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Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Collard greens

With St. Patrick’s Day just behind us and spring knocking at the door, I can’t think of a better time to talk about greens than right now. As the world comes to life again (or at least my corner of the world here in Wisconsin) after an eternally cold winter, the spring season offers up some of nature’s most nutritious and attractive foods: colorful, vibrant greens.

I’m in love with them. And for good reason. Green produce is packed with nutritional benefits, cancer-fighting compounds, vitamin and mineral rich chlorophyll, and fiber. More and more health experts, natural doctors, nutritionists, and even celebrities are waving the “eat your greens” banner. But if you’re still not convinced, here are five more reasons I’ve pulled from various sources to get you piling greens on your dinner plate:

  1. “Fruits and vegetables have yet another disease-fighting weapon to offer you: Lutein. Studies show this carotenoid prevents and, to some extent, reverses vision loss, immune system problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. With that in mind, load up your plate with foods high in lutein — carrots, corn, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, red peppers, dill, parsley, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and red, blue and purple fruits.” Read the rest of the article on lutein’s benefits here at Natural News. 
  2. Love your liver and feed it greens! They are especially helpful in the body’s detoxification process. Ali over at

    Kale (lacinato variety)

    The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen posted a great summary of liver supportive nutrition here. There’s also a wonderful green smoothie recipe to help you use up all of spring’s abundant greens!

  3. Kale has long been considered a “power food” because of it’s rich source of vitamins A and K, carotenoids, sulforaphanes (antimicrobial substances that can combat tumor growth), iron, and calcium. For a comprehensive guide on kale’s nutritional breakdown, how to buy and cook it, and some wholesome recipes, click here.  
  4. Spinach “tops the list, along with other green leafy vegetables, as a food most eaten by people who don’t get cancer,” writes Dr. Ed Bauman in the the book Recipes and Remedies for Rejuvenation. Spinach is “a super source of antioxidants and cancer antagonists, containing about four times more beta-carotene and three times more lutein than broccoli.” High in fiber, spinach also helps lower blood cholesterol, Bauman says. To preserve the most nutrients, eat spinach raw or lightly cooked.
  5. Pack a nutritional punch with parsley. Loaded with vitamin C, iron, copper, and manganese, parsley is an excellent blood purifier. It also is high in antioxidants and may help stimulate brain cell activity. “While parsley is a wonderfully nutritious and

    Baby spinach and parsley

    healing food, it is often under-appreciated. Most people do not realize that this vegetable has more uses than just being a decorative garnish that accompanies restaurant meals. They do not know that parsley is actually a storehouse of nutrients and that it features a delicious green and vibrant taste.” Read more about parsley here at WH Foods.

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As a greater variety of greens becomes available with the new season, I’ll be testing and tasting plenty of recipes in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled as I may post a few of my favorite green recipes here soon!

This post is linked up to Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade.

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Photo courtesy of Brianna Tittel

Welcome to the fifth and final week of the 5 Pantry Essentials series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ingredient spotlights, nutrition info and recipes over the past five weeks. Here’s a recap of the ingredients covered so far:

   Week One: canned salmon (Salmon-Potato Cakes) 

   Week Two: quinoa (Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado)

   Week Three: black beans (Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa)

   Week Four: onions (Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Dip)

And finally, week five: olive oil.

In cooking I use olive oil so frequently I almost forget I’m using it, as I think most people do. And it is for this reason that olive oil is so indispensable and essential to every cook’s pantry. It’s that underlying ingredient that we’re ever dependant upon…and rightfully so. Here’s why. 

 

Nutrition Spotlight

  • Antioxidant power. Here’s a bit of info regarding the antioxidants in olive oil excerpted from Natural News: “For starters, olive oil – particularly extra virgin olive oil - is very high in antioxidants, one in particular called DHPEA-EDA. When researchers exposed red blood cells under oxidative stress to this and other antioxidants, they found that the DHPEA-EDA provided the best ‘stress-alleviation,’ if you will, fighting off the free radicals to a greater extent than the three other antioxidant compounds used in the study.”
  • Get healthy and stay young with olive oil. Centuries ago, olive oil was first used on the body, not in it. Olive oil was used as a massage oil by ancient olympians, a hair softener and nail strengthener by people of royalty, and a cure for hangovers and aching muscles by physicans. It was not until many years later that people discovered the amazing culinary benefits of olive oil. Packed with vitamins A, D, E, and K, “liquid gold” (as some people refer to it) is thought to slow down the aging process as well.
  • Aid absorption. Some studies have indicated that by consuming a healthy fat such as olive oil with foods rich in antioxidants such as lycopene or lutein, the absorption of those compounds is improved. Try enjoying a spinach salad (lutein) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil or adding a splash to tomato sauce (lycopene) for increased absorption.
  • Extra virgin all the way. Choose extra virgin olive oil for all cooking purposes instead of virgin or light olive oil. The extra virgin variety ensures the best quality and taste as it is made directly from whole olives and only through mechanical processes (no chemicals used in processing). Make sure the label reads “first cold pressed” as well. This indicates that the oil in the bottle was extracted from the first press of whole olives, not a second or third press made from already mashed olives.

