Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Better-Than-Most Restaurants' Moo Shu Vegetables

Whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, depending on my mood and the season, I will either order Moo Goo Gai Pan or Moo Shu Vegetables.  I have never attempted Moo Goo Gai Pan, but last night, for the first time, I made Moo Shu Vegetables.  And they were outstanding!  The recipe came from the September issue of Vegetarian Times and I felt compelled to share it with you.  Not only because I truly enjoyed it, but because my husband did as well.  Allow me to explain.  When he walked in from work and found out what we were having for dinner, he actually scowled.   "I'm sorry", he said, "I've just never liked it."   My son, having heard my husband's hearty endorsement for our upcoming supper didn't look too pleased either.  So with not-too-mild trepidation, I spooned the filling into small flour tortillas, put a Tablespoon of  Hoisin Sauce down the center of each one and rolled them up.  And waited...

We each took a bite at the same time and were all pleasantly surprised.  My husband loved them and my son said they were amazing - better than at the Chinese restaurants.  And I had to agree.  I think it was the combination of vegetables.  Restaurant versions tend to be little more than slivered cabbage with sliced green onions.  This recipe called for a generous amount of thinly sliced shitake mushrooms, fresh ginger, sliced snow peas, and carrots.  The delightful sauce was not as runny as it tends to be in most restaurants either.  It was comprised of a perfect blend of soy sauce, sesame oil (which I cut down to 1 teaspoon since it can be overpowering), rice wine vinegar, honey, and vegetable broth thickened with a little cornstarch.  To keep the dish Vegan, the 3 scrambled eggs it calls for can be replaced with a soft-tofu scramble. 

The recipe can be found at vegetariantimes.com.  And the actual name of it is "Vegetable Moo Shu Wraps".   To quote a favorite T.V. commercial, "Try it, you'll like it!". 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgivng Done "Lite"

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The day when we often eat more in one meal than we do in a week!  Between the gravy, stuffing, yams, and desserts, the calories (and fat) can really add up.  When I changed my diet about 10 years ago, this one day a year presented quite a challenge for me.  You see, Thanksgiving dinner is a meal that is always celebrated at our house.  And I don't like to feed others what I would not eat myself.  Keeping in mind that Thanksgiving dinner is a special meal with items our family has come to expect,  I am pretty pleased with what I have come up with and would like to share some of my "secrets to a lightened-up Thanksgiving" with you. 

First of all, there is the turkey.  I buy a natural, fresh one each year and cook it as recommended (without the addition of any shortening or oil).  I eat only the breast meat with no skin.  For gravy, I use just a couple Tablespoons of the pan drippings, to which I add a couple Tablespoons of flour.  I add fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth and season it with salt and white pepper.  I also stuff my bird and use the same recipe I have used for years - it's a family favorite.  But instead of a pound of pork sausage, I use a pound of lean, mild Italian turkey sausage (and after I brown it, I discard all fat, removing the meat with a slotted spoon and letting it drain on a plate covered with a double layer of Bounty towels).  I do not saute my onion and celery in the recommended cube of butter that the recipe calls for, but use just a couple Tablespoons of lite butter or Brummel & Brown margarine instead.  The other ingredients (in case you would like to make it) are 2 peeled and diced apples, 8 to 10 cups of bread cubes, and a teaspoon each of marjoram, sage and salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper.  You can moisten it with half a cup of chicken broth if you'd like before stuffing the turkey with it. 

I make my mother's recipe for Candied Yams and have to admit that it is the best ever.  I parboil the yams just until a fork pierces them about half an inch through.  When they are cool, I peel and slice them into rounds that are about 2/3 of an inch thick and line a large Pyrex pan with them.  Then I pour orange juice over them, and sprinkle them generously with brown sugar.  Up to here, the recipe is identical to my mom's.  But instead of dabbing each yam slice with butter, I dab them with a little Brummel and Brown margarine.  Then I lightly salt them and sprinkle them with cinnamon.  They need to cook (covered at first) for over an hour to become soft and tender and for the sauce to thicken into a luscious glaze.

