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Robinsbite: December 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

You'd Never Know.....

To look at her, you'd never know. My friend Karla Coe-Specker, champion body builder, builds gingerbread houses.

She spends hundreds of hours and goes through layers of skin on her hands and fingers as she painstakingly adorns each chimney with chocolate covered almonds and sweet cashews. She uses tweezers to afix each gold dragee to the over turned ice cream cone that magically becomes the tree. Everything is edible-from the gingerbread cookie walkway to the icicles hanging off the rooftop. The shingles, the shredded wheat lined walkway and the nonparilels on the roof-all edible.
Her home becomes a winter wonderland in during the Christmas season-with multiple trees throughout the house, garland strung everywhere and of course, her precious gingerbread houses. She creates incredible landscapes with them; actual cities with post offices, houses, hotels, lakes, light posts and pretzeled park benches. It is a sight and something that will take your breath away.

Truly a labor a love, she donates each house to friends and family to enjoy during their holiday. I was lucky enough this year be on of her recipients. The pictures don't begin to do her craft justice...

Friday, December 19, 2008

The 20 Healthiest Foods for Under $1

The 20 Healthiest Foods for Under $1

By: Brie Cadman (View Profile)

Food prices are climbing, and some might be looking to fast foods and packaged foods for their cheap bites. But low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality. In fact, some of the most inexpensive things you can buy are the best things for you. At the grocery store, getting the most nutrition for the least amount of money means hanging out on the peripheries—near the fruits and veggies, the meat and dairy, and the bulk grains—while avoiding the expensive packaged interior. By doing so, not only will your kitchen be stocked with excellent foods, your wallet won’t be empty.

1. Oats
High in fiber and complex carbohydrates, oats have also been shown to lower cholesterol. And they sure are cheap—a dollar will buy you more than a week’s worth of hearty breakfasts.

  • A bowl of Quaker Oatmeal is less than .40 per serving. For recipes, go to

Serving suggestions: Sprinkle with nuts and fruit in the morning, make oatmeal cookies for dessert.

2. Eggs
You can get about a half dozen of eggs for a dollar, making them one of the cheapest and most versatile sources of protein. They are also a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may ward off age-related eye problems.

  • For recipe ideas and other information supporting the scientific fact that eggs (yolks and all) really-are okay to consume-no, really-I promise, go to

Serving suggestions: Huevos rancheros for breakfast, egg salad sandwiches for lunch, and frittatas for dinner.

3. Kale
This dark, leafy green is loaded with vitamin C, carotenoids, and calcium. Like most greens, it is usually a dollar a bunch.

  • Still think this is only suitable for garnish? Check out You just might change your mind.

Serving suggestions: Chop up some kale and add to your favorite stir-fry; try German-Style Kale or traditional Irish Colcannon.

4. Potatoes
Because we often see potatoes at their unhealthiest—as fries or chips—we don’t think of them as nutritious, but they definitely are. Eaten with the skin on, potatoes contain almost half a day’s worth of Vitamin C, and are a good source of potassium. If you opt for sweet potatoes or yams, you’ll also get a good wallop of beta carotene. Plus, they’re dirt cheap and have almost endless culinary possibilities.

  • All the 411 you'll need on Idaho potatoes can be found here: You can see Denise Austin, the ultra-happy fitness guru on this site, too!

Serving suggestions: In the a.m., try Easy Breakfast Potatoes; for lunch, make potato salad; for dinner, have them with sour cream and chives.

5. Apples
I’m fond of apples because they’re inexpensive, easy to find, come in portion-controlled packaging, and taste good. They are a good source of pectin—a fiber that may help reduce cholesterol—and they have the antioxidant Vitamin C, which keeps your blood vessels healthy.

  • for more info.

Serving suggestions: Plain; as applesauce; or in baked goods like Pumpkin-Apple Breakfast Bread.

6. Nuts
Though nuts have a high fat content, they’re packed with the good-for-you fats—unsaturated and monounsaturated. They’re also good sources of essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, and protein. And because they’re so nutrient-dense, you only need to eat a little to get the nutritional benefits. Although some nuts, like pecans and macadamias, can be costly, peanuts, walnuts, and almonds, especially when bought in the shell, are low in cost.

Serving suggestions: Raw; roasted and salted; sprinkled in salads.

7. Bananas
At a local Trader Joe’s, I found bananas for about 19¢ apiece; a dollar gets you a banana a day for the workweek. High in potassium and fiber (9 grams for one), bananas are a no-brainer when it comes to eating your five a day quotient of fruits and veggies.

Serving suggestions: In smoothies, by themselves, in cereal and yogurt.

8. Garbanzo Beans
With beans, you’re getting your money’s worth and then some. Not only are they a great source of protein and fiber, but ’bonzos are also high in fiber, iron, folate, and manganese, and may help reduce cholesterol levels. And if you don’t like one type, try another—black, lima, lentils … the varieties are endless. Though they require soaking and cooking, the most inexpensive way to purchase these beans is in dried form; a precooked can will still only run you around a buck.