 

What Makes it Essential

Like I said, olive oil is one of those ingredients that sneaks into my cooking so often I almost don’t even know I’m using it. How often do I just reach for the bottle by the stove and drizzle some into a pan without even thinking about it? Many times I’m just using the oil as a way to keep something (like chicken or burgers, for instance) from sticking to the pan and burning. But other times, like when I’m finishing off a pot of hearty minestrone, I drizzle in some olive oil at the end for that extra layer of richness and flavor that is so unique and delicious.

I can’t even think of making a salad dressing without olive oil. Honestly, I can’t. Every dressing I’ve made in the past six months (at least) has started with a stream of golden, glossy olive oil. Or what about pestos, dips, spreads? How would they get their smoothness without a bit of oil to get things moving? Several times I’ve forgotten to add a splash of olive oil to my hummus when I’m making it and boy, can you tell a difference. Without the oil, it really lacks something. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly—but the oil is a must.

From searing meat and fish to whipping up sauces and spreads to whisking together dressings and vinaigrettes, olive oil is simply a necessity in every cook’s pantry. Like last week’s ingredient, I think olive oil takes a back seat in the kitchen sometimes. But when you stop to think about it, olive oil is one of the most foundational and central elements to all of cooking.

Check out this book, The Passionate Olive: 101 Things to Do with Olive Oil, for more information on the history and uses of olive oil. It’s a fun little book with some tasty recipes as well.

 

The Recipe

I could have posted about 90% of my recipe collection here since olive oil shows up in so many of them! Instead of creating the longest blog post in all of history, however, I decided to feature a recipe using olive oil in it’s simplest and most delicious form. Today’s recipe is for a Sweet Potato Salad with Thyme Vinaigrette. While I cook with olive oil daily and use it often for sauteing, making sauces, dressing pasta or pilaf, etc. etc., to me it is best enjoyed as a pure and uncooked vinaigrette drizzled over some type of colorful vegetable. 

When veggies are at their peak in the summertime, there’s nothing better than a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with oil and balsamic, or a bowl of steamed green beans tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, or a bunch of multi-colored beets roasted with oil and garlic in the oven until sweet and brown. I’m salivating like a labrador just thinking about it all! That’s the wonderful thing about olive oil (and vegetables, too, for that matter): there’s so many ways to enjoy it, it just never gets old.

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Sweet Potato Salad with Thyme VinaigretteServes 4

4 small-medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbs. red wine vinegar

1 tbs. water

1 tbs. Dijon mustard

2 tbs. fresh thyme leaves, minced

Salt, to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Fill a medium-large pot with about 1-inch of water. Insert steamer basket into the pot making sure that the water does not come up through the holes. Add sweet potato chunks to pot. Place over medium-high heat, covered, and steam potatoes until just tender when pierced with a fork but still holding their shape—about 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, water, mustard, and thyme until combined well. Add steamed sweet potatoes to the bowl along with salt to taste. Toss gently to combine. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or room temperature.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on pantry essentials. It’s been a blast to create recipes and write posts each week. If you have ideas for future series topics (or just single post topics) you’d like to see on this blog, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Your olive-oil-guzzling blogger,

Hallie

 

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

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Snacks for Hungry Travelers

Since we’re in the middle of “winter vacation” season, I thought I’d share some ideas for healthy snacks for hungry travelers. There’s nothing worse (for your tastebuds or your waistline) than airport or airplane food. Most of the restaurants in airports are fast food joints cranking out as many burgers in an hour as they can. Even if you can find a salad somewhere, it’s likely to be nothing more than a mound of wilty lettuce, stale croutons, and cheese…drenched in dressing, of course.

Road trip food isn’t much better. Most often the restaurants along the highway are fast food or family style places mixed in with the occasional all-you-can-eat-buffet. The last thing you need when traveling is a greasy, salty meal to zap your energy and dehydrate your body. 

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, it’s a good idea to bring plenty of food along with you to keep you well nourished and satisfied en route to your destination. You’ll feel much better when you arrive if you’ve been eating well throughout your trip. Here are a few ideas for nutritious snacks to enjoy while traveling:

