Sunday, January 31, 2010

Comfort Food Goes Organic (and Gluten Free, too)

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(c) photo copyright Carrie Boyko 2010
Homemade Baked Macaroni and Cheese

When hubby arrived home from a long business trip to cold country, he sounded like he was getting sick. I knew exactly what he needed--good comfort food. His favorite? Macaroni and Cheese.

No! I'm not talking about Kraft, but the real thing. There is just no comparison between making it at home and anything you'll find at a restaurant or in a cardboard box (did I say powdered cheese?!!).

A recent foray into the gluten free realm has me experimenting with new and different forms of pasta. Tonight's macaroni was made with corn and Quinoa, by the the Quinoa Corporation. It was a delightful yellow color, apparently the result of the corn, and absolutely delicious. This is more than I can say for some of the pastas we have tried, and composted.

I can't claim any responsibility for the recipe, but I can share it with you, while giving full credit to my 32 year old Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. My substitutions, follow the ingredients in parentheses:

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni (Quinoa brand organic, gluten-free elbow macaroni)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (organic)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (organic)(for Gluten-free, use Pamela's baking mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (Sea Salt)
  • dash pepper (organic)
  • 2 cups milk (2% organic; you can use whole, if you like, but 2% made a lower-fat, deliciously thick, cheesy sauce)
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced (organic yellow onion)
  • 8 oz. American cheese, cubed (organic sliced American, cut up)
  1. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water till tender; drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. In saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter.
  4. Blend in flour, salt and pepper.  
  5. Add milk; cook and stir till thick and bubbly.
  6. Add onion (optional, but I highly recommend it) and cheese.
  7. Stir till melted.
  8. Mix the cheese sauce with the macaroni in a 1 1/2 quart casserole.
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes, or till heated through. Makes 6 servings.
Macaroni and Cheese is a creamy, delicious complement to beef or ham dishes. For those of you who prefer to pass on the meat, this dish offers about 8 grams of protein per serving, plus a whopping 20% of your daily calcium. 

My 'comfort food' dinner on this dreary, rainy day included an organic meat loaf and organic baked apples.  Who needs dessert after a cinnamon sugar packed baked apple? Simple, but delicious. And don't forget satisfying.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nature's Path Introduces New Gluten-Free Cereal

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(c) photo copyright L. Weinstein 2010
Thumbs Up for Gluten Free Cereal

Having halfway adopted my son's girlfriend, I have been enjoying the experience of experimenting with gluten free foods for her. While she does not officially have Celiac, she does have a serious reaction to it, so learning to read labels the right way and seek out gluten free foods that don't taste like cardboard has been an important adventure for me. The last thing I want to do is starve her when she's here visiting.

Recently, Nature's Path sent me samples of two of their cereals with a request for a review. No problem. Lauren was due in soon for a visit, so I was eager to let her put in her two cents. The photos on the boxes were quite enticing, though, and I had to fight my willpower not to open them and dig in before she arrived. Here are Lauren's comments:

"What I liked most about both cereals is that they are more than just corn and rice; I feel like eating a hearty bowl of these cereals is good for me as they are full of fiber, flax and omega 3's. Eating gluten-free, it can be easy to fall into a corn and rice based diet that lacks some major nutritional necessities." (Excellent point, Lauren!)
"There was a good texture and a variety of different morsels that reminded me of the Kashi cereals. Also, as a fan of Nature's Path's Gorilla Munch, I was happy to see the same little corn puffs from one of my favorite cereals mixed into the bunch. Both of the flavors were quite sweet. Sometimes I sprinkle sugar on my Rice Krispies; no need for that with these!" 
"The maple flavor was robust, while the vanilla was more subtle. For that reason I think I preferred the vanilla. I suspect the maple may be good as granola with yogurt or peanut butter and I'll give that a try next. Overall, a great gluten-free success! Thanks for the delicious donation to my little college pantry."
I'd say Lauren's comments add up to a big Thumbs Up for this cereal. Thanks for the samples, Nature's Path; you certainly have gained one new customer. Obviously, they were a big hit. Keep up the good work and send me anything new you want tested. I have a great little guinea pig, (jk, she's adorable--really!) ready to do your yummy product reviews.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

