Becoming a Consious Shopper

photo(14)I have claimed this year to be MY YEAR. The year that I take back my health, wellness, and fitness, to shed those unwanted pounds, and practice what I preach! There are several things that I am utilizing to achieve these goals which include portion control eating (post will follow shortly on that!), daily exercise (another post to follow, so stay tuned), and choosing the right foods to eat.

This sounds like a simple concept, and frankly it is, however, if you are anything like me sometimes you get overwhelmed or distracted and buy items that you don’t need. Below are some simple tips to keep in mind when heading to the grocery store…

1. Outer Limits: AKA stay on the perimeter of the store! This is where you will find many of the healthy food items that you should be adding to your shopping cart or basket. Thank about what is in the outer limits: vegetables, meats, seafood, and dairy. Now, NOT all items in the middle of the store is off limits…there are plenty of great options such as legumes, canned beans, whole grains, and vegetables (no salt added, rinse very well). However, the majority of the center aisles are filled with processed foods, chips, candy, and if you look at many of these items you will find ingredient lists that would rival a great novel!

When buying your fresh produce – remember the old skittles saying, “eat the rainbow”…think of that! Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily!

2. Buy Fresh: Buying fresh and making treats at home will help reduce the amount of additives and preservatives in your food. It is nice to know exactly what goes into your food and your body.

3. Do Not Shop When Hungry: Hunger can be your biggest enemy because that is where you tend to pick up the foods that you do not normally purchase or shouldn’t be purchasing. You will end up spending more money than you anticipated by putting these impulse items into your shopping cart or basket. Think with your brain…not your stomach!

4. Ripe vs. Unripe: Ripe is best, right? Not always…if you plan to use that ingredient that day then Yes! However, if you make a weekly meal plan and shopping list and you shop on Monday but won’t be making guacamole until Wednesday, purchase avocados that are not quite ripe (you can ripen them by putting them in a brown paper bag), but if you buy ripe avocados on Monday, come Wednesday they won’t be looking so pretty. You will end up spending money and then just throwing away these items…not worth it.

5. Plan Ahead: Each week try to create a rough weekly menu and then create a shopping list off of that. I say rough, because you may think that you want a specific dish on a certain day but when that day rolls around, you want anything but what you have listed. I like to create a general menu that cross-utilizes ingredients so if one night I am craving another item on the menu, I can simply make that and not waste ingredients. Be flexible, but have a plan. When you shop with a list, this helps you stay on track and not purchase foods you do not need.

When writing your weekly menu and shopping list, take a look at what you already have on hand…check those cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer. Start by working with ingredients that you already have on hand and go from there. Again, this is another tip that will help you save money, time, and sanity during your busy week.

6. Step Away: Avoid the snack aisle – this will help you avoid purchasing items you do not need. Find healthier alternatives to these items or make them at home with healthier ingredients!

7. Spice It Up: Spices and herbs are your best friend. They help add tons of flavor to your dishes without adding unhealthy ingredients. Look for single ingredient spices and create your own blends to avoid an additives/preservatives that are not needed. If you do find a blend that you like, check to see the sodium level in it…is this something that you can recreate and reduce the amount of sodium? Probably! Get creative and experiment with different homemade blends.

Fresh herbs are also wonderful ingredients to use and can last a while if stored properly. You can also plant little window plants with herbs that you use often like cilantro, chives, rosemary, basil, etc. Both spices and herbs can take any old boring dish to something extremely delicious that your family and friends will want to eat!

8. Certified: If something claims to be organic, all natural, etc…look for the USDA certification! Do not believe everything you read.

9. Labels: Read these carefully – if you pick up a bag of pasta for example and there are 10+ ingredients in it, I would probably put it back and look for something else. I mean let’s be real, pasta should only consist of 3-4 ingredients!

10. Claims: Be on the look out for these – if something says “as much protein as…” and it is something claiming to have as much protein as an egg, why not just eat the egg? Understandable if you have an egg allergy etc., but for the masses…just eat the egg.

