Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Simple snacks: Apple granola sandwich

I love apples. I love peanut butter. And who doesn't love chocolate? Here is a delicious hearty snack that satisfies that sweet tooth while still being healthy. Only a few minutes and an apple corer are between you and this treat!

An apple corer is a simple little kitchen tool that looked like an over-sized peeler. You use it to cut out the core from a whole apple and then can slice the apple into rounds. This is also helpful for making other apple dishes like apple chips or stewed apples.

Apple Granola Sandwich
  • 1 firm apple
  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (or almond butter)
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate granola
  1. Use apple corer to remove core from your apple. Watch your fingers! 
  2. Spread a thin layer of peanut or almond butter on each half of your sandwich. My apple made three sandwiches.
  3. Sprinkle granola on peanut butter and press the two halves to make your sandwich!
Note: if you don't have an apple corer, you can slice your apple into rounds and use a small cookie cutter to remove core, or a paring knife. 

Gather your ingredients
Core the apple
Assemble the sandwiches
Dig in!
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Splendid Salads: Chopped apple salad

This is a simple little salad that my mom and dad had at a bed and breakfast years ago and remains one of my mom's favorites!

  • 2 chopped apples
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (or raisins)
  • 1/4 cup chopped raw pecans
  • Juice from one orange
  • Juice from one lime
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Optional: grated fresh ginger
  1. Chop apples and place in bowl. 
  2. Add everything else and toss to coat. 
Notes: The citrus juice prevents browning. If you're not going to serve right away, leave out the pecans until the last minute to prevent them from getting mushy. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sweet treats: Apple Cake with ginger

Here is a lovely little sweet treat that isn't going to pack on the guilt - it is high in sugar, but skips the frosting or glaze and is low in fat. Even dietitians like an indulgence sometimes!

What kind of apple? Some apples do better in the oven than others. I remember the first time I heard the term "a good eating apple". What else are you supposed to do with apples, I wondered? This distinction dates back to when people participated in the production of their own food and grew many varieties of produce. With apples, they would grow some that would make good cider and apple sauce and some that stored well over the winter in their cellar. Some are best raw, "a good eating apple" and some are better cooked.

For baking, use apples that are firm and tart - I like Granny Smith, Winesap, Jonagolds and Gala. For best results, choose more than one variety and the mixture of flavors will be great. 

Apple Cake
  • 2 cups chopped apples (no need to peel)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or spray a 8 or 9 inch square pan and set aside.
  2. Mix chopped apples and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg well. Once apples are ready (there will be a lot more liquid - the sugar draws it out!), add all other ingredients to the egg bowl and mix. The batter will be very thick. 
  4. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Ready for the oven!
Ready to eat! Yummy

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Splendid salads: Snowy kale salad

A beautiful kale salad with carrots, dried cherries and pecans
Kale was quite the trendy green in 2012 - and for good reason; it is delicious, good for you and widely available. It is versatile in the kitchen too - try it sauteed as a quick side dish, tuck it into egg dishes such as strata or quiche or even raw.

Kale has a trick up its sleeve; it is very cold hearty. This means that cold weather that will quickly freeze and kill other leafy greens such as spinach or lettuce, kale is able to adapt to. If you have your own garden, you will soon appreciate the better flavor of kale that has been through a cold snap. Keep it in the garden and even if it snows, you can enjoy fresh and local greens!

Kale in a snowy blanket
Snowy Kale Salad

  • Kale
  • Your favorite vinaigrette
  • shredded carrots
  • Dried cherries
  • Raw pecans
  1. Put on your snow boots and dig some kale out of your garden. Or, hop over to your grocery store and grab a bunch. 
  2. Give the greens a quick rinse and remove any tough stems. 
  3. Use a chefs knife to slice the greens into thin slivers; I find it helpful to roll the leaves tightly together like a burrito before slicing.
  4. Toss your kale slivers into your serving bowl and dress with your favorite vinaigrette. Use your hands to massage the dressing into the leaves. Sounds silly, but it helps to tenderize the leaves. Your spinach wishes it had it this good. 
  5. Add your other toppings and you're ready to go! Dig in and enjoy.
Note: Kale has one other magical trick up its sleeve - it doesn't get limp and gross 5 minutes after adding the dressing. You can pack kale salad for lunch the night before and it is going to be great the next day. 