House Special Organic Cinnamon Raisin Bread

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(c) photo copyright Carrie Boyko 2008

Yummy Raisin Bread:
My Family's Favorite Breakfast Treat

Welcome to my neighborhood. Today I am pleased to bring you a recipe that I consider my house specialty, or perhaps I should call it a 'house-warming specialty'. This bread makes a great gift, and is a nice conversation starter when I visit to say hello for the first time.

This Organic Cinnamon Raisin Bread is rich and full-bodied, much like a cinnamon roll. My family enjoys it for breakfast, dessert or an energizing afternoon snack. With or without butter, it is moist and delicious and will make a wonderful special-occasion gift for your own friends or family. Delivered warm, your bread will bring a wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread and cinnamon sweetness, and your kitchen will smell great too. If your family will be home, you'd better make 2 loaves or there will surely be some complaining if you give that one loaf away.

To prepare the dough, I generally use the dough cycle on my bread machine, but you can just as easily use your mixer. Even though I'm a fan of whole grains, this particular bread is best with organic bread flour. If you want to be daring, you can use a mixture of organic bread flour and organic whole grains, but I do recommend you go lighter on the whole grain side.

One final tip: If you make this bread for a gift, you might as well go ahead and write the recipe up to include along with it. You can almost be guaranteed a phone call asking for the recipe after they taste it.

Dough Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup organic milk, whole or 2%
  • 1 large or extra large organic egg, slightly warmed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup filtered or bottled water
  • 1/4 cup organic butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup organic sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups organic bread flour 
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup hearty organic raisins (I like Earthbound Farm's jumbo premium gourmet raisins the best; they are fat and less dried, making them perfect for cooking as well as eating)
Cinnamon Swirl Ingredients:
  • 1 organic egg white, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup organic butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon organic cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1/4 cup organic brown sugar
Top Your Bread With:
  • 1 organic egg white
  • 2 teaspoons filtered water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons organic sugar


  1. If using your bread maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions for the order of ingredients, while using my instructions for amounts below. When your dough cycle finishes, follow the remaining instructions by picking up with number 9 below.
  2. Without a bread maker, follow these instructions:
  3. Place the egg and milk into a measuring cup and add just enough tepid+ water to bring the mixture to 1 cup.
  4. Combine this mixture with the remaining dough ingredients, using a heavy-duty mixer.
  5. Flour a clean surface and knead the dough for about 10 minutes to get it good and elastic.
  6. Roll the dough into a ball.
  7. Place it in an oiled bowl and cover with a clean cloth. 
  8. Place this in a warm spot to rise. I like to heat my microwave up while I'm kneading, and them put the bread inside for it to rise. The remaining heat speeds up the rising process nicely.
  9. Allow the bread ball to double in size. Then knead again for about 5 minutes, adding the raisins. Make sure they are well incorporated into the dough.
  10. Now roll the dough out to a rectangle about 10" x 12". Be patient with this; it takes a few minutes to roll to this size, as the dough is quite elastic.
  11. Spray your loaf pan with organic cooking spray, or use organic butter to rub the inside of a bread pan. Dust this lightly with flour.
  12. To create the cinnamon swirl, brush the egg white over the dough, followed by the melted butter.
  13. Combine the sugar and brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over the dough.
  14. Starting from the short side, roll the dough, snugly pinching the ends as you go, to retain the cinnamon swirl mixture.
  15. Tuck the ends under before placing the loaf, seam-side down, into the prepared loaf pan.
  16. Once again, cover the pan with a clean cloth and place in a warm spot to rise. A sunny window sill, refrigerator top or under a lamp often work well also.
  17. Allow the bread dough to rise until it is at least an inch above the top of the pan.
  18. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  19. With a fork, whisk the water and egg white together for an egg wash. 
  20. Brush this mixture over the top of the bread gently, coating it completely.
  21. Finally, sprinkle the sugar evenly over the bread.
  22. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for about 35 minutes. When done, remove promptly from the pan to cool on a rack.
Your bread can be sliced with a sharp, cerated bread knife after cooling for a few minutes. It is especially delicious when served warm. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Make Your Valentine Picnic Basket Healthy

