Monday, January 25, 2010

Vegetarian Bolognese

On Saturday I made my bolognese (aka MEAT sauce) I mentioned last week. But since I don't eat meat, I also made a vegetarian version. I totally winged it...and it actually turned out to be quite tasty. Here's what I did:

Jazzy's Veggie "Meat" Sauce

You will need:
  • 1 large can (14 ounces or so) chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 ounce) tomato paste
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 squash or zucchini, roughly chopped into smallish chunks
  • 1 eggplant, roughly chopped into smallish chunks
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 T butter
  • 1.5 cup white wine
  • S&P
  • slow cooker/crock pot
To make:
  1. Saute onion, celery and carrot in a skillet with EVOO until softish and fragrant
  2. Pour skillet contents into slow cooker
  3. Add tomatoes to slow cooker
  4. Add eggplant and squash, stir to combine
  5. Add milk and white wine and stir
  6. Add paste and stir
  7. Turn cooker on low and allow to heat up
  8. Once mixture is warm, stir in the butter and allow to melt throughout
  9. Make sure all eggplant pieces are below the surface/submerged in moisture
  10. Salt and pepper as desired
  11. Cook on low 6-8 hours
  12. Season with S&P to taste before serving
I cooked mine on low for about 4 hours, increased it to high for a bit and then reduced it can cook it for longer than 8 hours on low and it will probably be ok. If you can stir it once in awhile, that is desirable, but probably not necessary. You can add more liquid if you like yours thinner. I wouldn't add less, as it might burn.

If you don't want to use wine, although the alcohol cooks off, use water, stock or broth instead.

Serve over pasta, preferrably fresh or the al dente variety. My favorite is the lemon flat pasta from Trader Joe's. It adds a tang and tastes much better than dried pasta...and it's cheap. But any will do!

Finally, if you don't like squash, add other veggies instead. You can also add more carrots, celery, etc as desired. Or try adding garlic or fresh herbs. Play with it and make it your own!

New Look?

While I like the color scheme, I don't know if I love the layout of the blog. So I might be playing with some different styles and layouts.

Any suggestions? Anything you really like or don't like?

Thanks for the input!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Best Kept Secret: A Cookbook Recommendation

For those who don't know this about me, I spent years working in food service. I flipped burgers, scooped ice cream, sliced bagels, tossed pizza, catered to football players, and waited tables for over 10 years at 5 different restaurants. Needless to say, this is where I learned a lot about food and cooking prior to my formal education.

Over time I will share some of this knowledge with you, but today I will give you the best secret.

While working at my favorite restaurant gig, I used to bug the chef and cooks constantly with questions about food and cooking. They usually didn't mind...they liked that I was actually interested in what happened behind the scenes, unlike most front of the house staffers.

I don't remember why, but one on occasion I asked the chef how to make a good, I mean really good, pasta sauce, like his. He took me to the back office and showed me a cookbook called The Best Recipe. He showed me its recipe for bolognese and pointed out that each recipe was not only a list of steps and ingredients, but an explanation for why each step and ingredient was used, with some basic food science mixed in. He said this book was a great go-to when making something new or when you wanted to learn the hows and whys of cooking.

He let me borrow the book and I used it to make the best sauce I have ever tasted! I also used it to make the best homemade fries and to prepare various vegetables and dishes. It was always spot on and never disappointed me.

For some reason I didn't run out and buy my own copy. And by the time I decided to, the makers of the book had already produced a new version. So I bought the New Best Recipe. It still provides insights, background, and food science, but with different recipes or new versions. It is a great book in its own right, and I highly recommend it, but the one recipe that made me fall in love with the original, the bolognese, just isn't as good.

I don't make the bolognese very often because it takes a long time and because I don't eat meat anymore. But I love making it for friends and loved ones or on a special occasion. And I always try to get my hands on a copy of the original Best Recipe as a reference/refresher.

If you are looking for a cookbook that will teach you something AND give you the best version of a recipe, try this one. Or try one of the other incarnations: 30 Minute, Slow & Easy, Light, International, Vegetable, Skillet, etc. But if you are a new cook, get the original or the New Best Recipe. You won't be sorry!

Now I'm off to get supplies so I can spend tomorrow afternoon making some meat sauce!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Picky Eating: A Lesson From Kids

Are you a picky eater? Do you eat your veggies like you should? When was the last time you tried a new veggie or re-tried a veggie you thought you didn't like?

Today I got to teach a group of 5 year olds about veggies. After a brief lesson, I'll spare you the details, each kid got a plate of raw veggie samples to try. No one was allowed to say "I don't like that!" or "ew!" The rule was that each veggie had to touch their mouth and tongue. If they didn't like the taste, they could put it back on their plate. If they liked it, they could eat it and ask for more.

They tried:
  • Romaine leaves
  • Baby spinach
  • Baby carrots
  • A grape tomato
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Broccoli
  • Red, green, yellow and orange peppers
And you know what? Most of them ate the samples and didn't complain. Many of them cleaned their plates and asked for more. Even the ones that tried to protest in the beginning ended up enjoying the taste test. If I saw that some kids were uncertain or slow to try something, I ate one myself and smiled. That was enough for them to take the plunge.

One girl kept putting a red pepper bit up to her mouth and then moving it away. Finally, after seeing me eat a piece, she ate it. As she chewed, her eyes lit up and she smiled. "That's good!" she told me.

We all have things we don't like. Personally, I don't like green garden peas (especially from a can), beets, or oysters. But I keep trying things I don't like, because 1.) I may find a preparation that I like, as I did with collards and 2.) my tastes might change and something that I previously didn't like might become a new favorite (soda water, greens, and many veggies.)

When someone tells me they don't like vegetables I have to wonder if they had negative experiences as a kid, if they've tried different ones prepared different ways, and if they've tried any recently. If you don't like cooked spinach, try it raw. If you don't like green peas, try sugar snap.

If you don't like oysters or one particular veggie or beer or you don't eat something for a moral reason, that's one thing. But if you are someone who doesn't care for an entire food group, especially one that can provide an infinite number of health benefits, remember the kids. Push your pre-conceived notions aside and tell yourself that it only has to touch your tongue. You can spit it out if you want. But you can't say "I don't like that!" before you've even given yourself the chance to find out if that's how you still feel.

And for those with kids, if you'd like some suggestions for getting them to try more veggies or to eat better, let me know! I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Cottage Cheese Please!

I love cottage cheese.

Like most dairy products, it's a rich source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, and vitamins A and D. It contains a nice balance of protein and carbs, making it a great snack after a hard workout. Just be weary of the fat content. I typically purchase 2% which has all of the flavor as those with more fat, but with only 90 calories per 1/2 cup.

My favorite thing about cottage cheese is its versatility. Since its flavor is neutral, without the sweetness of most yogurts, it can be eaten for breakfast, served with fruit, or used in savory recipes.

I recently began experimenting with cottage cheese to find unusual ways to use this nutrient dense food. My favorite concoction so far is a cottage cheese dip.

