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Nourishing Mondays: Baked Pesto Chicken Angel Hair Pasta

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Start your week off with this quick and easy recipe for baked pesto chicken.

Ingredients:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ cup basil pesto
2 plum tomatoes
shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover cookie sheet with foil.

2. Put pesto and chicken in bowl. Toss until chicken is covered.

3. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

4. Place slices of tomato on top of chicken and sprinkle with cheese.

5. Bake another 3-5 minutes.

6. Serve with a box of angel hair pasta and herbs and French bread.

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Sustainable Saturdays: Ways to Preserve Your Garden Harvest – Part 2

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Last Saturday I shared how to preserve your garden harvest by using a food dehydrator. A food dehydrator is great at preserving fruits, vegetables and even meats.  The food can be re-hydrated later or simply eaten in its new dried state.  I personally love eating dried food as it completely transforms the texture and concentrates the food’s flavor.

This week we will talk about canning as a yet another way to preserve your garden harvest.  So what exactly is canning?

Canning is a simple process of applying heat to food while it is in a glass canning jar to kill and eliminate the future risk of bacteria and food spoilage.  A correctly canned and stored jar of food can last up to 2 or 3 years although it’s probably best to try to clear out and rotate your canned food on an annual basis.

Why I started canning:

1)     I’m practical as canning let’s me save vs. waste our summer garden bounty while it also saves our family money in the winter as we don’t need to purchase as much out of season produce

2)     I’m sentimental.  I grow up in rural Oregon with a huge garden and not much money. However, I never knew that until I was an adult. I just remember the fall days of my mom canning applesauce and enjoying a bowl of applesauce virtually everyday of my grade school life.

3)     I’m trying to be healthier. Home canned goods have no artificial preservatives while the grocery store brands can still use artificial additives to extend their look and taste.

What you need to get started:

1)     A pressure canner. This is different than a pressure cooker which uses pressure to cook food faster but not in a glass jar.  As this is an introduction to canning, you may have some trepidation about canning with one of those BIG old pressure canners that sit on your stove top.  If this is you, consider buying a small electric pressure canner such as the autocanner from Ball.

2)     Basic canning accessories including a canning funnel, jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, and kitchen tongs.

3)     Glass canning jars and metal lids. The jars can be used over and over while you should always use a new lid to ensure a quality seal.

The final piece of the canning puzzle is to find your first canning project.  Here are 3 great canning projects for noobies courtesy of the Ball Company: Dill Green Beans, Tomato Sauce, and Apple Jelly.

Once you let your newly jarred food cool for about 24 hours make sure you find a good long-term storage area for your jars to maximize the shelf-life and freshness.  The location should be dark and cool with average humidity.

About the Author:

Chris Wimmer writes at HealthSmartLiving.com. Read more about how he learned to use a pressure canner to save some of his garden harvest for the winter. You can also follow him on facebook and twitter.

(Photo Courtesy: paige_eliz)

Nourishing Mondays: Sautéed White Beans with Cauliflower, Tomatoes and Basil Reduction Sauce

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As the days get shorter and fall slowly creeps upon us, many of us start to crave comfort foods. This week’s Nourishing Mondays recipe for satuéed white beans with cauliflower, tomatoes, and basil reduction sauce is just what the doctor ordered. Enjoy!

 
Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower florets
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon herbs de provence or dried Italian herbs of choice
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
15-ounces cooked white beans, rinsed, drained
¼ to ½ cup water, as needed
½ cup loosely packed torn fresh basil leaves
Hefty splash balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large skillet pan over medium. Add cauliflower, onion, garlic, and dried herbs. Season gently with salt and pepper. Cook until cauliflower is lightly browned and slightly softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes to skillet. Cook until lightly seared and juices pop, about 5 minutes, shaking pan as needed to move vegetables around (using a spatula to stir can sometimes “break” the tomatoes too soon).

Add beans to skillet, along with enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to a light simmer; cover and cook until cauliflower is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir as needed to prevent burning; if pan begins to get dry, reduce heat and add just a splash of water.

