Sunday, August 29, 2010

Peanut-free Thai Peanut Sauce

Spouse 1.0 and I aren't supposed to have peanuts.  This breaks my heart because I love miniature dark chocolate peanut butter cups. It breaks Spouse's heart because he loves Thai peanut sauce.

Even if commercial Thai peanut sauce didn't have peanuts, it'd probably have a zillion other things we're trying to eliminate... So, why not make my own?

First: What nut to substitute? Cashew butter seemed the most likely choice, if for no other reason than it was already in the fridge.

Next: Google up a likely candidate for a recipe, and read the ingredients and the reviews.

I didn't bother printing the recipe. The reviews said it had too much lime, not enough flavor, blah blah blah.  The important thing is knowing roughly what kind of ingredients to use, and a rough idea of proportions.

So, off to the kitchen to experiment.

Chunked off about 1/2 cup of the cashew butter and put it in the sauce pan. Added a splash of bottled lime juice and a big splash wheat-containing soy sauce.  If I were a loving wife, I'd have squeezed the lime fresh, and used the new bottle of g-free soy.

But, my hands hurt too much for fresh lime, and I figured that a man who still ate a Starbucks sausage sandwich every day wasn't entirely committed to the g-free life yet. So, why not save myself some money and use up some of our old wheat-containing soy sauce.

I really am a horrible person.

OK, back to the sauce. 

Sprinkled in a bunch of sesame seeds, added a big pinch of powdered ginger, and a dash of cayenne. And a small splash of rice vinegar.  Started heating it up, and boy was it thick.  I didn't recall the recipe saying anything about water, but using less lime juice justified adding some other liquid. And some more. And some more.  Maybe a half cup of water in all. Maybe three quarters.

Oh, yeah.  The sweet stuff:  Maybe 2 or 3 coffee scoops of raw sugar.

A little taste test, and it needed more kick. So, another dash of cayenne.  And some black pepper. I should have added garlic, but I think I forgot.

Still a bit thick, but now it tasted pretty good.  I took a teaspoon of it upstairs and woke up the Spouse.  He declared it a little spicy, but generally worthy. Hurray!

Next time, I'll remember the garlic. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

In Praise of Ingredients

About 12 years ago our nephew lived with us.  His folks came to town, and we decided to meet here after work to go to dinner. Well, the folks arrived before we got home, and sis-in-law decided to bake something. She started rummaging around in my kitchen.  She was appalled to find no flour, no sugar, no eggs... no ingredients.

What kind of kitchen has no ingredients?

Mine of course.  I was very proud of my clean, lovely new kitchen, and I surely wasn't going to spoil it with cooking and ingredients and such.

Fast forward to Wednesday of this week.  Impending vendor meeting on Thursday, which happened to be the tech guy's birthday.

Wouldn't it be fun to have a cake!

But, after work I was too tired & hungry to go in search of said cake. And, Thursday's meetings were too early to plan a side trip on the way in.

What to do???

I could have given up on the cake concept. David would have preferred that. After all, nobody expected a cake.  Nobody needed a cake.

But, one of the things I learned from my friend Carol: A good project manager is always on the lookout for ways to make work fun.  And, birthday cakes are, by definition, fun.

Leafing through my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, there it was: A recipe for gingerbread that used ordinary flour, brown sugar, molasses, shortening, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger.

All stuff I had on hand.

None of which I had on hand the day Sis-in-law was rummaging through my cupboards.

So, before bed Wednesday I mixed up the dry ingredients.  Thursday morning after breakfast I mixed in the wet ingredients and put the gingerbread in to bake. 

I'd wanted a glaze for it, but didn't have powdered sugar.  So, I took some blenderized brown sugar and mixed with a splash of vanilla and a few teaspoons of almond milk.  Let that set while I went upstairs to shower.

After the shower, took the gingerbread out of the oven and let it cool while I dried my hair and did the makeup.

Back downstairs to drizzle glaze over the warm gingerbread. Loosely covered it, put on my sandals, and headed off to work, gingerbread in hand.

There are secret advantages to this healthy cooking thing:  You have ingredients, and cooking from scratch starts to to fit into your life -- even into those spaces where a trip to the supermarket would never go.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confessions of an Idiot

It's pretty humbling to suddenly discover that you're an idiot.

I've always been a label reader. But, mostly I just looked at calories, protein, fats. It's sort of like claiming that you read the newspaper when all you really read is the comics and Dear Abbey.

