Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kid Friendly Meatless Meals

Young children don't often appreciate the tastes and textures of vegetables. Steamed veggies may be too mushy and raw and quick cooked vegetables lack the sweet and creamy tastes young children prefer. If you have young ones that don't yet eat veggies, try a few of these meatless meals.

These meals have been vegetarian tested by my daughter. You can make the mac and cheese gluten free by using gluten free pasta. Use the gluten free Bisquick mix for the pancakes.

Classic Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese qualifies as vegetarian because it doesn't contain meat, but it doesn't contain any vegetables either. For a vegetarian version, add finely chopped zucchini. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off several long strips of zucchini. Slice the strips into small pieces. Boil the pasta and drain when cooked. Add the zucchini into the pasta and toss. Add the cheese to coat the pasta and serve. The steam from the pasta cooks the zucchini just enough to bring out the natural sugars without losing nutrients.

Veggie Burgers
Veggie burgers made from potatoes have a softer texture and a creamy taste. Boil the potatoes for approximately 10 minutes, drain and mash with a potato masher. Heat a small pan and quickly cook shredded carrot and finely chopped mild onion, one to two minutes, and mix the veggies into the potatoes. Shape the potato mixture into round patties and coat with a light dusting of flour. Heat a pan and cook the patties for several minutes, turning to brown both sides. Serve with a slice of cheese, if desired, on a whole wheat bun or gluten free bun.

Zucchini Pancakes
One of the more endearing qualities of zucchini is its compatibility to chocolate. Entice your kids with a bit of breakfast food for dinner with chocolate-zucchini pancakes. Add shredded zucchini and a small amount of mini-chocolate chips to a thick pancake batter. Cook the pancakes on a hot griddle and serve with melted butter. The trick here is to keep the chocolate chips to a minimum, so that when your kids do get one in a bite, it's a treat. They're getting more zucchini than chocolate.

Vegetable Hash
As your kids become accustomed to the taste of vegetables, try this vegetable hash. Par boil a few potatoes and allow to cool slightly. Finely chop a portion of sweet onion. Chop carrot, celery and sweet pepper into 1/4 inch size pieces. Heat a pan and add vegetable oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and cook for two to three minutes. Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces while the onions cook and then add to the pan. Add a pat of butter and toss to coat. Cook for three to four minutes and add the carrots, celery and sweet pepper. Add a bit more butter and cook until the vegetables are just tender. Place the hash into a serving dish and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Hodgson Mill is a family owned company dedicated to supplying boxed mixes made with whole grain flours, including gluten free products such as pancake mix, apple cinnamon muffin mix, bread mix, cookie mix and a chocolate brownie mix.

Hodgson Mill also has boxed flax meal, a product I've used for several years now, including it in homemade gluten free breads, muffins and cupcakes.

I thought I would give their brownie mix a try, based on my past experience with the flax seed product, and that the brownie mix was on sale.

One other factor played into my decision to spend part of my grocery budget on the mix; it's a low sodium brownie with less fat per serving than other gluten free brownie mixes. That means my husband and I get a little less salt and fat in our diet when we scarf these down.

Gluten free baking, and subsequently pre-packaged gluten free products, is higher in fat, salt and sugar than wheat based baked goods, mostly because the fat, salt and sugar boost the cohesion as well as flavor of the non-gluten flours.

So a boxed brownie mix that is not only gluten free but lower in sodium attracts my attention.

But the important part is taste. It doesn't matter if something is better for you if it doesn't taste good.

Hodgson Mill gluten free brownies taste good. They taste like regular brownies, except they do have a slightly nutty aftertaste that borders on bitter. This did not deter my husband, my son, my daughter or me from finishing off the 8x8 pan of brownies by the next day, however.

The directions offer the option of a larger pan, up to 11x7 inch. The brownie may be less dense and cake like, which could eliminate the slightly bitter taste. In an 8x8 inch pan, these brownies are pretty thick. The primary flour is brown rice flour, which can have a slightly bitter flavor if not cooked for a long time.

In baking, size matters. I'd recommend using the larger pan for these brownies, but if you don't have one, go ahead and use your 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

You can visit the Hodgson Mill website at, and take a look at their product line and shop their online store. The company includes non-gluten free products as well, such as organic pasta, whole grain cereals and baking goods.

Disclaimer: I did not receive this item as a promotional gift. I paid for it myself.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fresh Pineapple

Through the magic of globalization and greenhouses, you may be able to get fresh pineapple any time of year. If you've walked past the big leafed fruit in the produce section an moved onto the canned fruit aisle because you're unsure how to get that damn peel off, take a few minutes to watch the video, "How to Peel and Chop a Fresh Pineapple." After tasting the intensely sweet-sour delight of fresh, canned will taste like a tinny imitation.

What to Do With Pineapple

You can, of course, simply eat the chopped pieces of pineapple; it makes a great snack. Grill the pineapple rings on a grill pan for a side dish to chicken bratwurst sandwiches. Or you can give the pineapple chunks a quick sauté in a hot pan with a bit of oil. Barely brown the outside. This takes two or three minutes tops.
Skewer the pineapple chunks along with chunks of watermelon, drizzle with a bit of oil and cook them on the grill.

But one of my favorite recipes is pineapple sauce.

Pineapple Sauce
Though I've used canned pineapple for this, fresh is still better. In a food processor, pulse one to two cups of chopped pineapple, depending on how much sauce you want, just until the pineapple is broken down. Add one or two chopped jalapeno peppers per cup, depending on how much heat you want. Add a little salt, a bit of honey if you want it sweeter and a teaspoon of olive oil. Pulse again until the sauce is a smooth consistency.

For a chunkier sauce, omit the olive oil and pulse with the chopped peppers just enough to break down the pineapple.

Serve it with roasted pork loin, grilled chicken breast or grilled tofu. Add a bit of chili powder to the tofu before grilling. The combination of heat and sweet is great.

Use the sauce in desserts. Chill it and pour a little over ice cream (low fat, of course) or serve it with berries.

 Pineapple Salsa
If you want a little something to freshen up your fish dinners, try a pineapple salsa. Mix together a cup of chopped pineapple, one or two chopped jalapeno peppers, a quarter cup of finely chopped red onion and a tablespoon of cilantro. This salsa is great with fish, chicken and yes, with grilled tofu as well.

So go ahead. Peel a fresh pineapple. It's easy.