Monday, July 25, 2011


Most people have never heard of Panzanella, which makes me very, very sad. It's a classic summertime Italian dish, a tomato and bread salad from Tuscany. It originated to serve 2 needs: a way to use up the abundance of ripened tomatoes, and stale bread. This variation doesn't make you wait until your bread is stale, so it's perfect to make any time tomatoes are in season! This is a very flexible list of ingredients, pretty much anything you would put in a salad could work in this dish. The proportions are completely up to you as well. This is meant to be a very quick and easy dish to throw together, it's a great cold lunch in the summertime, packs up well when you're brown-bagging it, and makes a perfect side for anything fresh off the grill. Bonus points for it being pretty, colorful, and ridiculously nutritious and low in calories!

List of ingredients (as shown above):

Bread (almost anything except sliced sandwich bread will work. Preferably something crusty, like Italian or French)
Tomatoes (go for a variety of colors and sizes!)
Romaine Lettuce
Fresh Mozzarella

Vinaigrette: 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. Place in a bowl or tupperware and whisk or shake until combined well.

Cut your bread in to 1 inch cubes, place in 1 layer on a baking sheet, and cook in a 400 degree oven until they're brown and toasty. Still being slightly soft in the middle is completely ok. 1 or 2 day old bread is preferred, but not required.

While the bread is baking, cut your veggies in to approximately 1 inch cubes or slices. The onions are best to slice thinly, cut the basil in to thin ribbons, and mince the garlic up very well.

Toss the warm croutons and veggies together, then pour on the dressing and toss well until everything is covered. The tomato juice and the vinaigrette will soak in to the croutons, making them soft and incredibly delicious! This is the kind of salad that gets better the longer it sits, but I can never resist picking at it as soon as it's mixed. Waiting at least 30 minutes, if you have the willpower, is best.

Like I said, this is kind of a "clean out the fridge" salad, or a "whatever looks good at the farmers market" salad. Other ingredients that would be great include spinach, peppers (raw or roasted), provolone or parmesan cheese, pepperoni, salami, or proscuitto, carrots, steamed or raw broccoli or cauliflower, artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus, olives, and a variety of herbs.

You choose the amount of everything you'd like in your salad. The bread should take up about 1/3 of the ingredient space, with tomatoes next in line, but other than that it's totally up to you, your preferences, or what you have on hand.

This dish comes in at around 150 calories for about a cup and a half of salad. Since it's got the bread, I find it to be much more filling (and satisfying) than a "regular" salad. The CDC recommends eating 5 different colored veggies every day, and this salad will definitely help you accomplish that goal. USDA's MyPlate suggests adults eat between 2-3 cups of veggies daily. I can fill up a quart container with this salad and it will be gone in no-time! This is really one of my favorite summertime dishes, and I hope when you try it you'll like it as much as I do!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ugliest Dish I've Ever Made

This week I ventured in to another uncharted territory: casseroles. Never really made them before. Since we don't get home to eat until late at night, I've been looking for meals that can be prepared ahead of time and finished when we get home. I decided to give another one of the recipes out of my EatingWell: The Farmers' Market Cookbook a try, and settled on the Zucchini Rice Casserole. Since this recipe is also located online, I'll take the easy way out and provide you with the link, rather than re-type the whole dang thing. Here it is!:

Zucchini Rice Casserole

The first thing that appealed to me when reading the ingredients was that it had just about every food group you could want: healthy grains, seasonal veggies, dairy, and lean meat. The second appealing factor was that despite the fact it contains not 1, but TWO kinds of cheese, it's pretty low cal at only 249 calories per cup. I found that 2 cups was more than enough to fill me up! This would easily feed a family of 4, but since it's just the 2 of us it scored bonus points for having plenty left to re-heat the next night (and tasting just as good as it did the first night!).

I made a few minor changes in the ingredients to reflect what I had on hand. I used 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash. I only had 1 cup of brown rice so I also used 1/2 cup of Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley which also includes black barley and daikon radish seeds. I REALLY like the different textures the medley added, and would consider substituting it for the plain brown rice altogether. Instead of cream cheese, I used the rest of the local Daddy's Girl Dairy goat cheese I bought at the farmer's market last weekend. This cheese is worthy of a blog post all of its own. Its consistency is much closer to cream cheese than typical goat cheese, and the flavor is very mild.

