Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Salad Recipe - Just Because!

Dear Folks,

I enjoy making salads and trying to come up with varieties to make them interesting.

Recently I decided to be more conscious of my weight and need to drop some pounds.  I generally eat quite healthy - comparatively speaking - but truth be known I gorge when I'm stressed with 'stuff', so I decided on a simple plan:  try to keep the starches to a minimum, focus on protein, vegetables and fruits and keep the small plate handy :-)  (There is no dearth of information on just how big our portion sizes, let alone the plate sizes have grown in the last 50 years.)

A while back I read an article about a trainer in Scottsdale (and sorry if I could find the exact info I would give you who and where) who came up with her version of a healthy, easy, way of plating up your food to focus on healthy and losing weight.  Imagine the plate divided in 3 sections:  Protein, low-starch vegetables, and fruits.  Works for me!

A note about salts and fats - we need some and the problem is not THE food item, it is what we do with it.  Swinging in extreme directions does our bodies no good.  Too little salt and we have water retention issues; too little fat and some of the good foods we eat are not properly absorbed.

I will put a little more about my general eating preferences below the recipe.

Catherine's Composed Salad

Romaine lettuce
Curly kale
Sweet Italian Basil
Garlic Chives
Edamame, cooked and drained
Roasted Red Peppers

Lime juice, fresh squeezed (can use lemon, grapefruit, orange or vinegar)
Olive oil
Black pepper

Chop or tear the greens into bite-size pieces.  Toss together. Dice the peppers and cantaloupe.  Arrange salad in a pleasing-to-you manner.

Dressing is a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of lime juice depending on how tangy you like your dressing.  I add salt to taste, roughly a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon depending on how much liquid I wind up with.  Citrus dressings are nicer for not only the taste but also with a couple of shakes, they will stay mixed for quite a while at the dinner table.

Every couple of days I chop a mix of greens and herbs to keep as a base in a container in the refrigerator

Recycling: I kept one of those 'salad' boxes of pre-mixed greens come in from the grocery, and re-use for this purpose - I place a paper towel over the greens after chopping and spinning and putting the lid on, to keep the condensation from the greens.  This way I can make a fast salad when I'm short of time or ideas :-)

So, protein, vegetables and fruit makes a great salad meal for lunch or dinner.

. . .

My preferences on food are largely guided by nutrient density.

I have my guilty pleasures just like anyone else.  I LOVE excellent artisan bread, White Castle Hamburgers (or their cheeseburgers), Taylor Ham (both east coast favorites) and the occasional fast food sandwich.  Most of these I indulge in 2 or 3 times a year, except for the bread, which is why I had to re-consider how to go about losing some weight.

I also use whole goat or cow milk and yogurt (making my own yogurt when I can); a bit of bacon grease from uncured bacon, different oils like olive and avocado, real butter (organic).  I'm a lover of dark chocolate and find ways to make homemade versions of decadent treats (Fudge and fudge sauce).  I use organic cane sugar, agave nectar, honey and stevia, depending on what I am making.

I generally have a cast-iron stomach and can eat anything with no problem, but a while back I had an 'episode' of I don't know what.  I changed my morning yogurt routine from 'most of the time' to 'every' morning.

I have become very fond of Himalayan pink salt and buy it coarse when I can and grind as needed. I also use sea salt for fine salt needs.

For sauteeing I have come up with an excellent combination of flavor and tolerable fat combination that gives my food really good flavor without going into 'heart attack territory'.

I gently melt 1/3 cup of my stored uncured bacon grease, 1/3 cup of organic butter and 1/3 cup of organic olive oil.  Stir to mix well and pour into a mason jar.  Let cool on the counter before capping (so you do not have condensation) then store in the frig.  Literally a knife tip in the pan will flavor anything you cook - probably less than a teaspoon of total fat, but full of lots of flavor.

For my dieting purposes I have shifted to selecting a bread/cracker for the day.  I select or put out one serving and use it for whatever purpose during the day.  So for example I will use 4-5 crackers to scoop my yogurt in the morning; I may crumble some of the crackers over my salad (like croutons), or take a piece of meat or cheese with a few as snacks during the day.

For snacks, I also wrap slices of meat or cheese around: cucumber, carrot, sugar pea pods, green bean bundles, or fold the meat or cheese into a leaf of romaine.

I either make my own crackers - see link here for my seed/nut/cheese gluten-free cracker. or purchase 'good' options.

When selecting bread or crackers I use my 'nutrient density formula' - the protein and fiber grams are totaled and divided into the calories per serving.  The density has to be 20 or less.

My current go-to cracker choices are original Triscuit; Kashi's Original 7 Grain Sea Salt, or Kashi Toasted Asiago.

I also use the treadmill at the gym 3 times a week because I can adjust for a steep incline and a fast past, doing 60 minutes or about 4 miles.

. . .