Cottage Cheese Dip Concoction

You will need:
  • One small container (2 cups) of cottage cheese (preferrably 2%)
  • One packet of ranch dip seasoning
  • One cup of loose baby spinach, roughly chopped
To make said concoction:
  1. Process cottage cheese in a food processor or magic bullet until relatively smooth
  2. Add ranch flavor packet and process to blend
  3. Add spinach and blend until mixed, chopped, and product is smooth and items are evenly distributed
  4. Pour into a bowl and serve with carrots, celery, red pepper slices, pretzels, tortilla chips, etc.
Other suggestions for using cottage cheese:
  • Place 1/2 cup in a bowl and top with 1 T of your favorite jam or jelly, mix gently to combine and enjoy.
  • Serve with mandarin oranges or pineapple chunks for a tropical treat.
  • Experiment by mixing in your favorite seasonings/herbs/sauces to make a tasty dip.
  • Use as a topping for baked potatoes instead of sour cream. Very tasty!
  • Blend until smooth and use in place of sour cream on black bean soup or chili.

Do you like cottage cheese?
Do you have any other recipes/suggestions/uses for cottage cheese?
Has anyone made homemade cottage cheese?

Xtreme Makeover: Meal Edition

Who wants to play Xtreme Meal Makeover????

Here's how to play:
  1. Think of a meal you typically eat or often enjoy eating that isn't the healthiest or could be healthier (or even a meal you think is healthy but you aren't totally sure.)
  2. Submit the contents of said meal to me via a comment to this post.
  3. If you have any special considerations or specific dietary goals, please share those as well. For instance, if you are counting calories, trying to eat more fruits and veggies, trying to eat less processed food, watching your salt intake, diabetic, etc, let me know.
  4. If your meal is chosen, and most probably will be, I will provide details about the quality of your meal and suggestions for improvement based on your goals and considerations (or in general if no special considerations are given.)


I've mentioned it a zillion times already, so I figured it deserved it's own post.

One thing I always have in my kitchen is bouillon. I use it in all sorts of dishes to add quick, robust flavor.
Bouillon cubes are dehydrated, seasoned broth or stock in, surprise!, cube form. To use, you simply have to heat up water and allow the cube to dissolve. I could use actual broth or stock for my cooking purposes, but I typically choose bouillon for the following reasons:
  • It is cheap. One box of 6 large cubes (equivalent to about 12 cups of stock), costs less than $2. If you purchase a box or can of stock/broth, you will pay at least $1 for only a cup or 2, and more if you buy something fancier.
  • It lasts forever. Well, maybe not forever, but for a very long time.
  • It takes up a small amount of space in the pantry. My pantry is already packed with cans, boxes, etc. This saves space.
  • I can use as much or as little as I want. Sometimes I only use half a cube. Sometimes I use many cubes. When you have a large amount of stock, it requires more work to portion and store properly.
If you want to try making your own, here is a good link sent to me from a friend:

I haven't tried the recipe myself, but it looks good. If you try it, let me know how it works out.

Now, I do use broth or stock sometimes. Homemade stock can add some great flavors to your cooking. It can also be a great way to make use of the icky parts of meat you don't actually eat or the parts of veggies you typically cut off and throw away. On Thanksgiving day I made my own stock to then use for a gravy. I cooked turkey trimming, carrot stubs, potato butts, celery leaves, etc for several hours and then strained it.

Some tips from one of my FOODS text books on making stock:
The more surface of the meat that is exposed to the water, the more flavor that is extracted. This means cutting the meal into small cubes or grinding it. Cooking some bone and some fat with lean meat is thought to improve the flavor. Vegetables and seasonings should be added during the last hour of cooking to avoid the development of undesirable flavors resulting from the overcooking of some vegetables. When cooking is finished, the stock is poured through a colander to remove meat, bone, seasonings, etc. When the stock is cool the hard fat layer may be removed from the top.

The text also offers these definitions FYI:
Bouillon is prepared by seasoning a soup stock. Consomme is an enriched or double-strength bouillon that has been clarified.

So whether you use the cubes, commercially prepared stock, or something homemade, what can you do with it?
  • As a soup or stew base
  • As a liquid when cooking something in the crock pot
  • To make rice or couscous
  • To cook greens
  • And more! See previously posted recipes (and future ones) for specific suggestions.
Basically, any time you use water to cook something savory, you could use broth, stock or bouillon to add seasoning.

The only caution in using it, is that it does contain a fair amount of sodium. There are low sodium versions available, but I have tried many of them and the taste is hit or miss. So if you are watching your sodium/salt intake, limit the amount you use, or make your own! You can easily make a homemade stock and leave out the salt, or use a minimal amount, and add it other herbs or seasonings as desired.

Do you use stock, broth or bouillon when you cook? Have you tried it as a result of reading this blog? Do you have any good recipes either for making homemade versions or for using it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eating On Va-kay

I just got back from a 4ish day trip to Disney World. And while it was tricky at times, I always found a way to eat something relatively healthy and affordable.

Day 1

I ate a egg and cheese breakfast sandwich from the hotel market/store. This gave me some protein and some carbs for the day ahead. Plus it only cost $5.

While walking around Downtown Disney I spotted a McDonald's. Personally, I'm not a big fan of them on principle, but I do love their fries. And they are pretty cheap and reliable. Instead of getting something fried, I got a large yogurt parfait and ate it outside. Again, this gave me some protein and some carbs, without being too heavy or full of empty calories. Cost $3. Fast food isn't something I normally recommend, but it can be handy in a pinch on the road or when the other options are more $$ or even worse for you. Just try to choose wisely. Try a salad with your sandwich or try the parfait.

For dinner I got to participate in a free company meal. It was a buffet. I got a small sample of a bunch of different items and decided what I liked the best, then I went back for more of that. I did NOT eat everything I got just to clean my plate. If I found I didn't like it, I left it alone. I ended up filling up on shrimp, veggies and beans. Then I indulged in a few adult beverages. ;)

Day 2

At the end of Day 1, I walked through a small market/shop. It didn't have much, but it did have a sample pack of individual cereals. The cost was $7 for a pack of 8. While this is obviously more than a typical grocery store, I knew this would provide me snacks and easy meals if nothing else was available. So for breakfast on Day 2, I had 2 boxes of dry cereal and an orange that I brought with me from home.

After touring a park all morning, I was starved by lunch time. I was too hungry to wait until I got back from the park, so I ate inside. I checked out the map and found a place with a few options. Then I chose the kid meal instead of the adult. I got a small pizza (basically a slice), grapes, a cookie and milk for $5. It wasn't the healthiest lunch, but it filled me up and saved me the extra cash and calories from a full adult meal.


Dinner was another company affair. At this buffet I did the same thing as before and chose a variety, sampled, then filled up on my favorite, leaving the other stuff on the plate. I also tried to choose salad and veggies. I did get dessert, but I only ate a few bites, stopping when I was wasn't thaaat good, so it wasn't worth the calories.

Day 3

After a long run I knew I needed something more than one box of cereal. So I added some soymilk I picked up at a convenience store for some protein. I also had another orange.

I was starving for lunch! While walking around Epcot I could've picked the first thing I came to, fried fish and fries in England. Instead, I held out for a lighter cuisine. I was able to get a plate full of veggies, tofu and rice in China for $7. Then I shared a beer in Germany with Sir Cakewalk.

