The secret life of breadcrumbs

I don’t even remember how this came up, but one day Mike and I were looking at labels of things in our cabinets and we noticed that the item with the most ingredients was … breadcrumbs. Yeah.

I like how the label says “plain.”

I had been buying them to use in my tofu nut loaf without ever having looked to see what was in them. I guess I just assumed bread – simple.

But no. There have to be more ingredients in this can than in a piece of mystery meat. I guess keeping them good at room temperature is a feat of science.

So we looked at other breadcrumbs in the store, just to see if there was anything better. This was the back of the panko bread crumb can.

Needless to say, we’re switching. And if I can make them fresh, I’ll do that, too. But sometimes when you’re pressed for time you do reach for the can.

Just thought you might like to hear about our little discovery. It sure surprised me.

Aunt Lark’s tabbouleh

If a recipe comes from my aunt Lark, you know it’s gonna be good. She is the most fabulous cook. I think she was the first in our family to really get into gourmet cooking. I’ve had a lot of things for the first time at her house. And since she has two vegetarian kids, she always makes something meat-free for holiday meals.

At one of those dinners she served this tabbouleh salad, and it was so superior to anything similar I’d ever made I just swooned, and asked for the recipe. Then she packed me up a to-go package to take home, which I treasured. I think what made it so great, in addition to all those fresh veggies, was a bit of cumin. It’s one of my favorite spices, and it gave it just enough of a kick to stand out.

So here’s the recipe. It’s super healthy, and a great accompaniment to something else Greek or Middle Eastern like falafel. Just remember to allow yourself enough time to soak the bulghur and marinate the salad before you plan to eat it.

Doesn’t a recipe that starts out with this colorful array of veggies have to be good?

Aunt Lark’s Tabbouleh

2 cups bulghur (she likes Bob’s Red Mill brand)
2 cups hot water
3 or 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups freshly chopped parsley
1/3 cup freshly chopped mint
3 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cucumber or half an English cucumber, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 package feta cheese (optional)

Start by soaking the bulghur. You can use any method you like best, but 2 cups bulghur soaked in 2 cups hot water for an hour should do the trick. You can also use boiling water for half an hour.

Once it’s done (chewy but not too hard), drain any extra water. You may need to put it in a strainer and press out the excess water with the back of a spatula.

Chop up the rest of the veggies and herbs. The key here is to chop everything really finely so you get a little bit of everything in each bite. And no one wants to bite into a big chunk of raw onion.

Normally I don’t love parsley, but the fresh herbs in this recipe are part of what makes it tabbouleh, so be generous with them. Once all the flavors blend together it just seems right.

In another bowl, whisk the lemon juice (I like to use my vintage juicer, which makes it easy to separate the seeds),

with the olive oil, salt, cumin and pepper.

Just a side note: We buy olive oil in HUGE amounts and just refill a container that sits on the stove because we use so much of it. Next to milk/bread/eggs, we probably use it more than anything.

Mix the dressing with the veggies and then add the strained bulghur. Refrigerate for at least two hours before eating. You might also want to taste it to see if you need to add more seasonings. And, I think it’s extra good with a little feta cheese mixed in at the end.

Yum, yum, YUM.

Thoughts on Stevia?

Lately I’ve been thinking I could really use a solution for my coffee drinking that does not come with a zillion calories or high fructose corn syrup. For some reason I am really attached to fake creamer, and when I try half & half with sugar, it seems like I have to dump tons and tons of sugar in there to even be able to taste it (Mike likes coffee super dark and strong). So, I picked up some of these Stevia in the Raw packets at the grocery store, thinking that might be at least a somewhat more natural low-cal alternative.

I put one of the packets in a big glass of green tea this morning, and it was just the right amount of sweetness for me. Does anyone else use Stevia? It seems like a good thing, but is it too good to be true?

Guilt-free mac ‘n cheese

I think Mother Nature must have heard my pleas. The sun came out yesterday and started melting the snow in our driveway, and here it is again today. Maybe that’s why I was inspired to make up a new recipe last night. It’s based on this Amy’s noodle bowl I used to buy all the time to take for lunch at work. It sounds iffy — marinated tofu and veggies mixed into mac and cheese, but it’s actually really good. And I realized I’d never made mac and cheese from scratch (yikes!). So here’s what I came up with. You can use wheat or whole grain pasta to make it even healthier. Of all the recipes I’ve made recently, this one might be my favorite.

Guilt-free mac ‘n cheese

12 ounces elbow macaroni (about 3/4 of the box I had)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 a red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
1 bag frozen broccoli or 2 heads fresh, chopped
1/2 a block of extra firm tofu, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Start by boiling the water for your pasta and cooking it according to package directions.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a glass baking dish mix the tofu slices with the soy sauce and garlic. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning once during baking.

Meanwhile put the broccoli in the microwave to steam, and saute the peppers and onions in the olive oil. (This is definitely a multitasking recipe).

Set all the veggies aside while you make your cheese sauce. Heat the flour and butter over medium until you have a thick paste. Then add the milk and whisk together. Cook until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken slightly.

