Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fast Food 4: Marinara Sauce

As time goes on I feel a little more human and want to get back in the kitchen. Only strong enough for pasta the other day, but instead of the jarred sauce my son had been using I wanted something a bit healthier. 

At the beginning of the Fast Food 4: Beyond the Basics video, before the Fast Food Twins come in from their day at the beach, Jeff makes up some basic recipes - vegetable broth, salsa, tahini sauce, and a basic marinara sauce. It's really pretty simple, and again, he says this is a "double batch" of the sauce. From the PDF file:

2 boxes Pomi tomatoes
1 cup diced frozen onions or onion/pepper frozen mix
3 teaspoons Mrs. Dash (or other brand) Italian seasonings
3 teaspoons Mrs. Dash Table Blend
2 teaspoons dried basil 
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/8 teaspoon oregano (option)

I had some boxes of strained Pomi near their expiration date so used one box of chopped (what Jeff used) and one strained,

I don't remember now if onions were included in the video but think Jeff said they can be an optional addition. I always add onions when making sauce from scratch, either frozen or fresh, and used a bit more than half a bag of frozen onions because that's what I had left in the freezer. In the past, I've even nuked them in the microwave or browned them up in a pan first and then added them to jarred sauce.

In the video Jeff said he doesn't use Italian seasonings blends because he prefers to use the individual spices and herbs for this particular recipe. I have a supply of Penzy Italian herbs and used that. As for the Table Blend, I didn't measure and it may have only been 1 teaspoon. I should have used more.

He used a lot more than 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder in the video and admitted he never measures. I, too, used a lot more garlic, mainly because we love it but also because it's good for what ails you, and I needed some strong healing! I also dropped in 2 cubes of frozen Dorot crushed garlic.

I don't like red pepper flakes so skipped them, and since oregano is in the Italian mix, I didn't add that, either.

Jeff also used a lot of dried basil. He said he prefers fresh
sweet basil but the store he went to didn't have any that looked good, so he was using dried sweet basil. I added a little of this, even though it, too, was included in the Italian mix.

I made one more addition to the sauce and dropped in 2 cups of defrosted and squeezed frozen spinach. I try to get greens into this family every chance I can, and this is one of those easy occasions to do so.

I served this sauce - the whole batch - over a pound of cooked rice pasta. That pasta really soaks up the sauce and even a one-quart jar usually leaves quite a bit of un-sauced pasta, so I figured this would be a great amount, and it was.

Now I've made pasta sauce very similar, maybe even identical, to this for years now, and always have the same reaction - it's too bland and tasteless. Because of my cold and the fact that my son had been using full sodium sauce when he made pasta for us during the week, this tasted even blander yet. My husband said it was fine with him, tasted just as good as any other pasta sauce I've made in the past. Our son, who made his own pot of pasta and used his own sauce on it, sampled a small bit and said he's glad he has his own stuff to eat.

Will I make it again? Probably. When I use jarred pasta sauce I use the Walnut Acres Tomato Basil lower sodium jarred sauce @ $4.99 to $5.49 a jar. It's only 25.5 ounces, so I have to add to it to make enough fluid for the pasta. Add a can of tomatoes @ $1 a can; sometimes a can of paste @ 33 cents a can; hearty amounts of dried herbs and spices; vegetables, cost depending on how many and what types I add. Sometimes I just use an entire second jar of sauce. Now add a loaf of bread. Maybe some homemade crumbles, meatballs, or sausages or packaged Soy Curls. A "simple and cheap" pasta meal can sometimes cost over $20! For us, that's a lot. 

I really wish sodium didn't affect my blood pressure and I could grab a jar of cheaper, all veg no-oil added pasta sauce!

Sorry there's no photo. I forgot to take it when I made the meal, and I was going to grab a shot when I reheated the container of leftovers but my husband grabbed it and ate it before I knew what happened. He did say it tasted better the second time around, though. 

Monday, May 26, 2014


With the summer season now upon us, and being this is the first year my husband is going to be home - and healthy - for it, I'm guessing he won't want to eat seitan sandwiches or have soup every day, so decided to look into some McDougall sandwich spreads and salads.

