Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Homemade Bath Salts

Bath salts are very easy and inexpensive to make. It is a fun project that you can be really creative putting together. The base of these bath salts is Epsom Salt, a pure mineral compound that is not actually salt (sodium chloride), but magnesium sulfate. According to the Epsom Salt Industry Council, "dissolved in a bath, it is absorbed through the skin to replenish the body's magnesium levels. This can help to relieve stress by raising serotonin levels, which is a mood-elevating chemical that creates a feeling of well-being and relaxation. It can also offset excessive levels of adrenaline, which can be produced by stress". It is recommended to soak in Epsom Salt at least three times a week for all its natural benefits. Whether these statements are totally accurate or not, adding Epsom Salt to a bath does soften the water and makes it seem more relaxing. And that's okay by me.

I add essential oils to the bath salts I make, and I bought mine at Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, Hobby Lobby, and The Green Door health food store. My favorites are eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, baby powder, rose, and tea tree. Epsom Salt can be found in most drug stores, Walmart, and Target. This is a list of what you will need:

Epsom Salt
baking soda (opt)
essential oils
food coloring
ribbon, tags, etc, if you are giving it as a gift

Pour the desired amount of Epsom Salt into a bowl. (This will not harm your bowl). Baking soda is a skin softener, so you can add some if you want to at this point. Add a few drops of essential oil and stir. You can add more as you go along. Then add a few drops of food coloring to achieve the color you want. It doesn't take much! You can see in this picture that I used only 3 drops of green:

It will clump a little as you stir it, as you can see, but keep stirring and it will eventually blend and be really pretty. I used only 2 drops of red to get pink:
This is how the pink turned out:
This is what the yellow looked like:

After you mix it all together, pour it into your jars. A funnel helps. You can include a tiny scoop inside if you want to, or just tie it on with a ribbon. Good places to find jars are: World Market, Walmart, and Target. You can even use Ball jars. I used a combination of eucalyptus peppermint for the green, baby powder for the pink, and tea tree for the yellow. This is how they turned out:
If I give it as a gift, I like to tie on a pretty ribbon with a tag that has the scent written on it:

These are also great to include in a "relaxation basket", with a loofah sponge, soap, a relaxing CD (I like jazz), and a rubber ducky for fun. When I make a basket like that, I line it with a washcloth or hand towel, depending on how big the basket it.

So, now we know a good, healthy way to help relieve stress. Go relax and detoxify.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Scallops with Bacon and Creamy Grits

I wanted to impress my husband with a Sunday lunch that I knew he would like, so I decided on scallops. I bought frozen bay scallops at Publix, but next time I will try fresh to see if there is any difference. I was a little reticent about making this because I had never cooked scallops before, but it was very easy. You could make plain grits to go with this instead of these ultra-rich ones if you want to trim a few calories off the meal.

Scallops with Bacon and Creamy Grits

1-1/2 lb bag frozen bay scallops, thawed and drained
6-8 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
1 cup water
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
lemon juice
hot sauce (opt)

Fry bacon and onion in a fry pan until onion is tender and bacon is brown. Add flour, water, and Worchestershire, and stir until thickened. Add scallops, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice. Serve over grits.

Creamy Grits

1 cup heavy cream
1 can chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup quick (not instant) grits

Bring heavy cream, chicken broth, water, salt, pepper, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in grits and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Saute the bacon and onion in a fry pan:

After the bacon is browned, add the flour and stir together. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and cook.
Tender scallops in a tasty sauce with bacon over creamy grits. My husband was impressed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blueberry Cornbread Muffins

Blueberries have been referred to as "the brain berry." There are only 40 calories in a 1/2 cup serving, and they are high in vitamin C, potassium, and iron. This 1/2 cup serving also provides 2 grams of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that blueberries can improve vision, and have the potential for the reversal of age-related impairments, such as memory and coordination. Very tasty medicine.

I know that blueberries and cornbread may sound like an odd combination, but these muffins are truly delicious.

Blueberry Cornbread Muffins

1 cup self-rising cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg white
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper muffin cups. Combine dry ingredients. Add remaining ingredients, except blueberries, until blended. Gently fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes.

(Note: If you want to use regular cornmeal instead of self-rising, add 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp baking powder).

Be sure to add the blueberries last and fold them in gently:

Line muffin tin with paper liners and fill about 3/4 full:
They will not get really brown, but will be done after 20 minutes. These are good with or without butter.