So, today I started looking through my cupboard and really reading the ingredients lists. I quickly found five things to throw away. And, I equally quickly learned that I'm an idiot.

Below are some of the more um, interesting ingredients from among these five products.  Totals are in parentheses when more than one product contains the ingredient.
  • Maltodextrin (4)
  • "Natural flavor" (2)
  • Tricalcium phosphate
  • Partially hydrogenated soybean oil (2)
  • "Spices" (2)
  • Citric acid (3)
  • Disodium guanylate (4)
  • Disodium inosinate (4)
  • Sulfiting agents
  • Hydrolyzed corn protein (2)
  • Autolyzed yeast extract (2)
  • Silicon dioxide (2)
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Yellow 6
  • Red 40
  • Hydrolyzed corn gluten
  • Sodium caseinate
Yummy, huh? Just like grandma used to make.

Did I really think that disodium guanylate is FOOD? Did I really think that years of eating maltodextrin and sulfiting agents and silicon dioxide was harmless?

Spouse 1.0 does not share my horror or my outrage. So, he's not entirely enthusiastic about the idea of running off and joining an organic commune somewhere in Colorado.

But, at least he's not mad at me for poisoning him for the last 22.5 years.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Arm-Friendly Chocolate Pudding

I've googled the whole earth over trying to find a crock pot chocolate pudding recipe.  Chocolate pudding cake, yeah. Chocolate pudding, no.  Found one (and only one) for tapioca, but no chocolate.

Maybe it's because pudding really does require stirring, and people just expect to put stuff in the crock pot, go off and run errands for a few hours, and come home to find their food perfectly done.

People also expect crock pots to be forgiving of a little too much cooking time.  Crock pot tapioca taught me that the window of forgiveness for desserts is much narrower than the window of forgiveness for chicken or beef.

But, surely crock potting chocolate pudding is better than having your arms fall off from stirring.  So, here it is, quite possibly the world's first crock pot chocolate pudding recipe. Almost certainly the world's first dairy-free, corn-free, gluten-free, low-sugar crock pot pudding to be published on Blogspot.


4 or 5 quart crock pot
Silicone spatula
Silicone wire whisk
Assorted measuring devices


1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C potato starch
1/2 C raw cane sugar
Dash salt
Microscopic dash of cinnamon
4 C almond milk
Splash of vanilla
1/2 T butter or soy margarine or other fatty substance (opt.)
About 16 drops liquid stevia

Whisk all the dry stuff together until the potato starch is well incorporated.
Add all the wet stuff except the fat and stevia.
Whisk to incorporate.
Turn the crock pot on high.
Every 20 - 30 minutes perform the following stirring ritual:
  • Whisk
  • Stir with spatula, getting the goo off the bottom and sides
  • Whisk again to incorporate the goo
After about an hour or hour and and a half, turn the crock pot on low. Go run an errand for about an hour.
Add the fat, then perform the stirring ritual.

Check to see if the pudding is getting to be about the thickness of tomato sauce or somewhere between chocolate sauce and pudding. If it's not yet nearly pudding-like, then just cook it on low a bit longer, periodically doing the stirring ritual.

When it is nearly pudding-like, turn the crock pot off.
Go run another errand for another hour and a half or so. 
Add the stevia, then perform the stirring ritual one more time.
Package it into single-serve cups, or just dump it all in a bowl and chill.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Super Easy Cilantro Lime Brown Rice

Much as I love Green Olive Chicken, I'm just not ready to have it again. But, that's OK. Salsa Chicken is even easier.

So, not quite knowing where I was going with this week's menu, Saturday morning I put a family pack of boneless skinless chicken in the crock pot. I grabbed the vat of organic salsa from Costco and poured a couple of cups over it, then set off on the usual weekend errands.

Come dinner time, I discovered there was only a half cup of brown rice left. Enough for a meal or two for me and Spouse 1.0, but not enough to justify the effort of sauteing, opening a can of tomatoes, and all the ingredients that would go into even the easiest Spanish Rice.

I thought of cheating and just cooking it with some of the Costco salsa. But, then I remembered seeing the words "Cilantro Lime Rice" somewhere... maybe when scanning through recipes online while looking for rice pudding, maybe on a restaurant menu.  Anyway, I figured, "How hard can it be?"

