Chia Seeds -Why and How to add them to your diet

Remember Chia Pets?  Yep – it’s the same seed, but now it’s considered more of a super food than playful decor.  Officially the Salvia Columbariae or Salvia Hispanica L. (there are a few types with varying c0lors and nutrition profiles), it is a plant in the mint family that grows throughout South America and up through California and Nevada as well.  Production is increasing, prices are dropping, availability is improving, and I can now even find a good-size bag at my Costco here in the Houston suburbs for under $10.

Similar to flaxseed, chia is famous for its rich content of Omega-3 fats – roughly half of the total fat content depending on where it is grown.  It also is rich in protein, fiber, trace minerals, and phytochemicals such as quercetin.  Also like flaxseed, it gels and thickens when mixed with liquid if it sits too long.  Unlike flax, it does not have to be ground first but can be eaten straight up in granola, smoothies, and baked goods.  The seeds also stay good for about 2=two years, so it’s OK to buy in bulk.

My family LOVES chia “jam;”  thawed frozen berries mixed with chia and a dash of honey or raw sugar all blended up for a smooth texture or allowed to get into a consistency like fruit spread.  The tiny seeds look and crunch like raspberry seeds this way.  I like them in my protein shakes, in yogurt, or even in muesli or granola in the morning.  a couple bites of yogurt with chia jam before a run is a great pre-workout snack for me.

Be aware that if you or your kids have texture issues (two of mine do) beware that they may not like the “slimy” consistency in their shakes or cereal.   Also, taking a big spoonful and swallowing it is not recommended for those with swallowing issues – they could potentially gel up in your throat.

Chia “jam:” 

  •  Two cups frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp honey or raw sugar if desired

(I sometimes add apples or pears for a little more texture)

  1. Cook fruit on stovetop or microwave until berries are just about boiling.

2.  Stir in chia seeds and sugar

3.  Allow to cool and gel for 5-10 minutes, then blend if desired.

 

  Add to whole wheat pancakes along with  yogurt, almonds, and flaxseed for a fiber and protein and antioxidant-rich breakfast!

Figs!

freshfigs2
Matt’s has green banana figs, as well as a couple types of darker ones.

It is fig season in Houston, and we had a ton of fun picking these sweet, succulent gems at Matt Family Orchard this week.  The only thing better than picking them is eating them!  if you have only had dried figs, let me say there is no comparison to the fresh version – especially fresh from the tree.

Figs have been cultivated and enjoyed by humans for thousands of years and in various cultures from Egypt to Israel to Athens and finally, brought by missionaries (ie, mission fig) here to the USA.  Like many fruits they are a rich source of potassium and fiber, as well as vitamin K.  They should be picked when they are the consistency of a peach, but not too squishy.  Unripe figs are NOT good (don’t ask me how I know) and they do not ripen after they are picked.

How do you eat figs? The first afternoon we made fig sherbet.  It was a hit!

2 frozfig sherbeten bananas

10 fresh figs

1-2 tbsps almond milk

Blend well and serve immediately.  Makes enough for 5-6 small servings.

Day 2 we tried a new twist on the tried and true cinnamon raisin oatmeal.  We made Coconut Fig Porridge.  Everyone had seconds, and there were no leftovers.  This recipe made enough for 4 large servings, or 6 small servings.

1 cup steel cut oats

4 cups wateroats&figs

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 tsp cinnamon

10-12 figs

Simmer oats in water until soft, about 20 minutes.  Add coconut milk, cinnamon, and half the figs.  Mash well until there are “swirls” of fig in the porridge.  Top each bowl with a fig or two, a dash of cinnamon, and more coconut milk if you want a creamy consistency.

Last night we enjoyed salad with fresh figs, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Simply delish!

Any other recipe recommendations?  We want to go back for more, as well as the jujubes that are ripening.

kid-friendly salad

salad boatI just finished reading Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie and highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning basic cooking techniques for making fresh, healthy food taste fabulous.  Maybe it’s just because the Houston summer heat is making me crave cold foods, but my favorite section was on salads, and particularly salad dressings.  I won’t give away all his secrets, but I don’t know that I will be buying salad dressing again after tasting some of his recipes!