At dinner we found ourselves in another park. We checked the map and tried to find something that wouldn't cost too much $ and would be decent. We found a place where I could get a veggie burger. The sandwich came with fries and access to a topping bar for $8. And it was good. Enjoying fries every now and then is not a bad thing. I didn't feel guilty since I had run 5 miles AND walked all day long. Plus, we were at Disney! We had to be a little bad. ;)

And carrying on with our badness, we decided to have a late night ice cream snack. I had a float! Yum! And I'm glad I did because we were out until 1am!

Day 4

For lack of anything else available, I had another egg and cheese sandwich from the hotel shop. I also had a banana.

For lunch we found ourselves at the airport. We scoured the options and found a place that served wraps and salads. I had a veggie wrap with hummus for $8. Sir Cakewalk had chicken curry for the same price.

On the plane we avoided the high calorie snacks and drinks and enjoyed a seltzer water. If you haven't tried it, you should. It IS an acquired taste, but it can be acquired. I used to HATE it. Now I drink it all of the time. It's often free at restaurants and gives you the bubbliness of a soda without the calories or the chemicals.

Then we were home!

When on vacation, you don't have to through your diet our good eating habits out the window. You can still indulge, just do so wisely (make sure it's worth it) and don't go overboard....get the kids option or share something. Do a little planning ahead of time if you can. (I also research food options before I travel.) And you can usually bring some food with you. I brought oranges. And I would have brough some cereal of pretzels if I had had time to hit the grocery before I left. Even little snacks can be a life saver when you are starving and in an unfamiliar place.

Have you traveled lately? What did you eat? How did you keep from spending too much $$ or eating too poorly? Or did you throw caution out the window and eat whatever you wanted?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reader Question: Stocking Up

Here is a reader question I just received:

"Here's a question for ya that you may have already addressed someone on here. How should we stock our pantries? I've found that we pan our meals each week based on what's on sale and buy those items. However, inevitably we end up working late and the meals we planned take too long to make, or we are not in the mood for anything we actually planned out. So instead we eat out. Are there staple foods that we should always have on hand, or foods that don't really go bad that we should always have to either 1) make a quick adn easy dinner or 2) goes into practically anything so regardless of what your in the mood for you are prepared."

And here is my answer:

Unfortunately I don't have a neat answer for you. Learning how to plan and prepare meals is a life skill that takes time to learn...and it depends greatly on each person's time, cooking skill, monetary situation and taste preferences. But I can address some of your concerns with some suggestions.

First, I would say to keep trying to plan meals. That is a great way to take charge of your diet! But, make an effort to plan meals that are simple to make. Start by planning meals you already know how to make and know you like. You can add a new ingredient to keep it interesting without complicating it too much. For example, I've mentioned it on here already, so forgive my redundancy, but I love making stir fry. I know how to make it and I can change up the ingredients to make countless new versions. It is one of my fall-back staples along with tuna cakes (served with frozen veggies of some sort and maybe some rice or something), and soup. I always keep the staples on hand for these meals and use whatever fresh produce I have on hand to supplement. Which brings me to my next point....

Next you need to figure out what to have on hand as staples. Which is what you asked me, I know, but I can't tell you what to stock any more than I can tell you what to put in your mouth. It will depend on you. However, I can tell you what I stock and how I use them and maybe some of it will relate to you as well. So here is my list of kitchen staples which I always have on hand (in no particular order):

  • Give me a B! o! u! i! l! l! i! o! n! What's that spell (assuming I spelled it correctly)? Bouillon! I use this to spruce up just about anything and everything, as you will notice in the recipes I post on here. I use it for soup stock. I use it to wilt greens. I use it to make rice. It is cheap and it lasts forever.
  • Rice. I have big boxes of instant brown rice. I use it in stir fry, or as a side.
  • Couscous. Quicker to make than rice and more versatile. I use it as a side, or it can be used under a thick soup or chili. You can even saute some veggies and shrimp or chicken and toss it all together to make a main dish.
  • Pasta. I rarely cook boxed pasta. Personally I think it has little taste and only adds calories to a dish. But in a pinch you can always boil some water, cook some pasta and throw some sauce on it. If I have extra meat or veggies, I will toss those into the sauce to bulk it up.
  • Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, paste, pizza sauce and pasta sauce. The last two have an obvious purpose. Sir Cakewalk has learned how to make pizza from scratch, so we always have sauce on hand. But you can also buy the packets for dough or the premade crusts and add your own toppings and sauce. Makes dinner in 15 minutes and much better than Pizza Slut. Canned tomatoes can go into a quick soup or chili (on friday I made vegetarian chili in 15 minutes flat.) They can also make a homemade sauce or you can cook them and stir them into rice. Sauce and paste go into tons of dishes. Trust me, just have them on hand.
  • Canned beans. Sometimes I just serve baked beans with tuna cakes and veggies. Or you can make chili or you can make soup or you can make a cold bean salad. Endless possibilities.
  • Canned tuna for tuna cakes. I buy it on sale and stock up.
  • Grits. I like greens with grits or shrimp and grits.
  • Cereal. If we can't think of anything to make, sometimes we will have cereal for dinner, especially in the summer when its too hot to cook.
  • Salsa. I put salsa on potatoes ($1 at Wendy's), mix it with rice, use it for burritos or tacos, put it on chicken, etc etc.
  • Canned soup. It's not my favorite but it works in a pinch.
  • Onions. Someone on the show Chopped once said "onions are like underwear, ya gotta have em." I couldn't agree more. I use them ALL of the time. And they last a very long time. So I buy them by the bag.
  • Breadcrumbs. I use them for tuna cakes and many recipes call for them. So I always have them.
  • EVOO.
  • Vinegar. I have a smorgesbourd of vinegars. I use them for dressings, for greens, for marinades, etc.
  • Milk.
  • Eggs. You never know when you'll need an egg. And if they are going bad, make a fritatta!
  • Butter.
  • Cheese. Sandwiches, pizza, sprinkled on top of pasta, etc. I usually have sliced cheese and grated on hand as well as a hard cheese like asiago. I love making paninis on the george forman and serving with some soup.
  • Soy Sauce.
  • Frozen vegetables. Look for your favorites to be on sale and stock up. I toss them into soups and sauces and also saute them as a quick side. I also have broccoli and peppers at a minimum.
There are more things, I'm sure. I have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. But that should give you a basic idea. From there I purchase fresh seafood, meat, produce, etc as needed. Basically, if you're at a loss, go for a protein (chicken, beef, tofu, shrimp, etc.). Saute it with some seasoning and herbs or grill it or whatever. Then get some veggies. Pull out some frozen ones or use up something fresh you have on hand. Then, make a starch: rice, couscous, etc. That is the basic formula for many of my meals.

Otherwise I would say to keep reading my blog for meal ideas. I'm not saying that just to keep your attention...but because I can't think of all the recipes and meals I would recommend right now. But I have been trying to post meal ideas and to show how to use staple ingredients to put together meals.

I would also say to push past your moods. I know it isn't easy, but if you are serious about making your meals, force yourself to do it. If you've planned out a meal, make it. Or make something similar but easier. Maybe make it a fun, team effort. I know that won't always be an option so I would also say that....