11. Samples: Trying new products can be awesome! Trust me I have the privilege to do this quite often, but I have become particular of the items I sample and review. Do not be sidetracked by trying something that is not good for you or something you just do not need.

12. Code Words: Know the code words for certain ingredients like sugar. If you have a food allergies or Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity know where gluten is hidden, know the other names of these allergens. Educate yourself!

The two images in this post are what typical grocery shopping trips look like for me…loaded with fresh fruits and veggies, proteins, dairy, with whole grains. Each week I create a menu and shopping list and check the items off as I add them to my cart. If it is not on the list, I do not buy it – being on such a tight budget this has been extremely helpful. I have found alternatives to “sweet treats” like buying a large thing of plain Greek yogurt, and freezing a small amount of it with a bit of honey swirled in, then when it is partially frozen I mix in some fresh fruit and have that instead of ice cream!

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Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Corn & Black Bean Salsa

Shrimp-0051

I would grill all year-long if I could. This year we had so much crazy snow drifts that it was a bit impossible to do. I love my grill dearly…great flavors, you can grill pretty much anything, its outside with the sun and the fresh air, easy clean up, and less fats are used! We grill steaks, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, hot sausages, shrimp, fish, pizza, and veggies…tons of veggies! Last year I bought one of those little grill baskets for I think $3.00 and it works like a charm, especially for mushrooms.

Last week we got the tank refilled and have used it quite a bit since. We are both trying to get in better shape and eat healthier (a follow-up post to my I’m on a mission…post will appear soon, I promise!). So the grill comes in very handy for this, because like I mentioned I use way less oils or fats when cooking. We have switched from eating red meat weekly (sometimes multiple times a week) to about monthly and started eating more chicken (breasts, no skin – which we have always done), shrimp, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Since starting to work out and now that I have gotten on a schedule with a program I really like I have been craving much healthier foods…funny how that works huh? Snacks include slices of yellow, red, or orange bell peppers, or carrot sticks with hummus and mandarins! Seriously I never ate peppers or any form of oranges, but loved orange juice. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them. For lunch I have been buying Boar’s Head low sodium meats and making little “roll-ups” with some low sodium cheese, and baby spinach. I’m really like this craving of healthy foods! More to come on all of this in my follow-up post mentioned above, but for now let’s get back to the Grilled Shrimp Tacos…

These are SO easy to make, light, and delicious – we are loving this little creation of mine. As with the majority of my recipes please feel free to adjust the seasonings and spices to your flavor likings!

Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Corn & Black Bean Salsa

IMG_5380_5585

Salsa

Ingredients

  • Lime Zest                                                                  1 lime
  • Lime Juice, Fresh                                                     2 limes
  • Cayenne Pepper                                                      ¼ teaspoon
  • Salt, Kosher                                                             1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon
  • Black Pepper, freshly ground                                   1/8 teaspoon
  • Corn, rinsed & drained                                             1 can (14oz)
  • Black beans, no salt added rinsed, & drained          1 can (15.5 oz)
  • Red Bell Pepper, small dice                                      ¼ cup
  • Orange Bell Pepper, small dice                                ¼ cup

Method of Preparation

  1. Gather all necessary equipment
  2. In a medium bowl zest one lime. Zest the second lime used later for juicing and set aside zest for the shrimp marinade.
  3. Juice the two limes into the bowl
  4. Add cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper, mix until well combined. Set aside
  5. Open cans of corn and black beans. Drain and rinse corn first, and then add to a medium bowl.
  6. Drain and rinse the black beans and add to the bowl with the corn and lime juice mixture.
  7. Dice bell peppers and add to the corn, black beans, and lime juice mixture.
  8. Mix well, cover and store in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  9. Mix well before serving.
  10. Serve with grilled shrimp tacos and/or corn tortilla chips.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos – makes six tacos

