Own Your Health

Note: This appeared in the Sauk Valley Newspapers under the title “A Cure for What Ails You: Healthier Living”.

I work with some very dedicated and caring medical professionals and our organization as a whole has been recognized for quality care in many areas. We do our very best to fix whatever illness you might have but we should all realize that modern medicine has its limitations.

If you come to your doctor’s office or the hospital with symptoms of disease your physician will treat the symptoms according to established standards of care.  They will use medications and/or procedures to lower your blood pressure, control your blood sugar, improve your lung function, reduce your cholesterol numbers, unclog your arteries, etc., etc. Most of the medications prescribed will have unwelcome side effects and all surgical procedures come with some degree of risk. And unfortunately, these treatments do not address the underlying cause of the illness.

The top 10 causes of death in the United States are: heart disease*, cancer*, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)*, stroke*, accidents, Alzheimer’s, diabetes*, pneumonia*, kidney disease*, and suicide. At least 7 of these (the ones with asterisks) are related to our own unhealthy behaviors.  Smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity are the primary contributors.

We may not like to accept the responsibility for our poor health. We’d like to blame our parents or our genetics but science is showing that what we do with our fingers (smoking), forks (eating), and feet (exercise) can turn “on” or “off” the genes that might predispose us to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.

As an example I refer you to the work of Dr. Dean Ornish, one of the pioneers of preventive medicine.  He has done clinical trials with heart patients and with prostate cancer patients.  In both groups he was able to show a reversal of symptoms with a lifestyle related prescription.  Patients consumed a plant based diet, participated in regular physical activity, and were taught how to manage stress.  Another very famous physician who has had great success in reversing existing heart disease is Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic. I encourage you to look into their research.

While drugs and procedures can address symptoms of lifestyle related diseases, we can’t expect our illness to go away if we continue to practice unhealthy behaviors. Most importantly we should realize that we can prevent, and in some cases even reverse, most of the diseases that kill us before our time.

 

The Last of the Tomatoes

Tomato season is definitely winding down but if you are like me you may still have a collection on your counter in various stages of ripeness.  A friend last week asked me what to do with all of her end of season tomatoes so thought I would share the same ideas with you.

  • “Fried” Green Tomatoes
  • Oven Roasted Tomatoes w/ Garlic
  • Bruschetta

“Fried” Green Tomatoes

This is the same recipe that I featured a few weeks ago as a way to cook eggplant slices.  Simply cut green tomatoes into thick slices crosswise, brush both sides with mayonnaise, and dip both sides in seasoned bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes; turning once halfway through.  Serve with a topping of marinara or you could top with the following oven roasted tomatoes.  Tomatoes on top of tomatoes.  That’s a good way to use them up!

Oven Roasted Tomatoes w/ Garlic

This is a great way to use up those overripe, bruised, and dented grape, cherry, and plum tomatoes.  I don’t grow cherry tomatoes but I rescued a bag full from the informal “Farmer’s Market” at our employee entrance a couple of weeks ago. (And by the way, thank you to whoever it is that leaves those offerings!)  You could use larger tomatoes also but I would squeeze some of the excess juice and seeds out of those before cooking.

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Wash tomatoes and cut larger ones in half.  Try to get them all about the same size.  Take a few cloves of garlic (again this is to taste – use as few or as many as you would like.)  Remove the husk from the garlic clove and slice thinly.  Spread tomatoes on oiled or foiled baking sheet and sprinkle with the garlic slices.  If you would like to add additional oil at this point you can drizzle it on and toss everything together then spread the mixture evenly over the baking sheet again.

This is not so much a recipe as a method because the quantity depends on how many tomatoes you have on hand.  Try not to crowd them too much on the baking sheet because you want them to roast and dry out a bit.

Bake in a slow oven, about 300 degrees for 60-90 minutes.  Again, this will depend on the size of your pieces but you want everything to be very soft and much of the moisture to have evaporated.  At this point you can add some salt and pepper if you want to.

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The finished product can be served immediately over things like pasta or the fried green tomato recipe above.  This week I ate the last of mine over some fresh green beans.  You can store in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze for use in any recipes that call for sun dried tomatoes.

Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (brew-sketta) is an Italian dish that is basically toasted bread with toppings. One classic topping includes tomatoes with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and basil. It’s something I could eat every day during tomato season.  It’s also the signature dish of one of my book club friends and we force her to make it every year when it is her turn to host.

