Spring Cleaning

When Spring arrives many people feel motivated to eat fresher, healthier, and lighter.  Here are some recipes that can help you to clean up your diet:

 

  • Greek Grain Salad
  • Baby Kale and Noodles
  • Gingered Carrot Soup

 

Greek Grain Salad

Greens, beans, and whole grains are high on my priority list of foods to consume daily and this salad from the Cookie and Kate website combines all three.  I love adding grains to salads to make them feel more like a hearty meal.  As you will see the original recipe calls for farro. I used bulgur but you could also easily substitute quinoa, barley, rice, or a small whole grain pasta. And, since we are on the subject of whole grains I will mention that the Whole Grains Council recognizes Whole Grain Sampling Day this year on Wednesday, March 30. Check out their website for lots of ways to incorporate whole grains into your meals.

 

 

 

Baby Kale and Noodles

Another quick dish that combines greens with grains is this kale and noodle combination I found at Allrecipes.com. Most sturdy greens do well sautéed with a little oil, garlic, and red pepper flake.  I prepare them this way often with variations.  Here I used whole wheat noodles with baby kale and added some red cabbage and black eyed peas to make a meatless meal.

Baby Kale and Noodles

 

 

Carrot Soup with Ginger and Lemon

I have a go to carrot soup recipe but tried something different this time and it went over well with my husband’s family at our Easter dinner.  Both recipes come from Epicurious.com, a favorite recipe website of mine. I make a lot of my own soups and one kitchen tool that makes my life so much easier is my immersion or “stick” blender. Here is what it looks like on the job and off.  This saves the mess of transferring hot liquids to a blender.  I’ve also used it to make hummus, sauces, whipped cream, etc., etc.  It is a handy little gadget!

East Meets West

I belong to the best book club. We have been meeting monthly for over 10 years now to share our love of reading. We also share good food and friendship (and a little wine.)  It was my turn to host this month and I chose a book about mindful meditation. My menu was a Western Interpretation of Eastern cuisine.  Here are a couple of the dishes I made. I’m also including a taco recipe that got a thumbs up from the hubby:

 

  • Collard Green Sushi Rolls
  • Black Eyed Pea Hummus
  • Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Tacos

 

Collard Green Sushi Rolls

These sushi rolls were featured in a cooking demonstration I attended at the Cleveland Clinic Obesity Summit last October.  The presenters were Jane and Anne Criss-Esselstyn, daughter and wife of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who wrote “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”   They are completely plant based; no seafood or dairy at all.  My version includes:

–        3-4 large collard leaves
–        Hummus
–        Cooked brown rice
–        Cucumber
–        Bell pepper
–        Steamed asparagus spears
–        Fresh mango
–        Chopped green onion
–        Zest and juice from 1 lemon
–        Parsley or cilantro (optional)

 

Trim the stems from the end of the collard leaves, stack them and place them in a pan with a few inches of simmering water. Cover the pan and let simmer for 30-45 seconds.  Drain the leaves and pat them dry with paper towels.  Thinly slice the remaining vegetables and mango into long matchsticks. To assemble place one collard leaf on a mat or cutting board with the stem side up.  Spread a thin layer of hummus lengthwise down the center of each leaf (along and on either side of the stem).  Add a thin layer of rice on top of the hummus.  Arrange the vegetables and mango evenly on top of the rice.  At this point you can grate some fresh lemon zest over the top of everything and add chopped green onions, parsley, cilantro, whatever you like.  Also squeeze on some fresh lemon juice for a nice zing.  Starting on the long side, roll the leaf and filling into a long cigar shape, tucking in the ends as you go.  I found it useful to assemble each leaf portion on top of a paper towel and used the towel to facilitate the rolling.  Place toothpicks every couple of inches down the wrap and then cut the roll in between each pick.  Here’s how they turned out:

Collard Green Sushi

 

 

Black Eyed Pea Hummus

Although hummus is traditionally made with garbanzo beans (chickpeas) you can make it with all types of beans and different flavorings. (See the Smoky Chipotle Hummus from my post dated Feb. 5.)  This recipe features black-eyed peas (in keeping with my theme) and I couldn’t resist decorating the top with the Yin Yang symbol. This recipe can be found at MyRecipes.com.  Just a note – I never use tahini, which is a paste of ground sesame seeds, when making hummus.  I either leave it out or substitute a teaspoon of sesame oil, as I did here.

black eyed pea hummus

 


Roasted Vegetable and Lentil Tacos

Our chef at CGH offers a lentil filling in addition to beef when he serves tacos so I was familiar with the concept.  I added even more vegetables to this Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Taco recipe from Cookie & Kate by roasting sliced bell peppers along with the cauliflower and stirring a few handfuls of baby spinach into the lentils before serving. I heated my corn tortillas right on the burner of my gas stove.  Works a lot better than you might imagine!  The recipe calls for a chipotle cream sauce but I used this vegan chipotle flavored mayonnaise instead.  My husband said I could make these again so I’d say they were pretty successful.