There is nothing wrong with eating out if you do it mindfully. When I eat out I TRY to first choose a place that I know has healthy/lighter options. I don't give up right away and head for the burger joint or pizza place. But even if I go to those places, I still try to make the best choice I can. I might get a burger (or veggie burger), but I'll get a salad instead of fries. Or I'll share with Sir Cakewalk so that we only split one burger and fries. It doesn't have to be a total loss.

It's hard to always be prepared, and its impossible to know what you'll be in the mood for. So try to plan out things that are simple and that you really like or are excited to make. Even if I'm tired, if I have a meal I'm looking forward to, I'll crank it out. And I'm almost always glad I did.

Good luck!

And remember, you can always play "What's In Your Pantry?" And send me a list of some of your staples and your food preferences and I'll try to help you come up with meals you like.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vacation = Running + Fruit ??? Only For A Nutritionist

In two days I get to go to Disney World. Yay!

I'll have 2.5 days by myself to do as I please (Sir Cakewalk will be in trainings/meetings.)

So what do I plan to do???

I plan to run at least twice. I have to do my long run on Saturday and will probably do a short run as well. I have already downloaded maps of running trails.

I also plan to take advantage of the gym/spa. I'll probably do a light workout and then steam it up or go hot tubbin. I might also get a massage or some other fancy treatment. Although I have to wonder....will Pluto be my massage therapist? I don't think I can handle having a Disney character seeing me partially in the nude.

I'm kinda sad we are missing the Disney Marathon by a week. I love watching marathons. If you haven't seen one, you should. Very inspirational.

I'm not going to be a total fitness dork. I also plan to walk around Epcot, maybe ride some rides, etc. And I'll get to visit the parks with Cakewalk when he is out of meetings.

So the only other question is what to pack. Amongst all of the clothing decisions, I have one other decision to make. Will I bring some of my own food?

I know, right now you think I'm crazy and you may even right off this blog as the ramblings of a truly deranged nutrition obsesser. But, this is something to consider when planning a trip. It's hard enough to eat well at home, let alone when you are in a strange place with no kitchen and trying not to spend an arm and a leg.

While Cakewalk gets all his meals covered, I will be on my own for breakfast and lunch. I'm sure I can meander around Disney (especially Epcot) and find a decent lunch (although I'm sure it'll cost $$$.) But for breakfast I'm not so sure. I typically hate room service. And I don't like to eat a lot in the morning anyway. But it IS the most important meal of the day. So I was considering bringing some apples, bananas, and maybe some cereal that can be eaten dry as well as some snacks. Is that too crazy???

Hopefully I just don't get in trouble for taking an apple on a plane!

More Vietnamese, Please!

Have you tried Vietnamese food?

I am a fan of almost all ethnic cuisine. I love Indian food, Ethiopian, real Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, etc etc. Besides being delicious, many true ethnic foods are rather healthy...especially if you know what to look for or look out for.

While I don't know as much about it as many of the others, Vietnamese food seems to be a really healthy option for those looking to try something new. Many dishes contain seafood, tofu, lean meats, and lots of veggies (but not all at the same time necessarily.)

My favorite dish is Pho (pictured above), pronounced like "fun" without the "n." It's a noodle soup with a broth base. The broth is very complex and the noodles are small and light. From there it will contain whatever you order. I like either veggie, tofu or seafood pho. When it comes to your table you will get a large bowl of soup and several additions on the side including fresh herbs, jalapeno, bean sprouts, lime, etc so that you can add as much or as little ask you like.

It is a very light yet filling dish...and you typically get a large portion for you money.

I also love summer rolls. These are the rolls you may have seen at the grocery store in the sushi section. They resemble egg rolls, but are wrapped in a thin, translucent rice paper and are not fried. They usually contain spring, herbs, cucumber, etc and are served cold with a peanut dipping sauce. So refreshing on a hot day! (But good in the winter too.) ;)

But today I am having something new, a vietnamese sub sandwich. I'm eating it as I type and it is soooo good. Mine has freshly baked bread like a baguette. Then it has a layer of grilled tofu that you would think was marinated chicken (I promise it's unlike anything you consider tofu-ish). Then it has pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cucumber, fresh cilantro and fresh jalapenos. It's served warm. Soooooo good! Sooooo much better than a certain other typical sub option (although that can be good too for a light meal.)

If you have not had Vietnamese food, I highly recommend it. If you are in the Raleigh area, I'd be happy to dine with you, to help you navigate the menu (same for any ethnic cuisine that you may be unfamiliar with.) I know where many of the better restaurants are and I'm pretty familiar with many of the dishes.

What is your favorite ethnic food? (And no, taco bell tacos don't count.)

What is your favorite ethnic restaurant? I'm always looking for new places to try.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nothing Says "Good Mornin Sunshine!" Like A Hot, Steamy....

....bowl of oatmeal or hot cereal.

Most of us know oatmeal is good for us. But not all oatmeal/hot cereal is created equal. Many are packed with extra sugar and calories and minimal fiber or protein. So I did an inspection of the options while at Trader Joe's this weekend.

And I found a new product I love!

It's Trader Joe's Cranberry Hot Cereal (it has other grains besides just oats, hence the name.) It comes in individual packets, making it easy to take to work. It's instant, but doesn't turn too mushy like some instant oatmeals. And the cranberries add an extra zing of flavor. I may even add in a sprinkle of my own berries, just to beef it up a little more.

But best of all, it's really good for me! One packet has 160 calories, 6 grams of fiber and some protein as well.

For breakfast this morning I had a bowl of this cereal and about a cup of fresh pineapple I chopped up last night. Very filling and super tasty!

What is your favorite Trader Joe's product?

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Whoooooa, Nellie! (Don't Do Too Much Too Soon!)

Let's see a show of hands....

How many of you recently started a new exercise/training regime?

It's the time of year when people roll off the couch, squeeze into some workout clothes and hit the gym full force. If this is you, you probably have a goal or ideal you are working towards.

So what is it?

  • Have you registered for a 8k?
  • Have you signed up for a triathlon?
  • Have you decreed that you will work out every single day?
  • Have you decided this is the year you will mimic the contestants on the Biggest Loser: losing a lot of weight very quickly by working out for extended periods of time and forcing your body to do things it isn't ready to do?

Have you set yourself up for failure? Or worse, injury?

It seems many of my friends and colleagues these days are training for something. As a long time runner, many who are training for a running event come to me for advice. The question I hear most often is "How do I get faster/finish my race in a specific time frame?" One friend and I recently had a discussion on this topic. She is new to running and showing great strides in her abilities. But she is still "slow." After our talk, she showed me an article from While the particulars may not apply to you, I think the advice applies to all beginning runners/new athletes/those with new workout goals. Here are some excerpts:

"From the Forum: I just began training for triathlon two months ago. I've really accomplished a lot (if you figure I started from zero) in that I can now run 5K without walking, consistently. However, my pace is about 10:20 per mile on an outdoor course. I'm 41 years old, female. Looking at the splits from a local triathlon, that pace is not very good even for women my age, who average about 8:30 per mile.With my first triathlon scheduled for March, when should I start to worry/concentrate on getting faster? And how do I get faster?"