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Laptop Lunch Photo

photo courtesy of

I'm planning a little canoe adventure down the river with hubby this Valentine's Day. This time of year the Manatees come inland to the many springs in our area, seeking warmer water. A picnic basket with a light lunch is part of the canoe's payload. Isn't the photo above tantalizing? 

No; it's not my lunch plan. But the packaging is wonderful. No throw-away wrappers to end up blowing into the river. Bento Boxes, as these are called, come with their own smaller portion-sized containers to allow you to pack a healthier lunch. Some include reusable, plastic utensils and a cloth napkin, to assure that there is no trash. There are also insulated bags to carry them in, complete with freezer packs to keep cool items chilled. Great idea; wish I had thought of it first.

My version of the Bento Box came from Target, but is a similar concept. You can see it in the picture below that depicts the small compartments. Its plastic utensils fit snugly into the top to keep you from losing them. Cool design!

My Valentine's Day canoe trip plan is detailed on New Kid on the Green Block. Stop in and find out what I'm doing to make Valentine's day greener and healthier. 

This post is simply to share my lunch plan. Hmmm? Three compartments to fill our tummies. How does this sound?:

Picnic Lunch for Two
Do We Need Dessert?

  1. Proscuitto and provolone rolls
  2. Dried mango and cherries
  3. Baked pita chips

A hard day of canoeing, playing Frisbee, and walking the dogs deserves a dessert. I'll have to sneak in an extra package of something to tame our collective sweet tooth--maybe his favorite organic cookies? The recipe is at this link, if you're interested. Just be sure to add a cup or so of chopped walnuts. That's what makes them special to my hubby.

Want a Bento Box? You can have one on its way in just a few clicks, right here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Adding Organic Fruit to Your Meals the Simple Way

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(c) photo copyright Carrie Boyko

Fruit Adds Color
and Variation to a Good Meal

I've had a few comments from readers who find difficulty in adding fruit to their meals. One pined over the time it takes to cook fruit dishes, and another said it just added too much time to dinner preparation. They both asked what I do to make it easier to include fruit in many of my dinners.

The photo above was used on a recent post about preparation of Leg of Lamb. It's a great example, but I do apologize for the repetition. That said, you can see how simple the fruit is. It's simple--sliced pears with a few pomegranates over the top. No fuss. It took all of 3 minutes to prepare 8 plates of these. (Okay; I confess the pomegranates were cleaned earlier in the day, but that really doesn't have to count, does it?)

Fruit does not have to be cooked to be a welcome addition to dinner. On the flip side, it also does not have to be a super duper fruit salad that takes a half hour or more to prepare. Those are great; don't get me wrong. But let's face it; most of us don't have time to prepare a main dish, a veggie, a bread/potato/rice/starch dish, and a fruit dish EVERY night.

My solution is to go the simple way on at least one dish for each meal I prepare. Fruit is often the one. Some of my favorites are:

  • Raspberries and blueberries
  • Mango and blueberries
  • Bananas and strawberries
  • Peaches and bananas
  • Or, most any fruit sliced or cut up alone. They really don't have to come in pairs; they just look prettier that way.

Juicing is another great way to add fruit to your meal:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Organic vs. Sustainable Fibers: Which is a Better Choice?