 

 

 

 

Tastes Like Chicken

The human body is pretty amazing.  Take your tongue for instance.  The taste buds on your tongue are able to differentiate between the basic flavors in food; salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Aside from those basic flavors they are also able to distinguish, along with the olfactory assistance of your nose, the subtle difference between a strawberry and say, a blueberry. The message goes from tongue to brain to tell your body what is present in the food.

What you may not realize is that you may actually search out the various flavors in food because that flavor is related to a substance your body requires to maintain and support your health.

Somehow our brain connects flavor in the food with nutrients that are needed. We enjoy sweet, for example, because it tells our brain that there is energy available in this food.  Sour flavors indicate the presence of acid and fermentation, both of which assist in digestion. Salt (a little bit) is important in keeping your body’s fluid balance in check. Umami seems tell your brain that there is protein or amino acid present. These amino acids are needed to build and repair tissues. Bitter tastes may signal foods that are poisonous but healthy foods like greens, cacao, and coffee also have something of a bitter undertone.

The problem with the standard American diet is that for many of us it has caused our taste buds to lose their touch. If we eat a lot of highly processed, packaged foods, our taste buds become accustomed to unnatural and artificial flavors.  Try this experiment.  Eat a fresh grape.  Take a minute to eat it slowly and concentrate on the grape flavor.  Next take a drink of an artificially flavored grape soda or other beverage.   Notice the difference!

In addition to artificial flavorings and chemicals, excessive amounts of sugar and added salt mask natural flavors and dull our perception of what fresh, natural foods should taste like.

The good news is that you can reset your sweet tooth and your “salt” tooth. Focus on eliminating excessive amounts of sugar and sodium from your diet.  It may take a couple of weeks or even a few months of eating this way but at some point if the future you will bite into a highly sweetened  or salted food and your tongue will rebel!

Get Your Greens

  • Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
  • Carrot Tomato and Spinach Pilaf
  • Greek Seafood Salad

St. Patrick’s Day and unseasonably warm weather had me thinking of green things. I discovered this recipe for Sweet Potato Kale and Black Bean Enchiladas Casserole on the SparkPeople website. Some of my favorite ingredients here, plus the smoky spice of chipotle. I did not have chipotle salsa but I always have canned chipotle peppers on hand so I blended one pepper with a can of whole plum tomatoes in sauce for that layer.

Get your greens

Carrot, Tomato, and Spinach Pilaf

The original version of this recipe features quinoa and I found it at Allrecipes.com. I love this site because of its ingredient search feature. You just type in the ingredients you have, hit search and it brings up recipes that contain those ingredients. In this case I was trying to use up a bag of very skinny organic carrots and I always have spinach and canned whole plum tomatoes on hand. I subbed sprouted brown rice for the quinoa so cooking time was a little longer. I also used the juice from the tomatoes plus some water as the cooking liquid for the rice.

 

Greek Seafood Salad

Last Friday I asked my husband to think about what he wanted for dinner and halfway through the day he sent me a link to a recipe from his Weber Grills app (yes, there is an app for that!) I made some adjustments to the original recipe so this is my version. Perfect for a weird warm Friday in March! The original recipe can be found at weber.com.

greek seafood salad

Here is the recipe:

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Marinating time: 20 to 30 minutes
Grilling time: 3 to 5 minutes
Special equipment: perforated grill pan (I used a disposable one)

Dressing

  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano (I used a Greek seasoning blend)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into ½-inch slices
  • ½ cup pitted ripe black or Kalamata olives, halved or quartered
  • ½ cup thinly sliced celery
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • 12 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Thaw shrimp according to package directions. In a small bowl whisk the dressing ingredients.

Arrange the spinach and tomato slices on a serving platter. In a small bowl mix the olives, celery, and onion.

In a large bowl combine the shrimp and ¼ cup of the dressing, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F) and preheat a perforated grill pan.

Drain the shrimp in a fine-mesh strainer. Spread in a single layer on the grill pan, and then cook over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until slightly firm on the surface and completely opaque in the center, 3 to 5 minutes, turning once or twice for even cooking. Wearing insulated barbecue mitts or gloves, transfer the pan from the grill and rest it on a sheet pan. Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl to stop the cooking.

Spoon the shrimp over the tomatoes. Scatter the olives, celery, and onion over the seafood. Spoon some of dressing over the entire salad (you may not need all of the dressing). Top with the parsley and serve at room temperature.