Which brings me to kids, and salads, and why nobody, especially kids, really wants to eat salad.  I can think of two main reasons: taste and texture.

Taste.  Most salads are comprised of out of season veggies and plain lettuce.  With a dressing that the kids either love (mine will eat ranch out of a spoon) or hate.  Using fresh, seasonal veggies, and fruits/seeds/nuts/cheeses/meats, and a homemade dressing can vastly improve flavor.  One combo we love is spring mix with black beans, fresh salsa mixed with a little olive oil, and crushed Doritos on top.  A few chopped peppers and carrots in there make for great flavor and texture.  A little chicken or taco meat makes it a meal.

Texture.  Have you ever been at a restaurant and tried to gracefully eat a giant green leaf, full of gloppy salad dressing?  Me too.  Kids have smaller mouths, and a little leaf for us may be unwieldy for them.  My solution is to either 1)  chop everything into small bite sizes pieces that can be easily stabbed with a fork or scooped with a spoon, or 2) turn it into finger food.  Veggie trays are fairly popular with kids, especially when served with dip or hummus.

This week we made salad boats; great taste, texture, AND they got to play with their food!  Hey, if Jamie Oliver can make his fame and fortune playing with food, I figure my sweet little ones can get their hands dirty too.

Salad boats

Baby hearts of romaine

goat cheese (or cream cheese)

bite-size stuffers ( pepper slices, carrots, sunflower seeds, cucumber slices, tomato…)

Dressing: combine 1 part lemon juice with 3 parts good olive oil, a dash of salt, and a dash of white pepper.  Place in a jar or bottle with a lid (we use an empty glass kombucha bottle) and have a child shake and count to 30.

Was and dry romaine.  Pull romaine apart into little “boats.”  Smear cheese at the bottom of each boat.  Drizzle a little dressing on the inside.  Let children fill their boats with “stuffers.”  My only rule was that they had to eat their creations at the end!

My son decided to add bombs (carrot sticks) and ammo (sunflower seeds).
My son decided to add bombs (carrot sticks) and ammo (sunflower seeds).

Summer Salads

 

IMG_0979

  Spring is gone, summer is here, and we have been loving salads along with the warmer weather!  No longer are salads the anemic, tasteless plate of iceberg lettuce with tasteless tomatoes for color; even  food restaurants often have great selections, and a quick peak at menus from fine dining establishments are great inspiration for homemade blends of greens, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and nuts and seeds that are as tasty as they are healthy.  A few slices of leftover steak or chicken could round any of these out into a perfect summer lunch.

Beet and Goat Cheese

Cooked/canned beets, diced

Mixed greens preferably with herbs such as dill and parsley

Mandarin oranges

Goat cheese

Apple cider/balsamic vinaigrette*

Toasted walnuts or pecans

Start of Summer Salad

We enjoyed our first Greenling delivery a couple weeks ago, and are in love with the fresh, organic produce!  A trip to the farmers market or grocery store could have yielded similar items.  The key to this salad was to chop everything rather fine, and then toss the dressing in well so every bite was well-coated with panko and lemon juice.

Carrots, diced

Radishes, tiny slices

Green onions, diced

Fresh spring greens

Sunflower seeds

Tomatoes

2-3 tbsp panko (we like the flavored kind…or the crumbs at the bottom of the triscuits box work too!)

 dressing

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and white pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese to taste

Easy Strawberry Spinach Salad

Strawberries have been on sale for $0.99/lb here!  Try fresh, sliced strawberries on

Baby spinach

Nuts (I like walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds…candied pecans are the best!)

Gorgonzola (or other blue cheese)

Serve with your favorite vinaigrette.

For older berries that have lots of flavor but not the best looks,  try pureeing them in a blender with equal parts extra virgin olive oil, a dash of sea salt, and apple cider vinegar for strawberry dressing.

As other fruits come in season, serve raspberries, peaches, or pears on spinach with a bit of blue cheese and apple cider/balsamic vinaigrette.