  • 1 Loaf French or Italian bread cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 2-3 cloves garlic; husks removed
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (I like plum tomatoes but you can use any variety.  Larger tomatoes should be squeezed to remove extra juice and seeds…see pic below)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (I like balsamic or red wine)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces and combine with olive oil, vinegar, and basil.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Toast both sides of bread on grill or under broiler.  Rub one side of each slice of toasted bread with garlic cloves.  (The cloves will “melt” into the bread). Serve bread beside the tomato mixture so people can spoon it on for themselves.

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And last, but not least, you can use up those fresh tomatoes by substituting them for the canned variety in your favorite recipes.  I made this skillet baked bean recipe from The Vegan 8 last weekend that called for pureed tomatoes. The tomato you see me squeezing in the above picture got cut into pieces and zipped in my personal blender.  Voila; pureed tomatoes!

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A Few of My Favorite Things

I had a birthday recently so I thought I would share recipes for some of my very favorite foods with you.

  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
  • Gazpacho
  • Swiss Chard Pesto

Green Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I absolutely love salsa verde and I can’t believe that I never tried to make it for myself until recently.  It’s easy, saves money, and you can make it without all the sodium that is present in commercial products.

Salsa verde starts with tomatillos, an ingredient you might not have used before.  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes but they are actually related to the gooseberry.  To clean them just hold the tomatillo under warm running water and pull off the husk. They tend to be a bit sticky so this helps to wash the stickiness away, too.

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Here’s what you’ll need to make approximately one quart of salsa:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. tomatillos (I try to get them all about the same size so they will roast evenly)
  • 1-2 jalapenos to taste; stems removed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 white onion, cut into quarters
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Everything goes on a sheet pan. I covered my pan with non stick foil.

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Preheat your broiler to high and move the rack to the highest position so that the vegetables are only 2-3 inches away from the heat.  Broil for about 15 minutes, turning everything over halfway through.  You want some roasted black spots on everything but the garlic.  The tomatillos will soften and change color.  I usually babysit closely in the last few minutes; removing what looks done and returning the rest to the broiler until everything is done.  The garlic cloves need to be removed from their skins (just cut off one end and squeeze) and then everything goes right into the blender.

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Use the “grind” or “chop” setting on your blender to keep some texture and blend just until there are no large pieces left.  At this point you can add some salt, pepper if desired, and sometimes I add the juice of a lime.

Green salsa is great for serving with tortilla chips or as a topping for enchiladas and grilled meats. Try stirring some into mashed avocado for a different kind of guacamole, too.

Gazpacho

This a perfect time of year to make this cold soup that features the ripest tomatoes from the garden. I started with this recipe for  Classic Andalusian Gazpacho from Epicurious.  While the addition of cucumber is not necessary I had one so I threw it in. Since I planned to freeze a portion of this soup I did not add the bread but I can do that before I serve it.  I also did not add the oil or strain the solids from the soup.

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This couldn’t be any easier. There is absolutely no cooking involved. Just some chopping, blending, chilling, and you’ve got a refreshing warm weather meal.

Swiss Chard Pesto

A classic pesto consists of basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated parmesan cheese.  I grow basil every summer and this is my absolute favorite way to use it.  There are many variations. I’ve made pesto with baby spinach, artichoke and olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Since I have quite a bit of chard in the garden this year I’ve made this version several times.  Here is my recipe:

  • 6-8 large leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts may also be used)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I substitute nutritional yeast to make this vegan)
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or use more water if avoiding oil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cut chard into ribbons and steam for about 5 minutes.  Removed from steamer and cool.  Put the cooked chard, basil, nuts, cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and water into food processor or personal blender and pulse until the mixture begins to break down and come together. Add olive oil to the mixture and pulse a few more time to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto has many uses. I made an awesome sandwich last week by spreading pesto on a baguette and topping with grilled vegetables and sliced fresh mozzarella.  It’s good dribbled over sliced tomatoes and can be served hot, warm, or cold as pasta sauce or for dressing pasta salads. I also use it to flavor mashed potatoes.

All of these recipes are great ways to use summer produce and I think it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite foods taste best at the time of my summer birthday.