I make mashed potatoes with skim milk and lite butter, a homemade Maple Oat Bread, and some kind of vegetable side dish.  Usually it is a Green Bean dish of some sort.  Cranberry sauce (often homemade with fresh cranberries, orange juice, maple, and cinnamon) tops the meal off. 

For dessert, I usually make a lightened version of Pumpkin Pie or a Pumpkin Trifle, but this year I made a Sweet Potato pie with lite coconut milk, cinnamon, and ground ginger, some bar cookies (lightened versions of life-long favorites called "Surfer Squares") and French Vanilla Ice Cream.  

Appetizers vary from year to year with this year's feature being a low-fat and delicious Salmon Mousse.  (Recipe gladly shared upon request). 

The lovely centerpiece for my buffet counter (pictured above and courtesy of a very good friend) is made of a large hollowed-out acorn squash filled with assorted flowers and seasonal trimmings.  I love it and may try to do something similar for Christmas.

I pray that you and yours are warm, safe and healthy.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Milk Alternatives - Soy, Rice, Almond, Hemp???

Most of you are probably too young to remember when the milkman used to deliver cold, fresh milk in glass bottles to people's front door.  Those were the days before 1%, 2%, and skim milk became popular and when most towns had their own local dairy.  Now, we approach the milk sections of our supermarket and are faced with a bevy of choices.  Besides those varieties that come from a cow, we have soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and, my new personal favorite, almond milk.  And to complicate matters even more, most of these milks come in plain, vanilla, chocolate and/or carob flavors. 
For various reasons, more and more people are veering away from dairy, in particular cows' milk,  and the alternatives can leave you frustrated or confused.  One thing I have found is that if it comes in a carton in the dairy section, it tends to taste more like milk than if it comes in a carton off of a shelf.  When my older son's milk and soy allergies were at their peak, we were told to give him rice milk, specifically Plain Fortified Rice Dream.  It only came in cartons on grocery shelves and was definitely an acquired taste.  It had an almost sweet, plastic-like rice flavor and sometimes competed with the tastes of cold cereals.  It was thinner than milk and was very white in color.  My son was o.k with it, but I could never develop a taste for it.  During fasting periods, I just opted to give up milk altogether, since I did not care much for soy milk that came off of those same shelves in the same rectangular cartons.

Then I discovered Silk Soy Milk in the refrigerated section and thought it was wonderful.   It added a little bit of a very pleasant, slightly sweet taste to cold cereals.  And it worked beautifully in any hot cereal, such as oatmeal, or cream of wheat.  I preferred Plain Lite Soy Milk, both because it has fewer calories than even skim milk (70 compared to 90), and because it tasted the most like milk to me.  I didn't care too much for it as a beverage to have with a meal, but for a few years, it was my "milk" of choice.  Until, that is, I read about the calcium content of Almond Milk and decided to give it a try. 

Most milks (cows', and fortified soy and rice) contain 30% or less of the daily minimum requirement of calcium.  Almond milk contains a whopping 45% per cup!  And with only 60 calories, it beats all other milks (with Rice Dream having 120 calories per cup and 1% cows' milk 110). 

As for its taste, in my opinion, it can't be beat in cold cereal, where it goes perfectly with all the ones my family enjoys - from the Kashi Go Lean cereals to Chocolate-flavored Frosted Mini Wheats.  And when I want a cold glass of milk to accompany a meal, Almond Milk is my first choice.  It has a delightful, slightly nutty, but not sweet, taste.  I wish I could say that it is my all-around milk of choice, but alas!  I find that it falls short in how it cooks up with oatmeal or other hot cereals.   For my hot cereals, I still prefer Lite Soy Milk.  It cooks up creamier, giving those cereals the perfect texture and a taste I really enjoy (an exception is Carrot Cake Oatmeal - see 2 posts below for recipe)..  