The main part of most of those recipes is the mayonnaise, so I took a look at all of the mayo recipes throughout the years to be associated with the McDougall program, from the earliest mention in a newsletter with a recipe by McDougall cooking instructor Alex Bury in a July 2005 newsletter, to the latest incarnation in the Kid Friendly Snack, Dips and Spreads article with recipes by Heather McDougall in February 2013, which is the same one posted by Mary McDougall back in a 2005 newsletter, which is the same one in the McDougall Made Easy DVD. In fact, Weight Watcher's mayonnaise was even mentioned in one cookbook as a good alternative because, at least at the time, it was egg and oil-free. IDK if this product even exists anymore. I know another alternative, fat-free Nayonnaise, no longer is.

The McDougall recipe is the one I made up. I figured it's been around McDougall circles the longest so it stood the test of time. It must be good, right?

Tofu Mayonnaise
1  12.3 ounce package firm lite silken tofu
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate.
This will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.

The instructions I used said to drain the tofu in a fine sieve first, so I put the package of MoriNu tofu into one of those reusable coffee filters. I never used it for coffee but for straining non-dairy milk. It's really fine. After about 2 hours I got over an ounce of liquid out of it and decided that was enough.

Now to blend everything up in my food processor. It didn't take long to break down and become smooth, I put it all into a pint Mason jar, but before putting it into the refrigerator handed the jar and a spoon to my husband and told him to taste it and tell me what he thinks it is. His guess was unsalted creamy cottage cheese. I said it was supposed to be mayonnaise and he said he would never had guessed that in a million years. I asked his opinion because, as I've said a few times lately, with this cold my taste buds are a bit off, and he's had mayo more recently than I have. It's over a decade since I last had some but only a year or so for him, just a few months before his CABG surgery. I hoped it would acquire some taste overnight in the refrigerator.

It didn't. Hubby suggested adding sugar and paprika so it would taste more like Miracle Whip, a product he always liked more than plain mayo. When asked if he would be the guinea pig and tell me when it got close, he rescinded the suggestion. In fact, he said he no longer wanted me to try make any kind of sandwich salad or spread, that he's lived this long without any tuna or egg salad, real or fake, that he'll be just as happy for the rest of his life continuing to do without them.

I mixed some with ketchup and used it as a spread on a whole wheat roll when I made an onion, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Like that it wasn't bad at all. Maybe tomorrow I'll mix up some more of this concoction and add a little vinegar and water and shake it all up and use it on a bowl of rice and veggies at lunch time.

But I know I won't be wasting any more tofu or garbanzos trying to make a sandwich spread out of it. My husband's mind is made up and tightly closed to the idea. I guess it's back to seitan sandwiches, soup, and the occasional container of leftovers until I can find something else to make. There are loads of non-sandwich spread related salads out there for the trying. Temps already hit 90 degrees here in NJ so it's going to be a long, hot summer, and I really would rather not light the oven every 2 weeks for 90 minutes at a time to make more seitan for him!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fast Food 4 - Barley Mushroom Soup

I've been sick. I made it through one of the worst winters in my lifetime with nary a sniffle - quite miraculous considering the previous 2 years I'd been sick from December through May - just to wake up last Saturday, the tail end of my husband's vacation week, with a full blown flu, including a few days of 101ยบ fever. I spent a lot of time this week in bed, sweating, dizzy, sleeping, and watching DVD's that I had seen in the past. My head was too messed up to watch anything new.

My son has been great during all this. He volunteered to cook any meal I wanted him to, as long as my husband did all the cleaning afterwards. This was accepted. Let the games begin!

Instead of all the meals I had planned originally, I hustled to make a much simpler menu for the week, one a clueless 30 year old male can make with the least amount of trouble. We had a few days of pasta, a rice meal made easy with Success rice, microwaved vegetables and canned beans. He tackled soup twice, using Mary McDougall's easy recipes from the McDougall Made Easy/Irresistable DVD's. He learned through trial and error how to use the immersion blender. Good thing he already knows how to do the laundry. I don't need to say any more about that. :)

By Friday I felt things had turned around and felt that by the next day I can stay out of bed a bit longer, and even do some of my own cooking. With the flu came inner ear fluid causing me to get dizzy if I stood for too long or moved my head too fast. By Jeopardy time I was able to bring my own plate to the kitchen and even offered to do dishes. I was chased away. 