I used grass fed ground bison since there was no ground turkey or turkey sausage at my local market. Bison (aka buffalo) is one of the healthiest meats around, and tastes very similar to beef. Per 100 gram serving, bison contains only 2.42 grams of fat and 143 calories, compared to beef with 10.15g fat and  219 calories, and skinless chicken with 7.41g fat and 190 calories. It's lower in cholesterol and higher in iron than beef, pork, or chicken. Bison is loaded with vitamins A, B12, and C, and are raised without drugs, chemicals, or hormones.

The dish, from start to refrigerator, takes a little under 2 hours, but most of that is in the oven. It's a great dish to make if you're cleaning house and can come back to it once in a while. Once you're ready to cook & serve, 45 minutes in the oven is all it takes. Here's what the finished product looked like:

Like I said, not the prettiest thing that's ever come out of my kitchen. To make up for it, the flavors were awesome. This dish was super duper yummy. Jeremy loved it, and we both had seconds. One of my favorite parts about this dish is that it will be so easy to substitute ingredients based on what's in season or what's on hand. You could easily use ground turkey, chicken, or pork, or shredded chicken. You could switch out cheeses and go Italian with some mozz and parm, or local with some cheddar. It's hard for me to think of a vegetable you COULDN'T use in this dish. Basically, it's very simple, super versatile, and ridiculously delicious. Hence, blogworthy. Too bad it's not prettier! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quick Pickles

I bought some nice little garden cucumbers at a vegetable stand today. It was a new veggie stand I'd never been to before, on my way to 9round Charlotte. I also picked up some yellow squash, a purple and a white eggplant, a few ears of corn, strawberries & blackberries. I'm not a huge eater of raw cukes, and I don't eat as many salads as I should, but they looked too good to leave behind. When I got home I remembered a recipe in my new EatingWell in Season: Farmer's Market Cookbook I reviewed a few blogs back for quick pickles. I decided to give it a try, slightly modified with what I had on hand.

I'll give you the recipe as it's written, then let you know how I modified it, and how it turned out!

1.25 lb pickling cucumbers, cut to 1/4 inch slices
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup slivered onion
2 cloves slivered garlic
1 tsp dill seed
1 tsp mustard seed

Slice the cukes and put them in a collandar in the sink, or over a bowl. Toss them with the salt and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain, place in a heatproof bowl.

While the cukes are doing their thing, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the hot liquid over the cukes and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

I only had 2 medium sized pickles, less than the recipe called for, so I cut each vinegar down to 3/4 cup, and slightly reduced the amount of onions I used (which were Vidalia, by the way). I had dark brown sugar, so I used about 1/4 cup of that and 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw). I doubled the garlic (because there can never be enough garlic!). I didn't have dill seed or mustard seed and I didn't feel like going out to get any. I had a tsp or two of pickling spice laying around so I did my best to pick out the cloves and cinnamon and added that for my seasoning. I also added a whole bay leaf and about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper because I like things spicy! I put the sliced and salted cukes in the fridge for their 20 minute rest before I added the hot pickling liquid.

The finished product:

The verdict:

SUPER YUM! I tried them at 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1 hour after sitting in the fridge. The flavor improves with time. I'd liken them to bread & butter pickles vs. standard dills as they are a bit sweet, but they've got more vinegar than the standard B&B pickle too. The spice for me was just right. I'd definitely like to experiment with different spices and herbs, but I think the base ingredients for the pickling liquid is spot on. They were garlicky, but not overwhelming, so I think the doubling of the garlic is a good call! I'm kind of intimidated when it comes to canning (don't ask me why, I haven't done it since I was a kid), plus I'm impatient when it comes to letting canned pickles sit for weeks before they're ready. This is a winner in the categories of "easy" and "instant gratification".

As the recipe is written, it makes 16 portions, 1/4 cup each. There are 10 calories per serving, zero fat or cholesterol, 2g carbs, 1g protein, 1g fiber, and 16g potassium. Your insta-pickles will keep, refrigerated, for 10 days. Definitely a healthy and quick snack for the summer time!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Keeping it Classy- Ratatouille

After more than a week of no AC and no cooking, I'm back to it! But this time, it wasn't in my kitchen.

