Problem Solving / Fishing Promise Fulfilled: the FoodSaver®

Disclosure: I was not asked to write a product review. I purchased the foodsaver with my own funds and came up with the idea of a product review on my own. I was not compensated for my time. Opinions are my own.

A few weeks ago I had a problem I’ve never had before. But it was a good problem.    You see, my son went fishing and unlike his other fishing trips, he actually caught something. Here’s proof. Wahoo_edited-1And so when he and his friends arrived home with a cooler full of wahoo, I was at a loss for words and at a loss for how to store it to lock in freshness. Because I knew,photo-182

as much as we like fish, we wouldn’t be finishing ten plus pounds in a couple of days.  So what would be the best way to freeze these keepers to maintain the nutritional value, flavor and overall quality? My first thought was a vacuum food sealer, but it didn’t make sense to spend $400 (or more) on a system to freeze such a small amount of fish, once. So I opted for a hand held system, the food saver®, I purchased for a mere fraction of the cost of a big unit, $19.99 to be exact.

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This hand held device comes with quart sized freezing bags that were a perfect size for my needs, freezing individual 3/4 – 1 pound portions of wahoo steak. This system is simple to use.  Fill quart zipper bags with fish. Place the nozzle of the Food Saver® over the designated circle on the bag. Turn it on. Most all of the air is removed and the fish was ready for the freezer in minutes.

photo-183_edited-1Have you ever used a vacuum food sealer before? What are your thoughts?

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Something to Anticipate: Chocolate Cookie Bars with Creamy Filling

Anticipation

n. noun the act of expecting or foreseeing something; expectation or presentiment.

If you’ve been following this blog you are aware that I am, along with my colleagues, anticipating the #BlogBrûlée. Woo Hoo! We’ve been tweeting, blogging  and instagraming for weeks now about this inaugrual event taking place over the weekend of Sept 12 in beautiful Vermont. Why? Because anticipation is half the fun! The same goes for eating. Love your food! Instead of settling for the easiest option (something straight out of a bag or box), add a little pizazz to the lunch or bento boxes of your loved ones with the promise of something homemade, fresh and flavorful. Maybe like this…IMG_9293I made these  chocolate cookie bars with creamy filling in response to this month’s Recipe Redux challenge. The theme for August: Bars and Bites for Brown Bags,  is timed just right for back to school.IMG_9201

 I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and carried a bagged lunch everyday, I always anticipated that one special surprise mom would tuck in. She loved to bake, so I  had the best desserts.  Well, thanks to Mom, I always had first draft picks when it came to bartering for food in the school cafeteria! One of the nicest thing about baking your own goodies is you can pack a little more nutrition into something homemade.  Homemade items are also tastier. These cookie bars evolved from IMG_9256  a chocolate drop cookie I made little healthier by substituting Unknown-7Greek yogurt  for some of the butter (see the cheat sheet on the right for more ways to use Greek yogurt to reduce fat in baking), and boosting  the fiber and phytonutrients by swapping  white whole wheat for half of the all purpose flour. The filling is identical to the filling  in my Oatmeal Bars with Creamy Ricotta Filling, except I replaced the lemon zest with pistachios. The result was everything I had hoped for, moist, chocolatey with  a sweet and salty middle. Please see the links at the bottom of this post for more nutritious ideas that will have  your loved ones anticipating their bagged lunches like never before.

IMG_9260Chocolate Cookies Bars with Creamy  Filling

by Diane Boyd

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup low fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the filling

  • 16 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with non-stick aluminum foil.

3. In a large bowl sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. Cream yogurt, butter,  brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla.

5. Beat in flour mixture a little at a time, until well blended and smooth.

6. Set aside 1 cup of dough and refrigerate.

7. Spread the remainder of the dough into the prepared baking pan using a spatula or the bottom of a measuring cup to press the dough into a even layer.

8 Make the filling by adding ricotta cheese, sugar, egg, honey to a medium bowl and stirring to combine.

9. Spread filling evenly over the bottom layer of dough.

10. Take out out the reserved dough from the refrigerator and using a grater, shred dough over top of filling creating third layer, or simply crumble reserved dough on top.

11. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Store in the refrigerator. Pack in lunch or bento boxes with a lunch box freezer pack or next to a bottle of frozen water.

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Blog Brûlée Will be My First: What do I hope for?

Blog_Brulee_LogoDisclosure: My attendance at the Blog Brûlée is  partially funded by Sponsor’s of the Blog Brûlée and  I have received a discounted registration to the event in exchange for writing this post.  Opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated for my time.

There’s nothing else like doing something for the first time! It’s exciting! And  exhilarating! Even  a bit scary.  Right now, I’m feeling all of these sensations as I plan my trip to Vermont to attend my very first blogging conference, and the inaugural Blog Brûlée! Today’s post is about what I hope to achieve during the weekend of September 12-14  in the mountains with 30 food bloggers!

