A Healthier Fresh Tomato Pie

A few months ago, my husband and I were in a restaurant in Lititz, PA, and saw Tomato Pie on the menu. Now when I was growing up, my family gathered occasionally to enjoy my Italian grandmother’s homemade tomato pies, which was our way of saying “pizza.” This new kind of tomato pie on the menu was nothing like pizza. It had a regular pie crust, was filled with large chunks of ripe tomatoes, and topped with a creamy cheesy topping. Really, it was heavenly.

Now that my garden is producing fresh tomatoes, I set out to make that tomato pie. The traditional recipe calls for 1 cup mayonnaise and 1-2 cups cheese – yikes! I searched for a recipe to meet my household’s nutritional needs – gluten free and no or low cholesterol. No success. So after gathering ideas from many recipes, I tried what I thought might work. Oh, it came out better than I’d hoped!  I changed the original recipe so much, I wondered if it would flop, but my husband and I both loved it! Here  ya go…

Fresh Tomato Pie – Gluten Free and Mostly Vegan

Ingredients:

1 already made unbaked pie crust (I use the King Arthur Flour recipe for gluten free pie crust)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 sweet Vidalia onion, chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

4 c tomatoes, seeded and cut in large chunks

1 cup 0% fat Greek yogurt (I guess you could sub vegan sour cream or Vegenaise to make this totally vegan)

3/4 cup + 1/4 cup shredded low fat (or Daiya) cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Arrange unbaked pie crust in pie pan, fill with pie weights (I use dry beans), and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

2. Saute onion in oil 5 minutes in large frying pan. Turn off heat. Stir in fresh basil and tomatoes. Turn into baked pie crust. Bake in oven for another 10 minutes.

3. While pie is baking, mix together yogurt, 3/4 cup cheese, nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste. When pie has baked for 10 minutes, remove from oven and spread yogurt mixture all over top. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over yogurt mixture. Bake for final 10 minutes until topping is melted and golden. The tomatoes should not be mushy, just heated through.

Depending on how watery your tomatoes are, there will be some juice in the bottom of the pie. I used Brandywines, which oozed a lot of water, but we didn’t mind at all. If you’d prefer a drier pie, you could let your cut tomatoes sit on some paper towels for a while to soak up the extra moisture before turning them into the frying pan.

Now if I can just remember how to insert a picture…there we go. I know, the Daiya didn’t fully melt – had no idea at the time that I was going to restart my blog 😉 Haha, we were just so happy with the pie I just had to share.

 Tomato Pie Slice

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Maple Pecan Pie

This is what got me in trouble this Thanksgiving. I had at least one piece every day until it was gone!

My usual strategy for eating healthy/keeping my weight stable on Thanksgiving is:

1. To eat somewhere else. 🙂
2. If I’m going to host, to send all the treats home with the guests.

I couldn’t do that this time, because not only was I hosting, but my kids, their husbands, and my grandchild were all staying here with us and would be eating all that food for days!

Sigh, I have no willpower. None.

The good thing is, since Monday, I’ve been back to my usual healthy, more lean way of eating. My pants should be back to loose in no time.

Maple Pecan Pie

For the crust, I used the King Arthur Flour recipe for Gluten-Free Pie Crust with a few changes. I made half of their suggested flour mix: Combine 3 cups (16 ounces) brown rice flour, 1 cup (5.5 ounces) potato starch, and 1/2 cup (2 ounces) tapioca starch in lidded container. Mix well. Use as flour mix for gluten-free pie crust. This makes 4 single pie crusts.

(If you use a frozen pie crust, by the time the oven is preheated, this pie can be ready to go into the oven.)

Make one pie crust:

1 1/4 cups or 5 3/4 ounces flour mix
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Whisk together flour mix, sugar, xanthan gum and salt in large bowl. Pour out into a mound onto a large board or counter for rolling.

2. Cube cold butter – cut bar into 4 long sticks, then cut into cubes. Sprinkle cubes over flour mound tossing to coat all cubes. Using a rolling pin, start rolling cubes into flour. Keep tossing flour and cubes to rearrange while repeatedly rolling them flat. Using bench scraper, scrape mixture back up and deposit back into large bowl.

