Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rustic Cabbage Soup. Because the oncologist prescribed an "all-cabbage diet."

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  If you want to maximize flavor and health in one easy meal (and who doesn't?) I implore you to try this soup!!

"Rustic Cabbage Soup"
It's called "Rustic Cabbage Soup" and it will be THE meal I bring to new moms from now on.  Flavorful and hearty - yet SUPER healthy - it's just perfect.  Perfect, perfect, perfect.  Even more perfect for autumn or winter but still in the summertime:  Perfect.

The protein is in *bean* form and that means this soup is great for lowering-cholesterol - and for avoiding meat generally, which is increasingly popular even among non-vegetarians.  Add to that the soup is chalk full of cabbage and you've got yourself a bowl of health.  Cabbage is a cruciferous veggie (like kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc) and as such, it's (at least allegedly) great for cancer prevention.  Now that my husband is practicing oncology full time (read: double time in fellowship) he comes home at night asking me how I can eat healthier because "we'd be screwed if anything happened to you."  So sweet :)  Slightly unnerving...  When I mentioned that cabbage is supposed to be good for cancer prevention, he declared I should be on an "all-cabbage diet."  Probably not realistic, but I promise this soup will get you closer ;)

Anyway here's one great way to get lots of cabbage and still fill up on protein.  And I promise you:  It's truly tasty.  The cabbage and potatoes soak up the briny broth flavor while the beans add substance.  Even my 22 month old gobbled it up - which was fabulous because he got protein, veggies, and starch in one super easy reheatable meal.  I'm sure it freezes well too.  This recipe is a gem.

Rustic Cabbage Soup (makes a full stock pot, can freeze some)

2 tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
2 large pinches salt, plus pepper to taste
4 large or 8 small cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1 large yellow onion, chopped bite-sized
1 lb potatoes (your favorite kind) skin on, cut into 1/4 inch(ish) pieces
10 cups of stock (your favorite kind)**
2 cans white (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cabbage (or as much as you can fit in the soup) bite-sized
Parmesan to top (if desired)

** I used "Better than Bouillon" vegetable base.  Although it would be fine to just pick up 5 cans of vegetable broth from the soup section, this stuff (also in the soup section) tastes better and takes up WAY less kitchen space.  It's condensed so you add water (I believe 1 tsp per cup of water; it says on the jar) - to make broth.

  1. Warm the olive oil and salt in a large stock pot.  Add potatoes and cook covered until softened (about 5 minutes covered).  It's okay to open the pot to stir the potatoes or to add more olive oil.
  2. Add the garlic and onion, and saute a bit longer until onion is soft (10 mins?  okay to walk away).
  3. Add the stock and simmer until you are sure that the potatoes and onion are softened to your liking.  For a creamier soup, add the beans with the stock; otherwise, add them with the cabbage just so that they heat through (that's what I do).  Add the cabbage and simmer another few minutes; the cabbage will soften quickly.  
  4. Taste and add salt or other seasonings as desired or needed (I added nothing).  Serve topped with parmesan if desired (I did not).  



Monday, July 9, 2012

Raspberry-Buttermilk Sherbert

This summer I've been on a homemade ice cream kick.  We have the Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker Attachment and it's really getting some use.  But while I indulge in ice cream, I can't leave my husband without a heart-healthier frozen treat.  Luckily, there's a wonderful world of sherbert and sorbets out there, providing us healthy opportunities to harvest summer's best fruit in cold, crave-worthy treats.  Here's just one great recipe:

Raspberry-Buttermilk Sherbert

2 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups buttermilk*
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
As always, feel free to add Benefiber Powder to any recipe (to lower cholesterol)

Process berries in a food processor until smooth.  If you wish to discard the seeds (not necessary, but probably preferable) run the berry puree through a mesh strainer, like this one.  The puree will likely be too thick to work itself through, so add the buttermilk directly to the strainer and stir it up, then scrape the seeds out of the way and work the liquids down.  Stir in the sugar and vanilla.  Process in your ice cream maker.  Freeze until solid.  Enjoy.


*Buttermilk is a misnomer.  Buttermilk was the name given for milk left over after butter was churned.  It will be either fat free (I used fat free) or have minimal fat.  The calcium content is about the same as milk, and it has additional health benefits (good source of potassium, B12, riboflavin, and phosphorus).

Of course, raspberries are a superfood!  So ignoring the sugar, I actually don't mind giving this to my toddler as a treat!

