Spinach is Not Just for Popeye Anymore

In truth, spinach was never just for Popeye.  WAIT!  Don’t go!  I know spinach is not the most popular of ingredients, but trust me, this dish is worth it.  You can barely even taste the green goodness. 

Spinach is my FAVORITE food.  Don’t look at me like I’m crazy.  I see you rolling your eyes.  It is not my favorite because I like the taste the most, but because it has the most nutritional bang for your buck.  Or would that be the most taste for your buds?

Anyhow, spinach is loaded Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, and folate. And when I mean loaded, 1 cup has over 100% of your Daily Recommended Value (DRV) of vitamins K and A.  Not only that, but it also has a variety of other nutrients from copper and iron, to fiber and protein.  All of these nutrients add up to an antioxidant-rich, health-promoting, energy-packed little green leaf.  Now do you see why I love it?

And look!  There is cheese in this recipe. And it is super fast to make – bonus!  I just made this for my boss, who is a trained chef and he absolutely ate it up, so I hope you love it as well!

Tortellini Pepperoncini Salad

(from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:

  • 1  (9-ounce) package fresh cheese tortellini
  • 2  cups  halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2  cups  fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2  cup  chopped pepperoncini peppers
  • 6  tablespoons  (1 1/2 ounces) preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4  cup  capers
  • 1/4  cup  chopped fresh basil
  • 1  (16-ounce) can navy beans (feel free to omit if you don’t want them)
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

While pasta cooks, combine tomatoes, spinach, peppers, cheese, capers, basil, and beans in a large bowl. Drain pasta; rinse with cold water. Add pasta, juice, and oil to tomato mixture; toss gently. Serve immediately.

 

To your health,

Nutmeg

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Blog Action Day – Fresh Produce

When I first read about this event and the topic of climate change, I immediately thought about fresh produce and the farms that surround our suburban area. I love visiting farms – the selection, the produce, the colors, the smells … okay, maybe not some of the smells.

I believe that we can make a small impact not only on climate change, but also economic change by visiting these farms in your area on a regular basis. By purchasing produce locally, you stop the pollution of shipping large quantities of goods across the nation (or world), you are supporting growing in the area, which increases the oxygen output by the plants, and you are using items that are at the peak of their nutritional value by picking them straight off the vine/bush/tree. This last one is my favorite.

I also wanted to show how picking something from a local farm could translate to edible goods, especially since I am all about eating here at Nuts for Nutrition. Eating the good for you stuff – the produce that makes your body say, “Thank you”! So I took a trip with some friends to a local pumpkin farm, just on the northern outskirts of Denver, Rock Creek Farm.

We enjoyed picking pumpkins, exploring the corn maze (for kids) and visiting the farm animals – donkeys, goats and pigs! After picking our big pumpkins, we went to purchase our items and I also picked up some pumpkin pie pumpkins, spaghetti squash and butternut squash. I knew immediately what I wanted to make with the butternut squash.

So I cut them in half (which after doing this, I found that if you cut the bulb separately from the stem, it is much easier to cut each part in half), scrapped the seeds and fibers out and placed in a water filled 13×9″ pan to bake, covered with tin foil. After baking in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, they were soft and smelled yummy. I let them cool for about 20 minutes, then I peeled the skin off with a knife and placed the meat of the squash into a food processor, adding a little water to help them get smooth.

You could stop here and put them in ice cube trays for baby food. Or you could go further with me and make some macaroni and cheese with it. Yes, macaroni and cheese.

But first, what is so great about butternut squash? This winter squash is rich in vitamin A, which can reduce your lung cancer risk, according to some studies. It is also rich in vitamin C (great to load up on during flu season), potassium, fiber and manganese. Folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper and a variety of vitamins also fill this vegetable that is as rich in nutrients as it is in color.

