Monday, August 31, 2009

Stevia is my new best friend

Even though I haven't mentioned it in a while, I'm still on my low-carb diet. I started off all gung-ho in January, then a trip to Mardi Gras in February threw me off track for several months. I picked it back up seriously in mid-June, after another trip to New Orleans. It is really hard to not eat carbs in New Orleans - I miss the food so much and just about everything is fried or on a piece of french bread, or both. And the New Orleans Original Daiquiris is probably the worst offender - a great big styrofoam cup full of sugar-y alcohol laden goodness. Luckily when I went back in August, I was determined to stay carb free and passed up all of my favorites (mostly). Sugar-free snoballs were my worst vice.

I've given up diet soda, too. The carbonation, the coloring, the caffeine, the artificial sweetener. I just figured it wasn't doing me any favors. I was drinking mostly water with a little bit of Crystal Light thrown in for some variety. But this week, I decided to start making Green Tea Iced Tea - and. Green Tea is all the rage - Lipton, Snapple, all the big guys are making green tea - either with unsweetened or sweetened with sugar or fake sugar. As a southern girl, you know I need my tea sweet.

Some time ago I read about Stevia - a natural herb sweetener that was not readily available in the US, but had been around for hundreds of years. You could buy it at specialty stores and it was marked as a "food additive" rather than a sweetener (something to do with the FDA and sugar lobby, so I've read). Only recently has the FDA approved it.

Trader Joe's carries stevia in several forms - packets, powder, pills and liquid. Each form has a different strength so be sure to read the package and find out how much you need - probably a lot less than regular sugar. Stevia has no calories and no carbs. The packets (which are a mixture of stevia and a neutral powder) were fine for a while when I was putting them in a cup of tea, but now that I've moved on to quarts of iced tea, I bought the full strength powder. It comes with a teeny tiny scoop. The green tea iced tea is so refreshing - I really wish I would have had it all summer. I know most people know how to make iced tea, but I had to fool with the recipe a bit to get it the strength I like (which is pretty strong and average sweet). Here it is:

Bring one quart of water almost to a boil. Turn off heat. Add 6 green tea bags and steep for five minutes. Add 7 (teeny tiny) scoops or 6 packets of stevia. Stir well and pour into two quart pitcher. Add one quart cold water and stir well.

I've got lots more to say about stevia, but I will save that for another day. :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Last summer I made this little piece of yard art, using an old window from my Chicago-bungalow style house and stencils of my daughters' handprints. The butterflies and smaller flowers are actually my daughters' fingerprints.
If you can't read the top it says "Bloom Where You Are Planted." I can't seem to find the origin of the saying, but it is often used in a religious context and I take it to mean, sort of, do the best with what you have. This little window has been moved around our home a lot - it was in the front yard, it was near our back gate, and somehow earlier this summer it ended up on our patio. So it was only fitting that some little random plant decided to start growing right in front of it.

But it's not just a random plant - it is a tomato plant. We noticed a sprout growing in the cracks between the bricks of our patio. Now, I'm pretty sure I didn't plant a seed a there. We're not quite sure how it got there, but it really took to heart the saying on my little window . Here is the full photo of our tomato plant:
And not only has it gotten absolutely huge with almost no tender loving care, extra water, special support stakes or fertilizer, it has many, many tomatoes ready to turn color. I normally plant a variety of red and yellow tomatoes and I am hoping these are yellow grape tomatoes, but I really have no idea until they turn. And check out the actual base of this plant, just squeezed between the two bricks. I'm guessing there must be some strong roots heading straight down.

Makes me wonder how much more I can do with all I've been blessed with. If this plant can thrive in bricks for goodness sake, I can certainly prosper with the support of a loving family, a beautiful home and so many, many blessings. Here are a few lessons from my tomato plant.

1. Sometimes it doesn't matter where you are - even the rockiest road can be the beginning of an amazing transformation and growth.
2. Even without support, if you search deep enough, the nutrients are there for you to thrive and blossom.
3. A little bit of sunshine paired with a little rain can go a long way. You've got to face what comes along and go with what you've got.
4. Make the most of what you have and in the end your efforts will be rewarded.
5. Sometimes you just gotta do what the sign says - like it or not.

Enough philosophy from me. Back to recipes tomorrow. :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Honey Lime Chipotle Marinade

We received a little gift from a neighbor today for picking up his newspapers while he was out for a few days. He brought us two "bear" containers of fresh honey from his friend who is a local bee farmer. One container was a little more amber and the other a more golden - both were delicious. I've never really used honey in anything, but was determined to use it for dinner tonight. I had already thawed some boneless chicken breasts and decided to make a marinade. Here's what I came up with:

3 T Honey
2 T Olive Oil
1 teas. ground Chipotle Pepper
1/2 teas. salt
Juice of 4 limes
Zest of 1 lime

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Place 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast in a zip top bag and add marinade. Place in refrigerator for at least one hour. Cook as preferred.

This marinade was absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, not too spicy. We could have even added a little more salt and chipotle. You could really taste each ingredient in the marinade. This would also be great on fish.

And while we're on the topic of honey, check out my friend Mara's blog and contest. She is giving away some free organic raw honey from Tropical Traditions. Stop by and tell her Kristin sent you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A TRU dining experience thanks to

As a featured Foodbuzz publisher, every once in a while I get a little bonus. Usually I'm not available or my name doesn't get drawn out of the hat, but this time I hit the jackpot. Thanks to Foodbuzz and Visa Signature, I was one of 20 lucky bloggers to experience a lavish multi-course dinner at Tru in downtown Chicago. I photographed each course - but these photographs cannot begin to convey the aromas and essences of the entire experience. You'll just have to believe me when I say it was phenomenal. The pic to the left is just my water. :)

We were first served a Basil Collins - Rain vodka with basil infused sweet and sour mix and club soda. Oh so very yummy and refreshing. I drank most of it at this point. :)

A canape of Cauliflower Sphere with roe and lemon peel.

Beef Wellington
and Scallop Wonton

Two delightful, small pieces of bread - one brioche-like and the other a deep pumperknickel.

Nigella Sea Cured Salmon with lemon gelee and bachelor button flowers.

Peeky Toe Crab with Prosciutto,
pequillo, and cantaloupe-cava consomme

Frog Leg with roasted garlic, carrot and watercress

Olive-oil poached Scottish salmon with Granny Smith apple, coconut and thai long peppercorn.

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Unagi, Scallion pistou and miso emulsion. This was the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef I've ever tasted. And, yes, unagi is eel. Tastes like chicken. Just kidding.

Seedling Farms plum, sarsaparilla cream, milk chocolate, ginger-lime marinade.

(Petite Desserts)

I didn't even mention the wines - Alma de Blanco Godello Monterrei 2008 and Niepoort Twisted Douro 2006. And, on top of everything else, Executive Chef and Owner Rick Tramonto stopped by our dinner to say hello. Oh, plus we got a tour of the kitchen and a bonus dessert while we were there.

I promise to post more often now that summer is over!! I have a million tomatoes to be creative with!!

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