For a slightly richer treat, substitute part of the buttermilk for heavy cream.  For a slightly more exotic treat, add a dash of salt and serve sprinkled with fresh cracked pepper.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"The French Salad"

This is a very simple salad, but it's packed with protein and can easily be a main course or even a meal.  We call it "The French Salad" because my host mom in France made it every weekend; that's how I fell in love with it.  For her family (and me, and my husband) this salad is the perfect combination of sweet, savory, and tangy.  Give it a try... the ingredients sound weird but it's crave-worthy enough to be a staple in our home going on 12 years now.  Serves 2 in large portions, or 3 as a side-dish.


Classic Vinaigrette:

2 parts vegetable oil for every 1 part red wine vinegar.  Very small dollup of Dijon mustard.  Salt and pepper to taste.  I also add, for this salad, 1-2 tbsp of white sugar.  I also crank up the vinegar... I like it a little sweeter and tangier.


Salad Ingredients:

Endives (2 large or 4 small)
Apple, skinned and diced (honey crisp, pink lady, or fuji) - 1 large or 2 small
Egg (hard-boiled, chopped) - 1-2 eggs depending on your preference
Imitation Crab Meat (chopped) - from the refrigerated seafood section.

Simply prepare the vinaigrette and stir in each ingredient.  Sample and add additional salt, pepper, sugar, or vinegar if flavor is lacking.  Serve.

Why is this salad heart healthy?
  • Yes, it uses 1-2 eggs, to serve 2-3 people.  But the latest on eggs is that it's okay to have them on occasion and here's why:  They're low in saturated fat (1.5 g per egg) while being high in protein (6 g), and they have many other important nutrients.  Yes, they are high in "cholesterol" - but so few foods are high in "cholesterol" that when people have high cholesterol, it's never because of the actual cholesterol they consume.  It's because of the saturated fat.  That's also the current thought on shellfish.  Shrimp are now seen as a very viable option for heart-conscious eaters because they are fat-free and jam packed with protein.  Yes, they're high in cholesterol but so few other foods are that you can have a meal with shrimp as your protein and still be unlikely to blow through your daily cholesterol quota.  Meanwhile, you'll have an advantage on the "saturated fat" quota you probably do blow through because shrimp are fat free.  
  • It's a great way to get an apple in, and there are omega-3's in the imitation crab, which is largely made from pollock fish (see my earlier entry, "tips and tricks," for why this matters).  Endives offer many health benefits - fiber, vitamins A and C, folic acid, and beta-carotenes, to name a few.
Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yummy Cranberry-Walnut Bread

My good friend Kelly introduced me to this fantastic find.  It's a super-tasty, tangy, not-too-sweet bread and I LOVE it.  If you're like me and you keep a list of things you look forward to each winter, this bread makes a great addition.



One of the best things about this recipe is that it's heart-healthy without even trying.  The recipe as written is already super low-fat. 

It calls for just 2 tbsp of oil and the rest of the moisture - and it's a very moist bread - is orange juice.  Do you still have to worry about fat in canola/veggie oils and olive oil?  YES, sort of.  Both do have some saturated fat, even though they're not butter.  Compare:

  • 1 tbsp Canola Oil = 1 g
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil = 2 g
  • 1 tbsp I Can't Believe It's Not Butter = 3.5 g
  • 1 tbsp Smart Balance = 5 g
  • 1 tbsp Butter = 7 g

Since a lot of quick breads call for at least 1/3 cup oil, this recipe is about as low-fat as it gets.

Also, this recipe calls for walnuts.  Walnuts have heart benefits, as is best explained in Cholesterol Down (Chapter 5).  Basically, almonds and other tree nuts carry the same "good fats" found in Olive Oil, and a handful of such nuts every day is one of the "10 Simple Steps" to lower your cholesterol found in Cholesterol Down (I cannot say enough good things about that book - read the Amazon reviews if you don't believe me).

AND although the science is less clear, cranberries are probably another bonus.  They're packed with antioxidants which is a good thing for heart health according to The Everything Low-Cholesterol Cookbook.  Plus, they *might* help raise your HDL and lower your LDL (like a Statin).