This dish I found to be more tasty re-heated than fresh made, so do not shy away from the leftovers. It is not my favorite mac & cheese preparation (and I am still looking for a good healthy one), but it was pretty good considering that most of the sauce is made from the squash puree! I hope you visit a local farm, purchase some squash and try it!

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

(from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave and Food Network)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash (or 20 oz. of fresh pureed)
  • 2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 2 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it is defrosted. (Skip the breaking up of the frozen if using fresh and just heat squash and milk on medium) Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish.

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

More than just a fungi

I love quiche. (Do you say key-shhh? Or ki- shhh?)  It can be made in so many different ways – sweet, savory, breakfast, dinner, brunch or mini!  Combining this variety with the fact that I love breakfast foods and often make them for dinner, this recipe was sure to be a winner in my book.

I have made a couple of quiches before, but the crust on this one really made it.  Plus, the ability to add different vegetables, more spices and make it my own really appealed to me.  Not to mention it was healthy!

The mushrooms take the highlight in this recipe (especially since they are part of the title).  Mushroom are fungus, but are a healthy fungus and come in various sizes and types – including some non-edible ones.  There are many types of mushrooms, but generally, they are an excellent source of selenium, various B vitamins, copper, potassium, and phosphorous.  Mushrooms are packed with phytonutrients and anti-oxidants to help you keep your immune system running well!

Mozzarella & Mushroom Quiche

(Source: adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)

Ingredients:

Pie Crust:

  • 6 Tbsp. butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • about 4 Tbsp. cold water, milk, or buttermilk

Filling:

  • 1 tsp. butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced or minced
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • black pepper
  • a pinch of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups low fat milk
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • paprika

Directions:

For the crust:

  1. Use a pastry cutter, two forks, or a food processor to cut together the butter and flour until the mixture is uniformly blended and resembles coarse cornmeal. (The food processor will do this in just a few spurts.)
  2. Add just enough liquid (water, milk, or buttermilk) to hold the dough together (add more if absolutely needed, 1 tsp. at a time). Roll out the dough and form a crust in a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. Set aside.

For the filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a small pan. Add onions, and saute over medium heat for a few minutes. When they begin to soften, add mushrooms, salt, pepper, thyme, and mustard. Saute about 4 minutes more. Add the spinach in for the last minute to just wilt the leaves. Remove from heat.
  3. Combine eggs, milk, hot sauce, and flour in a blender or food processor, and beat well.
  4. Spread the grated cheese over the bottom of the unbaked crust, and spread the onion-mushroom-spinach mixture on top. Pour in the egg mixture, top with the slices of tomato and sprinkle the top with paprika.
  5. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until solid in the center. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Salad days

Summer is quickly coming to an end (:::sob!:::) and so is summer produce (bigger sob!).  The propane for the grill is quickly waning, the sun is fading sooner, and the trees are just starting to change colors.  Are you crying yet?

While all of these may be true, it is never too late to make a good salad.  Turn that grill on one last time and pick those still ripe veggies from the garden.  Even if it isn’t summer, salads are a great addition to a well-rounded diet any time of year.  Add a piece of good bread, seasonal fruit or a baked potato for a rounded meal.

The great thing about salads is that they are easily adaptable to tastes, budgets, and seasonal availability.  Also, they allow the maker to tap into their inner chef and be creative!  Following are some of my favorite mixes:

Southwest Salad

Ingredients:

2-3 cups romaine or spinach

1/2 cup fresh or canned, drained corn

1/3-1/2 cup black beans

1 tomato, diced

1 orange bell pepper, diced

1/2 avocado, sliced or diced

1 chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled

Dressing: mixture of ranch and barbecue sauce, about 1/4 cup

Spinach and Strawberry Side Salad

Ingredients:

2-3 cups baby spinach leaves

2/3 cup sliced strawberries

1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)

1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing (sounds weird, but it is good!)

