Archive for September, 2009

8 Tips For Healthier Salads

DSCF8217Salads have the potential to be saturated- and trans-fat-packed affairs stuffed with watery vegetables and lifeless lettuce bogged down with heavy dressing. Today is Tip Tuesday. I offer 8 tips on building a more interesting salad for palate and your body. (Actually, yesterday was Tip Tuesday. I didn’t publish this post before I finished my work day and shut down my computer. I have a new approach to my evenings. No computer after dinner. Imagine that. Instead, I soak my hands in Palmolive while washing the pots and pans, I read two newspapers, I may read part of a library book which I’m engrossed in, or listen to my 7-year-old son read Diary of a Wimpy Kid outloud (while his older siblings bust out laughing at the way he reads this story) all before diving into bed at let’s just say – before the early edition of the late news begins.) OK, where were we: salads. Join me in the quest for a better salad all the way around:

Go For Deeply Colored Greens. A deep green- or red-colored “green” such as spinach, romaine (the dark part), arugula, red leaf lettuce, or other assorted variety is richer in vitamins and antioxidants. Iceberg lettuce just doesn’t get the job done when it comes to nutrition. Our brains, skin, and eyes all benefit from dark-colored, leafy greens.

Fresh Herbs. In-season,  leafy, fresh herbs add a taste surprise to a salad. Add  basil, flat or curly parsley, cilantro or mint for needed zing and flavor in a salad.

Make It An Entree. Add sliced grilled or roasted chicken breast, tofu, poached salmon, or cooked white beans or chickpeas to turn your salad into a protein-rich entree that is vegetable-rich as well.

Add More Color. In addition to the greens add tomato, carrot, shredded red cabbage, red pepper, or sliced beets for more color. Repeat after me: more color equals more vitamins and antioxidants. During the fall I add chunks of roasted winter squash or sweet potatoes to a salad not only for the warmth but for color.

Sweeten The Deal. Add chopped apples, pears, dried cherries, raisins, or when in season strawberries or blueberries for an additional serving of fruit. Fruit is particularly good in salads that use a small amount of blue, feta, or goat cheese. Watch the cheese, though. That’s where the saturated fat creeps in.

Make It Crunchy. Nuts not only add protein but beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pecans or pistachios all fit the bill, with almonds and walnuts packing the most omega-3 punch. Remember the roasted sweet potatoes or winter squash I mentioned above: chopped, toasted pecans pair beautifully when them.

Splash On Some Sprouts. Top your salad with a few pinches of broccoli or alfalfa sprouts. The antioxidant count in broccoli sprouts is way high and sprouts are a nice way to get a real vegetable boost.

Dress Lightly. Avoid heavy, creamy dressings. With more delicate greens I think a homemade vinaigrette is best. Extra-virgin olive oil and some good vinegar or citrus juice and you’re got a nice dressing that rivals any bottled, store-bought dressing. Here’s one of my favorites:

Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

makes about 3/4 cup
I enjoy a flavorful honey. My sister supplies me with Otter Valley Farms honey from Lawrenceburg although any brand or variety works fine. 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Whisk or shake well to combine.


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DSCF9223Monday- Red Lentil Curry, Brown Rice, Sauteed Kale

Tuesday- Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli, Tomato Cucumber Salad

Wednesday- Ground Turkey Chili with Spaghetti, Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Thursday- White Bean and Pasta Soup with Kale

Friday- Brats, Baked Beans, Salad

Saturday- Kentucky Freshwater Prawns (see photo above – just in case you missed it!), Potato Salad, Sliced Tomatoes

Sunday- Flat-iron Steak Wraps, Spicy Carrot Soup

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Tomato Cucumber Salad Recipe

DSCF9217This weekend might be your last chance to score some good home-grown tomatoes at the farmer’s market or from your garden. I think a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes is one of the most refreshing ways to usher in fall as we get ready to put our garden’s to bed and watch for the Harvest moon. Note: this recipe is from a batch of recipes I’m testing for a cookbook written by a colleague. Her friend developed the recipe and I think it’ll make the cut~ As this project progresses I’ll talk a bit more about the book and the recipes the book includes for real food using real ingredients.

Makes 8 servings

1 large tomato, cored and cut into small chunks
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into half-moon slices
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Mix together the tomato, cucumber, red onion, olives, and feta cheese. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving stir in the basil.

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Iced TeaJust the other day I was reading some research about how citric acid in bottled iced tea is not so good for the enamel on our teeth. That goes for the citric acid in any bottled drink or for the citric acid also present in those powdered drink tubes sold to add to bottled water. I also know the sugar from bottled teas isn’t doing our teeth or our waistlines much good. Both sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are sources of empty calories which are going a long way into making our nation a hefty place to live. (Latest statistics show 2/3 of adults are obese. Kids are rapidly catching up.) The acidity of regular and diet soft drinks isn’t good for our bones. The excess phosphorus in the soft drinks we lap up, all in the name of thirst quenching, leaches calcium from our bones leaving them weak and brittle. 

One of my pet rants is about bottled drinks. We’ve become a people who can’t drive our cars, nor walk around the mall, without a large drink in our hands and a straw stuck in our mouths.  Unfortunately our health is suffering from this beverage addiction: poor oral health, thicker than should-be waistlines, and Swiss-cheese bones. For this reason, my go-to drink is iced black or green tea. It’s simple to make at home, stores easily in the refrigerator, less expensive than bottled drinks, and because I store tea in a pitcher and drink out of a reusable tumbler, easier on the landfill. Everyone is happy. Not to mention, black and green tea are both full of antioxidants, powerful naturally-occuring plant chemicals that may have health benefits in the areas of aging, heart disease, and cancer. And it doesn’t contain citric acid. And it doesn’t contain any added sugar. Again, everyone is happy.

