Have Chocolate, Will Bake

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Chocolate has some pretty amazing qualities. It is rich and satisfying, while containing anti-oxidants and flavonoids, and is said to even help reduce stress. As we pass the bakery, the whiff of baked chocolate tickles our noses and sends us to a happy place where we imagine ourselves sitting in a quiet place indulging in our heavenly bites. Suddenly everything in our dreamland is perfect and everyone is behaved. Then the voice of numerical value wakes us up as we recall the high calorie cost of even sniffing. Quickly we bat away the image and like a dream it came and went, like so many other good thoughts.

The healthful benefits have been well touted over the past several years. Though we know the healthful benefits, we tend to associate chocolate with high calories. Most calorie-counters avoid the temptation of taste indulgence. Understanding most chocolate desserts have lots of butter and sugar, we know that if it has “Double Chocolate” in the title we must run the other way. Before you throw those running shoes on and dash away, maybe there is something we can do about this…

It has been a long day and you are running around the grocery store feeling rushed and maybe overwhelmed as you consider the day and recalling everything you needed. Then you approach the store’s Bakery. Deep down you know that your grandmother’s recipe is much better than the store’s, but the store has it all ready for you to take home now. Whispering inside of you is a small voice giving a list of reasons why you NEED or DESERVE this treat. The attractive decorations and trays seem almost irresistible. One of two things tend to happen. One you choose to heed the confectionery calling. Two you run away, pretending to not have even noticed its existence. After all, the numbers just don’t add up for you. The results tend to be a feeling of guilt or deprivation. Neither leaves you with a positive relationship with food or self image. Sure you can feel good about resisting temptation, but it lasts for a moment and becomes a negative reinforcement with the goods of culinary life.

Food should not be the emotional crutch we rely on to get us through life. However, to deny its ability to influence our mood, success, or relationships is a mistake. Our relationship with food can be powerful. It can be a means to cope reliably, it can be our mortal enemy (for various reasons), it can be a means to communicate love, or even a venue to enjoy a bit of good in this world. Healthy relationships with food come from moderation and balance. This relationship can be key to overall wellness. I am sure you know, especially in the tone written, which are healthy ways to relate to food and which are not. You even know from personal experience. Guilt can lower your worth and feeling deprived can make you distant. Finding balance can be difficult, but I have a few ways to help you find that balance for yourself.

Ten years ago I was the worst baker ever….EVER! Nothing that was supposed to rise rose. Everything that was supposed to be crisp was fluffy. My pie crust was dry and hard. It was a nightmare. I began to accept that I may be a cook, but definitely not a baker. It upset me because Grandma was known as the best pie maker around. I lived in her kitchen and found that place to be one of my favorites. Here I am messing up everything I tried. She passed away a few years after I got married. Sad and missing her, I asked for her zucchini bread recipe, hoping to have the kitchen smell familiar. My mother gave me the recipe. Nervously I tended to each step. Because of my metabolic condition, I had to substitute a few ingredients and that made me even more nervous. If I could not bake from a book, what business do I have substituting?! In the oven it went and as it baked, the smells of Grandma’s kitchen found me. After the 45 minutes were up, and much to my surprise, the loaf was beautiful. I cut a slice out quickly and tasted it…Mmmmm! Grandma would have been so proud.

The point of that side story is to illustrate that it takes time, but you could learn to bake. It could be your relaxing time. Baking takes planning (though can be done spontaneously), consciousness, and time. Similarly to exercise, at least for me, baking becomes a time-out from the chaos from day-to-day living. The family perks up, because they know Mommy has made something special for them. When you bake you can control the ingredients to make them healthy or one-up the local bakery. Some tips for substituting: Reducing sugar? Use 1/2 sugar and 1/2 Splenda. Need more fiber or want to avoid the “sugar crash?” Use 1/2 Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 White Flour. Some recipes can use all whole wheat and some only can handle a smaller fraction. You can play with it. These are just a few ideas.

If you really do not like to bake or honestly are at a stage of life that seems overwhelming for your schedule, do not fret. I have other tips to share. One tip would be to keep seasonal fruit around. Sometimes simply melting some dark chocolate and dipping strawberries into them can be very satisfying. You could also toss some vanilla bean frozen yogurt and peaches together and top with sweetened and roasted nuts. You can also look for reduced-sugar sweets in your frozen sweets isle. Frozen organic fruit can make for a fantastic creamy smoothie on a hot summer day. There have been times where I have used chocolate rice cakes as base for an ice cream sandwich alternative in a pinch. These may seem limited, but that is why I firmly believe in taking the leap to baking at home.

