“Simple Nutrition” at the Grocery Store

My grocery store, Randalls, which is part of the Safeway community including Tom Thumb, Vons, and many others. They are starting a new program called Simple Nutrition to help consumers see quickly the nutrition quality of a food or product. I received a gift card from Randalls to shop in their store and give you my opinion of their new program.

Safeway has developed criteria to consider a product “low fat” or “sugar free” or “good source of fiber” and then they label foods like that in the store with shelf tags.

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They include boxed products and fresh produce, which I liked. The idea is to help the shopper educate themselves between products and pick the one that their experts have deemed better for you. Products are tagged with a small green tag on the shelf where the price is. Tags also include “gluten free,” “organic” or “calorie smart.”

A complete list of tags and criteria for falling in each category can be seen here.

My overall opinion of their program is that it’s a good concept for products that I’m unfamiliar with, or to help me decide between products. It is not meant to replace the nutrition panel on the side of a box, just to quickly tell you the benefits of a certain product. Not every product is featured.

I also like that it includes fresh produce and not just boxed products.

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My critique of the program is the shelves are already crowded with coupons, price tags, and other labels or announcements, and this is one more tag to clutter the shelf. Because it’s green, it does differentiate itself, but there are far more yellow tags to sort through with your eyes.

I also wouldn’t want someone to not buy a product just because it doesn’t have a Simple Nutrition approval.

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Does your grocery store influence your purchases? There are many tactics that store use to get you to buy more things, is this one of them?

**Disclaimer: I received a gift card from Randalls to write my opinion on their Simple Nutrition program.

Week in Review

It’s Saturday again! Here’s a look back at the week.

My parents are in Houston for today and part of tomorrow. They really want to see Lily the dog but make excuses that they want to see us. We know who is most loved.

Of the recipes I posted this week, the falafel burgers were really great! I hope you’ll try them out. I ate them for lunch a few days after and they were great as leftovers.

If you didn’t notice, there were no baked goods this week! The horror! Don’t worry, I have two things already planned for next week. I can’t go that long without baking, it’s my favorite part of cooking. A week of focusing on fruits and vegetables was needed, can’t forget about those.

Have a nice weekend!

Monday: Semi-homemade Pita Chips

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Tuesday: Falafel Burgers

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Wednesday: Behind the Blog

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Thursday: Homemade Tomato Basil Soup

 

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Friday: How to create your own recipe

 

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How to create your own recipe

Sometimes people ask me where I come up with recipes. The answer is that I read a lot and try a lot of combinations. I started by following recipes to the T, and then when I became more comfortable in the kitchen, I can sub ingredients, or alter cooking techniques. I still follow recipes, make notes of ideas I have, and read a lot of cookbooks.

This dinner is one instance of how I created a one-pot dish just by looking in my refrigerator and pantry.

Mixed Vegetable Black Quinoa

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Ingredients:

  • 2 C uncooked spinach
  • 1/2 C dry black quinoa
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 2 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 C mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 C snap peas
  • 2 T apple juice
  • salt, pepper

Instructions:

The thought process of this dish started with quinoa. I have some leftover dry black quinoa from a dish I had a few weeks ago called Black Quinoa Pudding. It cooks the same way as any quinoa but looks so pretty. I also like cooking with quinoa because it is full of protein but acts like a grain. Kind of like a 2 for 1 special.

Then I went to my refrigerator to see what vegetables I could add. This week I had mushrooms, snap peas, and spinach. I like adding spinach because you can get so much bang for your buck when it wilts down. And the snap peas and mushrooms add nice color and texture. Then I added a bell pepper for color and crunch.

I also like putting an apple or pear in with quinoa, and dates go with those. I always have both of those on hand. And to bring out the fruity sweet flavor, I added a tiny bit of apple juice. I keep little juice boxes in the pantry instead of a large container of apple juice. I still don’t finish the whole juice box, but it takes up less space than a container in my refrigerator.

So here’s how it comes together:

  • In a sauce pot, combine 1 C water with 1/2 C quinoa. The proportion is always 2:1, so you can do however much quinoa you want. This whole dish was about 2.5-3 dinner servings, so it lasted a few meals. Bring the quinoa to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, or until all liquid has dissolved.
  • In a separate pan, steam spinach in a shallow layer of water until wilted. Drain the water from the pan, leaving a little bit left. Add other vegetables and cook together until soft. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add pear and dates and apple juice and cook together.
  • When quinoa is done, add it to the vegetable pot and toss together.
  • It is ready when everything is hot and combined.

 

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You could use any vegetable you have at home, raisins instead of dates, an apple cider instead of juice, rice instead of quinoa, etc. This is just one technique that can be adapted in many ways.

