Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iiiit's Bacon!

So, yeah, you probably don't see the words "healthy" and "bacon" on the same page very often.  But the fact is, most people really like bacon, so who am I to say that in order to eat healthily you can never have bacon again?!!  The good news is that it's easy to get real pork bacon that you don't have to feel too guilty about, especially as a small part of a diet full of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.  I know it's hard, but do try to remember that there is no bacon group in the food pyramid!

Most grocery store bacon is full of chemicals that companies use to make their bacon taste like real smoked bacon, and potentially dangerous nitrates as preservatives.  But you can easily get real, old-fashioned bacon which, although high in fat, has some very important things going for it--it's delicious, and it's real food.  As I talked about with the cakes and pies, if it's real food and not a bunch of chemicals put together in a lab by some huge corporation, it works, in moderation.

Look for pasture-raised, nitrate-free bacon, preferably from heritage breed pigs, and preferably from a local farmer.  There are tools to help you find local farmers at various websites, such as eatwild.com and eatwellguide.org.  If it's pasture-raised and nitrate-free, don't get too hung up if the farmer doesn't call it organic.  There are fees to be paid for that label, and many farmers adhere to the standards even if they don't pay the fee that allows them to use the label.  If you can't find a farmer, many grocery stores carry such brands as Organic Prairie that are also very good.  And if all else fails, it is actually possible to mail order your bacon from various websites, including Organic Prairie.

To prepare your bacon the easiest fuss-free way possible, skip the frying pan and get out a sheet pan and some parchment paper.  You can preheat your oven to 400 F., but if it's not all the way preheated by the time you have your bacon ready to go, don't stress about it, it's fine to put it in.  Line your sheet pans with parchment, lay the strips of bacon out on the sheets, and put them in the oven until the bacon is done to your liking, generally around 15-20 minutes.  I like mine really crisp and it takes about 20 minutes.  So simple, and you don't have bacon splatters all over your kitchen!

Note:  If you like that packaged precooked bacon, that's no problem either!  First, cook your bacon as above and let it cool.  Then place your strips on a clean sheet pan and pop it in the freezer so you'll have individually frozen strips.  The batch of bacon can then be wrapped in a freezer bag or put into a container and stored in the freezer for later use.  If for any reason you don't want to individually freeze the strips first, you can wrap the batch, but separate the strips with waxed paper.  And there you have it, bacon, ready to go, any time you want!

Oh, and these pics are mine, not Ricky's, so that's why they're not pro quality! :-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easy, Elegant Chicken Marsala

I posted this picture on my Facebook page the other day, and even though the picture itself is terrible (I took it because my husband/photographer was busy), the food looked good enough to get a recipe request.  Pictured with the balsamic glazed asparagus is chicken marsala over whole wheat couscous.  Chicken marsala is not only delicious, it is surprisingly quick and easy to make.  Moving fairly quickly, this entire meal took about 30 minutes for me to make, and I had not prepped anything ahead.  In fact, the mushrooms hadn't even been cleaned yet.  (But you should be more organized than me and have that taken care of before you actually start cooking!) 

I prepared this with two boneless, skinless chicken breasts because I wanted each serving to have plenty of mushrooms and sauce, but you could easily do four chicken breasts with the quantities listed if you don't want to completely bury your chicken in mushrooms like I did. ;-)

Chicken Marsala

2 (or up to 4) bonless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to no more than 1/2" thick (or buy the thin cut chicken breasts)
Flour (for dusting chicken)
Olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup Marsala wine (Madeira works too)
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs. butter (real butter please)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Parsley, Chives, or Tarragon for garnish

Heat about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a fry pan over medium to medium high heat until it starts to shimmer (don't let it overheat and smoke).  Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides, then sprinkle flour over each side to coat (or put some flour in a dish or plate and dredge the chicken in it), shaking off the excess flour.  Place the chicken in the fry pan and cook to brown both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.  When both sides are brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.  Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, adding more olive oil if necessary.  Cook mushrooms until they are golden brown.  Add the Marsala wine and heat to simmering.  Let the mushrooms and wine continue to simmer for several minutes until the wine is reduced by half.  Add the chicken stock, heat to simmering, and continue to simmer for several minutes until it reduces and thickens slightly.  Return the chicken breasts to the pan, continue to simmer over medium heat until the chicken is done, about 8 minutes or so, turning the chicken at least once during that time.  When the chicken is done, stir two Tablespoons of cold butter in to the sauce.  (If you wanted it really rich you could probably do four Tablespoons, but I liked it with two.)  Place each chicken breast on a plate, spoon an equal amount of mushrooms and sauce over each one, garnish with herbs if desired, and dig in!