  •  Nuts and dried fruit. Make your own trail mix: combine your favorite raw nuts/seeds (such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, etc.) with chopped dried fruit (such as apricots, figs, dates, or raisins). Portion into small baggies or tupperware containers for easy snacking.
  • Date balls. These treats keep well at room temperature and are filling. Try this recipe for Cranberry-Pecan Date Balls or this one for Cocoa Balls.
  • Veggies and dip. Cut up carrots, bell pepper strips, celery, and cucumbers and dip them into your favorite spread. Try this one for Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Dip. If it’s not too warm out, veggies and a non-dairy dip will keep for 4-5 hours out of refrigeration before they start to get “questionable.”
  • Boiled eggs. Pack a couple in your bag for a quick protein fix. You may want to bring a small bag or container to dispose of the shells in if you can’t find a garbage can nearby. Boiled eggs, when still in their shells, will keep for 4-6 hours at room temperature.
  • Fruit. It’s nature’s perfect snack. Complete with it’s own packaging (the peel), fruit makes a nutritious and tasty snack to bring along with you not just when traveling but also once you arrive at your destination and need snacks throughout your vacation. The easiest options to eat on the go are apples, bananas, easy-peel oranges, and containers of berries. (The berries will need to be refrigerated after a few hours, though.)
  • Rice cakes or crackers with nut butter. Another way to get a bit of protein on the go is by spreading nut butter (almond, cashew, or peanut) on rice cakes or crackers.

Wherever your travels may take you, I hope you stay healthy, well-nourished, and—most of all—that you kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself!

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Here we are at week four of the 5 Pantry Essentials series. The past few weeks have flown by with so many tasty ingredients and recipes to share. I’ve been busy testing and tasting recipes in my kitchen, trying to decide which ones to post for this series and which ones to put on the back burner to share with you at another time. My favorite so far has been the Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa from last week. It’s super flavorful and colorful….a perfect pick-me-up in the middle of winter!

This week I want to highlight a humble and often overlooked pantry ingredient, one that deserves a second-glance. Drumroll please……..onions.

 

Nutrition Spotlight

  • Heal with Onions: consumption of any foods in the Allium species (which include garlic, leeks, scallions, and onions) have strong healing abilities for major diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer of many kinds, and diabetes. Onion extract has, in some studies, also been shown to destroy tumors, tumor cells, and pathogenic growths.
  • Lower Blood Sugar: onions may have a blood-sugar lowering effect, one that is comparable to some drugs and medications given to diabetics. It is believed that the flavonoids in onions (particularly quercetin) contribute to this effect.  In addition, onions have been known to prevent blood clot formation and lower overall blood pressure.
  • Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Inflammatory: along with quercetin, onions contain other flavonoids that help to kill harmful bacteria in the body. Add onions to soups, stews, and salads in the winter months when colds and flus are at their peak to help support immunity. Not only are onions anti-bacterial, but they are also anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful for those suffering from joint pain and arthritis. Onions contain compounds that inhibit the enzymes that cause inflammation, stopping it before it starts.

 

What Makes it Essential

The lowly onion often takes a backseat role in cooking, serving as nothing more than the base of a soup stock or pasta sauce. But it’s this “behind the scenes” role that gives onions their essential quality. Have you ever tried making an onion-less marinara sauce or a pot of warming soup with no onions at all? Chances are the end result lacked a layer of flavor and depth that only onions can provide.

When you need to add some zing to a salad, nothing does the trick quite like a few rings of red onion. This time of year, when soups and casseroles frequent the dinner table, onions are an absolute must. I use them daily in my cooking and rarely start a sauce or soup without them. To keep turkey meatballs moist without adding eggs or breadcrumbs, I rely on a combination of fresh herbs and finely chopped red onion. This keeps the lean meat flavorful and prevents that dry, crumbly texture common with overcooked poultry.

The best part is that onions keep forever in a dark pantry or even in a bowl on the countertop. Eventually they’ll start to sprout if they are exposed to long periods of daylight, but it will be weeks (or probably months) before that starts to happen. They are easy to store and buy in bulk, too. In the late autumn, farmer’s markets often sell 5 , 10, or even 15 pound bags of onions for just a few dollars. Stock up while you can!

 

The Recipe

It’s hard to come up with a recipe for something other than French onion soup that really showcases onions as the star ingredient. Today’s recipe for Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip doesn’t “scream onion” at you when you take a bite but certainly does offer a layer of savory-sweetness that can only come from caramelizing onions until they begin to wilt and brown in the skillet. The onions are pureed with hearty chickpeas and some fresh herbs and lemon juice to brighten it all up, turning it into a knockout dip perfect for adding to vegetable platters, topping crostini, or serving with whole grain pita chips or flatbread for dipping.

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Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip

2 tbs. olive oil

1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt-free dried herb blend (I use Mural of Flavor from Penzey’s Spices)

1 (14 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well

1/4 cup parsley leaves

Juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until beginning to get tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook—stirring occasionally—until onions are soft, wilted, and brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes more. Stir in garlic, dried herb blend, and chickpeas; cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process onion and chickpea mixture with parsley, lemon juice, and salt and pepper until smooth and spreadable in consistency.

Can be refrigerated up to 3 days before using, although flavor is superior if used within 1-2 days. For a pretty garnish, top with a few whole chickpeas and a sprig of parsley before serving.

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Next Tuesday we’ll wrap up the Pantry Essentials series with a fifth and final ingredient, one that’s super tasty and versatile. Don’t miss it!

This post is linked up to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Fight Back Friday.