*apple cider/balsamic vinaigrette recipe

2 tbsps apple cider vinegar

2 tbsps balsamic vinegar

3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp sea salt (taste and add more if desired)

tex-mex pot of beans

I was really craving pinto beans earlier this week.  Yes, weird craving…but I like this recipe that came out of it!

1 bag pinto beans, soaked for 24 hours and then cooked for 2 hours

1 tbsp chicken base (4 cubes boullion), or 1 liter chicken stock

1 tbsp cumin

1 small onion, diced

1 12oz can diced tomatoes

1 tbsp garlic, diced

1 small bunch cilantro, washed and chopped

½ cup red wine

 

Drain pinto beans, then add chicken stock (or base/boullion and a liter of water)

Add remaining ingredients except for cilantro and wine and simmer for 30 more minutes.

Add cilantro and red wine, take off heat.

Garnish with more cilantro if desired, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Super Slaws and Salads

When the heat index starts climbing over 100, I usually lose both my desire for hot comfort foods as well as my motivation for cooking them.

Step in salads and slaws. Most Americans don’t even eat half as many fruits and veggies as we need in a day, and this is a perfect opportunity to do so. And because so much produce grown in the good ole USA is in season now, you can do it on the cheap too!

Salads are easy. You can buy a bag at the store and a bottle of dressing of course, but with a little more time you can come up with some great-tasting creative combos of your own as well. Here are a few of my favorites this summer.

Tomato Cucumber Salad
Chop tomatoes (whatever are on sale) and cucumbers up into bite-size cubes. Add a touch of sea salt to taste. Enjoy.
(For an extra nutrition boost, add fresh spinach, diced carrots, radicchio, or red cabbage)

Easy Bean Salad
1 can white beans
2 tbsp giardiniera (we prefer Pagliacci’s Hot, but beware, it’s spicy!)
1 cup fresh spinach, shredded

Ginger Peach Slaw
2-3 cups savoy or napa cabbage, shredded
1-2 peaches, diced
1 cup spinach or other lettuce, shredded
2 tbsps orange juice
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp canola, safflower, or grapeseed oil
½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp garlic powder
Salt and sugar to taste
Mix fruit and veggies. Mix liquids and spices into a dressing. Pour dressing over veggies and enjoy.

Apple Slaw
2 cups savoy or napa cabbage, shredded
1 tart apple, shredded
1 cup fresh spinach, shredded
1 tbsp sunflower seeds or small walnut pieces
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

Deciding on sides – the second part of menu planning.

Alright, so chicken is on sale, you have your cravings for taco casserole and there’s leftover soup in the freezer and you’re finishing your weekly menu:   grilled chicken, casserole, soup, pizza.. what about sides?

Side dishes should add  extra nutrients as well as variety in color and texture.  White chicken with white mashed potatoes and white cauliflower may be nutritionally sound, but it looks pretty boring and bland.  Same with salmon, sweet potatoes, and carrots.  Usually people expect to see a meat, vegetable, and starch, but even these rules are changing.

  It’s also good to remember how much time you have on hand to make them before deciding on something more time-consuming like scalloped potatoes. 

So back to our menu above…what would I add?

Grilled chicken with sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli…I microwave the sweet potatoes and do the broccoli in a steamer.  Then why not grill some extra and have grilled chicken on top of bagged salad for dinner on day 2?

Taco casserole has the starch, meat, and a little veggie in already, so a side salad can add color and can cool the spice.

What to serve with soup?  If it’s a hearty soup like chili, consider a side salad to lighten the meal up.  If it’s a lighter soup like minestrone, cheese and crackers, or a crusty garlic bread round it out nicely.

Pizza is usually a finger food, and serving a veggie platter keeps the whole dinner silverware-free.  If you do, try making your own ranch dressing out of yogurt, onion powder, garlic, parsley, and salt rather than the high-fat and additive dips dips that are usually served with veggies.  I always like salad with pizza too.

I always have a variety of frozen veggies in the freezer because they make such versatile sides.  Additionally, keeping some bagged salads in the fridge and potatoes and sweet potatoes in the pantry, as well as some brown rice, ensures that whatever I serve, I have a simple, healthy side dish to go alongside.