But earlier in the day my son was headed to the grocery store and volunteered to pick up anything I wanted, so on the shopping list I put the ingredients for Barley Mushroom soup from Jeff Novick's Fast Food 4: Beyond the Basics DVD, one of the DVD's I had rewatched the day before. I figured it was easy enough that my son could make it if I had a relapse and couldn't do it myself.

That grocery trip was the beginning of the problem.

He calls me on his cell after he gets squeezed out of the frozen vegetable aisle to tell me there was absolutely no soup or stew mix anywhere. There were 6 workers in the already crowded aisle doing inventory. The manager puts displays of junk down the center so there's barely enough room for one cart to be pushed through from one end to the other - there's no place to stop without blocking the whole flow of traffic. So now, besides the merchandise obstacles and others trying to shop, there are the workers ignoring all the customers, preventing them from looking at or grabbing things from the displays. My son can get rude when he wants to and I believe him when he said he said he elbowed his way in and saw no soup or stew veggies. That has happened to me on a regular shopping day too many times to count. I told him not to worry about it, just put the mushrooms back and I'll find another soup to make today, one whose ingredients I already have in the house.

He didn't.

He gets home and I help unload the bags and he shows me this one bag of what is labeled "soup vegetables" that are from some unknown little company that imported them from Mexico, and instead of potatoes, carrots, onions and celery, contain peas, potatoes, celery, corn and okra. OKRA?? A sigh sneaked out of me totally by reflex and he got angry, saying he battled the inventory workers to go back into that section of the aisle to take another look and grabbed the ONLY bag of soup/stew vegetables in the entire store, why can't I be thankful! I sighed again. I AM thankful, I'm just tired, sick, and really should have been back in bed at that point. He stormed away in a huff. I put the rest of the frozen food and refrigerated stuff away and went back to bed for a few hours.

When I got up, I looked at the mushrooms. No crimini, just 2 boxes of sliced buttons, that looked to be a few days past freshness and heading into slimy mold territory. I looked around first then sighed as silently as I could. I really wish he had done as I told him, put the mushrooms back, and not continued the search for the vegetables.

Welcome to Saturday morning. I'm feeling a bit better, even showered and got dressed. Made my own oatmeal for breakfast. Actually looked at the newspapers that piled up over the past few days. Amazing how I really didn't miss anything.

Now comes time to gather the soup ingredients:
2 cups of vegetable broth
2 boxes mushrooms (again, I only have buttons, not a mix as Jeff suggests)
1 pound bag of soup veggies
1 pound bag of frozen baby lima beans
1 cup quick cooking barley

Although Jeff specifically shows in this DVD that the Pacific brand of low-sodium vegetable broth, the stuff Mary Esselstyn recommended, doesn't fit with his guidelines because of the sodium level, this is what I used. I had 2 cups left from a previous recipe that also needed only 2 cups and had this in the freezer and took it out to defrost earlier in the day.

Those mushrooms. They look even worse now. Many are totally grey, so slimy I don't even want to touch them, and the gills so big they look like shark's teeth ready to bite! Out of the 2 boxes I may have been able to salvage a cup and a half. I'm tossing a can of no-salt added mushroom stems-and-pieces into the pot.

Soup veggies. I started to pick out the okra but saw they took up a lot of volume, and if I took out more than the half cup I already did there wouldn't be many veggies left. Now slimy soup veggies on top of the slimy mushrooms. The potatoes were such a fine dice they were about half the size of frozen Southern style has browns. They're no bigger than the peas and corn. I added a handful of frozen onions from an open bag I had in the freezer.

Barley. I already mentioned this ingredient in another post. I was all ready!

Lima beans. I already had a bag of baby limas in the freezer from another recipe I was going to make but never did. Finally, something went right! The written recipe in the PDF files that is on the DVD calls for half a pound, but int he video itself he uses the whole pound, so that's what I did. That's fine, because I love lima beans.