Like all continuing education conferences, I will be trying to fill my noggin with as much information as will stick. What type of know how is necessary for a good food blog?   If there’s one thing I have learned from  blogging it’s this: gorgeous  photos lure  people to your site. Taking pictures of  food is NOT something that comes natural to me. When I first began my blog (this September will be my third year anniversary), I didn’t know a thing about photography and getting a picture to go along with my post was not a piece of cake.  Admittedly, I still struggle with it at times today.  So here’s  something that thrills me;   I will be picking up photography skills from 3 amazing gals –  I consider them the  crème de la crème of food photography: Regan Jones of Healthy Aperture; Gretchen Brown of Kumquat; and Deanna Seagrave-Daily of Teaspoon of Spice. What an opportunity!

What else is important? You’ve probably heard this before but I will repeat it, content is king! I cannot think of two better individuals to share their  advice on  the art of story telling than media personality Brierley Wright from EatingWell.com and Eating Well Magazine (one of my personal favorite foodie magazines)  and Dallas, Texas based nutrition and culinary expert Robin Plotkin of Robinsbite. Nutrition is a science, but writing about nutrition is an art.  This creative outlet (along with photography) brings balance to my work day!

Better story telling and  improved images here we come!!! Is there more? Yes, on a strictly personal note,  I am seeking direction. It’s great not having a boss, but there’s a down side to flying solo. Sometimes you need someone to be honest. Someone to  tell you… this is great.. or lousy… or   you should spend more time doing this… or  you’re wasting your time on that.  I hate that at the end of the day when my husband asks, “What can I do to help you?”  I have to answer,   “I don’t know!”  I am looking forward to three speakers who are champions when it comes to building a virtual community. EA Stewart, the Spicy RD, has a strategy that  aligns with  her personal philosophy. Then there is the dynamic duo, Janice Bissex and Liz Weiss, aka Meal Makeover Moms, who have mastered the art of name recognition! Online communities are here and now.  My membership in the  blogging community Recipe Redux has been an all around positive experience and I attribute much of the growth of my blog to this virtual community.  Of course I’m  curious how I can continue to use social media  to influence,  grow and create more opportunities.

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Behind the scenes with my faithful assistant!

Last but not  least, I hope to recharge my battery.   Outside of the time I spend with private patients and public speaking, most of my work-time is spent alone;  reading, writing, developing recipes, prepping food, grocery shopping, cooking, taking and editing photographs, planning menus and meal patterns, brainstorming and putting together power point presentations.  It’s quiet and it gets lonely (thank goodness for my son’s chocolate lab, Brody).  It will be great to have some up-close and personal time with individuals I communicate with online and I’m enthusiastic to hear about each and every speaker’s and attendee’s  experiences, ideas, passions and dreams.  Let’s face it, food bloggers feed off of each other! Pun intended.

Before I close, I’m shouting out to all the generous brands  for making this inaugural event possible.  I know my first time will be a memorable one! Thank you!

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Snack Right: Oatmeal Bars with Creamy Ricotta Filling

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Disclosure: By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by National Dairy Council and the Quaker Oats Center of Excellence and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

August is Kids Eat Right Month!  This nutrition education campaign, initiated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Academy’s Foundation,  encourages healthy eating and active lifestyles for children and families.  Your family’s health is important to you.  So let me ask, are they getting enough of the essential nutrients? If they’re like most Americans, they’re not. (Ninety-nine percent of Americans aren’t meeting daily whole grain recommendations and eighty-five percent aren’t meeting daily dairy recommendations.)  What does this mean? Well, it  means they’re likely missing out on  fiber, calcium,  vitamin D and potassium. Bummer.

Now don’t feel bad. As a mother, I know the frustration of having my family turn their noses up at healthy food I spent precious time preparing.  Just remember one thing:  if they don’t eat it,  you’re wasting your time. So let me save you time, by sharing a recipe that will appeal to both  kids and adults and help you boost your family’s intake of  essential nutrients important for good health. Because this recipe provides 1/2 of a serving of whole grain oats  and 1/2 of a serving of dairy, it will close the gap on missing dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.  This is no joke! It’s the powerful combination of dairy and oats in a snack bar that tastes terrific  like carrot cake.  Let me explain how this mouth watering,  nutrient rich snack bar evolved.  I modified a basic oatmeal drop cookie, and then  converted  it into  a bar  filled with the goodness of dairy.  If I were Emeril Lagasse, right about now  I’d say, ‘Bam’. But instead I’ll  just tell you it’s healthy and delicious. Please don’t take my word for it; make it today. Pack it into lunch and bento boxes;  serve it with a glass of cold low-fat milk for an after school snack. Your family will thank you because they’ll delight over the taste! You’ll smile because you’re doing your part ensuring their healthy future.

For even more delicious recipes that surpass the ordinary with this powerful combination of oats and dairy, be sure to  visit the links at the bottom of this post. You’re welcome to come back for ‘seconds’ because new recipes will be appearing thru August 10.

How are you investing in your childrens’ future?