Finally, we added 1/2 cup of Benefiber to the batter and there was NO TASTE DIFFERENCE (***Note:  you might want to start with 1/4 cup if you don't usually consume a lot of fiber).  Benefiber truly is tasteless, oderless, and textureless.  I'm not sure how they ever created it but it's a godsend for those trying to lower cholesterol through diet.  Just one teaspoon of Benefiber has 3 g of soluble fiber (the amount in a serving of oatmeal)!  That means that the 1/2 cup in this recipe has 144 grams of soluble fiber.  And that, my friends, means that each slice of your cranberry bread will have TWELVE GRAMS of soluble fiber.  That's like eating 4 bowls of oatmeal in one slice of bread... rock on!!!
Adding the Benefiber.
So here's the recipe, tweaked from "Cranberry Nut Bread I" on Allrecipes:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (add another 1/4-1/2 cup if you like a sweeter bread)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • at least 1 cup whole cranberries, fresh or frozen (I use 2 cups; I like it tangy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (worth investing in a microplane if you don't already have one)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup Benefiber (optional)
  • A bit of cinnamon and sugar, stirred together (maybe 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon?)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 335 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and "sugar" a 9x5 inch loaf pan.  By "sugaring" the pan I mean mix together some sugar and cinnamon and coat the greased pan with the mixture - just pour it in and tilt all ways so it coats.  This will give the edges of your bread a sweet crunch.  If you have any left over, feel free to sprinkle it on top of the bread before baking.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl and stir together (a whisk works great). Add the cranberries and walnuts, and stir to coat with flour.  In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, oil, orange juice, Benefiber (if you're adding it) and orange zest. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and stir until just blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.  Batter will be thick so don't pour it all in at once - really spoon it.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven.  Without opening oven, turn oven off and leave in fort another 10 minutes.  Check the bread by applying slight pressure to the top - if it sinks in a little it's not yet done; in that case put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes while the oven preheats and sits at 300 degrees.  The recipe itself calls for baking 50 minutes at 350 degrees but I found when I did this that the edges were overdone and the middle wasn't quite cooked.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Miracle Recipe: Quinoa and Black Beans

Whoa.  If you have ANY cholesterol issues or EVEN if you don't, you have GOT to try this!  It's packed with cholesterol-lowering black beans and quinoa but, more importantly: It tastes AMAZING!  And it could not be easier to make.

The recipe is "Quinoa and Black Beans" from all recipes.com and I didn't make any alterations.  We had it as a side-dish with grilled chicken and it was divine.  I ended up cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces and eating it all together.  It was great that way and would also be amazing burrito-style or in a wrap.  Maybe even with some low-fat sour cream.  Mmmmm... diced tomatoes might be a nice addition ... or salsa.  In any case, please try this.  Even if you just end up snacking on it for a few days, I promise it will make you happy.  And if you don't have any heart health issues, just consider it a fabulous way to lose weight:  packed with protein, and low-calorie to boot.

PACKED with flavor - even if it doesn't look it!
By the way, don't be intimidated by quinoa just because you haven't made it before.  It's a grain you'll find either in the rice/pasta section or the organic/healthy section and it comes in a bag.  You cook it just like rice except it only takes 20 minutes.  It then keeps for quite awhile in the refrigerator and you can add it to anything - soups, yogurt, casseroles - it's flavorless.  And in order to digest it, your liver will need to pull cholesterol already stored in your blood to replenish its bile acids.  Perfect.  For more information on why quinoa and other forms of soluble fiber (like the black beans also in this recipe!) are so great and where to find them, please see my earlier blog entry "Tips and Tricks."


Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.
  2. Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes,
  3. Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Best Soup. Ever.

Whether or not you're concerned with heart health, I guarantee that if you give the following recipe a chance, it will be one of your all-time favorites.  Be sure you use good ingredients - sweet ripe pears and fresh ginger - or it won't turn out to be perfection.  And it's actually fairly easy - if you double the recipe and freeze half of it, you'll have a healthy veggie side dish with no cooking for many meals to come.

Curried Butternut Squash and Pear Soup


Finished Product.
Ingredients:

1 butternut squash
3 tbsp Smart Balance Sticks
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp fresh minced ginger root - more if you're me (all produce sections have)
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
4 cups chicken broth 
2 Bartlett Pears, cored and diced (okay to leave peel on)
1/2 cup milk

(1) Roast the squash by slicing in half and removing seeds, and placing flat side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Roast in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.  When done, remove pulp from peel and set aside for later use.


Acorn squash before roasting. But go for butternut squash if you can find it.
(2) Melt Smart Balance in large pot.  Stir in onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt, and saute until onion is soft. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Add pear and squash and simmer until pear is soft (about 30 mins).