My best friends Beth, Robin & I typically spend our Friday nights tearing up the town. In the 2 years we've been friends, we've had a LOT of fun times together. Playing roller derby together, going to MMA fights, traveling to back-woods places in South Carolina, singing karaoke, and taking an amazing trip to Rio together, we always manage to have a seriously good time wherever we go. We're not really the type to get together for a quiet night in. But, when we were digging for plans last night and Beth mentioned something low-key, we decided maybe some wine and a movie were in order. I mentioned to Beth that I was right across from a seafood market and could pick something up for dinner, and our plans grew to included a home cooked meal.

Here's a picture of my best friends and I at one of our classier moments (I'm pretty sure one of us managed to do something very unclassy within moments of this being taken!)

Robin jumped on board with the plan and we found ourselves, at 9pm on a Friday night, gathered at Beth's house, red wine in hand. I'd picked up 2 nice tilapia fillets from a local seafood shop I've been wanted to check out for a while. I wasn't overwhelmed by their selection, but what they had was fresh, smelled clean, and looked good. I was overwhelmed when he tallied up my total for nearly a pound of tilapia and it came to $3.80. Total. I will definitely be going there for seafood again!

Beth is quite the greenthumb and has a very nice garden that's starting to produce some great veggies. She provided a freshly picked zucchini, some tomatoes grown in a friend's garden in Charleston, and freshly picked basil. I had 1/2 an eggplant at home waiting to be used, along with some onions, red pepper, and garlic. I realized this was exactly everything I needed to make some ratatouille to go along with our fish. How awesome that everything that went in to this super healthy, fresh summer veggie side dish came exclusively from gardens & farmers markets, and we had it all on hand. No run to the store necessary.

Ratatouille, traditionally prepared, can be quite the production. It involves cooking and seasoning each vegetable separately, then layering them in a casserole dish and baking. It can take well over 2 hours from first cut to plate. We were too hungry for that, plus, like I said, we're not that hung up on being classy and traditional. I went for the more modern, speedy preparation method: throw it all in a pan. All of the vegetables are cut in to a large dice, about an inch by an inch. You don't have to be precise, just make sure whatever size you choose is consistent for all the veggies. First went the chopped garlic (4 huge cloves) and the 1/2 an onion. Once the onion began to turn translucent, the red pepper followed. You can easily substitute green or yellow pepper, whatever you have on hand or growing in the garden. Once the pepper began to soften a bit, I added 1/2 a large eggplant.

A note on cooking with eggplant: eggplant is filled with liquid that can be quite bitter tasting sometimes. The key to making delicious eggplant is to salt it liberally after you've sliced or chopped it. Place it in a collandar and toss with a good amount of salt. Let it sit as long as possible, 20 minutes at least. The salt leeches out the bitter tasting liquid, leaving behind just the yummy eggplant flavor. It also collapses the little air pockets that make the eggplant flesh like a sponge, which causes them to soak up oil and become soggy. After salting and draining, pat the flesh dry with towels thoroughly. This will remove most of the salt and the liquid clinging to them. You're left with eggplant that will taste super and have a great texture.

Ok, eggplant has been added! It's important to stir the veggies a good bit as eggplant is notorious for sticking. Next in the pan were the tomatoes, between 2-3 chopped up. The tomatoes will release a good bit of juice that will thicken up as everything cooks. This makes a yummy sauce. If it starts to evaporate too much, don't worry. Just make sure you have a glass of red wine handy (good thing we did!) and add a bit. Last in was the zucchini, a bunch of chopped basil, salt, and pepper. If you add everything in this order, and let it cook over medium for about 2 minutes in between batches, everything should end up being cooked perfectly. Nothing should be mushy.

Beth cooked the fish in some white wine, and made some saffron rice and black beans to go on the side. The picture definitely doesn't do the dish justice, even if this isn't the most visually appealing dish ever. The smell from the ratatouille was outrageous, and even Robin, who's not a big fan of veggies, really enjoyed it. It's a really easy, quick way to make use of summer veggies that are abundant in farmers markets and gardens right now.

As we sat down at the table, which was made complete with cloth napkins, we commented on how grown up and classy this was of us. We just spent an hour together cooking a meal that smells, looks, and surely tastes delicious, and were eating at a table like civilized adults. To make sure we didn't stay too classy, Robin, who doesn't eat fish, made herself some polish kielbasa chopped up with sauerkraut and a side of mustard.