And lastly I enjoy a glass of wine or beer and love all varieties, but they are not the lowest-calorie beverage options nor are they even remotely nutrient dense.  Also opening a bottle of wine without a stew or 'something' to cook with the remainder is not an option right now for me (unless I want to pull out the crockpot I'm not doing 'hot meal' type cooking now.

I have a 'beer' cocktail I came up with adjusting a fun drink a friend made for me recently.

The basic premise is to rim a large glass with lime juice and salt as you would a margarita - here is my version.  Makes 2 drinks.

Catherine's Beer Cocktail
Currently I'm fond of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer but any light beer will blend nicely with the lime juice

1 lime, cut in half
Himalayan pink salt
1 bottle of light beer
1 can of sparkling seltzer (not club soda - has more sodium in it) or water
Ice cubes

You have the option of NOT rimming the glass with the ground salt.  Instead you can add a small grind after you put the ice cubes in.

Squeeze one half lime into each of two tall glasses.
(Optional:  Run the cut lime around the edge of the glass before squeezing, and dip in ground salt)
Pour half a bottle of beer down the side (to avoid a head) of each glass.
Pour half of the can of seltzer in each glass
Add ice
Add a tiny grind of salt to the floating ice cubes if you choose.

Sip and enjoy.

I have some events and classes coming up.  Check out the "about" page on my website.

I hope you find these ideas and recipes enjoyable!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Lemon Verbena - August Herb of the Month / Ready Set Sow!

Dear Folks,

Although the month is almost over, I thought I would focus on this outstanding herb.  Lemon Verbena is the Herb Society of America's herb of the month and it is justly deserving of attention.

Aloysia citrodora (aka Lippia citrodora ) is a fabulous lemon-flavored and scented herb sometimes called the "lemon drop" plant.  Once you smell the bruised leaf you will understand why, the fragrance is amazing.

This member of the verbena family is closely related to Mexican Oregano another great herb for your garden.

Both are sub-tropical and will withstand some freezing, but not hard (killer) freezes without proper protect.  Both can grow to be very tall hedge/shrubs - which is a very good thing for all the opportunity to use them in cooking.

Like many of the other lemon-flavored herbs, Lemon Verbena gets its taste and scent from one or more of the essential oils found in the skin of lemons.  Except without the acid, so you can use these herbs as you would lemon in cooking, and it stands up to heating very well, unlike some more delicate flavored herbs.

In the desert garden the plant will go somewhat dormant in the winter.  Prune dead branches in late winter/early spring when you start to see new growth at the base.

Plant in early fall or early spring (February/March) for best success, in full sun and well draining soil.

Check out my prior blog post where I discuss lemon verbena along with other gardening and cooking aspects.

. . .

September Gardening -- Ready Set Sow!

First off, if you are planning on planting garlic (October 1-31) or potatoes (November 30-January 1st) you may wish to start looking for sources for the starter 'seed' cloves or potatoes.  I like Potato Garden, but local nurseries like Harpers may soon have either of them for sale.

Next, if you have not done so or need to 'fluff' the garden, begin preparing the soil.

Fall is THE spring in the desert garden for heavy planting of not only cool weather annuals but also THE best time to transplant fruit trees (October-November).

Before you start looking for seeds to sow, think about how much of what, particularly root crops, you want to be harvesting.  Successive sowing means planting seeds every 2-4 weeks, generally through mid to late winter for continuing harvesting.

Successive sowing means, instead of planting 15 foot rows of carrots or beets or radishes, but 2-4 feet each and another 2-4 feet in 2-4 weeks. 

Choose short maturity varieties of roots and greens (lettuces, kale, arugula, spinach, chard, etc.) to have faster harvests.

Head variety vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts take not only a long time to get to harvest stage (90-120 days), but also each take up a lot of room, so consider size of mature plant when laying out your sowing/transplanting plan.

If you do decide to go with head varieties - when you harvest use the greens!  The leaves are edible like the 'flower bud' you are picking.

One of my all-time favorite vegetables to grow during the cool time of the year are sugar peas.  These prolific producers of sweet edible pods will produce for months if you keep the pods picked regularly.  (Sample the tasty growing tips from time to time in your salads, stir frys or omelettes -- just not too often you want all those healthy vines to keep growing and producing the pods :-)

Beans (bush and pole beans in first two weeks in September at latest)
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Cornflower/bachelor Buttons (Centaurea Cyanus)
Endive (and Chicory)
Fennel, Leaf
Onions, Green
Kale, Ornamental Cabbage
Lettuce (leaf lettuce, arugula, mustard greens etc.)
Scented Geranium
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum Majus)
Sweet Alyssum
Sweet William Aka Pinks (Dianthus Barbatus)

Get out and get growing - what else is more of everything in life than growing some or much of your own food!

. . .

By the way - I finally got my website up and running again.  Check it out when you have a chance

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My books