And, for once, the answer was: Not hard at all.


1/2 cup of brown rice
1 cup of water
A big splash of bottled lime juice (maybe 2 or 3 T?)
Tiny dash of granulated garlic
Dash of salt
3 cilantro ice cubes from Trader Joe

Rinse the rice, then mix it and everything except the cilantro in a pan.  Cook until the rice is nearly done, then stir in the cilantro ice cubes.

Obviously, you can make this even easier by using leftover brown rice, and just reheating with all the flavorings.

The super-easy chicken and rice became part of an almost-easy taco salad dinner, plated as follows:

Layer lettuce and tomatoes on the plate.
Place about  1/3 to 1/2 cup cilantro lime rice in the center.
Top the rice with about 3 to 3.5 oz of the cooked chicken.
Spoon reheated refried beans over all in an X.
Drizzle salsa inside the beanly spokes.
Sprinkle a few canned olives around the edges.
Top with a tiny fluff of shredded cheese.

One of my favorite meals, even though lettuce washing doesn't count as "easy."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

G-Free, Dairy Free, Low Sugar Chocolate Pudding

When I was little, my mom would sometimes make chocolate pudding. She may have used a mix, but back then "mixes" saved you about 60% of the measuring, but only about 10% of the work.

You still had to stir the mix into the milk to dissolve it, and then stand stirring and stirring over a hopefully low enough heat to keep it from burning.  You'd almost certainly still end up with a few lumps.  And, it still required a certain amount of skill and intuition to know when the pudding was done.

You'd pour the pudding into dessert bowls, and a skin would form over the top as it cooled.  Sometimes people would put wax paper over the top of the pudding to keep the skin from forming -- a real travesty, because the coolest part (at least for a kid) was eating that weird stretchy chocolatey skin.

You'd almost never let it cool all the way because the kids were just too eager to eat the pudding. 

The kids would fight over who got to lick the spoon and who got to glean the pudding stuck to the pan. A smart mom would never, ever use a rubber spatula to get all the pudding out of the pan, because then a real fight would ensue. 

Now, pudding is made by Jello and comes in little pre-measured cups. You can get normal, fat-free, and sugar-free.

But, you can't get dairy-free, G-free, white sugar - free, and chemical sweetener-free.

So, last night I made pudding.

And, only an uber foodie chef wannabe would be foolhardy enough to call it easy. But, it was good.  Very reminiscent of the stuff Mom used to make, except almond milk doesn't form that cool stretchy skin.


1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T potato starch
1/4 C raw cane sugar
Dash salt
2 C almond milk
Splash of vanilla
About 12 drops liquid stevia

Mix all the dry stuff in a pan with a wire whisk. Then add the wet stuff (except the stevia) and whisk until you're deluded into thinking everything's all blended and smooth.

Heat it all over a very low fire, and stir with a wire whisk until you start worrying about the whisk not reaching the edges of the bottom of the pan. Stir with a silicon spatula until you start worrying about the spatula not getting the center bottom of the pan. Switch to a steel spoon.

Keep stirring, periodically switching your stirring tool, until your arms fall off and the husband (or kiddies) smell the chocolate and start asking if it's done yet.

Stir some more, until it starts burbling like molten lava.  Cook and stir just a bit more. Then stir in the stevia.

Let it cool long enough to keep it from melting your plastic containers. Or, use glass.

Reserve the spoon, pan, and other stirring implements for yourself, for he who stirreth not, licketh not.

Makes 4 1/2 cup servings.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sesame Soy Roast Beast

David bought some recipe cards before we were married. Why a man who would rather die than cook had recipe cards... That's a mystery to me.

And, why we still have those cards nearly 23 years later is also a wonder.

One of those cards is for sesame soy marinated chuck roast.

Well, last Saturday I had sirloin, not chuck. And, I didn't have time to marinate and roast.  I wanted to crock pot the thing. I couldn't find a "safe" Worcestershire. David shouldn't have corn starch. I wasn't about to add to the roast's calories with butter. And, I had left-over two-buck-chuck white zin, not sherry.

But, other than that, I mostly followed the recipe. Sorta.

After a few hours, my 2.5 lb roast had been reduced to about 24 ounces. A bit anorexic, but enough for 4 meals.

The best part was, three of those meals were FAST.

Monday I warmed up some of the beef in a small pot. I put the two left over potatoes on top. Vegs in a separate pan. Not only were we door to table in about 15 minutes, we only had two pans to wash!