Serving suggestions: In salads, curries, and Orange Hummus.

9. Broccoli
Broccoli contains tons of nice nutrients—calcium, vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, and fiber. As if that isn’t enough, broccoli is also packed with phytonutrients, compounds that may help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Plus, it’s low in calories and cost.

Serving suggestions: Throw it in salads, stir fries, or served as an accompaniment to meat in this Steamed Ginger Chicken with Asian Greens recipe.

10. Watermelon
Though you may not be able to buy an entire watermelon for a dollar, your per serving cost isn’t more than a few dimes. This summertime fruit is over 90 percent water, making it an easy way to hydrate, and gives a healthy does of Vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant that may ward off cancer.

Serving suggestions: Freeze chunks for popsicles; eat straight from the rind; squeeze to make watermelon margaritas (may negate the hydrating effect!).

11. Wild Rice
It won’t cost you much more than white rice, but wild rice is much better for you. Low in fat and high in protein and fiber, this gluten-free rice is a great source of complex carbohydrates. It packs a powerful potassium punch and is loaded with B vitamins. Plus, it has a nutty, robust flavor.

Serving suggestions: Mix with nuts and veggies for a cold rice salad; blend with brown rice for a side dish.

12. Beets
Beets are my kind of vegetable—their natural sugars make them sweet to the palate while their rich flavor and color make them nutritious for the body. They’re powerhouses of folate, iron, and antioxidants.

Serving suggestions: Shred into salads, slice with goat cheese. If you buy your beets with the greens on, you can braise them in olive oil like you would other greens.

13. Butternut Squash
This beautiful gourd swings both ways: sometimes savory, sometimes sweet. However you prepare the butternut, it will not only add color and texture, but also five grams of fiber per half cup and chunks and chunks of Vitamin A and C. When in season, butternut squash and related gourds are usually less than a dollar a pound.

Serving suggestions: Try Pear and Squash Bruschetta; cook and dot with butter and salt.

14. Whole Grain Pasta
In the days of Atkins, pasta was wrongly convicted, for there is nothing harmful about a complex carbohydrate source that is high in protein and B vitamins. Plus, it’s one of the cheapest staples you can buy.

Serving suggestions: Mix clams and white wine with linguine; top orzo with tomatoes and garlic; eat cold Farfalle Salad on a picnic.

15. Sardines
As a kid, I used to hate it when my dad would order sardines on our communal pizzas, but since then I’ve acquired a taste for them. Because not everyone has, you can still get a can of sardines for relatively cheap. And the little fish come with big benefits: calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. And, because they’re low on the food chain, they don’t accumulate mercury.

Serving suggestions: Mash them with parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil for a spread; eat them plain on crackers; enjoy as a pizza topping (adults only).

16. Spinach
Spinach is perhaps one of the best green leafies out there—it has lots of Vitamin C, iron, and trace minerals. Plus, you can usually find it year round for less than a dollar.

Serving suggestions: Sautéed with eggs, as a salad, or a Spinach Frittata.

17. Tofu
Not just for vegetarians anymore, tofu is an inexpensive protein source that can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. It’s high in B vitamins and iron, but low in fat and sodium, making it a healthful addition to many dishes.

Serving suggestions: Use silken varieties in Tofu Cheesecake; add to smoothies for a protein boost; cube and marinate for barbecue kebobs.

18. Lowfat Milk
Yes, the price of a gallon of milk is rising, but per serving, it’s still under a dollar; single serving milk products, like yogurt, are usually less than a dollar, too. Plus, you’ll get a lot of benefit for a small investment. Milk is rich in protein, vitamins A and D, potassium, and niacin, and is one of the easiest ways to get bone-strengthening calcium.

Serving suggestions: In smoothies, hot chocolate, or coffee; milk products like low fat cottage cheese and yogurt.

19. Pumpkin Seeds
When it’s time to carve your pumpkin this October, don’t shovel those seeds into the trash—they’re a goldmine of magnesium, protein, and trace minerals. Plus, they come free with the purchase of a pumpkin.

Serving suggestions: Salt, roast, and eat plain; toss in salads.

20. Coffee
The old cup-o-joe has been thrown on the stands for many a corporeal crime—heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis—but exonerated on all counts. In fact, coffee, which is derived from a bean, contains beneficial antioxidants that protect against free radicals and may actually help thwart heart disease and cancer. While it’s not going to fill you up like the other items on this list, it might make you a lot perkier. When made at home, coffee runs less than 50¢ cents a cup.

Serving suggestions
: Just drink it.

Although that bag of 99¢ Cheetos may look like a bargain, knowing that you’re not getting much in the way of nutrition or sustenance makes it seem less like a deal and more like a dupe. Choosing one of these twenty items, or the countless number of similarly nutritious ones, might just stretch that dollar from a snack into a meal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beans, Beans, the magical know the rest...