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil                                                                      2 tablespoons
  • Cayenne Pepper                                                        ½ teaspoon
  • Lime Zest                                                                    1 lime
  • Salt, Kosher                                                                1/8 teaspoon
  • Jumbo Shrimp, peeled, deveined, cleaned                 10 each
  • Corn Tortilla, soft                                                          6 each
  • Avocado, halved and sliced                                        1 each

Method of Preparation

  1. Gather all necessary equipment
  2. In a small bowl combine first four ingredients and mix well.
  3. Add shrimp and toss to evenly coat all shrimp.
  4. Cover and marinade in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Heat grill to medium high
  6. Either skewers your shrimp or use a grill basket to cook shrimp.
  7. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Shrimp should be opaque and cooked throughout.
  8. Remove shrimp from grill and cut up into large chunks or leave whole.
  9. On the cooler part of the grill add the soft corn tortilla shells.
  10. Grill until you see grill marks – about 3-4 minutes per side (this all depends on how hot your grill is, and how crispy you want them…at this stage they are still quite pliable).
  11. To assemble your tacos add 2-3 tablespoons of corn and black bean salsa on each grilled corn tortilla shell.
  12. Top with equal portions of diced or whole grilled shrimp and slices of avocado.
  13. Enjoy the extra salsa with some gluten-free corn tortilla chips.

Curry Mango Smoothie

IMG_4211_4825(don’t mind the spoon and mug…I couldn’t find a tall zombie glass to display it in)

In Vegetarian Cuisine we are learning so much about the different vegetarian diets and how to achieve meeting your requirements for carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc. Two weeks about our class was all about legumes and protein alternatives.

Legumes are seeds in pods and include: beans (garbanzo, kidney, mung, soy, anasazi, and more) and Lentils. All of these are great gluten-free options as well as vegetarian and vegan. When looking at legumes you want to make sure that they are fresh looking, uniform in size, no holes (little bugs may have gotten in), brightly colored, and free of dust.

There is so much that can be done with legumes: soups, meat alternatives, breads, flours, you can use them in salads, and ice creams. If you are using fresh beans (beans not from a can) you want to soak them before cooking them. Beans should be soaked for at least four hours but no more than 8. To start you want to sort through the beans and look for the things listed above, discard any beans that fall into those categories. Rinse the beans, and soak them in 4 x the amount of water (1 up of beans = 4 cups water), rise them again and discard the soaking liquid, then cook as directed.

When you are cooking beans you do not want to add any salt or anything acidic to the water – they wont cook!! Salt or season the beans after they have been completely cooked. If you shy away from beans because you experience gas after eating them a few tricks to reduce this is – eat more of them! Over time your digestive system will adjust to the beans. Soaking the beans also helps – be sure to change the water at least 2 times during the soaking process, and also adding Kombu, fennel or cumin to the water while cooking helps to easily digest the beans.

Cooked beans can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for about 3-4 days or frozen for up to one year.

I was assigned to make a beverage with using legumes. I thought for a minute and came up with a smoothie using tofu and garbanzo beans. I found some fresh mango in our kitchen and orange juice as well. I mixed all together and it tasted good but I felt it needed a little something extra…curry powder. I know this all sounds weird, but it is mighty delicious! The curry powered is not overwhelming at all, it is just a little hint at the end. This would be perfect in the summer on a hot day, nutritious and delicious.

Curry Mango Smoothie

Ingredients:

Garbanzo beans, cooked                                                      4 ounces

Silken Tofu                                                                            4 ounces

Mango, fresh or frozen                                                          4 ounces

Orange juice                                                                          4 ounces

Honey                                                                                    2 teaspoons

Curry powder                                                                         ¼ teaspoon

Ice                                                                                          8 ounces

Method of Preparation:

1.    Gather all ingredients and equipment.
2.    Cut mango (see Chef’s Notes) and set aside.
3.    In the pitcher of a blender add the garbanzo beans (if using canned, rinse and drain well), silken tofu, mango, orange juice, honey, and curry powder. Cover tightly with lid.
4.    Blend on high-speed until smooth.
5.    Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
6.    Add ice and blend until ice is well blended.
7.    Serve immediately.