It will still be pretty thin, but that’s OK. Remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the pasta, tofu and veggies to the sauce and stir to combine. Dump the mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Turn the oven up to broil, and when it’s ready, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top of the casserole and bake for 5-7 minutes or until slightly brown on top.

Today’s breakfast bowl

Peach Cultural Revolution yogurt, a sliced banana and a sprinkle of Grape Nuts.

I tried buying a fat-free yogurt with Splenda when I couldn’t find my regular kind at the store and it was so sweet it almost burned. I am completely spoiled when it comes to yogurt now.

Today’s breakfast bowl

1 container of Cultural Revolution yogurt, 1 white peach, a sprinkle of Grape Nuts (thanks Julie for the idea), and a drizzle of agave nectar.

Love the extra crunch from the Grape Nuts.

If you like the mix ‘n match yogurt concept, check out Curly Top’s edible math.

Another yogurt berry bowl

Low-fat, low-sugar yogurt

plus fresh local strawberries

plus tangy blueberries

plus a sprinkle of crunchy granola

equals a pretty good start to a Sunday.

Loving: whole wheat muffins

I’ve meant to post about this for a while, but I am just head over heels for these Hodgson Mill muffins. At my Hy-Vee you can get two versions – whole wheat or bran. The little box makes 6 regular size muffins. They’re great for breakfast or for a snack because they feel like a treat without massive guilt.

You just add milk, an egg and a tablespoon of oil or butter to the mix. You can also add dried fruit, but I prefer mine plain.

My only complaint is that the box isn’t bigger!

I’m enjoying my muffins with some fresh summer fruit. The Iowa Girl Eats blogger inspired me to pick up some kiwi at the store this week, and it was delish. Don’t tell the blueberries I liked it better.

Red quinoa salad

I read a lot of food blogs. It’s one of my greatest sources of inspiration, and it means I hardly ever have to crack open a cookbook anymore. If you want a recipe, it’s usually out there somewhere, beautifully photographed and spelled out step-by-step.

But there’s one thing I’ve noticed about all the food blogs I read. You almost can’t buy a healthy recipe. There’s so much butter and heavy cream in these recipes you’d think Paula Deen was masquerading as 20 different food bloggers. It has not been good for my butt these last few months.

So I decided that I would make a better effort to seek out healthier recipes, and try to post more of them here. There’s no reason I can’t challenge myself to cook a little lighter, and make those Pioneer Woman recipes a once-in-a-while treat.

So here’s one of my first efforts. It’s similar to a tabbouleh salad, but I used red quinoa instead of bulgur (which is packed full of protein). I found it at our farmers market, so I’m not sure how difficult it will be for you to find. You can always substitute regular quinoa.

This recipe makes a very potent salad, so dial down the garlic if you like it more mellow.

Red Quinoa Salad

1 cup (uncooked) red quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for cooking veggies
Juice of a large lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cucumber, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
4 scallions, sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Start by rinsing the quinoa. Then boil it, covered, with two cups of water for about 12 minutes, or until the water is evaporated and the little spirals start separating from the grain.

This is optional, but I like to saute the red pepper and green onions in a little olive oil before I toss them in, just to soften them a little.

After those have finished cooking and cooled a little, toss them in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients.

I just grabbed some fresh herbs from the garden – a little basil and thyme. But you can use what you have on hand. Basil and mint is a great combination. Oregano would be good, too.

This tastes even better after it has soaked overnight. Serve it with the hummus I posted yesterday.

Final thoughts on the cleanse

So I finished the cleanse yesterday, and I feel like, overall, it was a good thing for me. I lost a little weight (maybe 4 or 5 pounds), and by the end I was really craving less food and feeling more satisfied after I did eat. I think I will continue to eat this way in the sense that I want to stay conscious of every food decision, and feel good about making the right choices instead of guilty over making the wrong ones.

A couple things I really do want to change: less dessert and smaller helpings. Notice I didn’t say anything about cutting out foods. I just can’t have a 500-calorie dessert after dinner every night. And there’s absolutely no reason I need to scoop multiple helpings on my plate. If I decide to take up marathon running, then we’ll talk. For now, I’m only exercising about twice a week.

At the beginning of the cleanse I mostly had to pee a lot, and didn’t notice much of a change physically or mentally. By the middle I was cleansing in a different way, if you know what I mean. I would wake up, take the morning part and then take several bathroom trips throughout the day. Then I’d eat dinner, take the evening part and go to sleep.

I slept very well, and often had vivid dreams I’d still remember when I woke up. I also got really sensitive to spicy foods, something that also happened on my raw food experiment. I often didn’t feel hungry because I felt my stomach and intestines processing constantly. Today I felt much hungrier.

I’m not sure everyone would want to do this just because it requires you to remember to take certain things and certain times, drink tons of water, monitor what you eat, and experience numerous daily trips to the bathroom, some of them not exactly pleasant. But if you’re willing to make the commitment to sort of break yourself of bad habits and start feeling better, go for it.

By the end I was feeling very emotional, like a lot of things weighing on my mind came to a head, and so I just tried to work through it all, and feel much better today. I think just making any kind of dietary or lifestyle change will make you more conscious of other things in your life, and I think that’s something we all could use from time to time.