And the response from Eric Conway:

"This is likely the most common question in the forum and I always feel compelled to answer.

First of all, congratulate yourself for converting to becoming a runner. Keep it up, the benefits are immense.

Now, about your comparison to local triathlete splits. I don't know how you determined your own pace, but remember the averages around 8:30 min/mile were during a race for which many of those women had trained for months, peaked in training, then tapered for the race. Some of these women may have been runners for some time, possibly for years. If you just went outside and ran a 5K on local roads, with only two months of running under your belt and NOT in a race situation, of course you will be slower than those times. This is the proverbial comparing apples to oranges and it can lead to erroneous (and potentially harmful) conclusions.

Let's be realistic here. You are 41 (though this is NOT a limiting factor!), new to running, and have only been training for a total of two months. You should consider a 10 minute/mile pace as a very good pace and feel proud that you are there so soon. I bet there are a number of people training in the same age group who would love a 10:20 pace. But, alas, we all want to improve (otherwise why would we care?! ) so make sure you do it smartly. Nothing can cut short your 'career' as a runner as a running injury.

For now, let's forget the idea of 'speed work' and/or sprint workouts. Until you are an experienced and strong runner, speed work will not provide you any realistic benefit and will very likely cause serious injury. One of my favorite triathlon authors states that there should be NO speed work in your training until you have run consistently for a minimum of 1 year (and up to 3 years for older and/or heavier athletes). Rushing your body into speedwork is irresponsible and generally a bad idea. Also, most beginning runners have enough areas to improve that a speed increase comes naturally as you become a regular runner."

I can't agree more with this article! As a runner who has faced injury time and again, only now have I begun to learn the importance of sound training, taking my time, listening to my body, and setting realistic goals.

I don't know what your goals are. And I am not trying to be a downer or kill your motivation. I am sooooo proud of you for taking charge of your health and attempting to do what most Americans consider a waist of time (had to put a pun in there.) I just want you to do it correctly, to set yourself up for victory in achieving your goals and in laying the foundation for a permanent lifestyle change.

So set realistic goals. (I am running a half marathon in a few months and my goal is to finish.)

Take your time.

Don't overdo it. You don't have to work out all of the time to reap the rewards. Just be consistent.

Be prepared. Make sure you are wearing the right clothes, have good shoes, use proper equipment, etc. You don't have to spend a lot of money, but sometimes a small investment will pay off huge dividends.

And, most importantly, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If someting hurts (beyond a sore muscle or two), take it easy. If it still hurts after rest and proper attention, back off your training/schedule, you're probably doing too much or working too hard. The more you push, the worse it will probably get. Better to nip it in the bud early than let it become a serious injury that puts you out of commission for a long time.


Friday, January 8, 2010

One Meaty Meal

Here is one recipe that I think fits all of the criteria mentioned in the previous post.

I used to make this meal all the time back when I worked late (needed something quick), was in school (needed something cheap), and ate meat (although this meal can be adjusted to fit just about any needs/dietary objections.)

Homemade Burritos N E Way You Want

You will need:
  • Large flour tortillas: this are fairly high in calories, which is why I only recommend one burrito per meal. For other dishes I recommend corn tortillas because they are about a quarter of the calories and less processed. But they are impossible to use for burritos.
  • Meat if you wish: I think ground beef or ground turkey works best. Ground turkey is the lighter, healthier option. But choose what you want. You could also use tofu, grilled chicken strips, etc.
  • Rice, if you wish: I think instant rice is just fine. Brown is better, of course. If you are watching your calories, just don't use too much. I like Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice. I use stock instead of water.
  • Pepper and/or onion, if you wish.
  • Beans, if you wish: Black beans are great. Canned are just fine. Just rinse them first.
  • Salsa, if you wish.
  • Cheese of your choice: cheddar and mozzarella work best. You can buy it pre-shredded, but it's cheaper to buy a block and shred it yourself.
  • Any other topping you like: guacamole, sour cream, etc. Making your own guac is super simple. Just buy the flavoring pack and 2 ripe (black) avocados. Then mash it all together in a bowl. If you like sour cream and are watching your calories, try plain greek yogurt instead.
To make:
  1. If using meat, cook it. Ground meat is the easiest, because you can just quickly brown it in a pan. You could even toss in some garlic. You could also sprinkle it with taco seasoning (another one of those little packets) for added kick.
  2. If using rice, cook it. Like I said, I use instant made with broth/bouillon.
  3. If using peppers and/or onion, cook them. I like to slice them and saute them in EVOO.
  4. If using beans, cook them. Rinse them, then microwave. You can try adding seasoning to these as well. I've used taco seasoning before and it was pretty good, just don't use too much.
  5. Place a tortilla on a plate.
  6. Sprinkle cheese on the tortilla.
  7. Place meat, rice, peppers, etc on the cheese.
  8. Top with salsa, sour cream, etc.
  9. Roll up and enjoy!
You can even have a small side of beans and/or rice with the extra if you want.

Mmmmmm....Meaty! (Beware this one features a rambling personal story!)

I recently had a friend ask for recipe ideas that fit the following criteria:
  • fast
  • easy
  • common ingredients
  • relatively cheap ingredients
  • minimal ingredients
She also requested something with spinach and without onions, or a minimal amount. Her request also implied that she was also looking for recipes for complete meals that involve meat (preferably chicken, beef or turkey.)

Her request brought something to my attention. All of my recipes I've posted here so far have been vegetarian. But I did this with good reason:
  1. You can always add meat to any of my recipes
  2. To expose my readers to new ideas/ingredients/cooking methods
  3. Because vegetarian meals are typically cheaper
  4. To educate my readers on different ways to cook/prepare vegetables and healthy items that might otherwise be missing from their diet simply due to a lack of kitchen knowledge.
  5. And finally, because I myself am a vegetarian. I like to post about what I make/have made to give my faithful readers a more hands-on explanation of what works and what doesn't rather than just spouting off recipes that may not even be good. Since 90% of what I make these days is vegetarian....
HOWEVER, contrary to what some might think, I know how to cook meat also, and actually enjoy doing so now and then. Despite my personal preferences, upon which I will soon elaborate, I am a registered dietitian. One aspect of our training is food science and food service. I have actually had labs on how to tenderize meat, for example. So even if I don't cook it on my own anymore, I do have the know how and a few recipes up my sleeve.

But back to me and my preferences. Because this is a blog afterall, I will now take a few liberties and share a bit more about me...not just to be vain, but so you, my readers, will get a better understanding of who I am and how my past/experiences affect my views on food and nutrition.

I wasn't always a vegetarian, ya know. But it has been an interesting culinary journey for me that began when I was about five....(insert the sounds Wayne and Garth make when going back in time)....

When I was very young I had a few experiences that had a lasting effect on my diet.

The first occurred while visiting my family in MI. I was sitting at the table with my grandfather and we were sharing some summer sausage. It was soooo good! After we'd been snacking for a few minutes, he smiled and said "you know you're eating Bambi, right?!?"