Sorry for the lack of pictures! I wasn’t planning to make a post of this, but it turned out really delicious and flavorful, and then I realized it would be good to share.

What are your favorite meals to throw together? Are you scared to create your own recipes?

Homemade Tomato Basil Soup

One of our favorite comfort foods are grilled cheese and tomato soup. As I’ve mentioned before, we love to watch Ina Garten. This tomato soup recipe is by Ina, and we liked it because it’s not cream-based, and it’s very flavorful with lots of basil and roasted tomatoes. Although this does take longer than opening a can of tomato soup, it is far superior in looks and taste.

The soup is first cooked stovetop and then is blended, but the texture is not a wimpy liquid, it actually looks like there’s cream holding it together.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 C plus 2 T EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 C chopped yellow onions
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz can plum tomatoes, with juice
  • 4 C fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 quart chicken stock or water, or vegetable stock (I used chicken broth because I think stock is too yellow)

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Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 400*. Toss together tomatoes, 1/4 C olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 45 minutes.

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  • In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute onions and garlic with 2 T olive oil, butter, red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until onions start to brown.
  • Add canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, chicken stock.
  • Add oven roasted tomatoes and juices from the pan.
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes.
  • Ina passes her soup through a food mill, but no one has that, so we used a blender. Be careful when adding hot soup to a blender by adding small amounts and then dumping in a mixing bowl.
  • Add blended soup back to stovetop to heat up when ready to serve.
  • Add more salt and pepper as desired.

Can be served hot or cold.

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Grilled Cheese

We actually Googled how to make a great grilled cheese because there are so many breads, cheeses and methods. Here is how we cooked ours.

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Ingredients

  • 4 pieces sourdough bread (2 per person)
  • 1/3 apple
  • Gouda cheese
  • White cheddar cheese
  • 2 T butter

Instructions:

  • On a hot skillet with a dab of melted butter, place one piece of bread buttered side down with cheese on top in a row. Add top piece of bread with buttered side up and let sit for 2-3 minutes.

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  • When cheese is starting to melt, flip the sandwich and cook again for 2-3 minutes.
  • When cheese is melted and bread is toasty, it’s ready.
  • I put apple slices inside mine with the cheese. Gave it a nice crunch and sweetness.

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When is the last time you made grilled cheese and tomato soup? Making the whole thing from scratch makes it extra special, and a true meaning of homemade comfort food.

Behind the blog

Hi friends, I wanted to take a little break from talking about recipes to talk about how I put a post together, and how I keep this thing moving every day in case you find it interesting.

When I started my blog last Spring, I honestly had no idea how to blog. I quickly learned WordPress, and learned how to make a post, but wasn’t really sure how I would plan my posts and definitely didn’t know how long I’d have content to write about! I still don’t know what I’ll be writing about each week, but keep notes to stay organized.

Each Sunday, I scribble down notes for the days of the week, sometimes I only have three ideas, which gets me to Wednesday. It could look like “Monday-notes from a weekend run, Tuesday-cookies I made on Saturday, Wednesday-dinner from Monday night.” And then I have to figure something out for the last two days of the week.

I also read a lot! I have about 45 blogs in my Google Reader that I try to stay on top of. Some I skim, some I read in detail, and sometimes I print recipes, jot down ideas for a recipe or blog post, and sometimes I skip ones completely. In addition to reading other blogs, I skim cookbooks if I have an idea for a dish like “we haven’t had turkey burgers in a while, let’s find a good one to try.”

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I also keep sticky notes on my computer desktop for things to try, a rough plan for the week, and other odds and ends to do.

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I blog part with a desktop program for Macs called Ecto, and part through the WordPress dashboard. It’s not ideal to use two programs, but it works for me. Because of the size of my pictures with my newer camera, the dashboard won’t upload them, so I use Ecto to drag and drop, and then the dashboard to format and schedule posts.

For photography, I prefer to shoot in daylight, as most people do, so I like weekends for daytime baking or late afternoons during the week before the sun sets. I edit photos in iPhoto, except I don’t really know what I’m doing, just basics. I also read a few photography blogs for tips and pointers, and also expose myself to beautiful food photography on other food blogs to learn staging and lighting. I try to think about how I would shoot their food and notice angles or colors they incorporate. It has really helped with my own photos (in my opinion).

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I try to put together an actual post in stages. Like I might cook something one day, then upload and edit another day, and then build the post at another time. Posts with more writing are easier and quicker for me to create, ones with more photos and instructions take longer.

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Once a post is live, I promote on Twitter through an automatic update, and I manually send to Facebook (only about 1-2 times per week for my favorites), and I manually send to StumbledUpon. For photos when I think something is really good, I manually submit to Food Gawker and TasteSpotting. Then I spend the day a post is up promoting more on Twitter mostly.

Were you surprised about anything here? Ready to start your own blog?