Peanut Butter Granola

This recipe came from Fix-It and Forget-It for Entertaining, a wonderful cookbook for the crock pot. It is very easy and the granola is delicious. Fairly high calorie, yes, but also high in nutrition and fiber. It would be a great topping for yogurt, frozen yogurt, sugar-free pudding, or fruit. Or you can eat it all by itself. Just use sparingly and enjoy! I added toasted almonds and did not add raisins. Also, mine ended up like loose cereal, not in chunks, for some reason. Peanut Butter Granola

6 cups dry oatmeal
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup toasted coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar

Combine oatmeal, wheat germ, coconut, sunflower seeds, and raisins in a large slow cooker. Melt together butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar. Pour over dry ingredients in cooker. Mix well. Cover and cook on low 1-1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread onto cookie sheet. When cooled completely, break into chunks and store in airtight container. (I did not have to do this part).

Combine dry ingredients in slow cooker:
Add remaining ingredients and cook on low.

The finished product:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Carrot and Apple Salad

My mom used to make this salad when I was growing up. I have seen it in cafeterias, but it is usually just carrots and raisins. This is how it is supposed to be. I prefer Gala apples because they have a crisp sweetness that is slightly tart, but you can use whatever your favorite apple is. It is a nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth as a snack, or to serve as a refreshing salad to go with a meal.

Carrot and Apple Salad

3 unpeeled apples, cut into chunks
1-1/2 cups grated carrot
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cups pecans
3/4 cup golden raisins
Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Muffin Tin Meatloaf

I have always made meatloaf without a recipe (like my chicken salad), but tonight I measured it out and tried a new idea I had heard of, and baked individual servings in a muffin tin. Right now, I am eating predominately high protein foods, fresh vegetables, and whole grains. This meatloaf has all of that.

Muffin Tin Meatloaf

1 small onion, chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 lb ground round
1 cup old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup wheat germ (Kretschmer Honey Crunch)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and bell pepper in butter until melted. Mix all ingredents with hands until well-blended. Shape into 12 balls and press into a greased muffin tin. Spread each with desired amount of ketchup. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Remove from muffin tin and sit on layered paper towels to drain.

I used red bell pepper because I like its unique flavor:

Press into the muffin tin like this:

To go with this meal, I prepared these easy and wonderful green beans. I get them at Publix. All you do is puncture the bag and microwave them for 4-5 minutes. Add butter and salt to taste.
My handsome husband kept me company while I cooked.

I also served Lundberg Wild Rice, which is tasty as well as nutritious.
The boys that live at my house really liked this.

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is very refreshing and nice to have on hand. I use light mayonnaise, which helps to cut down on the calories. You could also use sour cream. I like to add pecans and celery. Sometimes I add grapes, too. The combination adds a nice sweetness to it. This is actually not even a recipe because I don't measure to make it, but I will estimate the ingredient amounts.Chicken Salad
6 cooked chicken breasts
4-5 stalks of celery
1 cup pecans
2 cups mayonnaise or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Run celery and pecans in food processor until small pieces, but not ground. Pulse chicken through carefully just until small-medium pieces. You can also hand-shred or chop the chicken if you want it to be chunkier. Add all ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate. This keeps well for several days.
I particularly like this rolled up in a whole wheat flour tortilla. It is also good on toasted bread or a croissant. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Grilled Coconut Cakes

I wanted to try out a Thai dessert, and I love coconut, so I decided on these coconut cakes. I got the recipe from The ingredients are pretty basic. Well, except for the rice flour and the glutinous rice flour. Apparently the glutinous rice flour is sticky - it is actually milled from sticky rice. It is combined with plain rice flour in many sweet Thai dishes. The amount of water in the recipe I am posting has been decreased from what the original recipe suggested because I thought mine were a little runny. I think I could have controlled their size and shape more easily had the batter been thicker.

Grilled Coconut Cakes

1/2 cup rice flour
1 cup glutinous rice flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
2 cups coconut (I prefer frozen coconut)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

Mix flours, sugar, and salt. Add coconut, egg, and vanilla. Slowly add water until the mixture reaches a thick enough consistency to hold up on a griddle.
Spray cooking spray on griddle. Drop the coconut mixture by spoonfuls onto the hot griddle. Cook until the edges start to lift from the pan. Flip and cook on the other side. Serve warm.

They actually were alot like pancakes:

This is how they turned out. They were deliciously different and are definitely best served warm.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Boiled Shrimp

Shrimp is low in fat and calories. It has beneficial doses of omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, iron, zinc, and copper. It is actually high in cholesterol, but the American Heart Association has shown in studies that it does not adversely affect cholesterol levels. Plus, it is really delicious.

