Monthly Archives: June 2012

Salsa! Cha cha cha. Perfect for all those tomatoes you can’t seem to pick fast enough!

It’s farmer’s market season…! Hoorah! Sadly, I have to report that there are no farmer’s markets nearby the Ryan and I, so I am stuck buying grocery store produce. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But that doesn’t stop me from making a kickass batch of homemade salsa.

Last week, for about three days, hell itself came to Maryland and we reached ridiculous temperatures of over 100 degrees with the heat index (don’t laugh, midwesterners, I’d take your dry heat over our 105 heat index with 88% humidity any day). As soon as I would walk outside, the air would get heavy and all of my clothes would stick to me. I couldn’t even get my hair dry with a blowdryer. Oh humidity, how you make my life miserable.

As you can imagine, this meant that the last thing I wanted to do was freaking cook hot food. I did, because dinner is pretty essential, but I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted something light, cool and snacky that wasn’t a salad. I also managed to get all of my canning supplies back from my Mom, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to make some salsa! A friend of mine moved this past weekend and I wanted to give him a pint as a housewarming gift. I also wanted to punch him because, dude, move in the fall..it’s bloody hot!

Anyway, I found a highly recommended recipe online at Food.com and decided to get to work. To find the original recipe, click here.

So one trip to the store later, here we are:

You will need: 6 pint jars, washed and dried. 10 cups tomatoes (I used vine tomatoes and big boy tomatoes..I think), five cups onion (I used red and yellow), 2.5 cups seeded bell peppers (one of each color for …color!), 2.5 cups of hot peppers (I had 1 pablano, I actually had 5 jalapenos and I ended up grabbing 2 habaneros..still not enough kick, either. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ), 3 cloves minced garlic (you know us, I used like 5), 3 tsp of salt, Cilantro (I used an ungodly amount because I’m a cilantro freak) and I added the juice of 2 limes. I also added some cayenne and cumin while the pot was cooking because, what the heck?

I forgot to add them to my photo, but you will also need a 6 oz can of tomato paste and 1.25 cups of cider vinegar – I backed down to 1 cup because I read that the cider vinegar can make the salsa too sweet.

If you’ve never canned anything before, it’s a super fabulous idea (and kind of the rule) to warm your jars in the oven at 200 degrees in about 3-4 inches of water. This helps the jars not crack when a) hot food is poured into them and b) they are dunked into boiling water in a water bath canner.

The same should be done for the lids – sadly, I had to use my two bread pans with 3 sets of lids each because my small brownie pan was compromised by some fudge I thought I’d try – it wasn’t that good, but don’t let chocolate or peanut butter go to waste, you know?

Be ready – if you’re doing this on your stove, the water bath canner will need a LOT of water, and therefore take a LONG time to heat…it takes a lot of energy to bring that much water to a rolling boil, so get fire under it early. On the other burner, I have a 5 quart pot I brought to a boil and then next to that is a bowl of ice cold water.

Blanch your tomatoes in boiling water for 1-3 minutes each until the skin has cracked.

Once the skin is popped, dunk the tomato into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. The split skin makes the tomatoes easy to peel.

Peel all of your tomatoes and set them aside to cool.

In the mean time, I chop and set aside your bell peppers, jalapenos, pablano, habanero, onions, garlic, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl.

A word to the wise – wear gloves when you work with peppers. The oils will give you the equivalent of chemical burns on your skin if you are not used to working with them.

Finally, chop your tomatoes and add them, all of your veggies, salt and the cider vinegar to a pot and allow to simmer to the desired consistency (I let mine simmer down quite a bit, as I like my salsa thicker).

Once your salsa is the desired consistency, stir in the 6 oz can of tomato paste. Then, add the salsa to the warmed jars and wipe the rims of the jar before putting on the lid and tightening the neck band. Note to self: I need a funnel. That made a hot mess.

Either turn your heat down or pour ice cold water into your water bath canner to allow the water to cool enough to add the jars without shattering them. Add each jar to the water bath and then bring the water back to a boil. Process at a rolling boil for 15 minutes – do NOT start the timer for the 15 minutes until your water has reached a constant, rolling boil.