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Oatmeal Bars with Creamy Ricotta Filling

makes 24 bars

by Diane Boyd

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats, quick or old fashioned
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup skim milk

for the filling

  • 18 oz. part skim ricotta cheese (1 pound+ 4 Tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts,

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with non-stick aluminum foil.

3. In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

4. Stir in rolled oats and raisins.

5. Beat in oil, pumpkin, eggs, honey and milk with a spoon until thoroughly blended.

6. Set aside 2 cups of dough and refrigerate.

7. Spread the remainer of the dough into the prepared 13 x 9 inch baking pan using a spatula or the bottom of a measuring cup to press the dough into an even layer.

8. Make filling by combining ingredients ricotta cheese through walnuts together in a small bowl.

9. Spread filling evenly over the bottom oatmeal layer.

10. Take out the reserved dough from the refrigerator and crumble over the filling.

11. Bake 40 to 50 minutes.

12. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars. Refrigerate if necessary.

Tip when cutting make long cuts the length of the pan.   Clean knife, between cuts, in hot water and dry with kitchen towel.

Store uneaten bars in refrigerator.

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Oats & Dairy for Breakfast and Beyond: Oatmeal Brûlée


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Disclosure: By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by National Dairy Council and the Quaker Oats Center of Excellence and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time. 

Brûlée is  on my brain.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  I suspect it’s because I’m fortunate enough to be traveling to the mountains of Vermont to attend the blog brûlée in about 6 weeks from now! (More on that later, I promise.) So it just seemed inevitable that my trip was going to be preceded by a recipe for something sprinkled with sugar and placed under the broiler.  Sure enough, I’ve got a brûlée recipe I ‘m uber excited about posting today,  featuring the powerful combination of oats and dairy!

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You probably already appreciate that good things come in pairs including  wine and cheese, rest and relaxation and Batman and Robin. Today’s topic  is about yet another  dynamic duo, oats and dairy. This powerful combo, when eaten together, can help fill food and nutrient gaps and provide important health benefits. Did I just say food and nutrient gaps? Yes I did, because the truth is,  if you don’t get enough of the nutrient rich food groups, like whole grains and dairy, you could be missing out on  essential nutrients that keep you and your family healthy. Oats are a great way to get whole grains and fiber. You can choose old fashioned, instant or steel cut oats; they are all 100% whole grain. Milk, yogurt and cheese provide the nutrients that are often lacking in the diets of both kids and adults, namely — potassium, vitamin D and calcium.

I have always known oats and dairy to be  important for good health, and  also a  tasty pairing which is why I am so happy to be able share a recipe that showcases this combination in a delicious option for breakfast and beyond. Each serving of oatmeal brûlée provides 1/2 of a serving of the important whole grains and 1/2 of a serving of nutrient packed dairy.  Please note I am using  lactose-free milk; I am one of 30 million Americans with some lactose intolerance. I find lactose-free milk a great alternative for both drinking and cooking; it tastes great and provides the same nine essential nutrients as regular milk. I do tolerate small amounts of lactose so I made my custard with butter, but included a #lactosefree substitution in the recipe.  When I first made this, I thought it would be best  served lukewarm, but after putting the leftovers in the refrigerator, my family has enjoyed it as much, or more cold. Yes, I am serious. So either way, add some interest to the meals you plan for yourself, and your family, with the healthy and delicious combo of oats and dairy in a versatile  oatmeal brûlée.

For more delicious options  incorporating oats and dairy into your healthy diet,  please see the links at the bottom of this post.

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Oatmeal Brûlée

makes 4 servings

by Diane Boyd

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 level tablespoons cornstartch
  • 24 ounces Lactose-Free 2% Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon butter (or substitute trans fat free margarine-like spread without milk for a lactose free diet)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the topping

  • 1 cup prepared quick cooking steel cut oats, made according to product directions (for lactose-free diet make with water or lactose-free milk)
  • 8 teaspoons caster sugar
  • raspberries and /or blackberries for garnish
  • fresh mint for garnish

Instructions

1. Pour lactose-free milk into a microwave safe measuring cup and heat in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes or until hot to the touch (this will reduce cooking time.)

2. In a medium sauce pan (NOT OVER HEAT), combine the eggs, sugar and cornstarch. Beat with a wire whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

3. Whisk hot milk into egg/sugar mixture while the pan is set over low to medium heat. Cook whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.

4. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.

5. Cool for 5-10 minutes .

6. Divide custard evenly into 4 six-ounce ramekins. Top with 1/4 cup cooked steel cut oats.

7. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of caster sugar spread  in a fine even layer.

8. Place ramekins on cookie sheet. Move the top rack in your oven as high as it will go.

9. Place cookie sheet on top rack of oven and broil for 5 to 10 minutes rotating ramekins to brown evenly. Remove when sugar is melted and brown.

10. Serve lukewarm after the sugar is set about 5 minutes or refrigerate and serve cold. Garnish with fresh berries and mint.

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