 

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Photo courtesy of Brianna Tittel

Welcome to week three of the “5 Pantry Essentials” series! You already know from the past two weeks that canned wild salmon and quinoa are two essentials to always keep stocked in your pantry. I love both of these staples and cook with them on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but today I’m bringing to you the pantry essential that is probably my favorite in this entire series: black beans.

Up until about a year ago, I avoided black beans like the plague. I’d only had them once or twice before and they were prepared in a most unpleasant way both times. A few bad black bean experiences left me scarred for years. It was sometime last spring that I decided to overcome my fear of the dreaded black bean and try them in a simple southwest salad recipe. The impressive results astounded me. I’ve been hooked on black beans ever since.

 

Nutrition Spotlight

  • Do your health a favor. In his book SuperFoods HealthStyle, Dr. Steven Pratt comments that research has demonstrated that regular consumption of beans, including black, can: lower cholesterol, fight heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, stablize blood sugar, lower obesity, relieve constipation, and lower the risk for type II diabetes. As if that’s not enough, beans are an excellent source of vegetable protein. In a study of nearly 30,000 women, it was discovered that those who ate the most vegetable protein instead of animal were 30% less likely to die from heart disease.
  • Antioxidant power. Black beans deliver just as much of the antioxidant compound anythocyanins as grapes and cranberries. Here’s the deal: the darker the bean is in color, the higher it is in antioxidant activity. And get this: the overall antioxidant level in black beans is ten times more than that of oranges! Pretty cool, huh?
  •  Fiber. Dr. Pratt goes on to say in his book that “the insoluble fiber in beans works hard to stabilize blood sugar levels. Beans provide the steady, slow-burning energy that keeps glucose levels well regulated. A stable blood sugar is helpful not only for controlling diabetes but also for weight management. Beans provide bulk with minimal calories. They fill you up, minimizing hunger and maintaining energy levels throughout the day.”

 

What Makes It Essential

The convenience factor of black beans varies greatly depending on if you’re cooking the dried beans yourself (soaking them overnight, then simmering them for several hours) or if you’re using canned beans that require just a quick rinse and drain before use. Most often I use canned beans to save time, but if you find yourself eating beans frequently and preparing large recipes, dried is the way to go. It’s much less expensive in the long run and saves on packaging. For a great guide on how to cook beans (and a great recipe!), click here

Beans are an essential source of vegetarian protein. When you’re in need of a quick protein boost for salads or stir-fries and don’t have meat on hand, beans have got you covered. So why black beans? What makes them such an essential choice over others? Well, like I mentioned above, they are the highest in antioxidant compounds and provide a great range of vitamins and minerals that’s superior to other beans. They also are smaller and more tender to bite than, say, a kidney or butter bean so they’re a great option for kids and even picky adults. 

I love to use black beans in salads or process them into a spread with some sauteed onions, garlic, and chili powder. They also enhance the texture and nutritional profile of soups and stews, which I make a lot of this time of year. In the warmer months or when you’re in the mood for a light and refreshing meal, try out these Black Bean Lettuce Wraps.

 

The Recipe

I could have posted a recipe for black bean burgers or my spicy black bean dip, or perhaps created a new variation on southwest bean salad. But instead, as I stood in my kitchen one day—housebound because of the frigid temperatures outside—my mind drifted off to sunnier, more tropical destinations. In the chill of winter, how can I bring a taste of the tropics to my kitchen table, I wondered. After a bit of tinkering around, I came up with this delicious recipe to brighten any dreary winter’s day: Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa.

Serve a colorful plate of this along with a tossed green salad for a balanced meal. You’ll want to make sure you use a ripe (but not mushy) mango for this, as an underripe one won’t deliver the desirable sweetness. If the mangos at the grocery store are more like big green rocks, so hard they could serve as doorstops, feel free to sub in pineapple. Not sure if that will provide quite the same effect, but hey….it’s February. We make do with what we’ve got, right?

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Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa – Serves 4

1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions and kept warm

2 tbs. olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 tsp. freshly grated ginger root

1 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. coriander

2 garlic cloves,  minced

1 3/4 cup black beans (canned or freshly cooked will work)

Juice of 1 orange

Salt, to taste

Handful chopped parsley

Mango salsa (recipe follows), for serving

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium. Add onion and cook 5 minutes. Add ginger, spices, and garlic. Cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add black beans and cook several minutes to heat thru. Add orange juice to pan and cook until slightly reduced, only a minute or so. Season with salt and stir in parsley.

Arrange warm brown rice on a platter and top with the black bean mixture. Spoon mango salsa over the top and serve.

 

Mango Salsa

1 mango, peeled and diced

1/4 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped small

1 clove garlic, minced

1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped small

1 small serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors combine. Any leftover salsa can be refrigerated for up to 2 days in an airtight container.

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Next Tuesday is week four of the “Pantry Essentials” series. I can’t wait to share with you another great ingredient and tasty recipe! Stop back soon!