Remove your jars and allow to sit and cool for 24 hours. Test the seals to make sure they took. Then, go buy some tortillas and tear it up, this salsa is beyond yummy!

**Since you’re working with such a large batch of liquid, if you want a kick in your salsa, feel free to add any kind of peppers you like – I will definitely be adding more habaneros to this next time!**

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110 Calories…In a Pancake!

Maniacal lauuuuuuuugh, maniacal lauuuuuuuuugh!

^———– Isn’t this like the coolest movie clip ever? xD I love the Muppets.

Anyway, yep, I did it. As part of my low calorie quest, this morning, I fiddled around with my Maw Maw’s pancake recipe. I know, sacrelig to my family tradition, but I wanted to see what I could pull off for substitutes in my cooking. Since pancakes are quick and easy to throw together, and since I figured if I screwed them up I could always scramble a couple of eggs, I was very gung-ho in my attempt to change the recipe around.

If you’ll remember, my pancake recipe calls for all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, egg, oil and milk. Pretty straight-forward, pretty typical.

This morning, I changed that to whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, Truvia, egg, applesauce and milk. Compared side by side, the calorie count is as follows:

Maw Maw’s recipe:

1 cup all purpose flour (455 calories)

1 cup 2% milk (130 calories)

2 tbls oil (240 calories)

2 tbls sugar (96 calories)

1 egg (80 calories)

Bringing the grand total to 1001 calories. With 6 pancakes, you get 166.8, or 167 since I rounded, calories per pancake.

Now my changes:

1 cup whole wheat flour (440 calories)

1 cup 2% milk (130 calories)

2 & 1/2 tsp Truvia (0 calories)

2 tbls of unsweetened applesauce (30 calories)

1 egg (80 calories)

Bringing the grand total to 680 calories. With 6 pancakes, that is 113 calories per pancake.

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Did we notice a difference in the taste? Of course, but it wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t taste like anything other than a whole wheat pancake. The substitutions also didn’t affect the the texture or consistency of the pancakes or the batter, which was a nice surprise. I’ve never cooked/baked with applesauce before, so I was under the impression that it might make my batter more watery. That, however, was not the case, and I’m exited to move on to more experiments.

The Ryan liked the pancakes very much and asked me, “What did you do different?” When I told him, he just said “Cool” in between bites. He was pretty impressed when I told him how many calories were in each pancake also. Coincidentally he decided to eat 4. No syrup, just pancakes. I had two of them with a couple tbls of Log Cabin Lite (which was probably like 50 calories of syrup or so), which means my two pancake breakfast was 276 calories – enough to have a nice cup of coffee and an egg alongside. ๐Ÿ™‚

One thing I did notice is that Truvia has a bit of an aftertaste, like you may experience with Aspartame. That’s nothing my cup of coffee didn’t fix, though.

So happy Saturday! Enjoy your breakfast! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The Quest for Less: Calories

Evening, everyone! Yet again another post without food in it..well, without cooking instructions, at least. Not that I’m not cooking us dinner, on the contrary, I totally am. I’m just not cooking anything amazing. Last night I made broccoli and chicken with packaged alfredo sauce. Why? Because I swear if I eat another bowl of rice I am going to scream. The Ryan is still on his low calorie kick, and I have been trying my hardest to come up with a 400 calorie or less meal for dinner, but yesterday, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I have been staring at the unused pastas hanging out in our pantry taking up space for weeks, so yesterday, enough was enough and I made pasta..Calories be damned!

“But why do you even eat so much rice anyway?” I can hear you saying it now. The Ryan wants a starch in his food, and I can completely measure and control the amount of rice he gets (therefore controlling the amount of calories he gets) and he wins with his starchy side. I will also do potatoes, or just plain veggies. I was hoping to be able to adapt some quinoa and lentils into our diet and cut out a bit of the meat calories while still holding the protein, but according to the Ryan, quinoa “tastes like ass.” So that became a big fat “nevermind.”