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Now that we're beginning to find organic sheets and towels in the stores, I've started a bit of drooling. I'm due for a new set of sheets, and would dearly love to say we are snoozing on the best. But, then, what exactly is THE BEST?

That's a complicated question--a conundrum much akin to choosing between organic produce and local, conventional produce. They each have their unique pros and cons.

Cotton is a natural fiber that is highly labor intensive and costly to harvest. Hemp has its own set of problems related to its illegal status in the U.S. We'll allow hemp to be sold here, but not grown here, which means costly shipping from other countries.

Linen sheets can be found in most bedding stores in natural shades, but I admit I'm not crazy about their tendency to wrinkle. Am I too picky?

Clearly, bamboo is the most sustainable of the fibers that are widely available. Finding organic bamboo is, well, difficult, at best.

So, I'm stuck between sustainable, fast-growing bamboo that is not organic, or organic cotton, which is not as desirable.

There is another complication, as well. In my search, I am finding organic cotton to be largely sold in lower thread count sheets, and not so easy to find in deeper pocket sizes. I suppose this is done to keep the price more affordable, but at this price level you would think the producers should know that buyers are willing to shell out the extra for the better product.  Is it too much to ask for just one set of naturally colored red or denim blue 18 inch pocket Bamboo sheets at 300 or higher thread count? Apparently so! 

In the meantime, do any of you have any sources or suggestions on where I might find some additional options? Let me hear from you; hit the comment link below the post:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Crockpot Leg of Lamb is Fabulous and Super Easy!

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(c) photo copyright Carrie Boyko 2010
Easy Leg of Lamb Dinner

Today's cooking adventure was truly a success--first try. After sending my son to the store to pick up a few things, he found an all-natural Leg of Lamb and just had to buy it. Following a recent trip to New Zealand he had learned to love this wonderful meat.

Hmm? I thought about cooking a Leg of lamb; when was the last time?! As usual, I decided to entrust this first experience only to my trusty Crock Pot. Yes; I would cook the best cut of meat in my Crock Pot before I would try an oven--much less chance for disaster. The results were amazing. Here's my lucky experimental recipe:

Carrie's Crock Pot Leg of Lamb

  • 4-6 lb. all-natural Leg of Lamb or Lamb Roast (boneless leg)
  • 1 Cup Organic Beef Broth
  • 1 Small Bag organic Carrots, sliced bite sized
  • 1/2 Head Organic Celery, sliced
  • 2 Organic Yellow Onions, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Snipped Organic Mint (preferably fresh, but dried works too)
  • 2 Tablespoons Snipped Organic Parsley (ditto)
  • 2 Teaspoons Organic Thyme
  • 2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Organic Pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons Organic Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Head Organic Garlic, skinned and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 Tablespoons Gravy Master
  • Mint jelly
  1. Combine carrots, celery,  and half of onions in crock pot.
  2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and add broth.
  3. Wash and dry roast
  4. Place in Crock Pot, on top of veggies
  5. Slice 1-inch deep slits into the roast
  6. Pour lemon juice over roast
  7. Create a seasoning blend with all seasonings above and press bits of it into each slit, sprinkling the remainder over the roast.
  8. Now push one piece of garlic into each slit, allowing each to peek out slightly
  9. Cook on Low 7-10 hours, depending on size of roast and how you would like the meat cooked (i.e. medium rare, medium, etc.) (desired temperature 155-160 degrees)
  10. Near the end, brush with a mixture of Gravy Master and water to add color
  11. Ladle off some of the juice to make gravy, if desired.
  12. Slice and serve with mint jelly as the New Zealander's condiment of choice.
So, perhaps you are asking, "Where are the potatoes?" My family asked too. The consensus was that mashed potatoes would have been an outstanding addition. My version included muffins and a fruit salad of sliced pears and pomegranates. This was a beautiful and delicious end to a fabulous dinner. 

What about you? Have you got a great Lamb recipe? Send it to me, and if I share it, I'll be sure to thank you in my post. Happy New Year! 

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