3. Whisk egg and lemon juice together in a small bowl until foamy. Sprinkle over flour/butter mixture in bowl. Stir with spoon until mixture holds together. You can add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of cold water if necessary. (I added one.) Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour or until the next day.

4. When ready to use, allow the dough to rest at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling. Roll out on a floured piece of parchment paper until diameter is 1 inch large than pie pan. Slide bench scraper under dough to make sure it’s not sticking. Invert paper and crust onto pie pan. Peel off paper. (Or you could do what I did, and just center rolling pin on pie crust, fold crust over top of rolling pin, then lift it all onto pie pan and unfold.) Flute edges.

I dare anyone to guess that this crust is not made with regular all-purpose flour. It was flaky, tender, had really good flavor and was not difficult to work with at all.

Maple Pecan Filling

2 cups pecan halves

4 eggs
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons gluten-free flour mix (recipe above)

1. Arrange pecan halves in prepared pie crust. (This gives a beautiful presentation, but I like to break mine up because it makes for easier cutting of pie pieces later.)

2. Blend remaining ingredients in blender or in bowl with stick blender.

3. Pour over pecans in prepared pie crust. Gently press all pecans to submerge under liquid.

4. Bake in 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Let cool before serving.

I make this pie once a year – if you try it, you’ll see why. 😉

If you like maple and pecan together, you might want to try:

Vegan Maple Pecan Pie Smoothie

Maple Pecan Bites

Maple Pecan Pie Bars (vegan)

Best Cornbread Recipe and GMOs

A conversation in my house 2 days ago:

Pam: I think I’ll make chili and cornbread for tonight.

Dan: You know our deal – you make it, I’ll eat it!

Pam: I just really want cornbread. I love cornbread. I mean I really love cornbread!

I do. And I thought this would be the perfect time to bring up a subject I’ve been avoiding with you. Since the recipe I want to share with you today includes one of the foods that may be genetically modified unless you buy organic, I want to get this unpleasant topic over with.

I want this blog to be a place where we can all be refreshed, encouraged and enlightened. Regarding the enlightened aspect, there’s a very unpleasant topic I just want to make sure you are informed about that might alter your choices when you go food shopping.

What are genetically modified foods? Genetically modified foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. (Wikipedia) The concern is, obviously, that these foods may not be safe for human consumption. Most of the processed food that we can buy in the store has at least one genetically modified ingredient in it.

If you want more information about what that means, a quick internet search will bring up more than enough information for you. Some of the most reputable sites include Appetite for Profit and Food Safety News. There is a very (very!) thorough article covering controversies regarding GMOs on Wikipedia here.

And if you’d rather watch a short video on this topic:

Powerful, huh? And I’m glad she ended it with hope.

We have the ability to effect remarkable change because each and every single one of you has talents and attributes that you are uniquely good at. And when you leverage that with something that you are passionate about, you can effect remarkable change in the health of your family, in the health of your companies, and in the health of our country.” Robyn O’Brien

May I suggest something? If you have a smart phone, listen to her TED talk on your way to work. Or while you take a walk. Or when you’re on your exercise bike (like I did this morning).

Cornmeal. Corn bread. Corn syrup. Cornstarch. Corn chips. Tortilla chips. Corn tortillas. Tacos. Ahh!

Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95% of sugar beets are now GE. It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients. (Center for Food Safety)

A Non-GMO Shopper’s Guide, as well as a plethora of information, is available at the Center for Food Safety’s website.

How can all this be simplified?

I believe wisdom says to stay away from processed foods as much as possible and buy organic when you can. Progress, not perfection. 🙂

This is, in my opinion, the best recipe for basic cornbread. The fat content has been reduced from the original recipe, it can be all whole grain, and options for both gluten free and vegan are provided in parentheses.

Best Cornbread

Ingredients:

1 cup organic cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (or 3/4 cup brown rice flour + 1/4 cup potato starch)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk (dairy and almond both work)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light olive or melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg (or 1 tablespoon milled flaxseed soaked in 3 tablespoons water)

Instructions:

1. Grease 9″ square or round baking pan. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Mix dry ingredients together in medium bowl.