As for how these milk alternatives work in baked goods,  both Soy and Almond milks work great (substituting them for the milk in bread, cake, and other such recipes cup for cup), but Rice Milk does not work well at all in this capacity.   

I hope I have helped those of you who are stymied about which milk alternative you should try.  I have not yet tried Hemp Milk but would love to know if any of you have and what you think of it.  My husband uses a Hemp-based protein powder and it is actually GREEN!  Please tell me that the milk is not....

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Language of God

We are at an interesting junction in the overall scheme of things.  The economy is very bad - several countries are going under much like banks and other "businesses" have been doing domestically.  There have been a seemingly disproportionate amount of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other such natural disasters as of late.  And we seem to be reading more and more news stories of people dying relatively young - from cancer, freak accidents, and suicide. In the midst of all this chaos, there is a tendency to blame God.  And blaming God often turns to a complete disbelief in His existence.  Try talking to a person who angrily rejects God and he or she will undoubtedly tell you that if there was a God, then why is there so much evil and overall bad things happening in this world?  If you try to answer with the fact that we have free will and have made a mess of things, they will tell you that they do not believe in free will.  Moreover, they assert that it is illogical to believe in a higher intelligence.  They have reduced us to nothing more than a series of biological processes and events.  To them, science is truth, and God and science can not mix.  It's been a while since I have had a chance to post anything here.  Since I last touched base with you all, I have been reminded that if you want to keep excess weight off, you have to count calories - there's just no way around it.  We had snow last month - the first time I have seen snow in Northern Virginia as early as October. And I discovered that Breadfruit, a supposedly bland but extremely plentiful plant,  is the food of the future.  I considered posting about one of these topics.  But, instead, I am going to do something I have not done before - I am going to recommend a book. 

The book, The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, is the most brilliant attempt I have seen to reconcile God with Science.    Collins is a one-time-atheist who is also a renowned scientist, known for his work with the Human Genome Project.   He was among the first to unravel our DNA, a process which led him to understand what he calls "the language of God".  "We have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book", he said concerning it, "previously known only to God."  Collins unites Darwin's theory of evolution with the story of creation in the book of Genesis as only a scientist can do.  He sees the Big Bang as the moment when God set the universe in motion, ultimately leading to the emergence of life, which culminated in the appearance of intelligent beings that are able to participate in and comprehend the creative process itself.   He gives strong scientific evidence for the existence of a higher, creative intelligence.   And he very articulately explains why we humans inherently possess a longing for something greater than ourselves. 

In response to the claim that a belief in God is merely "wishful thinking", Collins discusses the Moral Code that humankind inherently adheres to, the "God-shaped vacuum' we all seem to have, and culminates with the fact that just because we wish for it doesn't mean it is not true - that "creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists".  

Collins' thoughtful and thought-provoking scientific arguments for the existence of a higher intelligence include the fact that scientists are unable to explain or interpret the very earliest events in the explosion we know as The Big Bang, as well as explaining how developments in quantum mechanics have now turned scientific determinism on its ear.   His discussion of the Cambrian explosion is compelling (including reducing all of creation to a 24-hour day and realizing that, in that context, if the earth was created at 12:01 a.m., life would have appeared at 3:30 a.m., with the Cambrian explosion at 9:00 p.m., and the extinction of dinosaurs at 11:40 p.m.   Human beings appeared on the scene with just seconds left in the day...)  The question he raises is why and how was there a sudden explosion of complicated life forms so late (9:00 p.m.) in our world's existence?  What "caused" that sudden explosion of life?   His discussion of the ramifications of unraveling our DNA, of course, is the crux of his book and I would do it a severe injustice if I tried to summarize it in anything you could read in a matter of minutes. 

Why am I writing a post on this topic?  The same reason why I have not posted anything in so long.  My heart has been heavy and I have felt weighed down trying to explain and defend why I believe what I do.   I challenge anyone who denies the existence of God on scientific grounds (or knows and loves someone who does) to read this book.