Jeff added an additional 3 cups of water to the pot. I was going to let this simmer longer than 10 minutes to draw some more flavor out of the mushrooms so added 4 cups, instead.

A generous heap of garlic powder topped it off.

After a few minutes I was actually able to smell it cooking! I haven't been able to smell much of anything all week, so this made it all the more delightful!

As for taste? Well, remember I DO have a flu and my nose IS still stuffed up and this cough will be lingering for a few weeks, if it follows my usual pattern. It definitely would have tasted a lot better with fresher mushrooms and the right vegetable combination, but it didn't taste bad, just blander than other mushroom barley soups I've had in the past. My husband said it tasted just fine to him.

Aside from all the angst getting this from the store to table, this was one of the easiest pots of mushroom barley I've ever made. I will definitely try this again in the future, but the next time, I'll buy the ingredients, even if I have to hit multiple stores.

And as for my son? He apologized later on for his attitude. It seems he encountered a lot of crazies on the road between the house and the store, then every aisle in the store was clogged by inventory takers, and as he was walking to the store from the parking lot, a bus had just discharged a few dozen people from one of the senior housing projects. He said he didn't make it out of the produce aisle before a migraine set in. Under normal circumstances he would have grabbed the one item he went for in the first place and come home, but he didn't want to disappoint his poor sick mother and toughed it out, going above and beyond to get those veggies, even after I told him to forget it. He wanted to be a good son.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Chef AJ's Purple Passion Cauliflower Sauce

I wish I could find the kinds of produce that Chef AJ and others have! Here she is using purple cauliflower to make a creamy sauce for a friend of hers who can't eat beans. I suppose it would taste just as great with ordinary white cauliflower, but man, I wish I had access to the purple stuff!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dr. McDougall

In honor of Dr. McDougall's birthday, Chef AJ commissioned a song for him as a gift.

Happy Birthday from us, too, Dr. McD. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gypsy Soup

The first of the Fast Food 4: Beyond the Basics recipes I'm making is the Gypsy Soup. 

The Ingredients:

6 cups vegetable broth (home made without salt preferable)

2 cans rinsed and drained garbanzo beans (or 3 cups if made from scratch)
4 cups diced cooked sweet potatoes
1 pound bag frozen mixed pepper strips
1 pound bag frozen diced onions

The spices Jeff uses in this recipe are:

dried sweet basil
chili powder or cayenne pepper
smoked paprika
garlic powder

Alright, so I lied in another post about this DVD - this IS another dump-and-heat meal. Then again, many soups are.

The broth:

Earlier in the DVD, Jeff showed how he makes his own vegetable broth using potatoes, carrots, onions and celery. Try to keep the volume of each veggie identical. For instance, 2 large potatoes and 4 medium carrots might come out to the same volume, as might 2 large onions and 3 large stalks of celery (tops included). Add more than enough water to cover almost to the top of the pot. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Let cool, remove the veggies (save to eat for lunch or whatever), and there's your simple home-made salt free vegetable broth.

Sweet potatoes:

Jeff found bags of frozen, diced sweet potatoes to use for this meal. The only frozen sweet potatoes I've ever seen were as fries or tots, not plain old potatoes only, so I'm using 3 sweet potatoes that I had previously cooked and cooled. He says it takes about 4 cups of potatoes for this recipe.

Pepper and onions:

Jeff uses separate bags of each of these veggies, and that's what I have on hand today, but in the future I think I may just grab 2 bags of Bird's Eye pepper and onion mix to use because we like our veggies cut a bit chunkier.

The Spices:

He seems to be very conservative in the use of the spices in this video, shaking maybe 1/2 teaspoon of each over the top. Sprinkle on as much garlic as you like, but not too much or it'll be overwhelming. As with any recipe, adjust the spices to your own liking before serving.