Since today is Tip Tuesday I offer tips on clear, cold tea. I can’t let summer leave without one more mention of iced tea:

Don’t make iced tea the same way you make hot. Hot and cold temperatures create different flavors. Cold water dampens flavor so brew iced tea stronger than you would hot tea.

Make a tea concentrate. Use 2 family-sized (or 6 regular-sized) tea bags. In a heat-proof container steep the tea in 4 cups boiling water for 10 minutes. (For iced green tea cut the steeping time to prevent bitter overtones.) This concentrate makes a more tea-flavorful final product and offers you more control in the final strength of the tea.

Use cold water. Once you’ve made the concentrate, add COLD water. I like to add about 4 cups COLD water to the concentrate. Adjust the flavor to you liking by adding more or less COLD water. The cold water helps the tea stay clear and gets it down to room temperature quicker.

Cool to room temperature. Tea needs to be stored in the refrigerator, but hot tea in a cold refrigerator will result in cloudy tea. Cooled tea in a cold refrigerator will result in clear tea. So the upshot is: before you refrigerate your tea, make sure it’s at room temperature.

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IMG_19441 (2)Monday – Lasagna, Salad, Green Peas

Tuesday- Dinner out with kids. Best male cook I know out of town.

Wednesday – Cincinnati Chili

Thursday – Peel-and-eat Barbecue Shrimp, Stir-fried Mushrooms and Bok-choy, Brown Rice

Friday – Chicken Enchiladas, Brown Rice, Green Beans

Saturday – Barbecued Chicken, Grill-roasted Corn, Bread and Tomato Salad

Sunday – Yellow Squash with Chicken Sausage and Herbs, Penne Alfredo, Sliced Bread

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DSCF7906Today is tip Tuesday and I offer five tried and true tips on stocking your kitchen with ingredients for cooking real food. 

Ask yourself, “What do I cook on a regular basis?” If the answer is nothing, feel free to move along to this post. Let’s face it; we all fall back on 7 to 10 familiar recipes around which our supper meals revolve. Keep assorted shelf- or freezer-stable ingredients on hand for these familiar recipes and then the temptation to resort to quick and easy fast-food or restaurant alternatives is lessened. What We Ate Last Week reveals the food I cook for dinner each week. From reading What We Ate Last Week you can probably surmise how I rely on canned black beans, red beans, chick peas, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, reduced-sodium chicken broth, pasta, white rice, brown rice, frozen lean ground beef, green peas, lima beans, corn, black-eyed peas, spinach, turnip greens, and chicken for many of our meals. Fresh lemons, garlic, potatoes, and onions are essential too.

After you shop, rotate the ingredients. Whether canned or frozen, dried or fresh, every ingredient has a shelf life. No matter the food with time it will go stale or deteriorate. Even dried beans don’t last a lifetime. Over time they lose moisture and turn into little, shriveled beans that are practically impossible to cook and soften. Every time you cook use older food first. When you shop move older ingredients to the front of the pantry or freezer and place the new ingredients behind the old. In food service lingo we call this principle of food rotation FIFO – first in, first out. Some cooks use a Sharpie to write the date on the top of their cans or boxes to ensure use of the oldest food first. I employee the Sharpie-method-of-food-age-identification for opened boxes of chicken stock stored in the refrigerator and meats I freeze.

 Group like ingredients with like ingredients. In one area of my kitchen I store jars of spices and in another area I store baking ingredients. In yet another area I have a shelf for canned goods and boxes of cereal, crackers, and Cheeze-its. By storing like items together the possibility of food replication is reduced – meaning you won’t have six cans of cream-of-salt-bomb soup on hand when you realistically only need one or two, or none for that matter.  

Take stock before you shop. After you make a plan for the meals ahead, take stock of what’s already in the house. Give your pantry and refrigerator a good look. If your pantry is full, avoid shopping the sales and bringing home extra food. Any spoiled or deteriorated food, no matter the price you paid for it, is always more expensive when wasted. On the flip side – use common sense. While it does pay to stock up, and have food on hand to avoid the seeming we- need-to-eat-out emergency, stocking up can lead to food waste so use caution.

Ask yourself, “When I open my pantry do I see food or ingredients?” The next time you grocery shop, try to focus on buying ingredients and not finished food. Oats to make oatmeal cookies and not a bag of cookies. Chicken broth to make soup and not cans of salt-bomb soup. Diced tomatoes and garlic for pasta sauce and not jars of pre-made pasta sauce. The more ingredients we buy, chances are the more we’re cooking. The more we’re cooking the more in control we are of the preservatives and additives we eat and the more whole, real food we enjoy.

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lentilsoupMonday – Grilled Chicken Breasts, Oven-roasted Potatoes, Spinach Salad

Tuesday – Lentil Soup, Bread and Butter, Sliced Apples

Wednesday – Oven-roasted Potatoes and Sausage, Sweet and Spicy Brussels Sprouts

Thursday – Noodle Salad with Chicken, Cucumbers, Bok Choy, and Peanut Sauce

Friday – ordered pizza

Saturday – Leftover Lentil Soup, Sliced Tomatoes with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

Sunday – Grilled Chicken Thighs, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Fresh Carrots

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