Uncover skillet; add basil and balsamic vinegar (careful; it will sputter!). Stir and cook until vinegar evaporates, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan as it cooks down. There should be a slight sauce that cooks down, as the remaining water and vinegar simmer down together.

Season to taste and serve warm.

Servings: 2 main or 4 side dish

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Sustainable Saturdays: Ways to Preserve Your Garden Harvest – Part 1

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A great sustainable practice is maintaining a home garden. They can vary in size from just a few square feet like my urban garden or be over a quarter acre like my childhood home in Oregon.  Either way a home garden not only provides you a great source of produce, it also reminds us just where our food comes from and how important it is to support sustainable farming practices.

If you are like me, every year I love the rewarding feelings as my tomatoes, peppers, and other vine crops start to ripen.  Unfortunately, this feeling is quickly shifts to “oh boy I’ve got a lot of vegetables to eat!”  As much we incorporate into your daily meals and give away to our neighbors we still have vegetables going to waste.

This year my new strategy was to learn how to preserve food by drying and canning.  In part 1, let’s review food drying to see if it’s right for you.

Food Drying

Modern home food drying is simple and highly automated with a food dehydrator. By drying food you are able to significantly extend their shelf life without artificial additives and even reduce the storage space needed.  Did you know that a sun-dried tomato is about 20% the size of a fresh tomato?

Even with a food dehydrator you should still plan on the process taking several hours or over night however it’s a passive process only requiring you to occasionally check on your dryer.  When you first start food drying, it’s a great idea to start with a small test batch which includes cutting your food into various sizes to know what works best for you.

Great Foods to Dry

Fruit: Nearly all fruits can be dried but my favorites are strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries.  You can use them as a healthy convenience snack, top a salad, or drop them into a smoothie.

Vegetables: Create a dry vegetable medley of green beans, carrots, and corn that you can rehydrate into a winter stew or slice your carrots and zucchini into thin slices for vegetable chips.

Herbs: Harvest any remaining herbs just before first frost and dry them for the winter.

Flowers: A food dehydrator isn’t just for food I found out.  You can also dry your flowers and make a homemade potpourri.

Storing Dried Food

Maximize the expected shelf life of your dried food by keeping it in an airtight container which is kept in a cool, dark place.

About the Author:

Chris Wimmer writes at HealthSmartLiving.com. Read more about how he uses a food dehydrator to preserve his garden harvest. You can also follow him on facebook and twitter.

(Photo Courtesy: Choo Yut Shing)

Nourishing Mondays: Vegetarian Taco Salad

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Who doesn’t love taco night?? With fresh ingredients, this recipe for vegetarian taco salad is sure to be a Monday night hit!

Ingredients:

2 mini (or 1 regular-sized) yellow orange bell peppers, seeded, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
½ medium cucumber, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 scallion, slice
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup salsa of choice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 avocado, pitted, chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta or cotija cheese

Directions:

Combine bell peppers, tomato, cucumber, celery, scallion, parsley, cilantro, chili powder, and salt in a medium bowl; toss well. Add salsa and olive oil; stir well to mix. Gently fold in avocado and cheese.

Serve as a salad, atop cooked brown rice, or over refried beans and hard-shell corn tortillas for incredible instant tostadas.

Serves: 2 large portions

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Sustainable Saturdays: How to Support Sustainability

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Every Saturday Foodem dedicates this blog to sustainability and this Saturday is no different.  But today I wanted to share specific ways you can personally support food and crop sustainability. As you read the list you will see how important it is for us to stay connected with our food supply.  Remember our food comes from the Earth not the grocery shelf!

  1. Learn to cook

Without having basic cooking skills, it’s virtually impossible to support the sustainability movement as you will be forced to rely on pre-made convenience foods.  Even learning simple skills and a few basic recipes will open up you up to embracing the world of eating and cooking in a sustainable manner.

  1. Eat food that is in season

Not only does eating food in season reduce the amount of transportation required to bring food to market, it is also is a great way to vary you home menu by seasons.