(This post is linked to Fight Back Fridays and  Slightly Indulgent Tuesday at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.)

 

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Welcome to Pantry Essentials: Week Two! I hope you all enjoyed last week’s pantry essential post on canned salmon. Like I mentioned last week, this series is all about highlighting some key ingredients that are useful “pantry staples” to stock in your kitchen. Every week of this series I’ll be posting a recipe along with nutrition highlights and ideas for creative use for each ingredient.

Photo courtesy of Brianna Tittel

Week Two’s Pantry Essential: quinoa.

This week we’re switching gears a bit from proteins and entering into the world of whole grains. It’s a wonderful world, vast and versatile and oh-so-delicious. I cook with a wide spectrum of gluten-free whole grains on a daily basis. My old stand-by is brown rice, but I also love the texture and flavor of wild rice and millet. But right up on my list of tasty grains battling it out for the top spot is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), an ancient grain that reminds me of an earthier, more rustic version of couscous.

Nutrition Spotlight

  • Feast on fiber: like other whole grains, quinoa is a great source of dietary fiber. Diets high in fiber have been shown to prevent diverticulosis, colon polyps and cancer, and varicose veins. Fiber also reduces the risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Interestingly, because fiber slows down digestion, it also slows down the release of glucose and insulin into the blood stream. This is very helpful for people with diabetes or anyone struggling with blood sugar imbalance.
  • Protein power: According to Michael Murry, author of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and many other health-related books, “quinoa has an excellent amino acid profile…because it contains all the essential amino acids.” Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids, those that we must consume through food because our bodies cannot produce them on their own, are found almost exclusively in animal products. Certain whole grains, however, such as quinoa and buckwheat, provide all essential aminos and are therefore an excellent source of complete plant protein.
  • Gluten-free naturally: as I mentioned above, quinoa is a naturally gluten-free whole grain so it’s perfect for those of us with gluten or wheat sensitivities. Many gluten-free products out there on the market are made with refined rice flour or starches, which are void of most vitamins and minerals. Your best bet is to eat grains in their whole and natural state, not refined and milled into flour. This way the grains maintain their excellent nutritional profiles and all that fabulous fiber. Quinoa, for instance, is a super source of magnesium, manganese, vitamins E and B2, and and iron.

 

What Makes It Essential

I find quinoa to have the lightest texture and mildest flavor of all of the grains. Because of this, it pairs well as a side dish with just about anything. Tossed with herbs and citrus, a pot of quinoa becomes an easy and elegant pilaf (as you’ll see in the recipe below).Quinoa makes a lovely bed for broiled or grilled fish and complements the texture of beans well, too.

Quinoa also has a place on the breakfast menu. Cooked quinoa can be turned into a delicious porridge in a snap when you throw in a splash of almond milk, handful of dried fruit, and sprinkle of ground flaxseeds and walnuts. Unlike brown rice or millet, quinoa cooks in a flash. Only requiring about 15 minutes on the stovetop, the grains plump up in no time at all making this grain a great go-to for busy days when you need something fast.

A container of cooked quinoa will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, which makes it easy to have on hand for serving as a side dish, eating for breakfast, or even adding to soups for a textural boost at the end of cooking. On my “to make” list is this recipe for Healing Quinoa Cabbage Soup. Sounds like the perfect lunch or light supper, doesn’t it?

The Recipe

This was a tough one. I had so many ideas of what recipe to feature using quinoa that I almost posted three! Almost. But after taking a few more bites of this Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado, my mind was made up. This was the one. Each bite brought the perfect balance of refreshing herb and citrus flavors to the palette contrasted with the rich, creamy texture of beautiful avocado slices.

Try serving this as a side dish to these Marinated Chicken and Red Onion Skewers. That’s what I did and the flavors of each dish worked wonders together. Add a little oil-and-vinegar coleslaw on the side and you’ve got yourself a perfectly balanced, refreshing meal. Enjoy!

Oh, one other thing. Sorry there is no picture for this recipe. It’s not something a like to do often, post a recipe without a photo. But I’ll be honest. This was gobbled up so fast after I put it on the dinner table that I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture!

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Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado - Serves 4 as a side

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

2 cups water

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Salt to taste

1 small or 1/2 large avocado, thinly sliced

Juice of 1/2 lime

Combine quinoa with water in a pot and bring to boil over high heat on the stovetop. Reduce to very low heat, cover, and cook until quinoa has absorbed the water and the grains are plump—about 15 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and—using the fork—fold frozen peas into warm quinoa. The steam will heat them through. Fold in cilantro and season with salt to taste. Transfer to serving dish.

Top with sliced avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over the quinoa, being sure to spritz some on the avocado slices. Enjoy this dish warm or at room temperature.

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Stop on by next Tuesday for Pantry Essentials: Week Three. The featured “pantry staple” for next week has grown to become one of my favorite ingredients of all time to cook with and eat. I’ve got a tasty recipe in store that’s too good to miss!