I have made boiled shrimp for my family for many years. It is very quick and easy. I usually pour it out of the pot into a colander, and serve it directly from that. I use the leftovers as shrimp cocktail. I much prefer homemade cocktail sauce, but ready-made cocktail sauce will save you a little time.

Boiled Shrimp
2 lb fresh shrimp (1/2 lb per person)
1 box shrimp boil
2 lemons, cut into halves
4 tbsp salt

Homemade Cocktail Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1-2 tsp horseradish (or to taste)
a few drops of lemon juice
1 tsp worchestershire sauce

Fill a large soup pot with about 4 quarts of water. Add the salt, lemons, and shrimp boil. (Caution: Do not open the bag of shrimp boil!) When the water begins to boil, add the shrimp. Boil for about 5 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. You can taste it at this point to see if it's done if you want to. It doesn't take long for it to cook. Pour into a colander and remove the lemons and the bag of shrimp boil. Serve with cocktail sauce.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Homemade Spinach Calzones

I love calzones, and when they are made with homemade dough, they are absolutely fabulous. If you don't have a bread machine, an alternative to that could be Pillsbury pizza dough, frozen roll dough, crescent rolls, or even biscuit dough. The calzones can be filled with a variety of other fillings, such as pizza sauce, ground beef, sausage, mushrooms, etc. Just use your imagination.

A bread machine is an amazing appliance. You can buy them now in all price ranges. Mine came from Williams Sonoma. It is actually my third bread machine. I pretty much wore out the other two. I use the basic bread dough recipe that I am posting for the base of many breads, including cinnamon rolls, cheese danish, pepperoni bread, cheese rolls, and quite a few other types. I will post those another time. I usually use my bread machine to mix and knead the dough, and it warms up to make the dough rise. Then I take it out, form it into the desired shape, and bake it in my oven. It takes the dough cycle 90 minutes, which includes the first rise. You do, however, have the option to bake in the bread machine itself if you ever want just a loaf of bread.

Basic Bread Dough

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1 egg
1 stick butter, sliced
2 tsp salt
6 tbsp sugar
2 pkg yeast (either regular or rapid rise)
Place ingredients in bread machine. I like to add about 1/2 the water first, then the flour and other ingredients, including the rest of the water. Set the machine to the dough setting. This takes 90 minutes. When the cycle is over, roll the dough out onto a floured surface and cut into the desired sizes. (see illustrations)
Spinach Calzone Filling
2 pkg frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1- 15 oz container ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup black olives
1 cup pepperoni
2 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 tsp basil
1 egg
Pizza Quick Sauce
Combine ingredients. Fill dough with mixture (see illustration) and brush edges with water. Fold over and seal. Mix basil with egg and about 1/2 tsp water and brush the outside of the calzone. Bake at 350 for about 17 minutes. Use the pizza sauce to top the calzones after they bake.
I found this jumbo calzone maker at a kitchen shop in Destin, and the set of 3 at a kitchen shop in Nashville. You can order them online from if you can't find them locally. They are not absolutely necessary, but they make it easier and will help your calzones to look more consistent.This is what they look like. I chose to use the next to the largest size and I was able to make 12 from one recipe of dough.
Start with a well-floured surface and floured rolling pin:
Roll out the dough. You can cut the dough with the calzone maker to the appropriate size:

You will probably need to re-roll it out because the dough is very elastic and tends to shrink. Then place it onto the calzone maker and top with filling. Brush the edges with water.

Fold over and squeeze to seal. It's ok if some of it sticks out. You can trim the excess with scissors.
Brush with basil/egg mixture and place on a greased cookie sheet. Sometimes the filling will leak out a little bit no matter how well you seal it. Don't worry about it if it does.

The smell of yeast bread is already wonderful, but when you combine it with basil and pepperoni, it is beyond description.

I heated the pizza sauce to serve with the calzones. Yum.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Gil's Grilled Chicken Special

I had worked an incredibly long, almost 13-hour shift the other day and came home to this amazing dinner made by my husband. He seasoned the chicken breasts and peppers with Cavender's Greek Seasoning and grilled them. Then he made a yummy salad with green leaf lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese. He always makes sure his meals are creatively plated with color variety, even if they are just for me. It was a fabulous treat, and also very light and healthy. What a nice way to end a very stressful day!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup

This is a soup that I order often at Surin of Thailand, one of my favorite restaurants. It has a unique flavor which is achieved by the infusion of the basic Thai ingredients. It was really not hard to make, but I had a very traumatic experience with the fish sauce. A sauce made of fish has always sounded disgusting to me, and it proved to be much worse than I had suspected. It was very dark in color and full of sediment, so I shook it and it began to spew a very offensive-smelling liquid all over my counter and all over me. It was so bad that I had to take a bath. I later found out that fish sauce is supposed to be a light brown color, have no sediment, and have a light fish smell. If I ever use fish sauce again, I will use only the Golden Boy brand, which is available at Needless to say, the inferior fish sauce never made it into my soup, and it was still really good.

