all the way to the bottom of the potato. Cooking Light suggested putting chopsticks along the side of the potato to act as a guide so you don't accidentally slice all the way through.

Mix up some olive oil with salt, pepper, herbs, and fresh chopped garlic. Then pour or brush over the potato, making sure the oil seeps between slices. Bake, uncovered, at 450° for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size and type of potato. Sprinkle with more fresh herbs like parsley.

Love Your Potatoes

The potato can be your friend when cooking yourself thin.  It's a good hearty side dish. I'll often bake a potato and stuff it with cheese, broccoli and salsa and call it lunch.

I'll take a small potato and dice it up, and then fry that a little bit before tossing in veggies and an egg for breakfast.

Potatoes add a great mouth feel and sense of comfort.  If you don't want to use a potato, look into alternatives like parsnips and celery root.

But as I always say, balance is everything.

The Best Products To Use In Your Kitchen To Cook With

Even if you only cook for your family, there is always something new to learn. Knowing the proper methods and how to go about applying them, will turn simple meals into amazing feasts that everyone will remember you for. By applying these tips to your next cooking endeavor, you will find yourself with loads of good food.

Cooking with skewers can provide very beneficial if you use them properly. Avoid round metal skewers and stick to square or twisted types.

If you are learning to cook for yourself or your family, pick up a cookbook from your bookstore or library. Look for one that has basic, easy recipes that will be fun to cook. Pick out a few recipes to try and decide after it has been eaten if it is a recipe you want to add to your permanent collection. Be sure to be patient as you try these new recipes.

Do not keep your herbs or spices in a place that is not cool and dark. Shelf life can be significantly decreased for those spices which have been exposed to too much light, dampness and heat. Storing your spices in a dark location with a lower temperature will help preserve them longer. Using fresher spices can make tastier meals.

To slice meat with ease, you should place it in the freezer for a bit. This is a good way to cut strips for Asian dishes, such as Chinese and Thai. Partially freezing the meat will help the fibers to stay together when it is being sliced. Just remember, though, to let the stripped meat completely thaw out before you start cooking. This keeps the meat from cooking unevenly.

Boiling takes time and removes the nutrients from veggies. To get the greatest health benefit from vegetables, cook them quickly with methods like steaming or sauteing, or serve them raw.

When you cook vegetables quickly over high heat, their quality is best. When you cook veggies slowly, they lose many nutrients. These speed-cooking techniques usually produce vegetables that are more nutritious overall. Discovering how to quickly cook veggies in a safe manner is an important step in preparing more nutritious vegetables.

Be careful when using garlic because the flavor and aroma can be transferred to a variety of surfaces, including your hands. By rubbing your hands inside a stainless sink after handling pungent smelling foods. The steel will clean your hands and remove the smell. You can buy stainless steel “soaps” at your local kitchen store to keep on hand.

When you make chicken stock, a good piece of advice is to make it in a big quantity. Plan to make a big pot of stock so you can freeze and store it. Homemade chicken stock makes a great base for casseroles, soups, stews, and many other wonderful dishes. After the liquid has cooled you can store it in heavy-duty freezer bags.

If you find that making a whole dinner at once is too much work, do parts of your food preparation the night before. Try chopping all your onions and veggies, making up a sauce or putting the meat in a marinade before going to bed at night. When you decide to cook the following day you'll have less to do and become less stressed, this lets you focus on your main cooking tasks.

You should never throw away your leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Take the leftovers, cut them up, put in a container and store in the freezer for future use. Frozen turkey will keep for weeks in the freezer and can be unfrozen and used for a variety of dishes.

When cooking, get into the habit of washing your dishes as soon as you finish using them. Try keeping one side of the sink full of hot water with soap ready to wash dishes. The other should contain rinse water. If you wash while you are cooking, the dishes and pots will be easier to scrub and you will save time on cleaning up after dinner. Plus, they will be immediately available to use again.

When you are making pasta you need to be sure to add a liberal amount of salt to the water. This helps to add flavor to the pasta while it is boiling. Pasta salted during cooking tastes better than pasta salted after the fact.

If you desire to be a better cook, use these tips accomplish that. These cooking tips can help you learn to cook better for either yourself, a crowd, family, or friends.