The “Nutmeg”

(This is one that I continually make and maybe change up a few ingredients)

Ingredients:

2-3 cups spinach or baby greens

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tomato, diced

1/2 cucumber, halved and sliced [or] 2 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 small can of cooked chicken [or] 1 can of tuna

2-3 Tbsp. sliced almonds [or] 2-3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

Balsamic or Raspberry Vinaigrette – to your liking

As this last one shows, it really is up to your imagination and taste!  There are many more ingredients you can add as well – mandarin oranges, zucchini, squash, navy beans, beets, artichokes, chickpeas …. the list goes on!

What kind of salads do you like to make?

To your health,

M

It’s “bean” a while

Hi blog followers, how are you? Are you having a good summer? I hope so!

While the last few weeks have been filled with experiments for my Food Science class and other assignments, I still have made the time to cook some great meals. And I have documented them. And they are filling up my Flickr account begging me to tell you about them.

I made the following recipe a few weeks ago to go with some baked chicken that we had purchased on sale at the grocery store. It had vegetables and beans. And while that may make some cringe, this recipe is worth trying for your next side dish!!

Beans are an essential addition to your diet as they contain loads of protein, essential amino acids, are a great source of folate, tryptophan, fiber, and low in fat and calories. Like any legumes, they are low in the essential amino acid methionine, so when they are paired with whole grains (that are low in lysine) they complete a meal in more ways than one! Beans have been known to lower heart attack risk as well.

I will spare your ears from hearing my song about beans (the musical fruit), but let it be known that my sister and I can sing it in harmony.

And you thought your family was weird.

Want something a little more summery? Try making these fish tacos this weekend. You will thank me later.

Roasted Eggplant & Cannellini Bean Salad

From The Complete Light Cookbook, 2000

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups (1-inch) cubed, peeled eggplant (about 6 ounces)

1 cup (1-inch) squares red bell pepper

1 cup (1-inch) cubed onion

2 garlic cloves, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

Cooking spray

1 1/4 cups (1-inch) cubed tomato

1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, drained

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450* F.
  2. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add oil, toss to coat. Spoon into a 15×10-inch jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450* F for 25 minutes or until tender and browned, stirring every 10 minutes.
  3. Add tomato, parsley, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Bake an additional 10 minutes.
  4. Combine beans and vinegar in a large bowl, and toss to coat. Add roasted vegetables, tossing gently. Serve and enjoy!
  5. Yield: 3 servings (serving size: 1 cup).
To your health!
M

Sodium intake and a new recipe

Whew, I have been BUSY!!  And in the midst of studying for finals and being out of town for a couple of days for my birthday, I neglected my blog.  So sorry blog readers!! 

Hello??  Anyone still out there??

A couple of weeks ago I made my own recipe!!! And it was good enough to share with you all.  The first fact alone is an accomplishment as I usually rely on recipes heavily and hardly ever branch out on my own.  But for it to be edible and worthy of posting??  BIG deal, in my own head, at least. 

I bet there are some veteran chefs that fall across this post and scoff at my novice-ness.  Novice-ness? Is that a word?

See how imperfect these are scraped out? Perfection is not my motto.

See how imperfectly these are scraped out? Perfection is not my motto.

This recipe also brings up a perfect opportunity to address the issue of sodium in one’s diet.  This was a question that many of you had when I asked you what nutrition topic you were interested in learning about most.  I did a little research on the subject as knew little about it, so I hope I can relay it in an understandable way!  If not, I have some good articles from smarter people than me that may help you understand its importance.

Sodium is introduced into the diet in a variety of ways – through table salt, natural ingredients, and processed foods.  Processed and prepared foods contribute to a majority of the average American’s diet, constituting about 80% of our daily intake.  The recommendation for the average American is 2,300 mg of sodium.  One does need sodium in their diet for the proper fluid balance, conduction of nerves and muscle flexibility.  Excess amounts of sodium over a long period of time leads to cardiovascular and kidney failure. 