It's in the 20's here in Dallas tonight and that means one thing: SOUP!

I took stock of my pantry and found a few varieties of beans, tomato puree, diced tomatoes and some low sodium chicken broth. Add an onion, garlic and cumin and pepper and voila-you've got dinner. I know-you are thinking one word--all those cans= tons of SODIUM! You are correct! Be sure to rinse those beans before you add them to the dish. Rinsing removes approximately 2/3 the amount of sodium used. And, there is no need to add any salt to this dish-there is plenty with the salt from the tomaotes and the broth. If you want less salt, use 3 cups water and 3 cups low sodium chicken broth.

EASY 3 Bean Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can white beans
1 can black beans
1 can red kidney beans
1 can French style green beans
1 can tomato puree
1 small can Rotel-tomato dice with green chiles
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 T. cumin
freshly ground pepper-to taste
reduced fat shredded cheese-if desired

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Open and rinse all canned beans in a colander. Allow to beans to drain in the collander, then add to stockpot. Add 6 cups low sodium chicken broth to stock pot. Stir until mixed. Add 3 T. cumin and fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for at least an hour before serving. Ladel into soup bowls and add 1-2 T reduced fat shredded cheese, if desired.

  • Not only is the soup a nutritional powerhouse, it is virtually pennies per serving!
  • The key to getting a healthy dinner on the table is a well stocked pantry. I will replenish the items I used tonight the very next time I head to the store.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jews DO Eat Fajitas on Shabbat!

When it comes to a Shabbat dinner, anything goes. Exhibit A: Easy Chicken Fajitas were last nights sabbath meal. Delicious and simple to prepare ahead of time...

Easy Chicken Fajitas
  • Chicken breast seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes and lime juice
  • Sauteed red onion & bell pepper (Pam works well; red bells are my favorite)
  • Your favorite jarred salsa
  • Guacamole: avocado, salt and lime juice
  • Corn tortillas-warmed

Chicken Fajitas-sans cheese (Kosher) (above)
Chicken Fajitas-with cheese (non Kosher) (below)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Before there were chocolate chips...

My brother in law came across this book recently. If you know anything about Ruth Wakefield, you know that she is the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. She was also a dietitian. She and her husband owned and operated a tourist lodge called the Toll House Inn and......

In 1930, Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies for her roadside inn guests when she discovered that she was out of baker's chocolate. She substituted broken pieces of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate, expecting it to melt and absorb into the dough to create chocolate cookies. That didn't happen, but the surprising result helped to make Ruth Wakefield one of the 20th century's most famous women inventors. When she removed the pan from the oven, Wakefield realized that she had accidentally invented "chocolate chip cookies."

At the time, she called her creations "Toll House Crunch Cookies." They became extremely popular locally, and the recipe was soon published in a Boston newspaper. As the popularity of the Toll House Crunch Cookie increased, the sales of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate bars also spiked. Andrew Nestle and Ruth Wakefield decided to come up with an agreement. Nestle would print the Toll House Cookie recipe on its package, and Wakefield would be given a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate. Due to this unexpected discovery by a famous woman inventor, the chocolate chip cookie became the most popular variety of cookie in America, a distinction it still holds to this day. (

If you look closely at the ingredients, you'll see that it calls for 2 bars of semi-sweet chocolate, cut into pieces the size of a pea. Aren't chocolate chips just so much more convenient nowadays?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Extra Extra--Read all about it on December 16 in the Dallas Morning News

Food styling and food photography are truly an art in themselves. On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of spending the morning with freelance food stylist Jane Jarrell and food photog Evans Caglage of the Dallas Morning News.

I'd been asked to consult with Chef Jennifer Hood, MS, RD and students Jennifer Moss and Zack Palmer at Collin County Community College Culinary Arts Program for an article for writer Nancy Churnin, also of the DMN. The focus was on lightening up and making traditional Hanukkah foods healthier.

On the menu: Grilled Latkes, Tzimmes made with Bison and Sweet Potatoes and Nutritious Noodle Kugel.

Learning the tricks of the trade in both food styling and food photog was a blast:

1. a tiny bit of wax, placed correctly, allows for a fork handle to suspend in air for just the right look.
2. The lighting on the tzimmes was created with 4 different lighting apparatus and achieved just the right photo.
3. Top of the line cameras go for 1/4 of a million dollars--and take 4 minutes to actually shoot one photo.
4. It's all about the grill marks when it comes to styling food!
5. There is a small kitchen in the studio that holds probably close to 500 plates, bowls, platter and other houseware items that have been used over the years to create the masterpieces we readers see in pages of the Food Section of the DMN.

Truly a great way to spend my morning.
Looking forward to the finished product-
on stands 12/16/08-just in time for Hanukkah.

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