(This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.)

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Photo courtesy of Brianna Tittel

Five weeks. Five ingredients. Five mouthwatering recipes.

I’m so excited! Today marks the first week of the five week blog series I am doing on 5 Pantry Essentials. Here’s the deal: for the next five weeks, I’ll be posting a different ingredient each Tuesday that should be stocked in every cook’s pantry. I’ll list what the ingredient is, some need-to-know nutritional information about it, what makes it an essential, and how to use it creatively. There will also be a featured recipe each week to go along with each ingredient. Ready to get started? I certainly am!

 Week One: canned wild salmon.

 

Nutrition Spotlight

  • Save your skin: salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to research presented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, omega-3s may act as a shield for the body’s cell walls, therefore preventing them from getting free radical damage. Free radical damage leads to premature aging and early wrinkle formation. Eating omega-3s in salmon, even as little as two 3-ounce servings of the fish per week, will give you a good start on combatting cell damage and saving your skin.
  • Go wild: when consuming any type of fish, it’s always important to choose wild-caught whenever possible. Studies have indicated that farm-raised salmon can have up to 11 times more chemicals and pollutants in it than wild salmon. One study revealed that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, which the Department of Health and Human Services has determined are cancer-causing carcinogens) are up to 10 times higher in farm-raised fish than wild-caught. The wonderful thing about canned salmon is that it’s almost always wild. Be sure to scour labels just in case, though. If it’s not clearly stated that the salmon is wild Pacific or Alaskan fish, don’t buy it. Call the manufacturer first to double-check.
  • Protein: salmon is a super source of protein, which may help to curb carb cravings and decrease the appetite when eaten in proper amounts. Whether you choose to have a scoop of salmon salad atop a bed of greens for lunch or enjoy a bit of canned salmon with some whole grain crackers for a snack, it packs a big protein punch that will help you stay satisfied.

 

What Makes it Essential

If nothing else, canned salmon is very versatile. Because it flakes up easily with a fork into bite-sized pieces, canned salmon is perfect for…

  • Topping salads in a pinch
  • Adding to fritattas or omelets for added protein and flavor
  • Combining with a little plain yogurt and lemon juice for a quick salmon spread
  • Mixing with whole grain pasta and veggies for a delicious and hearty pasta salad

Stock a few cans of salmon in your pantry for days when you need a quick protein to go to for lunches or dinners. Good quality canned wild salmon is widely available in markets across the country such as Whole Foods, but here’s another source available for purchase online.

 

The Recipe

Today’s recipe features canned salmon in these delicious Salmon-Potato Cakes. They are kind of like crab cakes (except with salmon, of course), but contain no gluten or dairy. Serve these up with a tossed vegetable salad for a light and nutritious supper or lunch. If you can tolerate dairy, they would be tasty topped with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and a sprig of parsley for garnish.

Come to think of it, these cakes would make a lovely addition to a breakfast or brunch buffet as well. You could even experiment with serving them as a healthy appetizer at parties (hint, hint: Super Bowl!).

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Salmon-Potato Cakes – Makes 8 small cakes

2 small (or 1 large) Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into cubes

2 tbs. olive oil, divided

Pinch of salt

1 14-oz. can wild salmon (or 2 6-7 ounce cans), drained, skin removed, flesh flaked with a fork

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 tbs. parsley, finely chopped

3 tbs. scallions or red onion, finely chopped

1 tbs. ground flaxseed meal

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Lemon wedges (optional), for serving

In a small pot, cover potato cubes with cold water and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cook until tender when pierced with fork, 10-15 minutes. Drain and—using a fork—mash potatoes with 1 tbs. olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place 7 tablespoons of potato mixture in a large mixing bowl. (Reserve any remaining potatoes for another use.)

To potatoes in mixing bowl add salmon, egg, parsley, scallions, flaxseed, and pepper. Mix well until all ingredients are combined and cohesive. Form the mixture into 8 patties of equal size. (To get evenly sized patties, divide mass of salmon mixture into quarters. Then divide each quarter in half to form one patty.) Chill salmon cakes in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

Heat remaining tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet or griddle pan. Add salmon cakes and cook 4-5 minutes per side until golden. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

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Be sure to stop by next Tuesday for Pantry Essential #2. You won’t want to miss it! Until then, enjoy your salmon cakes and omega-3s!

(This post is linked up to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Fight Back Friday.)

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Sayonara, Sweet Tooth!

Ever wonder how to tame that ravenous sweet tooth that aches inside your mouth? All too often, we turn to cookies, candy bars, and desserts to satsify our hankerings for the sweet stuff. But those cookies and candies are usually laden with refined sugar, white flour (which is so refined it pretty much just turns to sugar in our bodies anyway), and low-quality oils. Not to worry, though. In this post, I hope to provide you with some simple but successful strategies to say “sayonara” to your sweet tooth once and for all!