Frozen veggies in general:

Not in this particular video but in another on this DVD he mentions that he lets his frozen vegetables defrost during the day before using them to make these dishes. That's why the recipes do cook up in the 10 minutes he advertises these meals to be. At least now I know I'm not crazy because I have to let these SNAP meals cook much longer than 10 minutes all these years because I found not only are they too hard for our liking but many times still frozen solid. This is info he should have mentioned in the very early post on the McDougall forums about his Simple Nutritious & Affordable Plan recipes. 

Here it is with all the ingredients added into the pot:

As it heats up, if you stir it pretty frequently it gets creamier, as the sweet potatoes start to break down.

It was . . . eh. My husband and I looked at each other after the first few spoonfuls and shrugged. He said the only thing good about it is all the peppers. I said the peppers seemed totally out of place and didn't fit with the other tastes. I used just a small shake of cinnamon, less than 1/8 teaspoon, because we're not cinnamon lovers. I don't even put it in pumpkin- or applesauce-oatmeal, and when a baking recipe calls for it I omit it completely a lot of times. Neither of us could detect the other spices by taste, but they did make my husband go into a sneezing fit. That happens every time he eats something with chili powder lately, even when the amount is infinitesimal. 

Poor guy - it's been 9 1/2 months since his CABG surgery, but when he has his sneezing fits (10 or more explosive sneezes in a row) he still needs to hold his cardiac pillow or it feels as if his chest is ripping open. He claims that's only a slight exaggeration as to how it feels. I hope to never find out for myself, BTW. We've shared a lot of experiences in our 36 1/2 years of marriage, but if I play my cards right, that will never be one of them.

Back to the soup. He had 2 big bowls (3+ cups each) with a lot of bread for dunking, and I had a smaller bowl, and we still have about 4 cups left over, which he said he'll finish off for lunches the rest of the week. We both agree that if this soup is never be made again neither of us would miss it. They can't all be winners.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Finding Ingredients for Fast Food 4 Recipes

As Jeff promised, the recipes in Fast Food 4: Beyond the Basics has ingredients not used in his previous recipes. I spent the past few days hitting every store in a 10 mile radius in this, the crowded county of the most crowded state of the country.

For the mushroom barley soup he mentions the barley he 
uses his the quick-cooking version. Not one grocery store had it, but I found a dented dusty box way back on the top shelf in one of the 2 Wal-Marts I hit. When that's gone I'll just make the regular pearl barley ahead of time.

The only place that even heard of black lentils was the local
HFS, and he said he never saw any canned. I picked up a bag of dried, as well as a bag of Christmas lima beans. I love those limas and might make some up to keep in the freezer for the recipes on this DVD that require lima beans.

Fava beans was something else that was elusive. The HFS manager said none of the brands his store carries ever had them canned, but he did have dried organic ones, so I bought a pound. None of the grocery stores had them dried so this was my only option for now, or so I thought. I figured I would cook the dried for now then order the canned from VitaCost. This morning I hit a local bodega for the Sunday papers and wandered the aisles until the line at the registered thinned. There on the shelf I found 2 cans of Progresso brand fava beans! No, they're not organic like the Westbrae at VitaCost, but are they no-salt added, and they were canned! A good rinse and they'll be ready for use in the Couscous, Fava Beans & Peas recipe.

And although Jeff used tahini in a number of recipes in his FaceBook, My Simple Recipes album, I rarely made the sauces and I recently used up what tahini I had making that Yummy Sauce of Chef AJ's. The can I had of Joyva brand was a few years old, anyway, so I was glad it was finally finished. This time I decided I'll try for something better, something that didn't have 3 inches of oil floating on the top and still be as solid as cement under that oil. I discovered that the grocery stores didn't even have that Joyva on the shelves any more. Uh, oh! I wound up paying $10 for a 16 ounce jar of Woodstock brand tahini. Searches on-line show that this is about the going price for that sized jar of organic tahini now. I think that last can of Joyva was only around $3. I don't think I'll be making as many of the new recipes that require the tahini-sauce. With the basic sauce 1 part tahini, 1 part lemon juice and 1 part water, the suggested amount on the DVD being 1 cup of each, one jar isn't going to last too long. These SNAP recipes will no longer be that "affordable" unless I stock up from a cheap mail order source.