3. Mix wet ingredients together in separate bowl.

4. Add wet to dry stirring until just mixed.

5. Scrape out into prepared pan.

6. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until a beautiful golden brown.

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I’ve been asked if there is a way to print out a recipe. I’m going to try this print option below. If this doesn’t work for you, let me know and  I’ll explore other options.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

It looks like I’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year.  Two of my three kids will be home for Thanksgiving with their spouses (and my grandchild!), so my little house will be full of life! I can’t wait. Ha, yes, I can. There’s a lot of planning to do before then!

I’ll miss being at my in-laws’ though. Two years ago on Thanksgiving, we walked into their fragrant home, and into the kitchen, to see my (at that time) 87-year-old mother-in-law bending over and taking a huge turkey out of the oven! I’ll never forget that scene. God bless her! She also attempted climbing Mt. Madison in the White Mountains of New Hampshire two summers ago and made it pretty far up the trail before they had to turn around and come back down.

At one Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ a few years ago, I brought this soup that I made using regular milk and butternut squash, and the family loved it. Creamy and flavorful!  I recently made it with homemade almond milk, and it was just as delicious.

I have a basic cream of whatever-vegetable-you-desire soup recipe that I’ve been using for years. I’ve made it using butternut squash, green peas, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, and even that bag of frozen mixed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. They all work using the same recipe!

This recipe for Creamy Butternut Squash Soup can easily be adapted for gluten-free or vegan diets.

Try to find a squash with sweet, deep orange flesh. The best quality ingredients, of course, make all the difference! To cook the squash to be used in this recipe, cut it in half, scrape out and discard seeds, cut into pieces and place in baking pan with 1/4 cup water. Cover and steam in oven for 30-45 minutes. Let it cool, then remove flesh from rind with a spoon. Use two cups squash for this recipe. If your squash provides more than that, have it tomorrow night as a side dish with butter and pure maple syrup. Mmmm….!

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, Earth Balance or extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups cooked butternut squash (or broccoli, or cauliflower, etc.)

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup (or a little more if squash is not very sweet)

dash cayenne

1 cup regular milk or homemade almond milk

About 2 tablespoons roasted and salted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Parsley

Instructions:

1. Saute onion in butter or substitute until soft and sweet.

2. Add water, salt, cooked squash, maple syrup, and dash cayenne. Bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

3. Blend with stick blender until smooth.

4. Add almond milk, and stir well. Taste to adjust seasoning. Heat up again to serving temperature.

5. Ladle into soup bowls or mugs. Sprinkle with parsley and seeds.

This makes great leftovers for lunch the next day or pour into a thermos and take on a hike!

What vegetable will you make it with?

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Homemade Almond Milk

For those who would like an alternative to cow’s milk, this may be something you’d like to try. I have tried many brands of almond milk, and a few were okay, but when I read the ingredients, I thought, “Hmmm…homemade would be better.” And it is! (as usual)

These are the ingredients of a popular organic almond milk – “Organic almond base (filtered water, organic almonds), organic rice starch, organic vanilla, sea salt, natural flavor, carrageenan, riboflavin (B2), vitamin A palmitate and vitamin D2.”

Organic rice starch? Why would starch be in a milk product unless it’s to enable the manufacturer to reduce the expensive ingredient (almonds) and make it seem full-bodied by using a thickener? How many almonds might there actually be in this product? I did the math – 1/4 cup almonds has approximately 200 calories. The calorie count for 1 cup of the above-mentioned commercial almond milk is 40 calories. That would be the equivalent of 1/5 of 1/4 cup or less than 1 tablespoon of almonds. That’s about 7 almonds per cup of almond milk. But actually less, because we have to account for the starch calories.

And natural flavor? The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Section 101, part 22 is as follows:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Uh…all I know is “natural” flavor seems to be a highly processed food-like product.

And finally, carrageenan. The jury’s out on carrageenan. From an article on Stonyfield’s website, “Undegraded carrageenan is approved for use in all foods and infant formula in the U.S. In the EU, undegraded carrageenan is not approved for use in infant formula, but is allowed in all other foods that might be fed to children of any age.” There might be more to carrageenan than meets the eye, so if I don’t have to have it, I’d just as soon avoid it.