A simple salad of raw kale and carrots

Monday, January 21, 2013

{Recipe ReDux} A trend in every pot: Rabbit stew with sweet potatoes

As people are learning about our food system and that many of our current systems aren't sustainable, we are seeking alternatives. The majority of animals raised for meat in the US are done so without respect for the animals and without care for the environment. The good news is that consumers are looking for food that doesn't wreak havoc on the earth and farmers are meeting the need.

One growing trend in meat consumption is rabbit. If the idea of eating something so fluffy and cute makes you take pause, consider this: chickens are pretty cute too. Anytime you eat meat, an animal had died. It is easy to be oblivious of the animal's life when all we see at the grocery store are packages of pieces that don't look anything like the living animal. It is difficult to know what the animal was fed, if they were given hormones or antibiotics and the living conditions. By getting to know your farmers, you know what food you're eating and how those choices are impacting the environment.

I had the opportunity to interview Nick Carter of Meat the Rabbit, a rabbit meat supplier based in Indiana. Nick is an entrepreneur and farm kid and saw a niche to be filled- chefs wanted to have rabbits on their menus but didn't have a reliable supply. Eating rabbit is a greener option for eating meat. Large scale for raising rabbits might be twenty working does - rabbit lingo for a breeding mother - versus 1,000's of beef cattle on an industrial feedlot. The rabbit manure stays on the farm and increases soil fertility vs. cow manure being treated as a hazard and being carted off and polluting our waterways. Rabbits also have a very high feed:meat ratio - this means that it takes significantly less food to produce a pound of meat in a rabbit than it does in a cow. Rabbits are clean and quiet - excellent neighbors indeed - and are raised without hormones or antibiotics for Meat the Rabbit. Finally, because rabbits are sold whole, waste is much lower than when buying only part of an animal, such as chicken breasts or pork loin.

Nick's favorite way to cook rabbit is beer braised. I'll have to try that next! The inspiration for this recipe came from here, and I modified it to my personal tastes and the ingredients I had on hand. Don't know how to cut up a rabbit? I didn't either - but with the guidance of google and youtube, I managed. Unfortunately, I had Elmer Fudd's little tune "kill the rabbit" stuck in my head. Gulp.

Rabbit and Sweet Potato Stew
  • 1 rabbit, about 3 pounds, cut up
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil.
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Dijon mustard, for garnish 
  1. Preheat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoon butter or olive oil.
  2. Dredge rabbit pieces in flour and add to pot. Brown meat on all sides. 
  3. Add celery, onions, salt, pepper, bay leaves, water and wine. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for two hours, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Meanwhile, saute mushrooms in remaining tablespoon butter or olive oil until nicely browned. 
  5. After stew has simmered for two hours, add sweet potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Simmer 20-25 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. 
  6. Mix flour and remaining 1/3-cup water until no lumps remain. Stir this mixture into stew to thicken. 
  7. Ladle stew into serving bowls and garnish with Dijon mustard. 

Make sure your knife is sharp
Brown rabbit meat on all sides
This stew is loaded with vegetables!

Thicken stew with flour mixture

Reader poll: Have you ever eaten rabbit? What is your favorite recipe?

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dad in the kitchen: a 15 minute menu

I have three siblings. When we were all young, it was usually my mom getting dinner on the table and my dad did clean up. On the nights my mom was working late, my dad had to take the reins. This was not a task he relished. I remember the menu varied between popcorn or hot dogs, or for special nights, both.

My dad can cook several things well; he is an excellent grill master and can make a turkey "stewp" - an extra thick stew - that will knock your socks off. Beyond these cooking niches, he continues to minimize time spend cooking. He surprised my mom and I by offering to cook dinner, and what a lovely meal he whipped up! It was healthy, delicious and ready in 15 minutes.