I am also plagued with my desire to bake bake bake my little heart out (you can thank Jessica for this curse!) and we all know that nobody in their right mind can eat just one cookie. I actually baked more oatmeal raisin cookies and worked them out to be anywhere between 80-107 calories per cookie depending on the cookie’s size. Fine, if you can eat just one or even two..otherwise, forget it. I will actually be taking a bag of cookies to work with me for our new intern tomorrow. She’s excited to help us rid ourselves of these cookies, and we’re happy to oblige.

So I now find myself in a dilemma – what on earth do I cook that isn’t repetitive and boring but that is 400 calories or less (per meal…3 a day)? Breakfast and lunch are sorted, and I’m cool with that. But dinner has been endless chicken and rice, pork and rice, beef and rice, stir fry this, stir fry that…on and on and on forever. I picked up some tilapia, lamb and shrimp today to sort of mix it up a bit, so that will help me. But I’ve been finding myself researching substitutes for sugar, substitutes for eggs,ย  oil, you name it, I’m looking it up. Anything to afford me the ability to make my favorite foods and have healthy treats without the added calories. Someone brought peanut butter cookies in to work yesterday and they were 130 cals a cookie. I had three. 390 calories and one meal’s allotted calorie count later, I was feeling the guilt. (But they were just so yummy!!)

And what can I bake?? Nothing. Or so it seems. Which has led me to do some research (and purchase yet another cookbook) into substitutes I can use in cooking and baking to cut down on the calories. I have also been researching Stevia, which is the only non-artificial no/low calorie sweetener out there, and am intending to attempt to bake some scones using stevia + sugar free applesauce as a sub for the sugar in the recipe.

Thus far, I found a good amount of tips and tricks on some subs for common items I use in my kitchen, so I figured I’d list them here for you:

– Instead of oil, use nonstick cooking sprays – they even have butter flavored (though it smells like butter, we tried it on some popcorn once..gross!!).

– For baking, instead of oil or butter, you can replace up to half of the fat with applesauce or prune puree.

– Instead of oil for dressings, use flavored vinegars like balsamic or raspberry.

– Broths and stocks are calorie free but add flavor.

– Instead of sour cream, use plain, non-fat yogurt. (We eat a lot of Greek yogurt in this house.)

These are just the things I would sub in our house – for the entire list of substitutions, click here.

While I was researching, I found some great links to information about stevia and how to use it as a replacement for sugar. A couple of sites that I liked the most and found most informative were ReplaceSugar.com and Family Fresh Cooking. FFC is actually a blog, and she goes into great detail about how/why she made the switch to sugar-free, how she uses different forms of stevia, and she also offers recipes with stevia. I also found a product called Sunsweet Lighter Bake, which can be used to replace 3/4 if not all of the fat/calories you would otherwise get from butter in baking (it’s a butter sub..thank god because butter is 80-100 calories per tablespoon and this stuff is, instead, 35 calories per tablespoon. AND you only need half the amount of it that you would need of butter…that makes a HUGE difference!). I have not fully researched it yet, but it seems promising, and I’m keen.

To boot, I am a huge….I repeat HUGEย fan of Ranch dressing. Hidden Valley to be specific. I have been trying to eat more salads… a) because it’s summer and b) because I am really really tired of eating a sandwich every day. I can honestly say I have probably eaten a sandwich 95% of the days I’ve been to work since January. So..salad? Yes, please. While browsing Pinterest today, I actually found this recipe for homemade ranch dressing using a packet of Hidden Valley (omgosh!) dressing mix and plain, non-fat greek yogurt. And a bit of milk. And the whole jar is 255 calories….SQUEE! I think I died and went to heaven. Once I run out of the bottled stuff (yes, it’s my weakness and is SO in my fridge…=P), I am totally going to make this!

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So, long story short, I’m working on a bunch of innovative ways to save my hobby and be healthier and help the Ryan lose weight. I have been thinking of looking toward gluten free stuff, but in my preliminary googles, I haven’t found anything that suggests that gluten free flours or baking mixes or whatever they are, are any lower in calories than normal flour. And, of course, I’ve posted on Facebook to try to tap my vegetarian/vegan sources for ideas, but it hasn’t been very well received. If any of you have any successful tips, hints, comments or suggestions, I am totally open!ย  And if any of you are on a similar journey, whether for similar or different reasons, I hope that this helps and I wish you the best of luck!