In order to stop a sweet tooth before it starts, protein is a pretty big factor. Let’s start with some basics. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. Believe it or not, amino acids (or Double-A’s, as I often call them) actually balance certain chemicals in our brains. When those chemicals get out of balance—which occurs when protein intake is too low and all of the essential amino acids are not being supplied—then cravings can start to kick in. There’s a very interesting book on this topic (and many other topics) called The Diet Cure by Julia Ross. It’s super informative and very reader-friendly. I would highly recommend it for anyone struggling with strong carb cravings, candida issues, or adrenal fatigue.

So that’s tip number one. To fight carb cravings and stop your sweet tooth before it starts, get enough protein! The best sources of protein come from lean meats like pasture-raised chicken and turkey, grass-fed beef and wild fish. Beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds also supply an excellent source of plant protein along with a hearty dose of fiber.

If you don’t beat your sweet tooth before it arrives, here are some other tips to help you make the best choices when your craving feels out of control:

  • Go for fruit: it’s amazing how sweet seasonal fruit can be. Enjoy fresh fruits like apples, pears, and oranges or even a bowl of thawed frozen berries over sugar-laden desserts. Sprinkle your fruit with a bit of cinnamon, which helps to balance blood sugar levels. Add a few chopped walnuts or toasted slivered almonds on top and you’ve got yourself a nutritious and sweet snack.
  • Drink water: next time you get a sweet tooth, try drinking a big glass of water. This works 90% of the time for my cravings. So often I think I’m hungry for a sweet treat but really, I’m just thirsty.
  • Enjoy your favorite sweets on occasion: you read that right. By allowing yourself to enjoy a slice of pie (one small slice!) or bowl of ice cream (one small bowl!) or whatever your favorite indulgence is on occasion, you’ll avoid the risk of depriving yourself for too long and then binging on a whole box of chocolates or an entire pint of ice cream. I’m not suggesting you treat yourself to a sweet every night or go out for ice cream a few times a week by any means. Instead, adopt the 90/10 method. Eat well 90% of the time and live a little more loosely the other 10%.

For a few tasty recipes for guilt-free treats to quench your sweet tooth, check out these honeyed nuts, date balls and cocoa balls that taste like truffles. I kid you not!

(This post is linked to Fight Back Friday.)

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5 Easy Health Tips

I recently read an article in Body & Soul Magazine that listed 50 ways to stay healthy in the coming year. Tips ranged from eating more ginger (to combat congestion) to rubbing your temples with peppermint oil (to tame tension headaches) to sniffing rosemary (to impove mental clarity).

Below I have compiled a “Top Five” list of my favorite tips featured in the article. They’re super-simple, but pack a big punch when it comes to healthy living. 

  1. “Get a good pair of sneakers. Is your energy lagging? Though it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re tired, exercise–even a brisk walk–can be more effective than a nap or cup of coffee at fighting fatigue.”  I really do think this one works. The last time I was feeling drowsy mid-afternoon, I set out on a quick walk around my neighborhood and arrived home feeling energized and alive again.
  2. “Embrace bitters. Combat a yen for sugar by following a Chinese medicine approach: eat foods like endive, radicchio, cooked greens, and olives.”  Now this one I can do! The foods mentioned in this tip lend themselves to a host of different recipe adaptions that are pretty tasty. As a matter of fact, I think I have a few recipes somewhere in my file drawers featuring both radicchio and endive. (Yep, I  just checked. Balsamic Radicchio and Walnut Salad or Caramelized Endive, anyone?)
  3. “Make small talk. Engaging in casual conversation with others may help keep you as sharp as doing a word puzzle, according to some studies. Just 10 minutes of daily chatter appears to improve mental function and clarity.”  Finally, a reason to justify the hour-and-half-long phone conversations I have with my sister a few times a week!
  4. “Have some honey. Research suggests that honey may be more effective than over-the-counter cough syrup at quelling nighttime coughing.”  For a few of my favorite recipes using a drizzle or two from the honey jar, click here or here or here. What can I say? I just love honey!
  5. “Eat broccoli. For healthy gums, put this green vegetable on your grocery list. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C and provides calcium as well, both of which have been linked to lower rates of periodontal disease.”  (More info on the benefits and uses of broccoli here.)

 

(This post is linked to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays.)

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Walk into any “average Joe” grocery store in this country and chances are you’re bound to be overwhelmed at some point in your shopping trip.  Take the cereal aisle, for instance.  How do you choose a cereal when there is a 30-foot long, 7-foot high row of boxes lined up in front of you, each plastered with a flashy brand name and flashier package?  Or what about all those yogurts?  Last time I went to my local grocery store, I couldn’t even count the number of tiny white containers lining the shelves.  Some were your classic “low-fat vanilla,” others claimed they were made with real fruit or had extra fiber, and still others boasted the “certified organic” seal.  You could literally spend hours scanning labels or decoding ingredient lists.