Chef’s Notes: How to cut a mango: Place the mango on one of its flat sides on a cutting board. Slice the mango lengthwise around the seed. Turn the mango over and repeat on the other side. Set aside the seed and remaining mango flesh. Carefully with a paring knife cut the mango with a cross-hatch pattern. Be sure to not cut through the skin. Invert the mango half by placing your thumbs on each end, and your fingers underneath on the skin. Press upwards with your fingers and then with the paring knife, cut off the cross-hatch cubes of mangos. Repeat with other side. Discard the skin. Cut the remaining mango flesh from the seed. With a paring knife remove skin from the mango flesh and cut into cubes. Discard skin.

Spring Rolls

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

Last month I graduated with my degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University and also started my bachelors degree in culinary nutrition with a concentration in clinical dietetics. This degree is more heavily focused in academics with a handful of culinary labs. The first one is Vegetarian Cuisine. At the beginning of the term we were given recipes for each week and everyone was assigned a different item…starch, veg, dessert, entrée, etc. However to change things up a bit our Chef said that we can use these recipes as guides (which in my opinion that is what recipes are for), and then create something from there. Which, I think is a great idea because this encourages us as students to be more creative and produce something that we have created. Instead of looking at the recipes I look at what I am assigned and go from there. I want to be able to create recipes that I can share with all of you so I haven’t been using the recipes that were provided to us. So far I have made a curry mango smoothie (this was on the legumes week – I was assigned beverage), these delicious vegetarian spring rolls (grains week – I was assigned vegetables), and this past week I made a sweet potato and pine nut risotto (fruits and nut week – I was assigned starch). These other recipes will be posted soon.

These spring rolls are pretty easy to make. You can always buy pre-cut vegetables to save you some time and you can use which ever vegetables that you like. I wanted to include as many colors as I could with what we had in the kitchen that week. I call it…eating the rainbow! The spring rolls are made with purple sticky rice instead of the traditional rice noodles. As I said I was given vegetables on grains week and we were provided with so many wonderful options of grains, but I really wanted to stick with something gluten-free so I could enjoy them as well. Plus, this purple stick rice has a beautiful color and texture to it. If you can’t find this rice you can always use the rice noodles, brown rice, forbidden black rice, etc. Be creative and keep it colorful (a great way to get your kiddos or picky eaters to eat their veggies). This is also a great recipe to make with your kids, its hands on, gets them to learn about the different vegetables out there and try new things.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

A spring roll, loaded with an assortment of vegetables served with a sweet spicy dipping sauce.

Yield: 8 Rolls      Serving Size:  2 Rolls     Number of Servings: 4

Spring Rolls

Purple Sticky rice, cooked and cooled                  1 ½ cups

Summer squash, julienne                                       1 ounce

Asparagus, julienne                                                1 ounce

Carrot, julienne                                                       1 ½ ounce

Bell pepper, red, julienne                                        1 ½ ounce

Red cabbage, julienne                                             1 ½ ounce

Water, warm                                                             6 cups

Rice Paper wrappers                                                8 sheets

Dipping Sauce

Gluten-Free Soy Sauce, Tamari  (San-J)                  ¼ cup

Ginger, freshly grated                                               2 tsp

Garlic, freshly grated                                                1 tsp

Agave or Honey                                                        1 Tbs

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes                                       ¼ tsp

Method of Preparation:

1.    Gather all ingredients and equipment.
2.    Cook rice according to package and set aside to cool.
3.    Wash all vegetables, peel carrot, and wash again.
4.    Julienne all vegetables and set aside in small bowls.
5.    In a large bowl, add the warm water.
6.    Soak each sheet of rice paper in the water until it becomes pliable, about 30-45 seconds.
7.    Remove rice paper wrapper from water, and gently squeeze off any additional water.
8.    Lay rice paper wrapper flat on a large cutting board or damp tea towel.
9.    In the center of the wrapper add 3 tablespoons of rice, and equal portions of squash, asparagus, carrot, bell pepper, and red cabbage.