Promptly after finishing our meal, we felt the need to un-do all of the adult-like behavior we'd exhibited thus far. We popped in the movie "Despicable Me", an animated kids movie, and commenced to laughing like 5 year olds till we nearly peed in our pants. We all agreed that we could get used to doing this whole "low key, home cooking, drinking wine and watching movies at home" activity. I believe this will become as much a tradition as Thursday night karaoke once was. I'm looking forward to cooking more with my friends, but it's going to be a challenge. Beth is pretty healthy, and a pescatarian who has a deep love for all veggies and great food. Robin is rarely mistaken for a healthy eater, and has a deep love for hot ham & cheese sandwiches and isn't the biggest veggie eater in the world. It'll be interesting, but one thing I know for sure, is it's going to be fun.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


So, our AC has been out at the townhouse, and by the time it's fixed it will be one week living in a hot hell-hole. This has definitely had a negative impact on my cooking, as I don't want to be inside, much less standing over a hot stove. And my grill is still out of commission, so I've resorted to grabbing whatever is pre-made and available from my stove and finding somewhere with AC to eat it. I haven't even made any tiny donuts yet! Hopefully I'll be back to cooking tomorrow night, because it's such an easy habit to break!

To try and keep myself on track I purchased 2 cookbooks. I haven't done that in years! Like I said, I don't really cook using recipes, but I'm still new to this healthy cooking thing so I'm finding that guidelines are helpful right now. Plus, all the recipes come complete with nutritional information, which is very handy.

Both books I got were from the folks at EatingWell magazine, which is a really great publication I subscribed to a few years back. Actually, it took me 3 full issues to realize it was a healthy food magazine, because all of the recipes are so.... normal!

The first book is called EatingWell In Season, The Farmer's Market Cookbook. I've just read the forward, but I had to laugh because it was basically a 6 page expansion of my 1 paragraph rant on eating locally grown fruits & veggies and supporting your community's agriculture. The book is divided in to 4 sections, one for each season of the year, and each section highlights that season's fresh fruits & veggies. Including over 150 recipes, most take 45 minutes or less, which is a plus! Just about every one comes in at less than 500 calories per serving. Each season also includes several sample menus, a combination of several recipes in season that pair well together.

The second book I purchased is titled EatingWell- 500 Calorie Dinners. 140 recipes, all taking less than 45 minutes, most taking less than 30. The opening line is "Do you love food but hate "diets"? Do you want to be healthy and fit but you find yourself too busy or simply at a loss about what to make for dinner? Then this book is for you!". Well, that describes how I feel to a T, so I had to get it. It's pretty cool because each entree recipe gives you a 500 calorie menu with options to select for sides to complete your meal. There's even a "healthy pantry" shopping list which includes lots of great standard pantry staples to keep on hand for healthy eating and impromptu meals.

I haven't had a chance to try any meals from either book, but I definitely plan on it over the weekend, assuming we've got AC by then!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Avocado Shake Recipe- Winner

I wanted to make a quick post and share a recipe for a tropical avocado smoothie I made this morning that I think is a  real winner, and 200 calories less than the original smoothie I posted.

1/2 avocado
1 banana
1/2 cup canned coconut juice
1/2 lime juice
4-5 ice cubes

This recipe is only 299 calories, 13g fat, 48g carbs, and 3.2g protein, which makes me feel a lot better about drinking it as a light breakfast.

Many of you know how I feel about coconut water.... I'm pretty much obsessed. I haven't really found any packaged for sale in the US that taste as good and as fresh as you can get it down in South America. Pure, unadulterated coconut water is nature's sports drink, containing a high level of potassium and minerals. It has more naturally occurring electrolytes than any other natural drink in the world (even more than Gatorade)!

I happened to have a few cans of "coconut juice" in my pantry that Beth accidentally purchased instead of coconut milk when we were making batida's a while back. Canned coconut juice is essentially coconut water with small chunks of coconut pulp, and unfortunately has a bit of sugar and citric acid added. I like the coconut chunks, but I'm not a huge fan of the additional ingredients. That said, the particular brand that I had in my pantry, Foco, has only 10 calories per ounce, making it a much healthier mix-in than yogurt or soy milk. Plus, it gave it a great tropical flavor!