 

 

Pay Attention to Artificial Food Colors

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You may have seen television commercials recently for kid’s cereals proclaiming that artificial colors have been removed from their products.  Another current commercial for a popular brand of macaroni and cheese makes the statement “Earlier this year, we started quietly selling Kraft macaroni and cheese with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. And guess what? It still tastes like Kraft macaroni and cheese.”

Why are food manufacturers removing these ingredients from their products? And maybe the better question would be why were those ingredients added in the first place?

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, artificial colors are added to foods in order to “offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; (and) provide color to colorless and “fun” foods”.

While manufacturers believe that they are making foods more palatable there is evidence that the chemicals used to create artificial colorings contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity in children.  Some are also linked to allergic reactions. The first studies on this were actually done in the 1970’s but there have been at least 8 analyses (comparing data compiled from multiple studies) done since 2011 that show that eliminating artificial food dyes reduces hyperactive behavior in some children.

How much artificial coloring does it take to create a noticeable difference in behavior? In one study it took as little as one serving of a beverage containing artificial coloring.

Artificial coloring is present in a wide variety of packaged food.  It is obvious in some; things like candy, cereals, and fruity beverages, but also surprisingly present in things like pickles, yogurt, frozen dinners, and flavored oatmeal. Because these colorings are so prevalent in our food supply an average child will consume multiple foods in any given day that contain artificial coloring.

In a perfect world we would cook our own meals using whole fresh ingredients and we would not need to artificially enhance the color or rely on chemical flavorings and preservatives.  But the fact is that most Americans will buy at least some processed and packaged foods.  To avoid these chemicals the best advice is to read labels.

Artificial colors are listed in the ingredient label as the color and a number, i.e. red 40, yellow 6, etc. Other additives may also be listed, things that do everything from increasing shelf life to artificially increasing fiber and vitamin content.  Look for foods that contain the fewest ingredients possible and preferably ingredients that you recognize.

Eggplant Three Ways

When it comes to growing eggplant I was something of an overachiever this year. My 5 plants yielded half dozen or more fruits each.  That’s a lot of eggplant for a two person household.

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My husband is content to slice eggplant, brush it with oil, and throw it on the grill but I prefer to use it in other types of dishes. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes and a new one I tried recently:

  • Caponata
  • Easiest Eggplant
  • Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

Caponata – #1 Favorite

Caponata is a sweet and sour relish that can be used as a bruschetta topping or served over pasta.  I use this recipe from Epicurious.com. In the past I’ve varied the ingredients by using fresh tomatoes in place of the canned and adding additional vegetables like zucchini and peppers.  It’s a great recipe for this time of year for that reason. Here is my pan full of fresh ingredients and the finished product served over toasted slices of whole wheat baguette.

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A few years ago I worked on a garden project with a local summer day camp and we grew eggplant in the garden.  I made caponata for the kids to taste and one young man told me it was “better than candy”.  Therefore, I can confidently say this recipe is kid tested and approved.

Easiest Eggplant – #2 Favorite

Eggplant Parmigiana may be the one eggplant dish that most people are familiar with.  It’s usually prepared by breading and frying the eggplant and then covering it with loads of tomato sauce and lots of melted cheese.  Here’s a healthier alternative. I’ve also used this recipe with sliced green tomatoes. The original recipe comes from Allrecipes.com.  This is my version:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 4 tablespoons (or less) mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I put a slice of bread in my mini food processor)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with non stick aluminum foil. Combine the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and parmesan in a shallow dish. Coat each slice of eggplant on both sides with mayonnaise. Press into the bread crumbs to coat.

Brushing and breading on both sides can get a little messy but I figured out a neater method. Lay the eggplant slices on a cutting board and brush them with the mayonnaise on one side.  Flip the mayonnaise coated side of each slice into the bowl with the bread crumb mixture and press down to adhere the crumbs.  Brush mayonnaise on the top, flip the slice over with tongs and press down again.

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Place coated eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Flip slices over, and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to brown the other side. I top each serving with some of my homemade marinara sauce.  So good!

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Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

I found this recipe in the “Nutrition Action” newsletter published by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  The CSPI is a non profit organization that focuses on improving the health and safety of the U.S. food supply.