Making freezer jam

I decided to make freezer jam a couple weeks ago, and we are enjoying the fruits of my labor!   However, I did learn a few lessons myself from this experiment.   Here is my jam-making saga. 

 The first step was finding pectin.  Nowhere to be found at my fave HEB or Walmart.  I finally asked the lady at the checkout, who called someone else, who told me it was in the School Supplies aisle.  Really?  Since it was fast approaching naptime, I grabbed a couple boxes without reading labels (first mistake).   My reasoning for making freezer jam is first of all the wonderful flavor, and second, to avoid preservatives and minimize sugar.  I found that the Ball pectin was pure pectin, and required more labor and cleanup; the Certo had more preservatives but was easy to mix-in and didn’t require a separate pot for boiling. 

pectin and gelatin

 

The next step was reading the directions inside the box, and to my surprise, the freezer jam called for twice as much sugar as fruit!  Now, there were many dire warnings about how I would ruin the texture if I didn’t follow the recipe exactly…but I decided to test that theory for myself. 

After mashing the strawberries as directed, I tried a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar and a 2:1 ratio.  Still a lot of nutrient-devoid calories, but  a little improvement.  I did add the lemon juice according to the recipe for strawberry jam, and just added peaches to my strawberry peach. 

prepping the berries and lemons

 

Next step was stirring for a few minutes.  I employed my two-year-old sous chef for one pot while I did another, and we had great fun stirring for the 3 minutes!  I think he especially enjoyed it, as I caught him stopping to lick the spoon a couple of times.  Guess we won’t be sharing those jars of jam with anyone outside of the family! 

mashing the berries with a potato masher. Smoother is better!
Finally I let them set.  The two pectins had different directions – one said to let it set on the counter for 24 hours, the other said to put it in the fridge after a couple of hours.  I felt more comfortable putting them in the fridge to avoid spoilage, so that’s what I did. 
How did they turn out?  They taste great!  I did need to add a little plain gelatin to thicken them up to my liking – especially the ones with less sugar.  I just mix about a teaspoon of gelatin per cup of jam right after opening a jar.  Last year I tried the low-sugar version and that did give a good texture but had more preservatives; I’m still on the lookout for great freezer jam recipes that call for even less sugar.  I have heard that the no-preservative and low-sugar freezer jams can spoil quickly in the fridge, but we haven’t had any problems at the rate we eat it.  Life doesn’t get much better than strawberry jam on homemade bread. 

Hummus – many ways

What is a great source of fiber and protein, healthy monounsaturated fat, and even folic acid?  Hummus!  It is also a decent source of iron and calcium, and is the perfect dipping “sauce” for toddlers who like to dunk  every bite.  Here are some of my favorite recipes and adaptations.  Most hummus recipes call for tahini, which I found to be rather pricey and I didn’t use it in very many recipes.  I substitute sesame oil, which adds wonderful flavor to stirfries and can also be used as a relieving massage oil on sore feet after a long day of chasing kids.

I buy the bagged garbanzo beans, or chickpeas (same thing), in order to save money.  I soak them overnight, simmer them for a couple hours after breakfast, and then we enjoy hummus by lunchtime. 

STANDARD HUMMUS

2 cups chickpeas

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 Tbsps water (more water adds a fluffy consistency, especially if you decrease olive oil)

1 tsp diced garlic

2 Tbsps lemon juice

1 tsp sesame oil

Blend well.  Salt to taste.  Add a couple kalamata olives and refrigerate for a couple hours for extra flavor.  Garnish with parsley and serve with pita as an appetizer.

JALEPENO HUMMUS

2 cups chickpeas

1/4 cup canola oil

1-2 pickled jalepenos (depending on how spicy you like it)

2 tbsps lime juice

water and salt to taste

TEX-MEX HUMMUS

2 cups chickpeas

1/4 cup canola oil

2 Tbsps lime juice

1 tsp garlic

1/2 tsp cumin

1 cup fresh spinach

(for some extra heat, add 1/4-1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder)

Salt to taste.  Serve Jalepeno and Tex-Mex hummus with tortilla chips – the green color looks great in a bowl next to a traditional salsa.