Wednesday I heated up some more of the left over beef in a small pan.  Mixed up a little left over red rice and lentils in a non-stick skillet, and cooked some vegs in another pan. Door to table: About 15 minutes.

And, tonight we had the last of the roast.  I cheated on the healthy thing and used normal instant mashed potatoes.  They had preservatives, but not nitrites.  And, again, door to table in about 15 minutes.

Woo hoo! Dinner in almost microwave time, 3 nights this week!

The adapted recipe:

1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 cup strong coffee (or just sprinkle on a packet of Via)
1/2 cup (or less) soy sauce
1 Tbsp vinegar (I used balsamic)
1/4 cup Two Buck Chuck

Put all that in the crock pot with your roast, and cook until the meat falls apart.  When all is done, add a little arrowroot dissolved in water to thicken the au jus a little.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


When we were courting, Dave & I had a bit of an adventure when his brakes gave out on some twisty windy dirt road in the Sierras. He told me about a movie he'd seen (or book he'd read) where the characters were supposed to be having adventures. Unfortunately, one of them didn't really know what an adventure was. So, the guy that did know what an adventure was told him that he would alert him to an adventure in progress by saying "Pudding" whenever they were having one.

This whole dietary change-up is definitely an adventure.

The latest adventure is... what to eat when my now-forbidden stash of artificially sweetened, cow-milk-based little cuplets of Jello pudding are all gone? 

I've been worrying about this more as my supply has steadily dwindled. 

So, yesterday I bought a bag of tapioca, thinking I'd do something rice-pudding-like with tapioca and almond milk. I dutifully googled tapioca pudding recipes, only to find they involved constant stirring. 

I'm doing this dietary adventure primarily in the hopes of bringing healing to my hands. Using my few remaining hand points for endless stirring of tapioca seemed to defeat the purpose.

Then... Behold!  A crock pot tapioca pudding recipe!  Woo Hoo!

Some reasonable substitutions and additions, and now I have Pudding!

The original recipe is here:

My variation:
  • 1/2 cup small pearl tapioca
  • 3/4 cup water, more or less
  • 3 1/2 cups almond milk (the 60 calorie/cup kind)
  • 2 T raw sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 T organic whipping cream or coconut based coffee creamer
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 6-8 drops liquid stevia
  • a dash or two of fresh ground nutmeg
Soak the tapioca in the water for an hour or two. Mix the eggs in a separate bowl. Dump everything except the stevia & the nutmeg in the crockpot, and whisk together. Cook on low for however long it takes. Mine took about 3 or 4 hours. Periodically stir/whisk the mixture... increasing from about once per hour at first to about once every 20 minutes near the end.  If the tapioca gets too thick before the pearls get translucent, add  a drizzle of water or almond milk.

When the pudding's done, whisk in the liquid stevia and the fresh nutmeg.

The almond milk is a bit sweet, so you don't need as much sugar as the original recipe requires.  Do not use powdered stevia. It's gross.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Variety is the Bane of My Existence

When microwaving was my life, variety meant that the Green Box Food people had discontinued Grilled Chicken Sonoma, and I had to find a new favorite.  Or, the White Box Food people had changed up their formulation for Grilled Chicken Caesar, and I had to start subsisting on Mediteranean Chicken.

I could literally eat the same flavor of microwave dinner every night of every week -- for weeks on end.

So, now that I'm eating microwaveless and healthy(er), why can't I eat Green Olive Chicken every night of every week until they discontinue chickens?

I really, really like Green Olive Chicken. And, I like it even better now that I'm substituting Two Buck Chuck for the Fat Tire Ale the recipe originally called for.

But, no... some weird force compels me to cook different things.

Partly, that weird force is Spouse 1.0, who can eat a Starbucks sausage sandwich every morning of his life, but can't eat Green Olive Chicken more than three times in the same week.

And, partly that weird force is something inside me.

So, tonight I'm crock potting a roast and baking some Yukon gold potatoes. And, I'm wondering if tomorrow I can trick that weird force into thinking that Black Olive Chicken counts as different.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Nothing to Write Home About

Whenever my mother was not particularly impressed by something, she would comment, "It was nothing to write home about."

If Mom had been alive and present for last night's dinner, I know exactly what she would have said.

So, why am I writing about a dinner that was nothing to write home about? Consider it a cautionary tale.