Each issue of Nutrition Action focuses on food ingredients in packaged and restaurant meals and how they affect our health.  They also throw in a few recipes using whole, fresh, ingredients and this one caught my eye.  I think you could use any kind of cooked grain or small pasta with good results (i.e. rice, quinoa, couscous).  I used kasha which is bulgur that has been toasted.  This comes together quickly so would be a good weeknight meal:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup bulgur (or substitute one cup of another cooked grain product)
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant (1/2 lb.) cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup no salt added crushed tomatoes (I used chopped fresh plum tomato)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil and/or parsley leaves, chopped (I used a combination of both)

Soak the bulgur in 3/4 cup hot water for at least 10 minutes.  (Bulgur is a quick cooking grain; if you substitute something else you will want to cook your grain according to it’s own package directions.) Meanwhile in a large non-stick pan heat oil over medium high heat.  Saute the eggplant, turning occasionally for 5-8 minutes until it browns on 2 or 3 sides.  Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes.  Simmer an additional 3-5 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Stir in the bulgur and cook until any liquid is absorbed, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs.  Season with salt if desired. This serves 4 people; 180 calories per serving.

You could serve this as a side dish; I added chickpeas to make it a complete meatless meal.

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Hope these recipe will inspire you to try this underappreciated vegetable.

 

You Can Beet This

I’m always surprised by people who say they don’t like beets.  I enjoy them in all forms; pickled, roasted, steamed, etc. I planted two different varieties in the garden this year and since I remembered to thin them, they did pretty good. Here’s a portion of my harvest.

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Now that they are out of the ground I need to do something with them! (I’ll get to those eggplants next time…)

  • Red Salad
  • Quick Pickled Beets
  • Chilled Beet Soup

Red Salad

Thank you to my friend Peg for pointing me in the direction of Fergus Henderson’s Red Salad.  Now I can add “raw” to the list of ways I enjoy beets. This recipe combines beets, red cabbage, and red onion in a refreshing and elegant presentation. You must go read the instructions because Fergus has an interesting way with words.

While Mr. Henderson’s language is very descriptive he’s not very precise when it comes to measurements.  I used about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of walnut oil (in place of the olive oil) in the dressing. I didn’t use the crème fraiche because:

a. Where the heck am I going to find it?

b. Crème = cream = saturated fat!

Instead I complemented my salad with a scoop of vegan cream cheese.  You could use fat free yogurt, sour cream, or even some soft goat cheese if you are not avoiding dairy products. Fresh chervil is also hard to locate in this area; my herbs on the side are tarragon and parsley.

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P.S. – When you are working with beets you are going to make a mess.  Just sayin’.

Beet Soup

I made a warm beet soup for Valentine’s Day this year but since it is summer I thought I would experiment with a chilled version.  I found this recipe for “Chilled Beet Soup with Buttermilk and Dill” at Epicurious. It’s a  soup that’s traditional to Poland.  I love that it uses the beet greens.

To save a step or two (and a pot or two – I hate doing dishes) I peeled, sliced, and steamed my beets. After 15 minutes I placed the chopped beet greens on top of the beets and steamed an additional 5 minutes or so until the beets were soft and the greens were wilted. I chopped the mixture in the saucepan with this handy utensil and added the remaining ingredients.

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I don’t eat dairy products so I used cashew milk and a tablespoon of white vinegar to replace the buttermilk and skipped the sour cream entirely.  Please note – if you use the full amount of pickle brine plus the pickle this soup has over 600 milligrams of sodium per serving.  That’s almost half of what most Americans should have in a full day.  You can cut back on the pickle brine as I did, or just make sure to watch your sodium for the rest of the day.

Quick Pickled Beets

I don’t do any large scale pickling or canning but I wanted to turn some of my beets into a pickle that would keep for a while.  I found this recipe at simplyrecipes.com.

The recipe offers two different methods for preparing beets; either roasting or boiling. I preferred to steam them as I did with the soup recipe.

Here are my pickled beets.  They are going to make a nice addition to salads and relish trays if I can keep them out of my husband’s clutches this week. The pale ones are from a pretty candy cane striped beet variety that I planted.

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I hope you will give these recipes a try and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Fruit…Sweet!

We all love sweet things but sugar, and especially the highly refined sugars that are present in many processed foods, can really do a number on our waistline and our health.  Artificial sweeteners come with their own problems – they may damage our gut and cause us to crave sweet things even more.