Coconut juice can be found in the ethnic foods section of many grocery stores (don't confuse it for coconut milk!) and can also be found in Mexican and Asian groceries. 

A side note when making smoothies with avocados: avocados turn brown once they've been exposed to air. When you wrap up the 2nd half of the avocado to save for later use, rub 1/2 a lime over the exposed flesh or sprinkle a bit of lime juice on it. Make sure you remove all the air from the plastic bag to make a seal, the air will accelerate the browning. If you make a smoothie with a browned avocado, the taste will still be good, but it definitely won't have the same visual appeal! 

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Church of Tiny Donuts

This isn't really a full blog post, but something arrived that I am SO excited about and I feel the need to share it! MY TINY DONUT MAKER HAS ARRIVED! I believe it was the lovely Carrie Hanson who introduced Rachelle Loyear-Williams to the magic maker of tiny donuts, and so began a new religion. And THIS is a religion I can get behind! Gaze upon the beauty and splendor of my newly arrived tiny donut maker:

I've seen some pretty killer concoctions on The Church of Tiny Donuts facebook page. Reverend Rachelle has created some yummy masterpieces. The sweet include: cinnamon rolls, brownie batter, apple cinnamon, chocolatey chocolate chip, and strawberry with cream cheese filling. The savory includes garlic Parmesan, and some fall in between the two categories, like raisin bran and maple bacon.

I am definitely anxious to start playing around and producing some delicious donuts. Bonus points for the tiny treats being baked, not fried, to help conserve on the calories. I'm sure I could make these decadently unhealthy (and I'm sure sometimes I will!), but I'll make it a mission to create some donuts that are big on flavor and small on calories and fat. I welcome advice from those who have been members of the church longer than I, and definitely welcome ideas and suggestions for recipes to try! I look forward to being able to post many tiny donut blogs in the future!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

S is for Summertime and Smoothies

There was a time in my life, (12 weeks to be exact), when smoothies comprised about 50% of my diet. During my  "no solid foods allowed" period, smoothies were one of the only things I could eat and get the nutrients I needed. I probably had hundreds of smoothies during those 3 months. On December 22, 2009 when I was given the all clear to eat solid foods again, I swore off smoothies for the next year and a half. The thought of them made me sick. After a long sabbatical from the world of smoothies, I'm back on the bandwagon, and actually enjoying them this time around (maybe because I can sink my teeth into a juicy cheeseburger any time I want)!

I'm not a very good fruit eater. If I buy 4 pieces of fruit, it's highly likely that 2 will go bad before I get around to eating them. I'm not sure why I think eating fruit is such a hassle, because they're very healthy, convenient, portable snacks. Perhaps it's because I never think to "snack" on a piece of fruit, and the chances of me eating fruit as a part of my meals is pretty low. I'd imagine that most of us with the best intentions have the same problem as I do, and our diets end up lacking in fruit. The solution for me? Smoothies!

I have a pretty simple equation to smoothie making, but it's in its infancy and I'll continue to experiment and expand over the summer. This will likely be the first of several smoothie posts you'll see from me. The base ingredients of my smoothies are all the same: 1/2 cup of  fat free Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup of soy or almond milk, protein powder and 4 or 5 ice cubes. For straight fruit smoothies I use vanilla flavored, and when my sweet tooth is raging I use chocolate.

Let me just say, chocolate smoothies are freaking awesome. Add a few tablespoons of peanut butter (I really like the Better 'n Peanut Butter! Saves on some fat & calories ) and it tastes JUST like a frozen liquified Reece's cup. Almond butter, bananas, and strawberries are also great mix-ins. The Chocolate Peanut Butter shake is definitely a meal replacement, clocking in at 490 calories, 9g fat, 61g carbs, and 36g protein. This includes 2 scoops of my protein powder, which is pretty high in carbs & protein, and accounts for 130 of the calories. Any of these shakes can easily be made without this ingredient.