These are not ingredients that I have in my pantry, and I doubt that you do either. When was the last time you went to a neighbor and asked, “Um, could I borrow a teaspoon of carrageenan?” They’re just not what I would consider real food – whole foods created for us by a loving God to nourish our bodies and keep us healthy.

The ingredients in homemade almond milk? Raw organic almonds, filtered water, a tiny bit of sweetener (such as raw unprocessed honey), a pinch of salt, and pure vanilla extract, if desired. That’s it.

Homemade Almond Milk

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw organic almonds

1 cup filtered water

pinch sea salt

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup or other healthy sweetener

1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (if desired)

3 more cups filtered water

Instructions:

1. Put almonds into a cereal bowl. Pour water into bowl to cover almonds by 1 inch. Let sit overnight.

2. Drain and rinse almonds. Discard that water. Place almonds, salt, sweetener, vanilla and one cup of fresh water in high speed blender. Blend for about 1 minute, or until almonds are fully pulverized and liquid appears thick and creamy.

3. Add one more cup of water. Blend to mix.

4. Add as much of third cup of water as it takes to reach the 3 cup line. Blend to mix. Taste, adjust flavors, and strain if desired. (If you strain it, the pulp can be saved and slipped into recipes here and there – even cookies!) If you don’t strain it, shake or stir before pouring.

5. Refrigerate and use within 3-5 days.

One cup of this almond milk has about 132 calories, 5 grams protein, 11 grams good fat (monounsaturated), 57 mg calcium, and almost 3 grams of fiber. It can be poured over cereal, used in cream soups and casseroles, and flavored with veggie “bouillon” and/or mushrooms to make gravy, as well as many other uses. In the next post, I’ll be sharing my recipe for Vegan Creamy Butternut Squash Soup made with this almond milk.

Let me know what you find to use it in!

GF Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Cake

At this time of year, my office usually has a bowl of snack size chocolate candy available for anyone at any time. Oh, goodness, it’s hard to stay away from! I’ve been averaging 2 a day on the days I go to work. :/ So I needed chocolate, but in a healthier package.

In this cookbook from my local library, I  found a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread. I almost didn’t make it because I did not have enough cocoa powder, but took a chance with what I had and I’m glad I did. It came out delicious! The sweetness is comparable to a quick bread, but since I couldn’t quite see having a piece for breakfast, I called it a cake.

I  made a few changes because of my preference for certain ingredients, but either way, I’m sure you would be happy with the result! (If gluten is no concern for you, just sub whole wheat pastry flour for a healthy alternative and omit the xanthan gum.)

GF Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Earth Balance, coconut oil, or olive oil

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup Sucanat (or organic sugar)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 T milled flaxseed (optional)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups finely grated zucchini

2 1/3 cups GF flour mix *

2/3 cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×9 baking pan.

2. In medium saucepan, melt Earth Balance. Turn off heat, and add honey, Sucanat, vanilla, flaxseed and cinnamon. Mix well. Let cool a bit.

3. Finely grate 2-3 zucchini to make 2 cups. Don’t squeeze out the moisture – this helps moisten the cake. Add to wet ingredients in saucepan. Mix until well combined.

4. In large bowl, sift together flour mix, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking soda and salt. (I use a fine mesh strainer.) Whisk well. Stir in chocolate chips

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until well combined.

6. Turn into well-oiled 9×9 baking pan and spread out evenly.

7. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (But don’t confuse melted chocolate chips with liquid batter! – Yes, I speak from experience.)

Serve with fresh, cold milk. (Recipe for almond milk to come soon!)

* A word about gluten-free flour mixes…

I would like to use all whole grains when I bake, but I’ve seen that that’s not realistic. First of all, some items wind up feeling like gravel in the mouth 😉 . And particularly with gluten-free baked goods, some turn out too crumbly and won’t hold together. So I’m taking the advice of those who’ve been doing this longer than I have, and using a whole grain/starch combination for my all-purpose flour mix. My flour mix consists of 70% whole grain flour (or combination of whole grain flours) to 30% starch. This works out to approximately 25 ounces WG flour to 11 ounces starch. Currently I’m using a mixture of 25 ounces brown rice/millet mixture and 11 ounces potato starch all mixed together and stored in my fridge. See below for possibilities.