I feel the best way to address our natural preference for sweet tasting foods is by eating fruit every day.  Most of the time that should be in the form of whole fresh fruit enjoyed as a snack or dessert but sometimes I step it up a notch and use fruit to sweeten something really decadent.  Case in point:

  • Chocolate Power Bar Balls
  • Chia Seed Jam

Chocolate Power Bar Balls

The recipe for these Chocolate Power Bar Balls comes from one of my favorite sources for gluten free and other healthy recipes, Elana’s Pantry. Although there is a small amount of refined sugar in the chocolate, the “sweet” is achieved primarily with dates. Dates are so sweet that you can use a really dark chocolate (70-80% cacao) here. The higher the cacao content the less sugar! I usually buy a good quality bar and chop it into pieces for this recipe.

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These are so easy to make; the only preparation required is to chop the chocolate bar and the dates into small pieces and throw everything in the food processor.  I only added a tiny bit of water because my dates were really juicy.  As you can see I used a small cookies scoop to portion out the mixture.  I like to put them in the refrigerator to firm them up.

A word about dates – although I’ve seen dozens of recipes in old cookbooks for date bars, breads, cookies, etc. I don’t ever remember eating a date while I was growing up.  When I started reducing the sugar in my diet a couple of years ago I tried them and I am hooked.  I always have a container or two of Medjool dates on hand.

Blackberry Chia Seed Jam

Chia seeds have come a long way since the 1970’s when they were used to sprout greenery on the iconic chia pet. They are now one of the “pets” of the nutrition world because they are packed with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Their fiber is in the soluble form that helps to absorb dietary fats and cholesterol. That solubility also gives these seeds a unique quality that makes them “gel” in liquid. They can be used as a thickener, egg replacement, or to create jams.

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There are many recipes for chia seed jams. The first one I tried was this one from the Oh She Glows website. Since then I’ve made jam with strawberries, raspberries, and even rhubarb.  The chia seeds don’t require heat to do their magic so I even made a raw version recently as a topping for strawberry shortcake dessert.

This time I used the Oh She Glows recipe and frozen wild black raspberries I picked from my back yard earlier this summer. Don’t worry if everything looks a little dry when you put it in the sauce pan – the berries will release their juice as you heat the mixture. The jam should keep for up to a week in the fridge and freezes well.  Use it to stir into plain yogurt or to top oatmeal, toast, etc. This went on top of my overnight oats this morning!

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There are some people out there who may be avoiding fruit because they are concerned about the fructose content. I don’t think you should be worried about  that if you are consuming whole fruits.  I’d like to direct you to this video from Dr. Michael Greger’s website nutritionfacts.org in which he describes the results of a weight loss study involving women who added fruit to their diet (and consumed more calories than the control group). They lost more weight than the group eating fewer calories but no fruit.

I highly recommend Dr. Greger’s website and his new book “How Not to Die” if you would like to learn more about eating for your health. I was privileged to hear him speak recently and to meet him.  He’s a wonderful person!

DrMichaelGreger

 

Cream Without the Cow

Scientists believe that mouth feel has something to do with our enjoyment of food. One of the textures we enjoy most is the fatty, “creamy” mouth feel of foods like ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.

Of course I enjoy a creamy texture, too but I am eating and drinking far fewer dairy products than I used to to avoid saturated fat. Luckily, there are other ways to achieve creaminess without relying on farm animals. Nuts, nut milks, and nut butters with their healthy fat are one notable example as with the ranch dressing recipe I posted recently.  You can also achieve a creamy texture with foods that have no fat at at all. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Banana Soft Serve
  • White Bean Gravy

Banana Soft Serve

I always have bananas in the freezer. I use them as a base for smoothies and they make a pretty awesome milkshake.  I freeze bananas when are really, really ripe.  This makes them extra sweet and I can often save money at the grocery store by buying the reduced price bananas.

I used to slice bananas and lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze but I have discovered that a whole, frozen banana is fairly easy to slice with a sharp knife so now I just peel and freeze. To keep them from getting brown or freezer burned, put them in a large ziploc, insert a straw, close the zipper as tight as possible around the straw, suck out as much air as possible and close the zipper.

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Here are my bananas along with a bag of frozen cherries; the ingredients in my current favorite milkshake recipe:

  • 1 frozen banana, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen cherries
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (or more) plant milk of choice – I like almond or cashew

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.  You may need to add a little more milk to get it to blend properly.  Enjoy!