Here is the menu:
  • Sweet potatoes: poke a few holes into the skins and pop whole sweet potatoes and microwave until soft. This may take 5-10 minutes, but depends on the strength of your microwave and the size of your potatoes. 
  • Chicken sausages: look for a type that is lower in fat and not loaded with sodium. Slice each sausage lengthwise and cook in a skillet until well browned. We served our sausages with brown mustard.
  • Tossed salad: while potatoes are microwaving and sausages and browning, toss together an assorted mixture of colorful vegetables. We added pickled beets that I had canned earlier this year and sunflower sprouts from Growing Power. Both were delicious. 
That's it! Dinner was healthy, delicious and ready in a snap. If Mr. Popcorn can do it, so can you!


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Self check: how are you doing on your fruit and veggie intake?

Dried cherries, canned tomatoes, frozen green beans and fresh anything all count!

Here's the hard truth: most of us are doing a crummy job eating enough fruits and vegetables. Despite their wealth of benefits ranging from supporting a healthy weight, improving our mood and helping to prevent cancers, not to mention their excellent taste and beauty, we need to get our tails in gear. What's the hang up?

Too often we aren't preparing our own foods - we eat at restaurants more often than ever, we grab non-perishable "snacks" such as chips and cookies and don't feel like cooking after a long day at the office. And then there is the lack of knowledge - how do you know how to pick an eggplant? Are frozen vegetables unhealthy? How do you chop an onion?

It is time to take a few small steps into the kitchen and try some new produce. Here is the good news: all forms of fruits and vegetables count towards the daily goal - fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice.

The best advice for reaching your produce potential
  1. Aim for a variety of forms
  2. Eat the rainbow
  3. Make produce the basis of most meals and snacks
  4. Get out of the rut
Aim for a Variety of Forms

  • Fresh: Try to eat local and in season for best nutrition and flavor. 
  • Frozen: a great choice too - it is already cut up, is often a mixture of colors and ready to add to soups, pastas, stir-fries and omelets - avoid ones in sauces because they're likely loaded with salt. Frozen fruit is often more affordable than fresh, especially for berries, and make terrific smoothies and baked oatmeal - look for frozen fruit without added sugar. Frozen blueberries and grapes are a refreshing simple snack.
  • Canned: I try to minimize my use of canned goods because you do lose some of the nutrients in the process, and too often canned goods are loaded with salt and the lining of the cans can have PBA. Canned tomato products are a good pantry staple when fresh tomatoes are out of season and no-sugar-added apple sauce is delicious too. When buying canned fruit, looks for fruits packed in juice, not syrup, to minimize unnecessary calories.
  • Dried: Another great choice and an easy snack that can replace those chips and cookies. Look for dried fruit without added sugar to keep your snack from turning into dessert. Dried tomatoes and mushrooms are nice for winter cooking.
  • Juice: small amounts are ok, minimize daily totals as it usually lacks the fiber and satiety of whole fruits and vegetables - but if you're keeping your juice consumption around 4-6 ounces a day, and you're selecting 100% fruit juice, you're ok.
Eat the rainbow

A lot of what gives a fruit and vegetable their color also lends to their nutritional value - nature's paint brushes are called phytochemicals. Beta carotene in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes are just two examples from hundreds. In general, the darker the color, the better. Spinach and kale are more nutrient dense than iceberg lettuce. However, white produce has their own bounty of nutrients - don't skip the pears, onions, garlic and cauliflower.

Ask yourself: did you eat a rainbow yesterday? Red, blue/purple, white, orange, yellow and green? What colors are you missing?

Make produce the basis of most meals and snacks

Instead of planning your meal around the chicken or beef, start with the broccoli. In your cereal bowl, add sliced bananas and dried fruit. Have bell pepper slices and pea pods with your sandwich and skip the chips. When making macaroni and cheese, boil a frozen veggie blend with the noodles and toss the cheese on everything. Stretch soups and stews with double the veggies. It doesn't have to be difficult - have fun with it!

Get out of the rut

Variety isn't just the spice of life, it is also the key to good nutrition. Are you always buying broccoli and apples? Try pears and kale increase. Swap those pretzel sticks for carrot sticks and see what menu staples can stand to hold some more veggie power.

Reader poll: Have you tried any new fruits or vegetables lately? I just tried pomegranate for the first time and love it!