I used lemon grass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. The galangal is similar to ginger. I tore the lime leaves and sliced the galangal. Lemon grass can be purchased in fresh stalks, but it is much easier to buy it already minced and keep it in the freezer. The lime leaves and galangal can be kept frozen also.
These are straw mushrooms. I am not a big fan of mushrooms, and I thought fresh might be better, but Gil and Zac really liked them. They are actually very cute and look like something out of a fairy tale.

This is the tamarind paste. It is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree. Hmmmm... I'm being very trusting with some of these ingredients.

I combined several recipes and this is what I came up with:

Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup
1 quart chicken broth
2 tbsp dried lemon grass
3 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
1-2 inch piece fresh galangal
dash red pepper flakes
2 small Thai chilis, halved lengthwise (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup lime juice
2 cans coconut milk
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp fish sauce - Golden Boy brand recommended (optional!)
1-15 ounce can straw mushrooms (or your choice of fresh)
1 lb raw shrimp, unpeeled

Cook shrimp in boiling water until done, about 5 minutes. Peel.
Bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, sliced galangal, chilies, pepper flakes, and garlic. Cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes to let the flavors infuse. Strain and pour broth back into the soup pot. Add coconut milk, optional fish sauce, mushrooms, tamarind paste, lime juice, and cooked shrimp. Heat through for about 5 minutes.
Yield: About 6 servings

I bought these great black bowls, spoons, and napkin rings at World Market. They have a nice selection of Asian dishes and serving pieces. The placemat came from Pier One.

I know this soup may sound like a daunting task, but it was actually really interesting to cook with unfamiliar ingredients. And I'm always looking for a reason to buy new dishes.

The Asian Market

I really enjoy Thai food. Gil has been to Thailand several times and loved the food there. The closest I've come to it is Surin of Thailand, a restaurant in Crestline Village (which I highly recommend, by the way). Because of that, I have been wanting to try cooking Thai food with authentic ingredients for a while now. So, the other day, I made a list, and Gil and I went to the Asian Market. We went to Chai's on 7th Avenue South. It was a very cool place. It reminded me of China Town in San Francisco and it reminded Gil of the stores he visited in Thailand. I was unsure of where to find some of the ingredients, but the storekeeper was very kind and helpful, and smiled at some of my pronunciations. This is what I bought:
Rice flour, glutinous rice flour, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, galangal, coconut milk, jasmine rice, straw mushrooms, fish sauce, and tamarind paste. The ingredients were surprisingly inexpensive and many of them have a long shelf life or can be kept in the freezer. My next post will be the Coconut Shrimp Soup I made that night.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lentil Soup

Lentils are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates, calcium, and fiber. They are low in fat and are delicious. I have had this lentil soup recipe for many years. It is wonderful, nutritious comfort food. Give it a good 2 hours for the lentils to completely cook. I used low fat sausage this time and it tasted great.

Lentil Soup

1 -1 lb. pkg smoked sausage, sliced and quartered
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup sliced carrots
6 cups water
12 ounces dried lentils
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried tyme
3 bay leaves
1 can tomatoes

Saute sausage in frying pan with onion and garlic until browned. Drain on paper towels. Combine with remaining ingredients in a large soup pot. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer until lentils are done, about 2 hours. Yield: 8 servings

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Smoked Salmon Salad

I wanted to make a light, refreshing Sunday lunch today, so I decided on a salmon salad. I bought this smoked salmon at World Market, but you can also find it in the grocery store. I used whole wheat penne pasta, grape tomatoes, fresh basil, a balsamic vinegar glaze, and Newman's Oil & Vinegar Dressing.

After I boiled and drained the pasta, I added equal portions of the glaze and dressing and stirred it into the pasta until it was well-coated. I added salt and pepper to taste. I chopped the basil, sliced the tomatoes, and pulled the salmon apart with a fork.

Then I combined all the ingredients on our individual plates. I mixed equal parts of the dressing and glaze in a squirt bottle and added it to the top of the salad.
It was very good, and it took me only about 20 minutes to prepare it, which includes the time it took for the pasta to boil. If you don't like salmon, you could substitute chicken. Next time I will add feta cheese and black olives.