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Special Olympics and Pier 1 Plates

Aloha, all! I’m sure you’ve noticed the lack of posting from me this weekend. That is because my little brother made it to the state level in Special Olympics for the state of Maryland. As you can imagine, this means that the Ryan and I have endured sweltering heat (especially today, lord have mercy it was 93 with stupid amounts of humidity) and burned our asses on dark green bleachers to cheer my brother in his competitions for the last two days.

The competitions are normally held at Towson University, but this year the athletic events were held at Coppin State University. Not a very lovely part of town, but Towson’s field and stadium are undergoing some serious renovations. At least the participants were housed at Towson, so they were safe. I am proud of my little booger, er..brother, as he won two gold medals in the 100 meter dash preliminary and the softball throw, bronze with his team in the 4×100 meter relay, and got fifth place in the 100 meter dash finals. He put his heart into all that he did, and the fact that he got to participate in the state level makes me immensely proud. ๐Ÿ™‚

Since Towson’s a good hike from where the Ryan and I live, between events (yesterday there were seriously 5 hours between events…v_____v), we wandered around to see what we could find. After all, Towson’s a college town. Surrounding the area are also Loyola University, Goucher College and Johns Hopkins, so there are plenty of food joints to check out and shopping to be done.

So, after avoiding being hit inside the SAME traffic circle on two different occasions (seriously, people, learn how they work!!), we finally found our way to a parking spot alongside Pier 1 Imports and Barnes & Noble. Why I don’t have an unlimited credit card to purchase all manner of everything in Barnes & Noble is beyond me, but I digress.

I found this super cute serving plate on clearance in Pier 1 from $40 down to $10, and my mom decided to buy it for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ So I was pretty happy! Now The Ryan has something legit to take cupcakes, cake and cookies to work on (before it was plastic bags or multiple dinner plates..heh)! Lestat, of course, had to inspect it as soon as it arrived (in case it had food on it and he wasn’t informed) and while he was upset, he approved of the super adorable flowers. The Ryan and I spent too much money on books in B&N, we rounded out the day with some frappuccinos at Starbucks (caramel, yum!), and went back to the grounds for the remainder of the competition. Lather, rinse and repeat today, but 10 degrees hotter and minus more shopping, and you’ve got my weekend in a nutshell.

We are now caught up on grocery shopping, and catching up on laundry and some much needed time in the air conditioning of our apartment. Phew!

Look for some new posts this upcoming week!

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Improv is Fun: Stuffed Bell Peppers

I figure that any time I want to improv something I meant to blog (but got too carried away on something else during prep time), and any time I spend the majority of the meal making things up as I go, I should just do an Improv is Fun post. Because you don’t always have to follow a recipe, and sometimes it’s better to just use up what you have instead of run out to the store to buy XY or Z. Especially if you’re a college student like myself, where money is tight – I love what I do in the kitchen, but there are just times I don’t want to run out and buy a whole slew of ingredients on a long grocery list..and I can’t always afford to, either. To me, it’s better to buy staples and always have them on hand to make a large variety of meals without having an exotic variety of ingredients.

A number of the things I keep in my house most of the time are bell peppers, onions, and tomato paste/sauce/puree, and bouillon. Why? Because tomato bases are cheap and they’re handy in pretty much any situation. Bouillons can flavor stuff and be used in many sauces and soups. Onions are amazing for flavor, and the Ryan and I love to toss bell peppers in stir fries or pastas. I also try to keep at least a pound of ground <insert meat kind here, I normally have a bunch> for pastas, meatballs, whatever.

So last night I decided that instead of doing my normal bell peppers in a stir fry routine, I’d switch it up a bit and make stuffed bell peppers to use up the rest of the mozzarella cheese that was hanging out in our fridge and use up the ground beef we’ve had hanging out in the freezer for a while.