Let’s face it: we live in the land of plenty.  Or perhaps a better phrase would be: the land of choices.  Endless choices.  High-fiber yogurt, real fruit yogurt?  Granola with flax, granola with blueberries?  Low-fat mayo, olive oil mayo?  No-sugar-added jam, spreadable fruit jam?  100% whole wheat bread, 100% whole grain bread…and what, pray tell, is the difference?  I think the point is hard to argue.  In our food world today, we are bombarded with choices, options, brands, colors, flavors, styles, fat-levels, etc, etc. 

I remember hearing a story once about an African family who moved to the Chicago area from Kenya.  The wife (and primary grocery shopper) went to a large supermarket for the first time and quickly found the choices mind-bogglingly abundant.  When she went to select an apple, not just one variety was available but dozens!  “How do you choose from all these apples,” she wondered.  In the African markets she was used to, you were lucky if their would be a dozen apples there at all–no matter the variety.  (This woman ended up asking a friend to do the grocery shopping for her to spare her the overwhelming task of selecting food for her family.)

Some might argue that great variety and plentiful choices in our stores are excellent, beneficial qualities.  True, to a point.  There have been many times when I’ve enjoyed picking up fire-roasted canned tomatoes (or even fire-roasted, petite-diced canned tomatoes with garlic) for en extra flavor punch in a recipe versus the standard canned tomatoes I usually select.  I’ve also had fun experimenting with a plethora of olive oils from other regions (besides your standard Californian or Italian) that I’ve found right in the aisle of my grocery store…no gourmet market needed.  Don’t get me wrong….variety is nice.  Choices are liberating.  Options are fun.

But here’s the catch.  All these options have landed people into a heap of trouble.  Too many paths (aka: too many boxes of high-fructose-corn-syrup laden cereal or refined flour crackers or crumb topped chocolate-glazed donut holes) have led to food OVERLOAD.  We’ve all been there.  Intrigued by the packaging, you pick up a tasty-looking new brand of crackers and throw it in your cart, forgetting that you have three new flavors already at home to try.  And try them you do.  The late-night munchies get the best of you and all too fast those crackers are down the hatch and you’re at the store again picking more of them up (and this time, you buy a package of those new donut holes too). 

So what’s the remedy?  How do we remove the temptation of all those flashy products from our path?  Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but–unfortunately–we don’t.  In our culture of megamarts and convenience stores, club stores and supercenters, we just can’t remove the temptation with the snap of our fingers.  But what we can do is take a few simple steps in the opposite direction of those donut holes and empower ourselves to avoid the pitfalls of tempting grocery store aisles.  Here are five simple tips:

  1. Make a List and STICK TO IT!  When you go the store for your weekly groceries, go armed with a list.  A nice, long list of everything you’ll need to eat well that week.  (This means you’ll probably have to do some meal planning.  Read more on that here.)  Don’t buy something that’s not on your list.  If you see something that looks interesting–say, a salad dressing for instance–make a note of it and pick it up next time when you actually need salad dressing.  The idea is to use up what you have before buying more.
  2.  Shop the Perimeter.  The healthiest foods around the perimeter of the store–vegetables, fruits, bulk items like rice and dried fruit, proteins, etc.–never really change.  I mean, chicken breasts are always chicken breasts and spinach is always spinach.  They don’t make new flavors of those with added sweeteners, fats, oils, and fake ingredients (I call them the un-pronouncables).  The goal is to avoid the center aisles (snack foods, sweets, beverages, prepackaged meals, etc.) and all the health hazards they pose.
  3. Shop in the Produce Department FIRST.  When you enter the store, spend most of your time and the first portion of your shopping trip in the produce section.  I cannot tell you how many times I have lingered there forever piling my cart high with veggies, fruits, and bulk bin goodies and thinking through all the great meals I could make with them.  By the time you get to the aisles, you’ll realize you already have a ton of healthy food in your cart (which hopefully will play into your meal plan) and that you have no need for processed foods at all.
  4. Don’t Clip Coupons!  You read that right.  Unless you’re absolutely positive that you actually eat the item you’re clipping the coupon for, don’t clip it.  Many times, coupons are just a company’s creative way of getting you to buy something you don’t need (and that your waistline doesn’t need, either).  If you buy butter and you find a 2-for-1 coupon, go ahead and clip it.  But if you spot a coupon for “that brand of yogurt I’ve always wanted to try,” keep your scissors to yourself!  If you’re not eating it now, you probably can live without.
  5. Don’t Grocery Shop If Hungry.  I know this probably seems like a funny one, but it’s true!  If your stomach is rumbling and it’s been a while since your last meal, a bag of chips you don’t need or freshly baked donuts in the bakery are going to be a lot more tempting than if you’re not hungry.  Trust me….I speak from experience.  When you’re starving, you’ll literally fill your cart with whatever sounds good.  And when you’re starving, isn’t that pretty much anything edible?

So there you have it.  Five tips to help you out in this land of plenty.  If you’ve got others, I’d love to hear them so please share.

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