Homemade Falafel Burgers

Falafel is not something I ever considered making from scratch, but then I read a recipe and realized it’s quite simple! It’s basically baked hummus, and I have a minor obsession with homemade hummus lately. I love cooking with chickpeas because they are a great source of protein, are in can so they are easy to store and always have on hand, and with minimal added spices and flavors, you have something great like hummus or falafel. And they’re great plain too. That is why I love chickpeas.

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Homemade Falafel Burgers

(recipe adapted by Oh She Glows and by Savvy Eats)

First off, the original recipe said it made 12 large burgers. There are only two of us, and I wasn’t so sure what this would taste like or how they would turn out, so we halved the recipe and it made 7 burgers. If you want the original 12, just double everything.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1.5 cloves garlic
  • Juice from 1 lemon (1T)
  • 1/8 C EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/4 C tahini
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (and more for sprinkling on top)
  • 1/3 plus a little more, whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 C sunflower seeds

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 375* and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a mat (I use Silpats, they are great). In a food processor, process garlic, carrot, onion. Add chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, cumin, and salt. Process until fully combined. (now it’s basically hummus)
  • Add the flour and process again. Scrape down sides to fully incorporate. Stir in sunflower seeds and pepper and paprika (do not process).
  • Spoon about 1/4 C – 1/3 C batter onto baking sheet with wet hands. Flatten until patty is about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Sprinkle top of each patty with paprika.
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  • Bake for 20 minutes, then flip for another 5-10 minutes. They are done when golden brown and slightly firm. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Store in refrigerator only when completely cooled.
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We served ours with a side salad of mixed greens, red pepper, feta cheese, cucumber. Mixed with a dressing of olive oil, greek seasoning, salt and pepper. It was all delicious together!

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Have you made falafel before? Or eaten it?

Also, yesterday I had a picture of my pita chips on Food Gawker AND TasteSpotting! Holla.

Homemade Pita Chips

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Let me tell you a little story about a family favorite snack that is always at my grandparents house.

First, my grandfather turned 80 last week and he came to Houston so we could go to dinner with him on his birthday. Happy birthday Gigi! He still rides his road bike almost daily for miles and miles and was a triathlete until just a few years ago. Talk about a reason to exercise and eat right!

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This recipe is one of his favorites, so it must be a key to a long life, right?

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The family snack is homemade pita chips. We call it “pita bread.” This treat is always kept in a tin container at my grandparents house in San Antonio, and travels on car trips for us to snack on too. Jeffrey loves it, so we also have it in Dallas when we visit. It was time for me to make it for him one weekend.

(pictured: pre-baking)

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This snack is not a healthy treat, but it is simple and fast. We eat it plain because of tradition, and because it’s plenty flavorful, but you could dip it in something or eat it with lunch. But eating plain like a chip works just fine.

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Homemade Pita Chips

Ingredients

(for two baking sheets worth, about 35 chips)

  • 1 pack white pita (like Sara Lee)
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • big handful Parmesan cheese (from the refrigerated can)
  • 1/3 container dried onion flakes (in the spice aisle)

Instructions

  • As you can see this recipe is not an exact science.
  • Preheat oven to 250*.
  • Take your pita and open them up and tear along perforation. Cut each half into thirds and lay on baking sheet.
  • Do this for two baking sheets, or almost all of the pita from the pack.
  • Melt butter in the microwave or oven, and brush onto each piece with a pastry brush or back of spoon.
  • Sprinkle parmesan cheese onto each piece generously.
  • Sprinkle onion flakes on top of cheese.
  • With fingertips, pat each one down so the cheese and flakes stick better when baking.
  • Bake at 250* for about 35 minutes, or until corners curl and they start to brown. Don’t overcook and watch so they don’t burn.
  • Remove and let cool. Store in ziploc or airtight container for about a week.

 

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Your house will smell delicious, with a mix of cheese and onion in the air, and butter of course.

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Cheese and onion is a great flavor combo, and the pita gets nice and crispy. These are like Pringles, once you start, you can’t stop.

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What’s your family’s special simple recipe?

Week in Review

Hello again, friends!

Here is a look back at the week, plus a few links of things to check out.

1. If you live in Houston, there is a fitness expo next weekend called Fit n’ Trendy. You can try different fitness classes from around Houston all in one place. And there’s goody bags too!

2. If you are interested in some photography points of view, one of my blog friends Ashley, who I met at Foodbuzz Fest in November, did a little homework assignment for lighting and shadows. I learned most of what I know about DSLRs from her. Some of my pictures are mentioned in this post.