If you want more variety and success, you have to be willing to take the time and risk. I know, I know. Time is valuable and in short supply. Maybe your self esteem is limited as well. Understand you don’t have to be the next Ina. This is your kitchen, where you work alone. No one has to know if you try something and screw it up. You can get better with practice. Next thing you know, you may even invent your own creation. It is worth the time, because quite frankly this is living. The small challenges you accept everyday to work at becoming healthier so you can give to those you love. That is the measure of success; efforts made toward health one decision at a time.

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Mama Mia…It’s a Pizza!

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Pizza Dough- (1,12-inch pizza)
-3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour -3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour -Flour for dusting surface -1 ¼ tsp or ½ packet Active Dry Yeast – 1 tsp Salt -1 tbs Corn Meal or Grits *Optional -1/2 cup Warm Water -1/2 tbs Olive Oil or Cooking Spray (to grease bowl)

Beginning with the Pizza Dough, pour the Warm Water in the bowl and then sprinkle in the Yeast. I like to give it a swirl or two, ever-so-gently, as to get the two mixed without disturbing the process. When in doubt, leave it still. After 5 Minutes is up, slowly add the Flours and the Salt, using a wooden spoon to incorporate everything well. Once the dough has formed a ball- like form, sprinkle your surface with reserved dusting Flour, and put Dough on surface. Work the dough as a mass, pulling a bit and pushing with the heels of your hands, getting the dough nice and elastic. Fold over and continue to work the dough for 2-5 minutes. Coat the bowl with the Oil or Cooking Spray. Return dough to the bowl and cover with a clean towel. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes or dough doubles.

Mushroom and Greens with a Shallot and White Wine Sauce.
Pizza Topping:
– 3 ounces Baby Bella Mushrooms – 1 shallot -1/2 tbs Olive Oil/Canola Oil -2 tbs White Wine – ¼ cup Baby Spinach, Chard, Kale, and Mizuma mix (Just baby spinach could work here too). -1/4 cup Parmesan, grated -4 ounces Fresh Mozz -1 tbs Fresh Rosemary -Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

While the Dough is rising in a warm cozy spot, we can work on prepping the toppings. In a small bowl (sometimes I just use a toddler snack bowl if it is handy) mix the Oil and White Wine. Set aside. Using a wet paper towel, wipe the Baby Bella Shrooms and then slice them thinly. Set aside in a medium bowl. Take your washed Greens (Spinach and Kale mix) and wind then in a bunch tightly. (Occasionally I Use a leaf of one of the greens to hold the bunch in place.) Take a sharp knife through the bunch perpendicularly, slicing it thinly. If you have toddlers, you may want to also want to cut down the center of the bunch. Add the greens to the bowl with the Shrooms. Still waiting on the dough to rise, peel your Shallot and put the shallot on the cutting board on its flattest side. Run you knife perpendicularly from tip to hairy end, discarding that hairy end. Put your shallots in the bowl with the veggie mixture as well. Lastly in prep, you can chop your Rosemary and sprinkle it in the bowl of veg. Mix the bowl so that each veg is incorporated.

Once the dough has risen, uncover and place dough on a floured counter or on lightly greased (if necessary) baking surface. Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Dust the rolling pin with a touch of flour. Roll out the dough to desired form. Flip over the crust to the side you want to be the bottom. Sprinkle the Cornmeal or Grits over the surface evenly, if you opted to use this. Turn it back over and onto the baking surface. First sprinkle an even layer of Parmesan cheese. Next toss your Veg Mix over the Dough and then drizzle the top of that with you Oil and Wine mixture. Tear apart the Fresh Mozz and scatter evenly. Finish it off with Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste. Bake in the oven for 9-13 minutes. Cheese should be melty and golden to your liking when done.