Carrot Quinoa

I saw this recipe on Catherine Katz’s Cuisinicity website recently.  Catherine is the wife of Dr. David Katz, preventive medicine specialist with Yale University.  The whole Katz family gets involved spreading the message about healthy eating and exercise and I enjoy Catherine’s moderate approach where she mixes healthy, whole food with her French sensibilities.  Although the original recipe calls for carrot juice and miso (a fermented soy paste), I had neither on hand so had to improvise.  I blended 1 cup of carrots with water in my Ninja.  This preserved the fiber that would have been lost if I had just used juice. I used some low sodium soy sauce in place of the miso.

carrot quinoa

Quinoa is a gluten free, high protein grain option and combined with the chickpeas provide about 16 grams of protein per serving. The carrots make for nice color and sweetness.

 

Almond Milk

Non-dairy milks are becoming very popular. Of course soy milk has been around forever and almond milk is gaining ground but you can also purchase milks made from cashews, coconut, and hemp. One thing you may not realize is that nut milks are very easy to make at home.  I recently made some almond milk and this is how I did it:

 

I covered one cup of raw, unsalted almonds with water and let them soak at room temperature for 8 hours.

almond milk 1

After soaking, I drained the almonds and put them in the blender with 3 ½ cups of water, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and a dash of sea salt.  (Of course you can skip the flavorings and salt if you want a plain milk.)  I blended everything at high speed for one minute.

almond milk 2

I poured the mixture into a special bag (purchased on Amazon) placed in a large measuring bowl.  You could also use cheesecloth but a regular strainer or colander will not get all the fine nut particles out of the mixture.  It took a minute or two of twisting and squeezing to remove most of the liquid.  The pulp or almond meal that is left over can be used for other things; I plan to mix it into my oatmeal this week.

Miraculous Banana Oat Cookies

Miraculous banana oat cookies 3

Miraculous Banana Oat Cookies

I used to love to bake cookies.  I would also eat lots of those cookies while baking them so I stopped.  But I recently realized that I could still bake cookies if I did two things:

  1. A) Find recipes that did not include tons of sugar and unhealthy fats.
  2. B) Bake smaller quantities.

Hence the Miraculous Banana Oat Cookie recipe.  Technically these cookies only require two ingredients and the name says it all;  1 medium banana and ½ cup of rolled oats.

Of course there are endless variations.  Here is one:

1 medium overripe banana, mashed

½ cup old fashioned rolled oats

1 Tablespoon ground flax seed meal

½ t. vanilla

½ t. cinnamon

Mix the ingredients together,

Miraculous banana oat cookies 1

drop by teaspoons onto baking sheet (greased or cover with parchment paper) and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

Miraculous banana oat cookies 2

There are less than 300 calories in the entire recipe so you can eat them all with no guilt. Which I did. For breakfast.

Miraculous banana oat cookies 3

Food is Important

I saw a saying on social media recently that describes me to a “T”. It went something like this: “I may look as though I am having deep thoughts, but 99% of the time I am thinking about what I’m going to eat next”. I think I have my priorities entirely in order.

I know many people think they have more important things to do than shop for and prepare food but I ask you, what can be more important than a substance that not only sustains life but can also contribute to or protect you from diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer? The quality of our diet has everything to do with the quality of our health. Most of the illnesses and diseases that afflict us could be avoided and or improved by eating better but we give more thought to choosing a shade of lipstick than we do to what we put on our plate.

We live in a country where food is cheap and plentiful. Maybe that is why we don’t value and appreciate it. For many of us it’s just a means to an end. We eat to fill our belly. And because we like convenience and think we have better things to do with our time we eat packaged, processed foods at home and in restaurants that are full of fat, salt, and sugar.

While you may not be willing to think about food as much as I do, there are simple things you can do to improve the quality of your diet:

Meal Planning – Much of the anxiety we have about meals stems from not knowing what we are going to eat until it’s too late. Take a few moments once a week and sit down with your calendar. Figure out how many meals you need to prepare for, what you have on hand, and what you need to shop for. Don’t forget breakfast and snacks.

Shopping – Use the grocery list from your meal planning and don’t buy anything that’s not on the list. Arrange your list in the order you travel through the store so you can get in and out fast. (I use a phone app that color codes my list for the various departments.)

Cooking – Simple meals do not have to take a lot of time, special ingredients, or expense. A piece of grilled, baked, or broiled lean meat, a couple of servings of vegetables cooked in the microwave, and a slice of whole wheat bread can be quicker, healthier, and cheaper than a fast food meal.

Eating – Sit down to eat at least one meal each day and focus only on the food. Be thankful for it, appreciate it, and give it the attention it deserves.