And now for the banana soft serve.  If you don’t mind having an extra gadget or two in the kitchen look for a YoNanas machine.  I saw it at a cooking demonstration and bought one soon after. It turns frozen bananas into soft serve ice cream.  Period.  You can add other frozen fruits and mix in other flavorings but it’s hard to beat the simplicity and pure wholesomeness of a one ingredient frozen treat.

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The machine is available at Amazon and also at Bed, Bath. and Beyond. It’s easy to use and the parts that come in contact with food can be disassembled and cleaned in the dishwasher.

White Bean Gravy

This recipe contains zero fat or flour so it’s great for heart health and for those wanting a gluten free alternative to other gravies.  It couldn’t be easier to make; you just blend a can of beans with some seasonings and spices. I found a basic recipe here at Potato Strong.  To increase the savoriness and depth of flavor I sauteed some onion and garlic slices in a little water until soft and blended them with the other ingredients.  I heated up a small portion of the gravy and served it over a baked potato.

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The next day I took things a step further. I sauteed sliced baby bella mushrooms and seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  After the mushrooms were cooked I added the gravy and 2 cups of chopped kale to the pan and heated everything through until the kale was wilted. The results were so good I may try to sneak this one by my family for Thanksgiving!

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Here’s a note about canned beans.  They can vary greatly in terms of sodium content and that’s why I usually avoid them. Since this recipe uses the liquid from the beans I shopped around to find the lowest sodium option.  This one had only 90mg per serving.

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Hope you enjoyed this post.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

No Oil Salad Dressings

  • Vegan Ranch Dressing
  • No Oil Maple Dijon
  • Unholy Guacamole

Are you familiar with the work of Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish? Their research with patients has shown that a whole food plant based (WFPB) dietary pattern can successfully reverse (yes, I said reverse!) heart disease.

This information and my own family history of heart disease have led me to attempt a primarily plant based diet.  It’s a learning process; definitely a work in progress; and I have had to rethink many of the things I formerly considered healthy.

Case in point; oils. It was disconcerting for me to learn that vegetable oils are not necessarily considered a healthy choice in my new WFPB way of eating. What? No olive oil? No canola oil? According to the wisdom of Dr. Esselstyn and Ornish, oils are refined foods. They have been pressed, refined, and processed into a very concentrated source of fat calories.

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That posed a problem because salads are a staple for me especially at this time of year and what’s a salad without a salad dressing? Luckily I’ve discovered several recipes for dressings that contain no oil.  Here are just a few. I can personally vouch for them being delicious.

Ranch Dressing

I went looking for a whole food version of ranch dressing to dress the red and green leaf lettuce from my garden and stumbled across this recipe from The Rawtarian.  I knew it would be creamy because I’ve already experimented with cashew cream to make pasta sauces and casseroles. The spice combination in this recipe really knocks it out of the park. I’ve adjusted the proportions a bit and left out the oil in  the original recipe. I also soaked the cashews for a few of hours to increase the creaminess.  The result was really thick; perfect for dipping vegetables.  I add a little extra vinegar and water to make a thinner dressing for salad.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw cashews (I found in bulk food section at my grocer)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar (or honey, or maple syrup – I used agave)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Soak the cashews in the water for a minimum of 2-3 hours and up to 24 hours. Add them with the water and the remaining ingredients to your high speed blender and process until everything is completely smooth. Refrigerate and use within 3-4 days.

 

No Oil Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

I attended the Cleveland Clinic’s annual Obesity Summit last October and one of the highlights for me was a cooking demonstration presented by Dr. Esselstyn’s wife and daughter.  They are the creators of the cookbook that is companion to Dr. Esselstyn’s bestseller, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”.  The basic recipe comes from the book where you will find several other no oil salad dressings and hundreds of additional WFPB recipes.   Here is the version I made to top a salad of beet greens, corn, and red kidney beans.

Jane’s Favorite 3,2,1 Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard of choice (I used Dijon)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Pinch of white pepper (optional)

I add all the ingredients to a small jar and shake until smooth.  It’s a very tart dressing so you may want to add a bit of water or fruit juice to taste.