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Research Briefs: Weight change following diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes

I recently reviewed an article for the Evidence Analysis Library related to diabetes. The authors, Adrianne C Feldstein et al investigated weight change patterns in a cohort of patients recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Participants were from an HMO in Oregon and Washington states.

Based on weight measurements preceding and following diagnosis, the 4k participants were categorized into four groups; those who maintained a higher stable weight, those who maintained a lower stable weight, those who lost weight and those who gained weight. 

One finding from this study is that a visit with a dietitian nearly doubled the odds ratio of being in the weight loss group vs. the weight gain group. Being equipped with the knowledge needed to manage your blood sugar and weight is vital to success. Females were more likely to be in the weight loss group.

Patients with depression, who had quit smoking and were lower income were more likely to be in the weight gain group.

One limitation to this study is that it isn't comparing the participants with insurance to those without insurance; all participants in this study had health insurance. Having health insurance makes is much easier for the patient to afford medications and testing supplies to manage their diabetes. 

Weight loss is crucial to patients' health with diabetes. While it was a minority of the patients in this study who were able to achieve and maintain weight loss, it can be done. I would encourage clinicians to consistently:
  • inform their patients of the diabetes diagnosis
  • refer patients to weight loss counseling
  • refer patients to nutrition education
  • follow up with HbA1c every 3-6 months
Please use the following link to find a dietitian in your area.

Citation: Feldstein AC, Nichols GA, Smith DH, Rosales AG, Perrin N. Weight change and glycemic control after diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. J Gen Intern Med 2008;23(9):1339-45.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pregnancy Weight Gain: How much is too much?

It is that time of the year when many of us are pondering the past year and making goals and resolutions for the next year. A very common new years resolution is regarding weight loss. It is true that many of us could stand to be significantly slimmer for better health, but what are appropriate goals for weight gain if we are pregnant?

All women need to gain some weight while pregnant to support the healthy growth of their baby. How much weight is appropriate is contingent upon how much you weighed before you became pregnant. The BMI (body mass index) is a measure of how much you weigh as compared to your height. It is not an exact measure of body fatness, but it is a good estimate. You can calculate your BMI here. 

Based on your BMI, if you weight is healthy for your height, the recommended weight gain total is 25-35 pounds. But, if your BMI is too high or too low, or if you're carrying twins, the recommendations shift.

Pre-Pregnancy BMI
Total Weight Gain
Underweight (BMI < 18.5)
28 to 40 pounds (about 13 to 18 kilograms)
Healthy weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9)
25 to 35 pounds (about 11 to 16 kilograms)
Overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9)
15 to 25 pounds (about 7 to 11 kilograms)
Obese (BMI > 30)
11 to 20 pounds (about 5 to 9 kilograms)

If you're carrying twins, the recommendations increase a bit:

Pre-Pregnancy BMI
Total Weight Gain
Healthy weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9)
37 to 54 pounds (about 17 to 25 kilograms)
Overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9)
31 to 50 pounds (about 14 to 23 kilograms)
Obese (BMI > 30)
25 to 42 pounds (about 11 to 19 kilograms)

Where does that weight go? Besides the weight of the baby, the changes a woman's body include a few pounds of fat, increase in the size of the placenta and breasts and an expansion of the blood volume and amniotic fluid.

The risk of gaining too much or too little is worth discussion. We are learning more about the long term effects of the intrauterine environment on the health of the baby. It does matter what you eat for your health and for the health of your child.

What about calories? Too many women take pregnancy as as carte blanche for scarfing in the kitchen (and the drive through and the carry out). The often quoted statistic is that women need, on average, 300 extra calories per day. Unfortunately, the fine print is often lost. In the first trimester of pregnancy, women need, wait for it, ZERO extra calories per day! The needs increase in the second and third trimester, but the extra calories required can be fulfilled with a half of a sandwich, or a yogurt. Keep in mind that as a woman's belly grows, her level of physical activity (and energy) often decline and so fewer calories may not actually be needed.

Being a parent is hard. Being a good parent is even harder. Focus on the big picture make sure that fruits and vegetables are the basis of most of your meals and snacks. Everyone aspires to have a healthy family; a healthy pregnancy is a great place to start.

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