It all started with the remaining two sirloin burger patties from Tuesday night. I still had some leftover brown basmati. I still had the yummy bean dip. I could have just replicated the prior night's success.

But, where's the adventure in that?

More rummaging in the cupboard. I have a supply of Trader Joe's organic fat free marinara because Spouse 1.0 likes to disguise his vegs in assorted sauces. I like to buy him marinara because then he smothers his vegs in yet more vegs so they won't taste like vegs.

So, let's break up the hamburger patties and heat them and the brown basmati in some marinara. It'll be like spaghetti, only without the trouble and mess of boiling pasta.

Nice in theory.

In practice, not so great.

Part of the problem is that rice is simply not spaghetti. And, brown rice (even if it is basmati) is especially not spaghetti.

But the biggest problem was the marinara, which tasted a bit metallic to me. Maybe it's the basil.

Adding visual insult to culinary injury, the colors and texture of the medley... Let's just say I was glad the Spouse had been raised to keep his descriptive similes to himself when confronted with ugly food.

Just to be safe, I hid his under a blanket of melted low fat cheddar.

  • Sirloin burger and rice reheated in marinara
  • Big bowl of vegies
  • About 300 calories for her and 600 for him
  • Nothing to write home about

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In Praise of Cuban Black Bean Dip

Last night I was experimenting with the concept of cooking ground meat for dinner.
My mom used to make elaborate stove top casseroles with ground beef. She also made an incredible hamburger soup. These things would take hours. And, they'd require chopping. I don't do chopping. Especially not on week nights.

So, I took the pound of ground sirloin out of the fridge, shaped it into 4 semi-rectangular patties, just right for cooking 2 at a time in the smaller of my two skillets. Put 'em on to cook. Started the vegs.
When the two burgers were done, I set 'em aside, then grabbed my leftover brown basmati rice and threw it in the skillet. Added a little water & covered it.
Now, what to do to make the rice less... boring?
I rummaged in the cupboard and found some Cuban black bean dip I'd picked up on impulse at Fresh and Easy a few months ago. Unlike most of the things in my cupboard, it wasn't so far past its use by date that I couldn't use it.

I checked the label: No verboten ingredients. Not organic, but at least no MSG, nitrates, nitrites, corn derivatives, wheat, or anything unpronounceable and unspellable. Mostly stuff you might put in your own Cuban black bean dip, if you were inclined to do that sort of thing.

When Spouse 1.0 opened the jar, it gave a satisfying pop. Not rotten. So far, so good.
I put a glop or two of it on the rice and smooshed it in, replaced the lid. An appetizing aroma wafted through the kitchen as it heated up.

  • Sirloin burger, about 4 oz pre-cooked weight per person
  • 1/3 cup rice and black bean mixture for me, about 1 cup for Spouse
  • 1 large bowl full of vegies per person
  • Probably about 300 or 350 calories for her, 500 to 600 for him

  • Heavenly! I'll definitely do this one again.

Yet Another Food Blog???

A week and half ago, my voodoo doctor told me to go microwaveless.


My lifestyle is all about microwaves. In the morning, I microwave my water to make instant oatmeal.

At work, I microwave my Green Box Food entree. In the plastic tray. Despite all the dire warnings from my coworkers.

At 4 PM, I microwave a bag of frozen vegs (my "snackies").

At dinner time, I microwave mine & my spouse's White Box Food entrees. Again in the dreaded plastic tray.

When we travel, we stay at hotels with fridges & microwaves in the room so we can microwave even more.

Well, the voodoo doc promises health and well-being, so I'm motivated. I wake up every morning, face the stove, and remind myself, "You lived without a microwave for the first 27 years of your life. You can do this."

Adding insult to injury, the voodoo doc gave me & Spouse 1.0 other onerous food restrictions. But, I'm motivated, right?

I'll give it a month. You can do anything for a month, right?

And, a week and a half into this, I'm discovering that it's perversely fun to try to make this work. So, check back as my friends and I explore quick and easy food that is...
  • Low calorie
  • Fast
  • Microwaveless
  • Corn-free (at least white & yellow corn free)
  • Sometimes gluten free
  • Usually contains no pasteurized cow's milk (but might contain other dairy)
  • Nitrate & Nitrite free
  • Artificial sweetener free
  • Usually contains no white sugar
It's an adventure.