I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com and was sold – it had beautiful ingredients and sounded much less boring than the traditional “rice and beef and tomato sauce” I was seeing everywhere.

Sadly, in the midst of baking cookies, the Ryan texted me that he was on his way home from work and I realized I hadn’t even worked on dinner at all apart from thawing out the ground beef. So I hurriedly started working and then went “D’oh! I didn’t prep this or take pictures!” With dinner and cookies going on, I didn’t really have the counter space for it anyway.

Here, you can see I topped the bell peppers and scooped them out. I minced some celery and carrots and the tops of the bell peppers, which is what you see in that little white dish. I also had some fresh parsley. For the list of ingredients, I would recommend using the recipe I linked above to make your own bell peppers, as I scaled mine dramatically to fit only two peppers.

I cubed four slices of bacon and sauteed it, half a pound of ground beef, and the peppers, celery and carrots in a sauce pan until the veggies were soft and the meat was brown. I also pressed four cloves of garlic into the mixture for extra aroma and taste.

At the same time, I cooked a quarter cup of rice.

And I par boiled my hollowed out bell peppers for three minutes before removing to a shallow baking dish to cool and wait for the stuffing.

Next, I poured a cup of tomato sauce into the pan. The recipe called for marinara sauce, but since I didn’t have any, I added a quarter cup of wine, minced onion, garlic powder, two bay leaves, some smoked paprika (for shiggles), salt and pepper to the mix. It also called for you to melt in Parmesan cheese, but since I didn’t have any, I instead melted in a couple handfuls of mozzarella.

Next, I added a generous heaping of chopped fresh parsley and about 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes.

Finally, I added my cooked rice, stirred it all to combine, and let the mixture simmer until the moisture was almost fully absorbed.

In the baking dish I’d set aside with the peppers, I stuffed the mixture into the hollow shell of the peppers until it was almost overflowing.

I then topped them with the remaining mozzarella cheese and drizzled a little bit of olive oil on top.

I baked them at 375 for half an hour (30 min) and then removed them from the oven and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Look at that lovely golden brown of the cheese!! /swoon.

And that was last night’s dinner. It was deeeeelicious and the Ryan ended up eating some of mine to boot! As well as about 15 cookies! I recommend you make these soon! โค

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Keepin’ with the Cookies: Oatmeal Raisin

Keeping with the “use what you’ve got” theme that A Lot On Your Plate is using for her cookie bake-off this week, I decided to bake some more cookies. I am not entering these – I did that with the loft house. Though, truth be told, I should’ve entered these because they were much more tasty and soooo much easier.

But the real reason that I made them is because I am slowly accumulating more kitchen stuff than I have space for, and playing Legos in my cabinets and pantry just wasn’t an option anymore. So…what are the things that I have in my cabinets that I neverย use? Rolled oats. I made the cardamom blondies twice…in like 3-4 months. I know it’s a good source of fiber and good for your heart, but oatmeal just does not appeal to me. BUT! Disguising it in the form of cookies almost makes me believe that I’m feeding myself something moderately healthy. After all, there are raisins too, right?

Three cups of rolled oats in this recipe and I can kiss the rest of that huge container of Quaker goodbye. I also decided that I will be making cupcakes with the remainder of my cake flour and pastry flour – I only have one cup of cake flour left…=( Not much to do a whole lot of anything with, and lord knows I only used the pastry flour once. So I might as well improvise! My poor pantry is suffering.

And hey, oatmeal raisin cookies areย  nice reminder of your childhood and they’re delicious so what have you got to lose? I think, though, that the Ryan and I may just keep these here in our cookie jar and nom on them throughout the remainder of the week. The recipe I found is especially delicious, as it calls for the addition of cloves. It gives the cookies a nice different element. I adapted the recipe from Beth’s Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that I found on Allrecipes.com.

So, let’s get baking and get rid of these oats!!