Chocolate smoothies are something I've enjoyed for a really long time. Fruit smoothies, however, are a pretty new territory for me and I've been having a blast throwing fruit in a blender and seeing what comes out. Fort Mill, SC is well known for our peaches, and as many of you probably guessed, The Peach Stand I referred to in my previous post is a major seller of these super yum summer fruits. They sell over 40 varieties of peaches throughout the summer, so almost every time I go in there's a new kind to try. Peaches are a great smoothie fruit, especially when they're almost too ripe to eat (read: I was bad about eating peaches and now they're going to be rotten in a day)! A vanilla and peach smoothie is super refreshing.

Summer time in the Carolina's means we have our pick of fresh, local fruit. PLEASE, do me a favor, and visit your local farmers market at least once a week for some fresh fruits and veggies. It makes a difference. The produce you buy in your local grocery store is picked before it's ripened to make the long journey from Mexico or California or Mexico and arrive kind of ripe. These fruits and veggies are seriously lacking in nutrients and vitamins. While full color may be achieved after harvest, nutritional quality may not. Post-harvest handling during shipping can result in significant nutrient loss. Plus, the produce you buy in the store is much more likely to be treated with pesticides, films, coatings, irradiation, chemical preservation, and modification of ph levels, causing you to ingest some unhealthy things you didn't really bargain for when you bought your fruit in an effort to be more healthy. Plus, the best argument, fresh local produce TASTES so much better! My SC grown blackberries are bigger than my thumb and the flavor beats the pants off of anything I can get at Harris Teeter. OK, getting off my local produce soapbox now. My point is, go to a farmers market, buy what looks good, and let the fruit available dictate what kind of smoothie you'll make in the morning!

I've seen a few posts lately about avocado smoothies and I'll admit, my first reaction was mild disgust. Then curiosity. Then I googled "avocado smoothies" and it turns out there are about a million recipes out there. I based mine off of one of the first recipes I saw, and I've gotta say, I may never eat another smoothie without an avocado in it (well, except for the chocolate ones!). For my first foray in to the unknown avocado smoothie territory, I used my standard base (vanilla fat free Greek yogurt, soy milk, protein powder, and ice cubes). I added 1/2 of a ripe avocado, 1 kiwifruit, and 1 small bunch of grapes. Blend, pulse, pour.

The result? Pretty damn amazing. The first sip really blew me away. I didn't quite know what to expect. I mean, I LOVE avocados. I eat them by themselves. I'm a fan of kiwis and grapes, so I figured it would definitely be drinkable. What I tasted was so unlike any smoothie I've made before, and super duper scrumptious. My taste buds were doing a little dance for sure. The smoothness was incredible (no pun intended). It was a really great consistency. A lot of recipes I read suggested adding sugar or stevia (a natural no calorie sweetener). I think the sugars in my vanilla flavored base definitely took care of any lacking sweetness in the other ingredients. However, the avocado added such so much smoothness and thickness, which is what I usually add the base ingredients for, that I think I'll attempt my next avocado concoction without the yogurt.

Other mix-ins I saw that were popular with avocados included bananas (I can see that being ridiculously good!), tropical fruits, apples & pears, raspberries, and greens. Adding vegetables to smoothies is another unknown territory for me, one that I dipped my toe into yesterday when I threw a small handful of leftover parsley into a black & blueberry smoothie. Not bad. Adding greens like spinach, kale, and collards to your smoothies are a really great way to get the nutrients and benefits provided by dark greens, another area many of us draw up short on daily. They don't effect the flavor much but add a great boost. I'll do some more experimenting in this department and probably do my next smoothie post on this topic.

My avocado smoothie came up a little higher on calories than I would have liked. The grand total was 507 calories, 16g of fat, 68g of carbs, and 25g of protein. Nixing the yogurt base would automatically knock 100 calories and 15 carbs off of that total, and eliminating the protein powder would drive it down even further. These are adjustments I'll be making next go-round. The avocados accounted for the majority of the fat, as 1/2 an avocado contains just over 13g of fat. In fact, 75% of the calories in an avocado (144 in 1/2) come from fat. Why eat something that's so much higher in fat & calories than almost any other fruit or veggie?