  1. Plant a garden

Most Americans no longer see any of their food grown. It simply appears on the grocery shelf which creates a disconnect where price is valued over quality and the process of growing.  Start small with tomatoes or an herb pot and you might just catch the gardening bug. As I know fall and winter is approaching you could even try an inside hydroponic garden!

  1. Save fresh food for later

If you already have a large garden, you probably know the challenge of using all of your harvest in August and September.  Learn canning, freezing, preserving, or dehydrating so you can enjoy your summer harvest well into the winter.

  1. Refuse to buy ultra cheap food products

The “Walmart Way” is an amazing demonstration of economic efficiencies but what is lost is the environmental and sustainability challenges.  Remember when you are saving a few dollars at the register buying the ultra cheap produce, you are also paying a cost to our environment.

  1. DIY Convenience Foods

These foods are made at low prices and in mass quantities but many of these can be made at home in small batches. You will be shocked at your appreciation for these convenience foods when you make them yourself. Start by trying to make taco seasoning, chicken stock, or tomato sauce.

Even if you aren’t able to embrace all of these, try a couple out this month.  These can build new habits which will help us all support long-term sustainability.

About the Author:

Chris Wimmer writes about gardening, cooking, and juicing at HealthSmartLiving.com.  You can also follow him on facebook and twitter.

(Photo Courtesy: Wendy Copley)

Nourishing Mondays: Quinoa Pizza Bites

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Who says you can’t have fun with quinoa? Check out this recipe for quinoa pizza bites.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup canned (or cooked) pinto beans
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 tsp dry basil
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar of choice, or pinch stevia (this is for balance and can be left out if you absolutely must)
mozzarella cheese of choice, such as Daiya, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a baking sheet well, then set aside. In a medium bowl, mash the beans completely. Stir in all remaining ingredients. Taste, then add a little more sweetener only if needed. (Mine didn’t need it.) Roll into balls, then break off a piece of the cheese—if using—and push it into the middle before sealing the ball back up. Place the balls onto the baking tray and cook 30 minutes. For a crispy outer shell, feel free to broil a minute at the end.

Servings 8-10

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Sustainable Saturdays: Is HHP Good for Juice?

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The fresh squeezed juice category has been a source of rapid growth for high end grocery stores, local juice shops, and small specialized beverage makers.  This success has attracted the attention of the larger beverage companies looking for their next big profit driver.  Until recently, what has made fresh squeezed juice so popular also helped keep the big companies out.

Fresh cold pressed juice is packed with ultra nutrition but must be consumed within 72 hours or risk spoilage and the rapid loss of the original nutrition.  For big companies with massive national distribution systems, 72 hours isn’t long enough to produce and distribute to customers.

Now enter HHP or High Hydrostatic Pressurization which is based on the Le Chatelier principle which states that increasing the applied pressure on a liquid will kill or slow bacteria and other pathogens.

Based on this principle, companies now produce cold press juice on a massive industrial scale and extend the shelf life to 14 days but placing the juice into large pressurized tanks to ‘safely’ pasteurize the juice.

While this type of food technology advance promises to bring wider distribution and improved affordability to the juice market, it is not without controversy.  Traditional producers of fresh cold press juices question whether the HHP technique also destroys the juice’s vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that their customers are seeking.

The data is limited and not clear yet. While more studies are on-going, the early studies have been mixed and also are subject to interpretation.  For example, research studying blueberry and pomegranate juice found that after 14 days the HHP treated juice did have more residual nutrition vs. an untreated juice.  However, opponents of using HHP point out that the pressurized juice still has 15% to 25% less than a traditional cold pressed juice drank within the first 24 hours.

This battle will continue to play out and it’s important to point out that there are no current FDA labeling rules requiring disclosure of the HHP process.   Given the lack of labeling requirements, the best ways to ensure you are still drinking truly fresh squeezed juice is to buy them from stores that produce on site or to juice at home.

What are your thoughts on this debate?  Join the discussion on Foodem’s facebook page.

About the Author:

Chris writes about gardening, cooking, and juicing at HealthSmartLiving.com. Chris has a great juicing resource page for anyone looking to learn more about how to juice at home.