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Pepperoni and Fresh Mozz Pizza with a Bite:
Pizza Toppings-
– 1/4cup Parmesan, grated -1/2 Red Bell Pepper or 1 -2 whole Peperoncino peppers (for more heat), – 4 ounces Fresh Mozz -2 tbs Fresh Basil, chopped – ¼ cup diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes (Add pinch of sugar if you use regular diced tomatoes or tomato sauce) -Pinch of Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste -1/2 tbs Olive oil/Canola Oil -18 slices of Turkey Pepperoni

Now that the Dough is rising, let’s do some prep work for the toppings. First we will work on the Red Pepper. Cut the top and bottom tips of the Red Pepper off. Slice the Pepper in half and place it on the cutting board insides up. Use the knife to carefully remove the white bits on the inside and the seeds. Discard. Thinly slice the Red Pepper working your way from one side to the other. Set aside on a plate or small bowl. Next chop your Fresh Basil into thin strips or tear into pieces. Set aside.

When the dough has doubled, roll it out onto the floured surface. Transfer to baking surface. Preheat your oven to the highest setting. Flip to the rear side to sprinkle Cornmeal or Grits if you opted to do this step. Flip back over. Layer the pizza evenly in this order: Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Fresh Basil, Red Peppers, and Turkey Pepperoni. Tear Fresh Mozz over the pizza and drizzle the Oil to finish. Sprinkle on the Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste. Bake for 9-13 minutes depending on what your oven is like and preference on doneness.

Setting the Table

How do we actually become food snobs? There are a few tools we can use to prepare us. Educating ourselves on healthy eating is one way to ensure a stable foundation. Planning ahead for busy schedules can help us stay on the right path, even when things get hectic. Understanding your personal needs, tastes, and personality can equip you to adjust the program to suit your life. Learning to make friends with the kitchen can boost your confidence and become an exciting part of this chapter of your life. Success boils down to this “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”-Benjamin Franklin.
     With so much information out there on healthy eating, it can become overwhelming to know what to do. Contradicting information, undecided stances, and know-it-alls become complications. I will do my part to try and educate you on what my thoughts are on healthy eating. You will have to decide for yourself, based on the information you receive what is important to you. My facebook page offers a “Daily Bite” of food information that can be used to make decisions yourself. One basic piece of information is eating as natural as possible this helps minimize the amount of chemicals that enter your body. When reading labels 100% whole wheat or whole wheat should be the first ingredient listed for it to be considered truly whole wheat. While choosing good fats and carbs are worthy of applaud, remember you still only need so much in a day. Talk to a dietitian/ nutritionist or visit www.choosemyplate.gov to see what your daily needs might be.  
   Plan ahead for the grocery store. List your favorite foods. Think of healthier options you could replace some ingredients with. It may take a few trial and errors to find what products or exchanges work for you. Use this to make a menu of every meal for the week. Packing lunch is a great way to cut costs and calories. You could make yourself a soup or sandwich to make coworkers jealous! Heck, you can even pack leftovers if your job has a microwave available at lunchtime. Breakfasts should include the bulk of your grains for the day. Accounting for what you need and like will help you succeed. Use the menu to make a grocery list. Divide your list into sections of the store and in the order you may encounter them.This is especially nice when toting children. If you know you are eating out plan accordingly. Eat a light snack before or choose healthy options off the menu. If your plan is indulgence, eat lighter every other meal that day. You can check out the nutritional information on most restaurant websites. Another way to plan ahead is to pre-baggie snack portions. Heck you may even find cutting veggies and fruits helpful. Go a step further and portion them out for recipes and label each one. Some people choose to cook for a week ahead of time and freeze the meals with ingredients separated and labeled. Freezing some leftovers may be a great quick meal in a pinch.
     Once you have your groceries stocked and ready to go, you must confront the kitchen and its gadgets. Read the Confidence in the Kitchen page on my blog for basic tips. You can usually catch local cooking demonstrations to help you learn something new. Many cooking demonstrations are on www.foodnetwork.com and many other sites. I will eventually be posting some of my own. Find the techniques that best suit you and your style. Make the kitchen less scary by involving someone you enjoy. Have a friend over and try a new recipe. Make a date out of it with your significant other. Get in there and conquer your fears. Start with the basics and then move up from there. You can always check out my recipes on here.
    However you plan, make it your own! There is not one plan that is going to suit everyone. We are different people with different lifestyles, hobbies, jobs, preferences, and abilities. We can make a change when we look at what works for us. Be able to be patient and flexible with yourself. This may be a new endeavor for you and these things take trial and error. You, your body, your loved ones, and your future are worth the effort. Plus your tummy and taste buds will thank you!
Have a recipe you would like to see made over? Post your ideas to me! Your feedback keeps me motivated to continue helping others.