I would suggest that you serve the chicken on a bed of couscous (make it with chicken or vegetable stock instead of water), mashed potatoes, or rice, and let the sauce drip down.  Yum!

This is a visually appealing and delicious meal, and no one will believe you when you tell them how fast and easy it is to make!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


"Finally," says the blandly friendly voice from the TV, "you can have fruit without refined sugar, syrup, or artificial sweetener!"  And I stare at the TV in slack-jawed disbelief.  Surely that's not what the woman said, right?  Rewind the DVR, let's try that again.  Wow.  Amazingly, that is exactly what she said.  And I thought to myself, "Yes, you can have fruit without any of those added things...it's called FRUIT!" 

The commercial was for one of those prepacked little plastic cups of processed fruit, and their big epiphany was that rather than packing it in corn syrup and water, or in sugar water, they pack it in fruit juice.  Which would sound kind of reasonable until you realize that, with the exception of the pineapple, the fruit isn't packed in its own juice, it's packaged in white grape juice, which is essentially nature's equivalent of, well, sugar water.  Sure, white grape juice has Vitamin C, but that's pretty much the extent of it.  Other than that, all it does is add unnecessary (albeit natural) sugar and calories.

Why do we need prepackaged cups of fruit anyway?  They are many times more expensive than fresh fruit, and quite frankly, they don't taste very good.  The disposable bowls are wasteful, made from petroleum and ending up sitting in landfills forever after just one use.  On the other hand, fresh fruit has its own built-in containment system, and it's totally portable!  If you have fruit that you'd rather not eat whole or that you'd rather not peel "on the go", no problem--peel it, cut it up, whatever you need to do, and toss it into a reusable lidded container.

Wow, that took all of about a minute to prepare, and fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, and peaches are even faster, just grab and go!  (TIP:  If you're concerned about bruising your peach or apple, just toss it whole in a reusable container like the one in the picture and it will be fine everywhere you go.)  And I absolutely guarantee fresh fruit tastes better than any prepackaged, processed fruit cup you'll ever see!

So please, don't fall for advertising tricks.  Remember, they're trying to get you to buy a product you don't need and that is bad news all around...it's not as healthy as fresh, it's bad for the environment, it's more expensive, it doesn't save more than a minute or two of time, and it doesn't taste as good!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pancake Mix Still Not Fast Enough? Never Fear!

So it's a weekday morning and you want pancakes, but there's no way you have time to even make them with a mix?  No problem!  Don't turn to those questionable quality frozen pancakes, just premake your own homemade pancakes from your own homemade mix, and freeze them yourself!  Frozen pancakes are not only vastly overpriced, but they have little nutritional value and often have a list of ingredients that reads like a novel...or a science project.  Homemade pancakes can pack a great nutritional punch, and like most bread related products, they freeze beautifully. 

To see how you can always have beautiful pancakes like these on hand, click "read more".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Please, Make Your Own...Pancake Mix

Just about everyone loves to have a pancake breakfast every now and then, and just about everyone makes their pancakes from one of the various mixes that are available in the grocery store.  Well, I'm here to tell you that you can do better, and without sacrificing convenience.

The good news about store bought pancake mixes is that most of them are at least made with ingredients that we all recognize.  The bad news is that even though the ingredient list doesn't read like a science project, it's by no means a list of nutritional all-stars.  With a few notable exceptions, pancake mixes are made with enriched white flour (wheat flour that has been stripped of various healthful components and then had vitamins added back in).  Not only does this not give your pancakes much character or flavor, it is largely devoid of any real nutritional value.  Of course we want our food to taste great, but let's face it, getting some nutrition is at least part of why we eat breakfast in the first place.  And the majority of store bought pancake mixes are pretty much failing on both counts.

To see a better way to make pancakes in a flash, click "read more".