The second experience was at daycare. The place I went served soup and sandwich every day for lunch. Every day I had "oodles of noodles" aka ramen and a grilled cheese. But one day they were out of ramen and I had to eat beanie weanies. Even at that age, something about meat, especially processed meat, seemed odd to me. So I ate all the beans and picked out the weenies. But one weenie stuck to my spoon and made it to my mouth. When I wasn't expecting it the chewiness totally grossed me out. Plus it made all of the other kids at my table laugh at me....soooo embarrassing! ;)

Finally, a few years after these encounters, I had a wonderful dinner with my dad and my new stepmom. Can you sense the sarcasm? When they first married, my stepmom didn't really know how to cook. (She once made boiled okra that had the consistency of boogers.) So one night she made meatloaf. I didn't like meatloaf anyway, and I had not been eating much meat in general. But my dad pulled the dad card and made me at least try it. I ate a bite and within minutes had a violent reaction of projectile vomit. I don't know if it was the cooking (or lack of) or the taste of squashy meat, but it gave me a free pass to pass on the meat at the dinner table.

In high school I finally became an official "vegetarian." I use the quotation marks because at the time I really didn't eat like a true vegetarian. I didn't eat salad (later I realized this was because I didn't like dressing with mayo and didn't know there were other options), or any veggies other than canned items like green beans and corn. I ate lots of cereal, bread, pasta and potatoes.

I was a vegetarian for nearly 5 years. But it all ended in undergrad. One day I really wanted a chik-fil-a sandwich. So I ate one. After that, I had broken the seal and since it was soooo much easier to eat at the school cafeteria when I wasn't limited to vegetarian options, I didn't look back. Even before I went back to school for my degree in nutrition, I learned how to prepare steak, roast, and a myriad of meat-laden dishes, largely due to the help of foodie friends.

But at the same time, I started to try new vegetables and ethnic foods. I really expanded my horizons in a short period of time. And within only a few years, I completely changed the way I eat from the way I ate during the first 18 years of my life.

Then, once again, it all changed. During my graduate program I learned even more about how the food industry works. I learned about food processing. (I learned about issues I'll discuss later like organics and GMOs and food politics.) I tried to stay realistic about things. I tried to turn off the part of myself that was starting to regret eating meat that had been produced on factory farms. But then a professor showed us part of the movie Fast Food Nation. At the end they show in graphic detail the entire process of slaughtering a cow and making meat (as it occurs in our food industry.) I got sick and even cried a little. I realized that, for me personally, I just couldn't do it anymore. I didn't want to become a vehement vegetarian who scorned all who didn't share my views. And I didn't want to become difficult or limit myself to the point of being ridiculous. But I knew that from then on, unless with good reason, I could no longer eat meat.

It was, and remains, a personal choice.

I do intend to share my views on this blog, because part of my purpose is to share my knowledge and opinions on all matters of food and nutrition. And, frankly, most people don't have a darned clue what they are eating or what it took to get food to their plate. Nor do they realize that there are easily accessible alternatives out there, often that end up being more appealing for various reasons. I don't want to preach (although it may come to that sometimes). Instead, I want to raise awareness and provide an avenue for exploring options.

All of this being said, if there is one thing I know about nutrition and eating, it's that it's all a matter of personal preference and picking our battles. So to best serve my audience, I will happily share any of my knowledge, if it will help you in the grocery store, in the kitchen, or if it will help you with your waistline.

So please do not hesitate to ask me a question or make a request, even if you think it doesn't fit my usual scope of post topics.

Since this post is SOOOOOOOOOO long, I will wait until the next post to include a recipe that fits the criteria that started this whole shpeal.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Since yesterday I have been in a mood....just a little stressed and not feelin so hot, ya know?

So when it came time to eat my healthy soup for lunch today I just couldn't do it. I had my usual low fat cottage cheese and fresh fruit for breakfast and pretzels for a snack. But what I really wanted was french fries. I was trying to resist and talk myself into being happy with soup and an apple. But then my co-workers invited me to grab something at McDonald's. How could I refuse?!?

So I got a small fry and a side salad with italian dressing. Even though the dressing is Newman's, it's full of artificial this and that. Nothing something I would usually condone for myself or recommend for others. But it has cracked pepper and probably crack cocaine, because it is sooooo good! And it's only 60 calories a serving (I barely use 1/2 a serving), so it balances out the calories from the fries.

Overall this isn't a balanced meal I would recommend, but I am the REALISTIC nutritionist, remember? I know that we all have cravings. We all have certain foods we like and certain foods we hate. Most people can't live on steamed veggies alone, myself included. So I don't go overboard and I don't throw my whole healthy way of eating out the window when I get a craving (well, sometimes I do, let's face it, but those occasions are very very rare.) We can't always be perfect or do what we know is best. But we can minimize the damage and keep trying to be the best little eaters we can be.

I ate my fries and enjoyed them. And for the rest of the day I will be cautious of what I eat to compensate.

Healthy eating is all about balance...didn't I say that once already? ;)

Not Quite What I Expected

Last night I made a meal that didn't turn out quite how I expected. But I may have gone overboard with my new toys.

I had an eggplant from my spud's order. So I wanted to use that. I gave Cakewalk the option of ratatouille or eggplant lasagna and he chose the latter. I had seen a recipe that used eggplant as the lasagna noodle to make basically a casserole of veggies and cheese. Sounded good.

I used my food processor to slice the eggplant. Yes, my food processor is AWESOME and can even slice vegetables to various thicknesses. But I probably shouldn't have done that, because it produced an overwhelming number of eggplant slices.

I also used the processor to chop carrots, herbs and peppers. Then I added ricotta and an egg and blended it all. When I took the lid off it slipped out of my hand (have I mentioned I'm a VERY messy cook???) and flew across the counter. I got orange colored ricotta stuff all over the place. Luckily JPC licked up what hit the floor (it's useful to have 2 dogs sometimes) so I didn't have as much to clean up.

After I cleaned and got my wits about me, I continued making my "lasagna" concoction. I layered organic pasta sauce (it's lower in calories and has less artificial junk in it), then eggplant, then ricotta, then chopped roasted red peppers, then shredded mozzarella then repeated until I ran out of stuff.

In hindsight, I used way too many eggplant slices. They ended up a little funky tasting since they couldn't cook properly. Also, the whole dish was liquidy....probably because there wasn't any pasta to soak up the moisture. Or possibly because I was trying to rush and didn't drain the peppers like I should have. Oh well.

Was it great? No. Am I going to share the exact recipe? No. Was it aweful? No. It was actually kinda ok. And Cakewalk even ate 2 helpings.

I can't always make spectacular dinners. But I can help you avoid the same pitfalls and mistakes I make.

So here is my tip for the day:

When cooking eggplant for a dish like this lasagna or eggplant parmesan (which IS a meal I know how to make well), you need to salt it. Slice the eggplant. Then lay one slice on a paper towel and sprinkle it was a tad of salt. Then lay another slice on top and salt it, and so on until you have a tower of eggplant. Then place another paper towel on top. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so. This will provide a much more tender product. If you are making ratatouille (another dish I make well and might make soon), there is no need for this step because you will be stewing the eggplant for a long period of time.

Eggplant can be super tasty if prepared properly. If you had it and it was chewy or tough, it wasn't done well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"What's chard?"

Last night I made a new and delicious meal! I also got to introduce a new green leafy to Sir Cakewalk.