Avocados have 60% more potassium than bananas, are rich in vitamins B, E, & K, and contain 20 essential nutrients. They have a high fiber content and provide 23% the daily RDI of folate. While avocados are high in fat content, it is mono-saturated fat, which helps lower cholesterol when eaten in place of saturated fats. The coolest thing about avocados is that they're a nutrient booster. This means certain nutrients are absorbed better when eaten with an avocado. Eating an avocado on your salad can increase your absorption of carotenoids by 5 times! So, not only does an avocado make a smoothie taste yum, but it helps our body make the most of all the other good stuff found in the blender too by helping us absorb as much as possible. Turns out avocados and smoothies are a very good combination indeed, and a pretty good reason to drop 13g of fat and 144 calories! Please let me know if you give this recipe a try, and I'd love to hear how it turns out if you get creative with your avocado smoothie recipes! Have fun blending!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spicy Southwest Pork Loin

First up on deck is a Spicy Southwest Pork Loin. Served with mixed grains, sauteed spinach, and an orange-chipotle sauce, this dinner clocked in at 625 calories, 25 grams of fat, 41 grams of carbs, and 56 grams of protein.

This meal took me about 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish, with almost no prep time involved. Really quick and easy, and HUGE on the flavor!

The Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe's is pretty awesome when it comes to a quick and easy side dish. I'm a big fan of carbs, and that's never going to change. What is changing is the kind of carbs I put on my plate. Whole grains provide more fiber and less sugar than their refined grain counterparts. Whole grains reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also lower your LDL (bad cholesterol). See? Carbs are good if you choose the right kind (and eat in moderation). This Harvest Grains Blend contains Israeli couscous, split garbanzo beans, green & red orzo, and red quinoa, and clocks in at 170 calories per 1/4 cup.

Getting the grains ready to go is super easy. To boost the flavor I added a teaspoon of powdered low sodium chicken soup base. This runs 25 calories per tsp, and is a low calorie way of making my taste buds happy. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for the tablespoon of butter, added some sea salt, dried green onions, and some red pepper flakes. The great thing about this side is you can add just about anything to make the flavor compliment your dish, no matter what style or cuisine you're cooking. It's fantastic with fresh herbs, dried herbs, alternative liquids and fats (in moderation). Plus, once the water boils it's only 10 minutes before 4 servings are ready to plate. 

Next in the pan were the pork chops. Pork gets a bad rap. While it is higher in fat content than the other white meat, it contains essential antioxidants that aid in better immunity, is highly enriched in B vitamins,  and is a great source of iron. Center cut boneless pork chops contain less than 275 calories per half a pound! Make sure any excess fat is trimmed, and the thicker the cut the juicier the meat. I personally try to buy as local as possible, so the pork I purchased was raised here in SC. Not only will you get a fresher product by buying local, but you support your local economy too. Double win. I sprinkled the chops with some Smoky Spicy Southwest seasoning from (which I purchased at the Peach Stand. Half of everything I buy is from this great little store... worth the drive to Fort Mill!). The seasoning adds less than 30 calories to the pork, creates a nice crust, and seals in the juices well. A basic blackening or cajun seasoning would be great too. Just a very little bit of canola oil in the pan and 4 minutes on the first side over medium-high heat starts it out well. Flip it and send it in to a 400 degree oven while you cook the spinach. 

Fresh cooked spinach is a super easy, super fast, SUPER healthy veggie. It's no secret that dark leafy greens are an essential part of a balanced healthy diet, and one that we probably don't get enough of on a daily basis. The key to cooking great spinach is to take it off the heat as soon as it's wilted: excessive cooking leaches out lots of great nutrients and makes it a bit mushy. I've got some spicy pickled garlic cloves (also from the Peach Stand) that pack about 3 times the flavor punch as a normal clove of garlic, and add zero calories. Sautee a few chopped cloves of garlic (throw in a couple more if you don't have the fancy pickled kind) in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for a few seconds, throw in your spinach, and add just a couple tablespoons of white wine to create the steam to wilt the leaves. Because you'll never convince me to leave my heavy cream behind, I added 1 tablespoon as the leaves wilted which created a really nice sauce for the spinach. The heavy cream added only 25 calories per serving and could easily be left out, but 25 calories is worth it to me! 

I'm going to share a secret weapon that will have you turning out meat that tastes like it was made by a pro: a meat thermometer. Go get one, and use it! Seriously, an analog thermometer is only about $4. No need for fancy digital. Pork production in this country has come a long way and trichinosis is no longer a concern like it once was. Pork chops cooked to a temperature of medium (145) will be much more juicy and flavorful than the dried up pork hockey pucks you remember from your youth. A hint of pink in the center is what you want to see.  Once the pork has been in the oven about 5 minutes, choose the thickest chop and insert the thermometer into the middle through the side. Once it reads 135-140, take the pork out of the oven. By the time you plate your food and set your table, the internal temperature will have risen to 145 and your pork will be perfectly cooked. 