(Photo Courtesy: bertholf)

(Resources: 1, 2)

September 5: Favorite Sites Friday

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Here’s another interesting mix of food-related websites and blogs for your reading entertainment. #FavoriteSitesFriday

  1. Crunchy Betty: If you’re looking for an alternative to purchasing harmful cosmetics and household products, check out Crunchy Betty. You will find tons of DIY that will save money, as well as our environment.
  2. Tech.Food.Life: An IT architect by trade, Eva Smith created Tech.Food.Life, which is a lifestyle blog that highlights technology trends, food, nonprofits, events, reviews and giveaways. It also actively promotes and engages in activities that support the advancement of all women, entrepreneurship, education and new media.
  3. She Know’s Food & Recipes: Searching for seasonal recipes? Want to know how to entertain your guest or what wine to serve with your menu? Do you need to know how to preserve your spices? All of this and more can be found on this site. This site is a one-stop shop for all of your food and entertainment needs.
  4. My Life Runs On Food: This blog is all about food. Given our daily lives and all the running around we do, it’s hard to get a well-balanced meal in sometimes. My Life Runs On Food is a blog demonstrating how to plan a well-balanced meal back into our lives. There are “brown-bagging” it tips and seasonal recipes. You will also find advice on how to adapt life events into a weekly menu, and how to quickly update a menu in the middle of the week because of a sudden change of plans.
  5. LocalHarvest: Consumer demand is driving the “buy local” trend and LocalHarvest is helping to make that easier. LocalHarvest is a public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, sustainably grown foods and other local food resources. Additionally, the website offers event information, an online store, which helps small farms develop markets, a forum, various blogs and more.

Be sure to share your food-related site with us, we’d love to feature it in our next Favorite Sites Friday post. Leave us your URL in the comments area or shoot us a tweet @foodem.

 

Natural or Store-Bought?

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It seems like there are new household products being released every day. But we have to wonder: how are the chemicals in these products affecting our environment, our bodies, and our homes.

If you have ever been puzzled over the chemical-filled ingredient list on the back of your shampoo and condition bottles, and are curious about alternatives to these highly processed commercial goods, then you are not alone. There has been a quiet backlash against potentially harmful synthetics as more and more people experiment with homemade natural versions of cleaning and beauty products.

Why not try a few DIY versions yourself. Let’s take a look at a few methods.

Do your laundry

An easy combination of borax, bar soap, and washing soda will save you 16 cents per load! Try this alternative to store bough laundry detergent.

Clean your carpet

Baking soda and vinegar make another useful appearance in this DIY recipe designed to replace your current chemical-filled carpet cleaner. All you need to do is mix equal parts baking soda and white vinegar together to form a paste, and rub the paste into the carpet stain using an old toothbrush. Let it dry, and use a vacuum to clean up the baking soda. Repeat until the stain disappears.

”No poo” for your hair

Many people are afraid to reduce the amount of shampoo they use, complaining that their hair either becomes greasy or extremely dry without it. But what they don’t realize is that shampoo strips your hair of its essential oils, which actually causes it to produce more oil to compensate or vice versa. Despite its silly name, the “no poo” method can be quite effective for some. It involves replacing your shampoo with baking soda and your conditioner with apple cider vinegar. Experimenters of this method swear that their hair has never been healthier.

Refresh your skin

Reading like a cookbook, this recipe for a facial scrub is not meant to be eaten. Instead, mix together grits, honey, and your favorite oil and massage your face, sloughing off dead skin and leaving your face feeling refreshed.

Bye-bye to bugs

Summer and fall are great seasons, but it comes with a few pests: insects, to be exact. Rather than spraying potentially harmful DEET on your body to keep the mosquitos, ticks, and flies at bay, try this homemade version instead. It combines essential oils with rubbing alcohol and vinegar for more gentle protection.

While there are several products on the market that use all-natural ingredients, these are just a few examples of how you can take control of your cleaning and beauty products. Not only will you be protecting your body and the environment from chemical damage, you will also be saving quite a bit of money in the process.

(Photo Courtesy: Alex Van)