I mentioned in an older post on the Kasha Varnishkes how difficult it was to find kasha in this city. When I did find the one store that was selling it around Passover last year I bought 6 of them. That store didn't have any this year, so it looks like this will be another food item I'll have to buy on-line when I run out again. 

Where the heck does one buy millet that isn't intended as bird seed? I've never seen it in grocery stores by the other grains. While roaming around the HFS with my list yesterday I overheard a customer asking one of the clerks where the plastic container of flax seed was moved to, and was told it was moved over by the peanut butter, right next to the millet. My ears pricked up. Millet?? They actually have it? By the peanut butter?? A few minutes later I wandered over that section in search of the tahini, and there was a section of the shelf with a few of these plastic containers that old-fashioned candy is usually sold in. They had dark and golden flax, whole and ground, sesame seeds, and millet. I bought about a cup of it, almost wiping them out.

Last in my whine-fest about hard-to-get items are the pine nuts called for in the same Mediterranean Millet recipe I needed the last ingredient for. The HFS was out and said there's a shortage and they had no idea when they would get any in. In all the grocery stores I visited, the tiny bags usually displayed in the baking supplies aisle alongside the tiny bags of crushed and whole nuts were gone, too. I finally found a small plastic container in the produce aisle, next to the containers of sun-dried tomatoes and garlic cloves in water, with about a half cup of pine nuts. $7 for that tiny amount, but since only an ounce at a time is used in the recipe, I'll pack these things up in a freezer container and store them in the freezer so they'll always be fresh when I need them.

Well, people asked Jeff for something different, and these recipes certainly does that. For people who live in areas with loads of stores that carry these ingredients and at decent prices, you probably have most of these items on hand already. But for those of us who don't have stores like Trader Joes or Whole Foods nearby, be prepared to go on a treasure hunt, and don't be surprised if some items will have to be purchased from on-line. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Jeff Novick's Fast Food 4: Beyond the Basics - At First Glance

Here's what I wrote on the McDougall forum today about this DVD:

He starts off with a few basics - the 10 Healthiest Packaged Foods, Fast Food recipe template, then goes on to some basic recipes - vegetable broth, marinara sauce, and 3 different tahini sauces. These will be used later in the DVD.
His new set of recipes themselves starts off with 2 different soups - Mushroom Barley and Gypsy. He found frozen diced sweet potatoes in a store and uses them in the Gypsy soup. I wish stores around here carried them, but the only sweet potatoes in the freezer section are the deep fried ones. 
Next comes the entrees. First is the only old recipe from his FaceBook page, the Kasha Varnishkas, but slightly different than what he previously posted there. He's mentioned in the Fast Food 2 video that this was his favorite dish growing up and the one his mom makes for him every time he visits.
The next is Quinoa, Lentils and Greens and uses one of the tahini sauces made earlier.
Couscous, Fava Beans and Peas is next. Another one with tahini sauce.
Mediterranean Millet introduces yet another grain to the stable and also uses the tahini sauce.
The last recipe on the DVD is another of his grandmother's favorite dishes. It's called Tzimmes, or Sweet Potato Stew. This one got a high-five instead of the thumbs up from the Fast Food Twins, so I look forward to making this one soon.
These recipes are not the "glop in a pot" recipes, as someone once described the original SNAP/Fast Food recipes. He introduces new starches, new beans, new sauces, and even new spices. A few recipes use raisins, a few others almonds & pine nuts. Tomatoes are an optional ingredient in the Gypsy Soup and he made it without it here.
Most of the dishes follow his fast food 10-minute guidelines, although for a few, the grains might take a bit longer than 10 minutes to cook or you'll be making one part of the dish while another is cooking, like browning then cooking the kasha in one pan, frying up the onions in another, and cooking the pasta in yet another, before mixing them together and heating them all together with other ingredients to make the final dish.
Another thing mentioned a few times is how many frozen vegetables are no longer packed in 1-pound bags, some as small as 12 ounces, so multiple bags may need to be purchased for the amount needed in a recipe. Each recipe should contain around 2 pounds of frozen veggies, plus the other ingredients.
They all look interesting and sure to be staples along with the original SNAP recipes with this family from now on.