I found this yummy sauce at where else? The Peach Stand. At a mere 30 calories per 2 tablespoons it's now a staple in my healthy sauce arsenal. I was shocked at how much flavor and spice there was in just a small finger-full of this sauce. This dish would also be great topped with fresh salsa, chimmichurri sauce, or even a slightly spicy barbeque sauce. 

One thing is obvious to me after completing this first "official" blog post: I need to find a way to keep them shorter! Some things I explained in this post, such as the benefits of whole grains and pork, I won't need to repeat in future blogs. I've tried to be detailed in my preparation of the meal, but I definitely could have expanded too! Cooking is more about feel and intuition than precise instructions and measurements. Go with the flow, follow the basic guidelines, and you'll likely surprise yourself. Everything is a suggestion, not a mandate.  If you've got questions, I'm happy to help. Part of this process for me is digging up some long buried knowledge and trying to find the passion for cooking I lost somewhere between sweating in a 110 degree kitchen and finding myself up to my shoulder in industrial garbage disposals. I know cooking can be enjoyable, and I'm starting to think healthy cooking can even be delicious! Let me know what you think if you try this dish out! 

Healthy Cooking for the Unhealthy Eater

I've recently made the decision (for the hundredth time) to count my calorie intake and output and loose some weight and get back into shape. I've also made the decision that it's past time I put my considerable cooking skills to good use to aid me in this endeavor. I made an A in every class in culinary school... except for Nutrition. Why? I'm a lover of all things full of fat and flavor. Fat = flavor, and you can't convince me otherwise. It's a struggle for me when cooking to reach for the olive oil and not the European butter. Heavy cream will beat Greek yogurt every time. Deep fat frying is superior to almost any other cooking method. I reject the notion that something that is nutritionally balanced and "healthy" can also taste fantastic. These are my deep-seated cooking philosophies.

Time to change my philosophy, and convince my taste buds to follow. The fact is that if I continue to eat my full flavor fatty foods, I will be in big trouble within the next few years (as will most of us!). The amazing metabolism I enjoyed in my teens and early twenties has officially left the building. I can work out like a fiend and not loose a pound. The key to finding the level of fitness I desire is clear: changing the way I eat and focusing on health and nutrition, without sacrificing flavor and the foods I love. To be clear, I wont be dieting. I won't be covering meals and eating plans that are low carb, sugar free, or fat free. I believe that a balanced diet that focuses on a wide variety of foods, even some traditionally seen as unhealthy, is much more conducive to creating a healthy lifestyle that can last a lifetime. This means I won't throw out my butter or heavy cream, but I will be reaching for the olive oil and yogurt a bit more often.

The purpose of this blog is multifaceted. I've had very little motivation to cook since leaving my career as a professional chef. If I continue eating out at restaurants (especially with the lack of late night dining options in Fort Mill), I won't achieve my goals for calorie intake and nutrition. So, it's time to dust off the cutting board and sharpen my knife. Having the responsibility to update this blog with meals I've cooked and snacks I've stumbled across will hopefully provide me with motivation to actually do it, even when it's easier to grab a burger at Steak n' Shake at 11pm. This blog will also force me to put forethought in to preparing meals that are healthy AND flavorful, and help me plan ahead (something I'm not a huge fan of). Lastly, by sharing some recipes that get gold stars in my book for being low calorie, nutritious, and yummy, hopefully I can help my friends who are on the same journey as I am and we can all reach our goals of being swimsuit models. Or, maybe just loose a few pounds and live a healthier lifestyle.

I plan on posting a few times a week whenever I create something (or buy something) that scores high in the nutritious and delicious departments. I'll do my best to include a photo of the finished product as well as a vague recipe (I'm not a follower of recipes) and the nutritional low-down for the meal. As a bonus, almost everything I share will be pretty quick and easy to prepare, or able to be prepared ahead of time and put together within a few minutes. Wish me luck as I venture in to this uncharted territory of healthy cooking and healthy living!