Use 70% (25 ounces) of any of these whole grain flours, alone or in your desired combination:

Almond
Amaranth
Brown Rice
Buckwheat
Corn
Millet
Oat
Quinoa
Sorghum
Sweet Brown Rice
Teff

Then add 30% (11 ounces) of any of these starches, alone or in your desired combination:

Arrowroot
Cornstarch
Potato Starch
Tapioca Flour
White Rice Flour

Homemade chicken noodle soup with vegetables

I tried. I really tried. I always start out to make plain chicken noodle soup, and then I get going with the vegetables and can’t stop.

This will be a quick version. Well, maybe not really quick, but quicker than when I start with a whole chicken.

After work the other day, I was staring at my list of veggies that I keep on my fridge, trying to think of what I was in the mood for. It’s cold and rainy today, and I could only think of soup. My husband came home, I mentioned soup, and he said “chicken noodle soup!”

A note about ingredients: normally for the best flavor, I’d want to use a whole chicken. But honestly, I hate deboning the chicken and dealing with the grease from the skin, etc. So I keep organic skinless, boneless chicken thighs from Costco in my freezer for whenever I want to make chicken soup, pot pie, paprikash, etc.

Let’s make soup – if you’re new to making homemade soups, I’ll walk you through it.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with Vegetables

Makes 2 large dinner portions

Ingredients:

1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless organic chicken thighs

1 quart water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup diced zucchini

1 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped cauliflower

1 cup chopped kale

1/2 cup frozen corn

8 ounces noodles (for GF, I use broken pieces of brown rice spaghetti)

1 quart organic chicken broth (optional)

Put chicken, water and salt into large soup pot. Bring to boil, and simmer for about one hour. If chicken is frozen solid, that’s okay. Just simmer for about 1/2 hour, then reach in with tongs and break apart the chicken pieces. Continue cooking for second 1/2 hour. The chicken should be cooked through and very tender by this point. (If it doesn’t shred easily, cook a little more.) Pull chicken out of its broth and set aside to cool a bit. When it’s warm to the touch, keep 8-12 ounces out to shred with two forks (or your fingers) for this recipe, and move the rest to the refrigerator or freezer to use for another purpose. (You needed to simmer the full amount of chicken, though, to make a rich broth.)

Add onion, celery, parsley and thyme to broth in pot. Simmer until tender.

Turn off heat and add shredded cooked chicken and diced raw zucchini to pot. (You are now done cooking in this pot – the diced zucchini will cook just sitting in the hot broth.)

In a small to medium covered saucepan, steam carrots and cauliflower in 1/4 cup water until tender. Strain, saving vegetable broth in freezer jar to save for future vegetable soup. Add strained carrot and cauliflower to pot.

In same small saucepan, steam kale and corn in 1/4 cup water. When tender, strain, saving broth as you did with the carrot/cauli mixture. Add strained kale and corn to pot.

Stir soup well and heat up a little if it has cooled off. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. If you would prefer more broth than this recipe provides, open a quart of organic chicken broth and add according to your family’s needs. We don’t add a whole lot of noodles, so this amount of broth is sufficient for us. But if you like a lot of noodles, you’ll probably need extra broth.

(You may be wondering why I don’t just cook all the vegetables together in the chicken broth. If I were making vegetable soup, where I want the broth to taste like all of the vegetables, I would do just that. But I want this broth to taste like chicken! I made the mistake once making soup the long way – boiling a whole chicken, standing there forever deboning it, cutting up the celery, onion and carrots. I cooked all of these veggies in the chicken broth, and it wound up tasting like carrots! It totally overpowered the chicken flavor. Never again! So it’s worth it to me to labor just a teeny bit more to keep the flavors separate until last minute and then add the sweet vegetables like carrots and corn at the very end.)

Cook noodles in a pot of salted boiling water  according to package directions until al dente. Strain and add to individual bowls, if possible. (I do this for two reasons. Number One, hopefully there will be enough soup for leftovers, and I can’t stand water-logged noodles. And Number Two, my husband likes a lot more noodles in his soup than I like, so we’re both happy!)

Ladle soup over noodles in bowls. Serve with grated romano cheese, if you like. Enjoy! 🙂

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