On Sunday evening, I sat down with my papa spud's orderpage and my recipe books to come up with meals for the week that would utilize my order and my new kitchen toys. I will continue to recap the success or failure of these meals the day after I make them.

Monday night I made Butternut Squash Soup with Cilantro Pesto and Homemade Croutons. Yum! But that meal didn't include any of my spud's items since they don't come until Tuesday.

Last night I made Swiss Chard served over Crook's Corner Grits. Soooooo good!

As we were eating (scratch that...inhaling) our food, Sir Cakewalk said: "This is great! What is it and why is it red?"

I told him it was chard and briefly explained what chard was....apparently he didn't read November's Vegetable of the Month post. For others who don't remember or weren't reading then, chard is a green leafy. You can eat the leaves and the brightly colored stalk (Swiss chard has a red stalk while Rainbow Chard has multiple colors).

Who knows what green leafies are and why we should eat them? Anyone? Bueller?

Green leafies include any dark green leafy vegetable. Didn't see that one coming, did ya? They include greens (another shocker, I know), kale, spinach, broccoli, chard, etc.

Green leafies are an incredibly concentrated source of nutrients. They provide Vitamins A, K, C and many B vitamins. They also contain iron, calcium, and some phytonutrients.

I try to eat green leafies at least a few times a week, if not more. If you could eat them everyday, it would do wonders for your health. If you currently don't eat any, I challenge you to eat 2 servings this week. If you know you don't like one green leafy, try another. Try to prepare them differently. Check out the recipes I included in the previous post. Or try this one:

Chard over Crook's Corner Grits

You will need:
  • Plain grits. I used Crook's Corner grits that are not instant. But instant could work too.
  • Bouillon. My favorite cooking ingredient. Tired of seeing it in the list yet? Too bad! It gives nearly any dish a depth of flavor you can't get with other plain liquids.
  • Water.
  • One bunch of Chard.
  • 1 T butter. I use real butter made locally. I really wouldn't recommend margarine. I guess I should explain my hatred of margarine in a post sometime. But for now, I will say that it is only 1 T for a whole meal and it provides richness and creaminess.
  • 1/2 - 1 T lemon or lime juice.
  • Feta cheese. You will use this as a topping. I used about 1 T on each dish. I LOVE Trader Joe's real goat's milk feta.
  • S&P
To prepare the gritty goodness:
  1. Read the instructions on your grits, as they will vary if you are using instant or not. I made enough to produce 4 cups of cooked grits (enough for 2 people and leftovers.) For me, I used 1 cup of uncooked grits.
  2. Bring appropriate amount of water with appropriate amount of buillon cube to a boil. (I used 4 cups of water and 1 large cube.)
  3. Slowly stir in grits. Be careful if you are using instant, as they will cook immediately and may start to bubble and spit hot liquid magma at you.
  4. Reduce heat to low/simmer.
  5. If using instant, continue cooking as directed on the should not take very long. If using regular, allow to simmer for ~20 minutes with occasional stirring.
  6. When grits are creamy and most of the water has been absorbed, stir in 1/2 T of butter and season with S&P.
  7. Cover and remove from heat until serving time, but stir frequently to avoid clumping. If they do clump before the rest of the meal is ready, simply add a little water or a touch of milk and heat on low while stirring until they are creamy again.
To prepare the chard:
  1. Roughly chop the entire bunch. I do this by holding the bunch in one hand the knife in my right hand. I start by chopping about a half inch off the bottom of the stalks and then continuing my way up the stalk and through the greens. Then, place everything in a pasta strainer/drainer. While doing so, use your hands to pull apart/tear any large pieces of greens.
  2. Rinse the chard well.
  3. Shake out some of the water, but leave most on the leaves.
  4. Place the chard, still wet, in a stock pot.
  5. Cover and heat to medium.
  6. Stir occasionally until the greens are tender and cooked down. This took me about 10 minutes. I probably overcooked mine...they were very cooked down...but they still tasted great in the end, so don't fret if yours turn out the same.
  7. Once cooked, drain the chard in the pasta strainer to remove any extra liquid. Then put back in the pot.
  8. Put the pot back on the burner, but turn off the heat.
  9. Stir in the other 1/2 T of butter until melted and mixed through.
  10. Stir in about 1/2 T of lemon or lime juice. If you like the taste, add more. I probably used about 1 whole T in mine.
  11. At this point, your chard is done. However, just for kicks, I added one last secret ingredient. Upon recommendation, I ordered Big Daddy's Marinade with my spud's order and was so anxious to try it, I drizzled a little into my greens.
Note: I started my grits first, since mine were not instant. Then while they were doing their 20 minute simmer, I chopped and cooked the chard. It was all ready at almost exactly the same time. However, even if this doesn't work out, the items will still be good if you cover them and allow to sit on the stove at a very low heat or even without heat on warm burners.

To assemble and enjoy:
  1. Ladle about 1 cup of grits onto a plate or bowl.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, spoon some chard into the center of the gritty pile. The slotted spoon will allow some of the liquid to drain off, but leave some to add flavor to the dish.
  3. Sprinkle with feta cheese.
  4. Inhale/eat!

Makes me hungry just 'splainin it! Good thing I have leftovers for lunch! ;)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Diets Are Like Bellybuttons...

WARNING: This post contains a fair amount of sarcasm and even some derision. Read at your own risk.

It's a new year...which means it's time for everyone to hit the gym with fervor and start a new contrived diet plan. While this is great for various industries, this may not be good for you.

As the title implies, everyone has a diet plan these days from movie stars to fast food joints, all directed at you and your new years resolutions.

By now most people have seen the commercials for the Special K Challenge, a fancy title for a gimmicky crash diet. To join the challenge, you are instructed to eat 2 meals consisting solely of one serving of some Special K product: cereal, waffle, bar, etc. Your third meal you can eat "as you normally do." Then, you can choose two snacks from this appetizing list: protein bars, cereal bars, fruit crisps or protein water mixes. Yum! You are allowed to enjoy fruits and veggies as additional thoughtful of them.

You may also have seen commercials for the Taco Bell Diet. Yes, I said the TACO BELL DIET. OMG. For this plan, you choose one of 6 fresco items (meaning no sauces and extra salsa) as your meal. The instructions beyond this are rather vague. Apparently one woman ate one thing from the fresco menu at meals (doesn't mention how often), and lost weight over a 2 year span. Congrats lady! Good luck keeping off the weight and warding off a host of health complications.

Why does this diet work? Because it is based on calorie restriction. Basically any and all diet plans revolve around calorie restriction. But some are worse than others. What do I consider a poor diet plan???