10. Fold down the top end of the wrapper over the center tightly, fold in each of the sides over the center (should look similar to an envelope), and roll up tightly. Set aside and repeat with the seven remaining wrappers and remaining rice and vegetables.

11. To prepare the dipping sauce combine the soy sauce (tamari), ginger, garlic, agave or honey, and crushed red pepper flakes in a small bowl.

12. Stir well to combine and serve along-side the spring rolls.

13. To serve, cut each roll on a bias and serve alongside the dipping sauce.

Granola – Cinnamon-Vanilla and Pecan

Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends.

This year I hope to make a few changes – not so much “new years resolutions” because I feel like those don’t ever stick and people feel obligated to make one with out the intention of keeping it.  These will be more along the lines of continual adjustments. So I’ve decided on a few things to “work on” this year and they include: getting in better shape (working out, eating healthier, etc.), making more vegetable based dishes, creating a gluten-free flour blend, more recipe development, canning/preserving more with my dad, reducing the amount of refined sugar that we intake, and making more items at home (granola, muffins, bagels, and non food items such as bath salts, etc.)

A few weeks ago I taught my neighbor David how to make refrigerator and bread and butter pickles.  I gave him a jar of each a few months ago, and what I didn’t know was he is a huge pickle fanatic.  I think both jars were gone in less than a week.  So when we see each other he talks about them saying “these are the best I’ve ever had”. Bryan headed to NJ for a few days so I figured I would have David over and we would make a batch of each.  He was so excited. We had a great time. While we are making these I kept thinking…”I need to do more of this”. I know my dad and I have plans to can a whole bunch of things, but I just get such great pleasure out of making something and being able to not only enjoy it myself but share it with others.

As I thought of other things I could make at home I came up with a list of items and one of them was homemade granola.  I’ve made it in the past and even blogged about it. I don’t know why I haven’t made it in such a long time – it is so simple and delicious, but yesterday I decided to make a batch.  A simple batch consisting of gluten-free oats, cinnamon, vanilla, and chopped pecans.  You can add anything you wish to granola as long as you have the basic recipe down. Granola to me is a blank canvas – feel free to adjust this recipe to your specific tastes.  I store my granola in a pint-sized mason jar (you can also store them in any air tight container).

Basic Granola Recipe

1/4 cup honey (you can substitute agave nectar or use 1/2 honey 1/2 agave)

1 1/2 cup gluten free rolled oats

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Prepare a sheet pan with either a silpat or lightly spray with cooking spray (make sure it is gluten-free) or you can line the pan with tinfoil (lightly spray with cooking spray)
  3. Heat honey (and/or agave) for 10 seconds to help loosen it up.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl all honey (and/or agave), and oats.
  5. Evenly spread oat mixture in a thin even layer.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Turning pan half way through.
  7. Let cool. Crumble into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Additions: If you wish to add any of the following ingredients add them in step 4 – mix well.

Nuts: Pecans, Walnuts, Macadamia, Almonds etc. (chopped, slivered, sliced) (1/2 cup)

Coconut: Fresh, Shredded (unsweetened) (1/2 cup)

Cranberries: Dried (re constitute them in a little bit of water for 10-15 minutes prior to adding them in) (1/2 cup)

Spices: All Spice (1tsp), Cinnamon (1tsp),Vanilla extract (1/2 – 1tsp)

Chia Seeds: (1/8 – 1/4 cup)

Puffed Rice Cereal: make sure this is gluten-free (1/2 cup)

Really – the options are endless.

Bryan eats his granola (I make his without any nuts) just as it is…not milk, yogurt, etc. I on the other hand love it over some vanilla yogurt (like Stonyfield Farms and Chobani).

This is only the start of homemade goodies for this year…stay tuned for more goodies.