If you are reading closely and paying attention you may be saying “Hey, can mustard, vinegar, and maple syrup be considered “whole” foods?  The answer would be no, but since Dr. Esselstyn’s research points primarily to dietary fat as the culprit in heart disease you will find that small amounts of highly flavored condiments and natural sweeteners can be included in this eating plan.

I’m amassing quite a collection of signed cookbooks and I was pleased to add this one to my collection!

PRHD cover PRHD fly

Unholy Guacamole

This one’s my favorite and I use it often to dress Southwestern style salads and bowls.

  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or apple cider vinegar
  • Optional: A bit of cumin or Tajin seasoning (found in the Hispanic section of your grocery store)

Add all the ingredients to a ziploc bag, close the bag and squish everything together to blend (just like the topping for the Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes featured earlier here.)

unholyfinished2 unholyfinished1

I can put this in my lunch bag along with my salad. The combination of the airtight bag and the acid from the lime juice and vinegar keep the avocado from turning brown.  At the office I just snip a corner of the bag and squeeze the contents over my salad ingredients.  One of my favorite combination is 1/2 cup of thawed frozen corn kernels (quinoa or brown rice also work well) and 1/2 cup of black beans over some type of greens.

Of course oil free does not necessarily mean fat free or low calorie. The ranch dressing and the guacamole dressing contain a significant number of calories from healthy fat but you are also getting the fiber and anti-oxidants of the whole food. If you think of the ranch dressing as a serving of nuts and the avocado as a serving of fruit (avocado is a fruit) they make sense in terms of your daily calorie intake.

Besides, a little dietary fat helps your body absorb some nutrients like the Vitamin K found in many dark leafy salad greens.

 

This Mug’s for You

Controlling portion size is so important for people who are trying to watch their weight. What better way to control portion size when cooking than to prepare just enough for one serving?

I’ve been experimenting with single serve microwave recipes prepared in a mug and I was surprised by the number of options I found. Here are just a few:

  • Vegan Muffin in a Mug
  • Meatloaf
  • Peanut Butter Cake

Muffin in a Mug

I started with this recipe from Feasting on Fruit but made a couple of modifications. I don’t usually keep oat flour on hand because I have found that it is very easy to create my own using my handy high speed personal blender.  Do you own one of these things?

ninjablender

To yield the 1/3 cup flour for this recipe just put 1/2 cup of whole rolled oats into the blender and whir them for 30 seconds or so.  Voila – oat flour!  I also used it to quickly chop a couple of tablespoons of walnuts to add to my muffin.  My last modification was to replace blueberries with some frozen raspberries I had on hand.  Here is the finished muffin:

mugmuffin

My mug is huge so the muffin is bigger than it looks.  Mine needed a total of about 3 minutes to cook.  At 2 minutes it still looks wet in the middle so I microwaved it for an additional 30 seconds two times.

This recipe is vegan and gluten free if you make sure to purchase gluten free oats.

Meatloaf

I like this recipe because it does not require any eggs.  Instead you get some added fiber and healthy fat from the ground flax seed meal.  I preferred using the barbecue sauce but be sure to look for one that is lower in sugar.

meatloafmug

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 Tablespoon ketchup or BBQ sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flax seed meal
  • 2 Tablespoons oats (quick cooking or old-fashioned)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/4 pound 90% lean ground beef

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine the milk, BBQ sauce (or ketchup), flax seed, oats and onion. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. Pat into a microwave-safe mug or custard cup coated with cooking spray. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes or until meat is no longer pink and a thermometer reads 160°; drain. Let stand for 3 minutes. Serve with additional ketchup or BBQ sauce if desired.

Peanut Butter Mug Cake

As cakes go this is a pretty healthy option.  I found this recipe on the Kitchen Treaty website.  I think you could also eat it for breakfast – maybe top with some chopped apple instead of  the chocolate?

PBmugcake

And speaking of chocolate (and portion control) I have to tell you that I almost never have chocolate chips in my pantry.  If they are there I will hunt them down and devour them.  I do have small quantities of high quality dark chocolate in the house. I find that the darker the chocolate the less I require. For this recipe a single square chopped fine and sprinkled on top did the trick for me.

Here’s another note about these microwave meals.  Do allow them to sit for several minutes before consuming.  Some carry over cooking will occur and right out of the microwave they are HOT! Take it from me, the voice of experience. The roof of your mouth will thank me.