Markers of a Poor Diet Plan
  • The plan revolves around a particular product or company, aka its a business/money making scheme. This includes the two plans mentioned above, along with Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss, SlimFast, etc. The one exception is Weight Watchers, with a caveat. The WW plan itself isn't a poor diet plan because most of the remaining bullets do not pertain to it. However, this does not hold for the WW food items and products.
  • The diet restricts choice. Telling someone they can only eat one of a handful of things at a meal usually isn't healthy and it leads to overeating or straying from the plan.
  • It limits or focuses too much on certain nutrients (carbs, protein, fat, etc). Yes, the Atkins diet works (limits/eliminates carbs). It works because it is a form of calorie restriction. Its also one of the unhealthiest things you can force upon your body.
  • The plan revolves around unhealthy food items such as tacos, processed bars, packaged meals, etc. By unhealthy I mean foods that are laden with saturated fat or cholesterol (although served in such a small serving its still a limited number of calories), lacking in vitamins and minerals, lacking in carbs, protein or fat (see previous bullet), packed with artificial ingredients and foods that don't really resemble food at all.
  • Plans that demand extreme caloric restriction. While there is a time and a place for a medically supervised liquid diet, it should NOT be used to lose a few pounds or cleanse your colon. Similarly, fasts are a vital part of many religious practices and sometimes a medical necessity, but they should not be used as a diet plan. It's dangerous to eat too few calories. Plus, at a point, your body will go into starvation mode and hold onto extra fat for dear life. These plans will also make you hungry, cranky, and all around miserable.
  • The plan omits or restricts fruits or veggies. This should be a no-brainer. But in my food service experience, I've had tons of people tell me they no longer eat fresh fruit or vegetables because their diet doesn't allow it. Come on people! If you want to be healthier and/or lose weight, you should be adding more F&V to your diet (although these should be fresh or frozen and not soaked in sugar or butter.)
  • Finally, I consider a poor diet plan anything that is not sustainable as a permament lifestyle change. Could you really eat Special K or even Taco Bell every day for the rest of your life? Ewwwwww. When you consider a plan, consider whether you can maintain it long in forever. I once heard a weight loss expert give a talk on diets and methods for helping people lose weight. He said that losing weight is the easy part. Pretty much any diet that restricts calories will do it if done correctly and you stick to it long enough. The problem is that a staggering number of people who lose weight gain it back. This is because they choose plans they can't maintain. And what's worse, every time you lose and gain, lose and gain, you put more stress on your body and set yourself up for more health complications.
Looking to lose weight in 2010? Here are some healthier suggestions:
  • Do not follow a poor diet plan outlined above. If you aren't sure if yours is "poor", ask me.
  • Do not impose new and strict rules upon yourself. Set a few realistic goals and slowly incorporate them into your lifestyle.
  • But also set quantifiable goals. For example, plan to workout 3 times a week, limit yourself to one soda a day, try to eat a fruit at every meal, eat 2 servings of veggies at dinner, or set a specific and realistic weight loss goal such as 5% of your current weight.
  • Cut back on calories, but in an intelligent manner. Limit your sodas or sugar intake. Watch your portions. Experiment with lighter versions of your favorite meals/recipes. Cut back on alcohol. Etc.
  • Meet with a RD. It might be covered by insurance.
I'm always available for questions/suggestions/opinions/advice. Or, if you did not head the warning and you don't agree with this post and it's hefty helping of harshness, please contact me and we can discuss.

New Toys & New Re-Sip-EEEs

You don't need a lot of fancy kitchen gadgets and gizmos to make healthy meals....but they sure make it easier and more fun!

Between Christmas and my Bday (two days after Christmas), I (or we rather) received the following kitchen items:
  • stick blender
  • Kitchenaid professional stand mixer
  • Kitchenaid food processor
  • mandolin
  • calphalon sauce pan
  • 3 blade slicer/peeler
  • mixing bowls
  • strainer/sifter
  • measuring cups
  • large non-stick saute pan
  • grill
And I'm probably forgetting something. ;) Needless to say, it was a great holiday and I got a lot of great cookware.

You know how you always think of things you need like shaving cream, but then when you get to Target you forgot what they were? Well, as I sift through recipes and watch the food network I always think of things I would like for my kitchen. And then when I get them I can't seem to remember why I specifically wanted them in the first place. So I've been looking for ways to use my new toys.

Here's what I've come up with so far:
Last week I made a "salsa" of sorts and served it with seared tuna. I can't take credit for the recipe, I got it from the cooking class I took. But I can take credit for my creative use of leftovers. I took the extra salsa, which consisted of finely sliced onions, oranges, fennel, and more (recipe to come later), and mixed it into plain whole wheat couscous. It was sooooooo good! Now we have a whole new meal using something that would've gone to waste.

Then last night I made a butternut squash soup with cilantro pesto and homemade croutons.
Here is the recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup
  • About 1 pound of butternut squash. I used the pre-cut kind, as it was actually cheaper than buying, peeling and cutting a whole squash (always check for the best price!)
  • Bouillon for broth
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil or fresh butter for sauteeing
  • S&P
  • The original recipe also called for a can of pumpkin to make the soup creamy, but all of the stores I visited were out of pumpkin, so I omitted it.
  1. Slice or dice your onion
  2. Heat about 1 T of EVOO or butter in a stock pot
  3. Cook onion in pot until fragrant and slightly browned
  4. Add water to the pot (be careful this will produce steam) As usual, I can't say how much to add. I guessed and just filled the pot about halfway. The end goal was to have the water just covering the squash after it was added.
  5. Add bouillon cubes to the water. I used 2 large cubes. Don't be afraid to add bouillon, but don't add too much, it can make it salty. You can always add some salt and seasoning at the end, but you can't take salt away if you add too much in the beginning. So if you want to be more precise than I am, start by adding maybe 6 cups of water and the correct proportion of bouillon based on what it says on the box (varies by size and type of cube.) Then add more water and cubes if needed.
  6. Add the squash to the pot. If the squash is not all submerged, add a little more water.
  7. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover and bring to a boil.
  9. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook ~10 minutes or until squash are soft.
  10. At this point I used my new stickblender to blend away the chunks and produce a creamy soup. Unfortunately, because I didn't add the pumpkin and I used a little too much water, this left with with a very liquidy soup....but it's soup, right?!? And it still tasted great, but read on for those results.

Homemade Cilantro Pesto
  • ~2 cups of roughly chopped cilantro or any fresh herb you have
  • 2 T of fresh thyme (0r half the amount of dried thyme)
  • Lemon or lime juice (I think we used about 1 T) (I don't know for sure because Sir Cakewalk made this part of the meal)(but you really can't go wrong, cause you can always taste it and adjust...just start with a small amount)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO of good quality
  • Salt (no P)
  1. Place cilantro and thyme in food processor and blend until finely chopped
  2. Add lemon juice and salt and pulse to combine
  3. While it is mixing, slowly add in the EVOO
  4. Taste and adjust (ours was a tad too liquidy, so we added a little more cilantro and salt)

Homemade Croutons
  • Bread with a hardish crust (I like Rye from Trader Joe's)
  1. Slice your bread into cubes
  2. Place on an ungreased baking sheet
  3. Cook in oven at ~350 until bread is crunchy

Now put it all together:
  1. Ladle soup into bowls
  2. Spoon about 1/2 T of pesto into the center of the soup
  3. Top with a few breadcrumbs
  4. Enjoy!

This meal was delicious and very simple to make! Plus we have tons of leftovers. We also used some of the uncooked bread to dunk into the pesto like a dip. Yum!!!! It left us with stinky breath, but it was worth it.

Note: If you are watching your waistline, just go easy on the pesto since it is mostly oil. The soup has very little calories but tons of vitamins and fiber. So overall this is a very light meal, even with the pesto accent.