Ingredients: Baking Soda (1 tsp), Sugar (1/2), Ground Cloves (1/2 tsp), Rolled Oats (3 cups), Eggs (2), Butter (1 stick/1 cup, softened), Light Brown Sugar (1 cup, packed), Vanilla Extract (1 tsp), All Purpose Flour (1 & 1/2 cups), Raisins (1 cup), Salt (1/2 tsp), Ground Cinnamon (1 tsp)

In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and butter.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

Gradually mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, combining thoroughly. Then, stir in oats and raisins (I forgot to get a pic..oops!).

On a cookie sheet, drop your dough for cookies!

Bake for 9 minutes, then remove and cool for 3-5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Enjoy your cookies!! The Ryan has been eating them nonstop since he got home tonight. As a matter of fact, he just walked around the corner with one. So make sure you get enough for yourself or make a double batch!!

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Lofthouse At Home: Cookies!

Lofthouse Cookies: You know the kind I’m talking about, even if you don’t know what they’re called. That was me up until about a month ago when my adorable baking enthusiast buddy Jessica saw Mother Thyme’s blog and flipped out that, “OMG SHE HAS LOFTHOUSE COOKIES!!! OMG OMG I HAVE TO BAKE THEM!!!”

No joke. That’s Jessica.

I don’t know if she ever baked them. She’s a Pinterest freak and last I saw, she probably had a million baking recipes pinned. To top it off, she has been on a S’mores kick lately, and she’s completely into baking stuff of that nature. I’m waiting for her next Friday off because she always seems to bake things on her long weekends.

But before Jessica’s spaz attack, I had seen (and eaten) dozens of Lofthouse cookies in the grocery stores and at parties. Hell, I’d even bought them to take to parties on a last minute whim. (That awkward moment when you’re heading out the door and your relative says “Don’t forget to bring your dessert!” Oops..) I just wasn’t aware that they were named “Lofthouse” cookies.

Look familiar? That pretty plastic package that promises way more calories than you should intake in a single day, but they’re just oh so pretty and oh so delicious you can’t resist them…and they’re so soft and moist and…yum.

So, once I put two and two together and realized what Lofthouse cookies were and realized I can make them at home (for cheaper than it is to buy a package, I’d wager), I, too, had a spaz attack and got extremely excited. I’ve been looking for an excuse to use the rest of my cake flour lately, so the fact that this recipe uses it was perfection! And I had some Duncan Hines frosting hanging out in my house for the future cupcakes I plan to bake..so I just used that instead of the actual frosting recipe (however I linked the recipe above, and you can make your own frosting if you’d like). You can never use all of your icing, whether homemade or not, on icing cupcakes or cookies, so it works out. Otherwise I’m notorious for sneaking a spoonful here or there…which is SOOOOOOOOO bad for me!

But enough about my bad habits, let’s bake some cookies!

Ingredients: Cake Flour (3 cups), Baking Powder (3 tsp), Salt (1/2 tsp), Butter (1 cup/2 sticks – room temp), Eggs (2), Sour Cream (2 tbls), Vanilla Extract (1 tsp), Sugar (1 cup)

In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, salt and baking powder. Set it aside.

In a larger bowl, add sugar and butter.

Cream together sugar and butter until fluffy.

Next, add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.

Then, add the vanilla and sour cream. Mix well to incorporate.

Gradually add flour mixture until combined.

Chill your finished dough in the fridge for at least an hour. I took the time to watch more Holmes on Homes with the Ryan (and give myself more home buying anxiety!!). That show is terrifying and incredible all at once.

When the dough is ready, line your cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using flour on your hands if necessary, roll the dough into balls and press flat on the cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 for approximately 10 minutes. Cool on a wire cooling rack.

I cheated and used Duncan Hines Cream Cheese frosting because I didn’t want to make my own. Sometimes I get lazy. Also, the Confectioner’s Sugar would’ve made a big mess I wasn’t in the mood to clean. ๐Ÿ™‚

We clearly had to test one to make sure it turned out well (and ouch – see the bandaid? Left the chef’s knife in the sink and then did dishes…Derp!); Clearly cookies are desired by everyone in this house.

All done! I stuck these guys on a plate and popped them in the fridge to let the icing harden. The Ryan and I both sort of..snuck into the kitchen and stole a few, though. They were sooo delicious! And easy to make at home!

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