It is important to be aware of this on a daily basis, not just if one is  susceptible to the affect of sodium on fluid balance, but also for the proper functioning of the kidneys.  The kidneys process and retain the sodium.  If there is too much sodium in the diet, they excrete it in the urine, but if there is not enough they retain it for later usage.  However, perpetually high amounts of sodium causes the kidney to retain too much sodium and go into failure.  The blood system is also affected by increasing the blood pressure and putting too much pressure on the heart. 

The Mayo Clinic has a good article on it and even has some suggestions for how to reduce one’s intake on page 2.

 

On that note, please be aware that there is likely a lot of sodium in this recipe as many of the items are pickled and canned. It is a fairly salty dish, but has a nice tangyness to it that both the husband and I enjoyed.  I hope you do as well!

Broiled Mushrooms Stuffed with Greek Salsa

Source: Nuts for Nutrition – Chef Megan 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 4 Portobello Mushrooms, with the stems removed and the insides scraped
  • 1 Large Tomato
  • 1/4 c.  pitted Kalamata Olives, more to taste
  • 1/3 c. pitted green olives, more to taste
  • 1/4 c. chopped pepperoncini peppers
  • 1 container of reduced fat Feta Cheese

Directions:

Turn broiler on and set top rack about 8-10 inches underneath broiler

Wash the tops of the mushrooms with a damp paper towel.  Remove the stems and carefully scape out the innards with a spoon.  They don’t have to be perfect (see picture above). Place them top side down on a cooking sheet lined with foil.

Prepare the salsa by chopping the tomato, olives and peppers.  Place them in a bowl to be tossed together.

Evenly distribute the salsa amongst the mushrooms. Sprinkle the feta cheese on the tops.  Place them under the broiler for 6-7 minutes, until the feta cheese just starts to brown and soften.

Serve with rice, rice with beans or a simple salad. 

I hope you enjoy and would appreciate any feedback if you make this!

To your health,

M

Snowy weather soup

Last week when it look like this outside:

 I was so glad that I had planned a nice warm soup with crusty bread.  Mmmmm, perfect snowy weather food.  And this soup was even more perfect as it is chock full of vegetables.  These vegetables, in fact!

Aren’t they beautiful??  Those rich colors of green and orange, mixed with the cream of the onion; almost too beautiful to eat!  Almost. 

The biggest temptation when it is cold and dreary outside is to bake some cookies, grab some candy and chips and sit on the sofa, waiting out the storm. My guess is that most people aren’t craving vegetables and wishing they would have picked up that head of lettuce at the store before it was impossible to drive.  So this soup is a way to get in those vegetables in an appealing and delicious way.  I know it sure helped me counteract some of those cookies I ate. 😉

I have highlighted beans before on my previous blog (here), so I wanted to focus on the carrots in this recipe.  Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene.  Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the body and works on the eyes to improve vision, especially night vision. Beta-carotene has also been linked to a decrease in the chances for cancer and heart disease.  Carrots do contain carbohydrates, but they are low on the glycemic index and have been shown to help regulate blood sugar. You can add them to a stew, shred them on a salad, eat them raw, or make a whole carrot salad out of them.  Oh and did you know that baby carrots are just small, rounded pieces of regular carrots? 

So protect your vision, heart and body by enjoying a carrot in this stew!

Tuscan Vegetable Soup

(From Ellie Krieger’s “The Food You Crave” and Food Network.com)

  • 1 (15 oz.) can low-sodium cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 carrots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, with more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 32 oz. (4 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. chopped baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan, optional

Directions:

In a small bowl mash half of the beans with a masher or the back of a spoon, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, thyme, sage, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the broth and tomatoes with the juice and bring to a boil. Add the mashed and whole beans and the spinach leaves and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes more.

Serve topped with Parmesan, if desired.  Serve with warm, whole grain bread. (my addition)

(These are special bowls that my mother-in-love gave to us.  I have yet to make the recipes that are on the side – Tomato Soup, Chicken Soup and French Onion Soup – but I hope to soon!  I just love these bowls.)