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Red Lentil, Spinach, & Sausage Soup

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A couple of weeks back was the first in a series of cooking classes hosted by Central Market and Cuisine for Healing kicked off with a delicious Tex-Mex theme.  My fellow class-mates and I cooked away healthy chicken tacos and tortilla soup, authenic borracha beans, and true Mexican rice. As a part of the class requirements, everything was all natural and organic- per CFH Certification.  With that in mind, as we cooked, topics sparked interest and questions, one of which came about after a delightful woman made the comment that she did not wash her organic produce.  The cooking instructor squirmed about the same time I did as we made eye contact.  I began to educate her and the rest of the class about the importance of washing produce.  Contrary to most consumers’ perception, it is still important to wash organic produce. Since organic crops can be fertilized with natural sources of nutrients such as animal manure, fish emulsion and plant debris, it is important to wash organic products thoroughly especially if they are to be eaten raw. Washing thoroughly can also help minimize possible traces of salmonella and E Coli- and not to mention those little friends that make their way from farm to market with the rest of the lettuce heads…

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Fast forward three days.. I was cooking up a delicious smelling batch of Turkey Lettuce Cups for one of my clients- and offered my fireman a sample (He usually hovers until I give him a taste or two.. Had to get him out of the workspace.) After 95% of his lettuce cup was eaten, he nonchalantly says to me “Amber, there is a bug.. (Last bite in his mouth at this point.)  A little green worm.. (nom, nom..chew, chew..) on my plate.” In my defense- I washed the lettuce leaf before giving to to him.  I REALLY did.  If one thing is for certain, I practice safe food handling in my kitchen.  But, clearly it did not matter to him one bit.  He never stopped chewing.  He handed me the empty plate and said- “look, there it is..that worm-thingy.  I think it’s dead now..”  Gross.  I returned to the sink and re-washed my lettuce cups to make sure not to suffer embarrassment from sending my clients ‘dirty’ food.  After reading all that- my hope is that you have understood that even though you are purchasing organic foods- it is still important to clean them up a bit after coming home from the store.

My suggestion is to consider practicing the following:

  • Wash thoroughly with slightly warm water
  • Remove the outer leaves or skins as they are usually more concentrated with pesticides

Grocery stores continue to fill their shelves with “organic” products. Though the term is often associated with better quality—and more expensive—produce and food, it can still be quite confusing to figure out which foods I should choose organic and which I should choose conventionally.   I found this excellent video on Cooking Light that may help in clearing up the cloudy fog about organic foods.  I will say that regardless of organic or conventional, fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.  Eat plenty and live well!

Here I have mixed up organic produce with some conventional ones, but you can surely enjoy all organic or or none at all- depending on your budget-worthy spending needs.  Either way- wash your veggies :)

Red Lentil, Spinach, & Sausage Soup
with Sweet Balsamic Onions

INGREDIENTS
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 sweet yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
Cooking spray
9 ounces (about 3 links) all natural sweet Italian turkey or chicken sausage, casings removed
1 organic celery stalk, diced
2 organic carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup short grain brown rice
3/4 cup red lentils
6 cups low-sodium, fat-free organic chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 whole garlic cloves
1/2 teapoon smoked paprika
5 loosely packed cups (about one bunch) organic spinach leaves, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot over meadium-high heat.  Add half of the onion, and saute until golden brown, stirring frequently.  Add in 5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, allowing to sear for about 30 seconds.  Transfer onions to a bowl for later use.

In the same pot, warm cooking spray.  Add sausage, remaining onion, celery, carrots, and thyme. Saute over medium-high heat, breaking up sausage to crumbles, until onion is translucent and sausage begins to brown, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in brown rice and lentils.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes and their juice, bay leaf, garlic cloves, and paprika.  Bring to boil.  Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice and lentils are tender, about 35-45 minutes.  Remove and discard bay leaf and garlic cloves.  (Note: I enjoy to soft cloves, so I saved the garlic cloves for my bowl! Total preference, though.)

Stir in trimmed spinach until wilted.  Season with remaining teaspoon balsamic vinegar, salt, and black pepper.  Serve with about 2 tablespoons balsamic onions.

Nutrition Information
Serve 4 (about 2 cups soup and 2 tablespoons onions, each)
Calories: 413
Fat: 12 g
Carbohydrate: 50 g
Fiber: 14 g
Protein: 28 g

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