3. There was a neat article in The New York Times by Mark Bittman about basics of four kinds of soups. Check it out here:

Creamy, Brothy, Earthy, Hearty

4. A blog friend I met at Foodbuzz Fest also is an actress in Los Angeles named Lynn Chen. One of her movies is showing at South by Southwest this week in Austin. Click here to see the trailer. It’s called “Surrogate Valentine.”

Monday: Avocado Hummus

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Tuesday: Austin for 24 Hours

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Wednesday: Grown up Rice Krispy Treats

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Thursday: A trip to the Rodeo

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Friday: Easy Weeknight Dinner, Turkey Burgers

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Simple Turkey Burgers

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We do love an easy weeknight dinner, and this one came together in a jif. This well-rounded meal included homemade turkey burgers with 4 ingredients, roasted asparagus and onions, and Alexia oven fries. The oven was on the same temperature for everything, and the burgers cooked on the stovetop pretty quickly.

Here’s how it worked:

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

(by Eat, Live, Run)

  • 1 pound ground turkey (I use one pack of Jenni O which is 1.25 lbs)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 oz frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1/2 C feta cheese
  • 1 tsp salt and pepper

Instructions:

  • Mix together all ingredients with hands and form six patties. Cook for 6 minutes per side or until meat is completely cooked and tops are browned.

It’s pretty simple.

Roasted Asparagus and Red Onion with Garlic

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Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • EVOO, salt, pepper

Instructions:

  • Spray baking sheet with olive oil.
  • Spread out asparagus on sheet without overlap.
  • Slice onion into rounds and place on baking sheet.
  • Chop garlic into small pieces and sprinkle on top of vegetables.
  • Drizzle with EVOO, salt and pepper.
  • Bake at 425* for about 20 minutes. (I picked this temperature because of the Alexia fries)

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We thought the feta flavor wasn’t as evident as we expected. However, the recipe called for 3/4 C feta and I used less. I thought 3/4 C sounded like a lot, it was a whole container. I thought it would get more melty than it did.

Using frozen spinach was very easy, but remember to thaw. I think you could also microwave it quickly too.

We served the burgers sans buns but topped with avocado and BBQ sauce on top of lettuce.

A few announcements:

My latest story for CultureMap about eating at the Rodeo: Smart food on a stick: Making healthy choices at the Rodeo March 10, 2011

I have another photo on Tastespotting! In February when I started submitting to them, I made a goal to get two pictures submitted each month. I just hit my two! Maybe I should increase it.

Grown up rice krispy treats

A trip to the rodeo

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It’s Rodeo season in Houston! The month of March is for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR) here in Houston. Before I moved here, I didn’t understand how big this Rodeo is. It’s part carnival, part livestock show, part rodeo, and part entertainment from big music acts.

The HLSR draws upwards of 100,000 people on a daily basis. Daily! The Rodeo has been around since 1932 and has raised 265 million dollars for charities and scholarships since then. I’ll explain why I’m telling you this in a minute.

On Monday night, we saw Tim McGraw, who was great and easy to look at, as always. He sung 13 songs in one hour, lots of crowd pleasers.

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He looked mighty fine in his tight torn jeans, big belt buckle, and slim plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up until his biceps said no more.

We are going back one or two more times for other big names like Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band, but I wanted to show you some other pictures of the livestock show and rodeo part.

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The main part of the daytime events at the HLSR is the livestock show. There are competitions on things I don’t even know about, but walking through the livestock holding areas, you see rows of cattle just hanging out. They are all brought here from all over the country for the largest rodeo in the world.

There are qualifier competitions that lead to championship rounds, shows, merchandise sold, animals auctioned off, and more than I understand. (For an explanation of the animals, see this story. Really interesting!)

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Then, there’s the Rodeo before the main performance act at night. There’s Barrel racing, steer wrestling, bull riding, and a few for kids like the calf scramble and muttin’ busting (where 5-year olds hang on to sheep until they fall off).

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I am telling you about the livestock show and rodeo details because after a year of reading more about animals and thinking more about where our food comes from, I’m still not sure on my thoughts of rodeos, circuses, and zoos. Many food/animal activists (like vegetarians and vegans) are not fans of these types of animal displays.

On one hand, I appreciate the amount of money a rodeo as big as this one raises, the educational aspect of teaching children about animals, and the economic aspect of touring rodeos like this.

On the other hand, I don’t like watching the calf scramble where teenagers run after calfs, pull them by the tail, and wrestle them to the ground to rope them in so they can win a prize. But it’s happening, and I paid to see it as part of the entertainment. I also don’t like to think about where the cattle sleep and how they aren’t roaming free.

If you don’t go to zoos as a child, how do you learn about animals? Going on an African safari to see animals in their natural habitat isn’t quite realistic, and I wouldn’t want to shelter my children from something that everyone else gets to experience.

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I obviously haven’t made up my mind on captive animals but would like to hear your thoughts, if they’re respectful.

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