Peeling and mincing the ginger root.
Sauteeing Smart Balance, onion, garlic, ginger, curry, salt.
Core the pear.
Easy pear dicing.
SO easy.  Scoop up with spatula and add to soup.
(3) Here's the labor of this recipe:  If you don't have an immersion blender, you need to transfer the soup to a food processor or blender in batches and blend until soup is pureed.  I highly recommend getting an immersion blender though.  They're not very expensive and you can use them to make heart-healthy smoothies with frozen blueberries, yogurt, honey, brown sugar, and cardamom.


Immersion blender.  $28 on Amazon, makes a great gift.
(4) Return soup to pot.  Stir in milk.  Reheat.  I like to serve with a dollup of low-fat sour cream in the middle.  So fancy right?


Double batch, baby.  It freezes perfectly in any container.

Enjoy :)

Oatmeal: It's All About the Toppings

Everyone knows that you're "supposed to" eat oatmeal to lower your cholesterol, but not everybody knows why.  Many believe, as I once did, that anything with fiber is great for heart health.  Well... sort of.  Obviously fiber has many health benefits.  But only soluble fiber has actually been shown to reduce cholesterol.  Please see my post "Tips & Tricks" for more info on this.

Sadly, soluble fiber is not easy to come by.  Only two cereals on the market are allowed to claim it on their nutrition info:  Oatmeal and Kashi.  As for veggies, you'll be stuck with okra, zucchini, and egg plant.  It's that "gooey"ness in all of these foods that does the trick.  Luckily, most beans are great sources... so if you're serious about heart health, bring on the chili, hummus, and delicious black bean burritos.

But back to breakfast.  I've heard so many people say oatmeal is boring.  No!!!  It doesn't have to be!  Whether you do oatmeal or oat bran, or a mixture of the two (my personal fave), it's all about the toppings. 

"Recipe"

- Make oatmeal, oat bran, or Irish steel cut oatmeal as directed but add *milk* instead of water.  Do NOT use instant oatmeal (use "old fashioned" or Steel Cut).  You won't get the heart benefits.

- Add a tiny sliver of Smart Balance and a sprinkling of sea salt in each bowl.  Stir.

- Top with fruit.  If you're only going to try this recipe once, please wait until August and use fresh ripe peaches.  The combination of peach and cardamom simply cannot be beat.

- Sprinkle with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom.  The cardamom is very important!  Cardamom is a spice (so found in the spice aisle by the baking section).  It's used in a lot of Swedish baked goods... I discovered it by marrying a half-Swede.  It's great in coffee, just sprinkle some on... it's also used in Indian food; try it with yogurt, mango, and honey for a "mango lassi."  Add it to ANY smoothie for a greatly enhanced experience.

So Good!

So, "oatmeal" is a pretty simple recipe but a great way to have a "special breakfast" that's still healthy.  

Bonus:  You can dice up the fruit nice and small for a baby.  Ours was IN LOVE with this breakfast, dancing a little as he ate it and grunting intensely as he reached out for more.  And now he's had whole grains, fresh fruit, and cardamom in a meal shared with Mommy and Daddy.  What a great morning!

Foolproof Perfect French Crepes

Crepes, when served with fresh fruit and maple syrup, make a wonderful heart-healthy substitute for a "special morning" breakfast that might otherwise include eggs, bacon, sausage, or buttery pastries.  

I discovered this recipe during my year in Rennes, France, where crepes and "galettes" (their buckwheat counterpart) are considered a regional speciality (even within France itself).  The trick is just to let the batter sit for at least thirty minutes before you start cooking up the crepes.  This way, the flour and eggs can "coagulate" and your crepe will hold together much better when you're trying to get it off the pan.

This recipe is SO easy.  The hardest part is sifting the flour, but you could probably get away with just stirring it with a whisk.  (If you have the right sifter, sifting flour takes two seconds - I like the OXO one-handed flour sifter for $13).  Also, if you have time, you can let the eggs and milk get to room temp before you start the recipe.  This actually makes any recipe better, but isn't necessary.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp superfine sugar (regular sugar also works fine)
Large pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sifted flour

All you do is place the eggs, milk, vanilla, and melted butter in a blender.  Add the sugar and salt, whiz until smooth.  Add the flour and whiz again, then set aside for thirty minutes.

Stir the batter again immediately before making the crepes (separation is normal; get it back to a unified texture).

Heat a nonstick pan to somewhere between low and medium heat.  Spray with PAM (fat free).  Once heated, pour about 1/3 cup of crepe batter on the pan.  Start tilting the pan until the batter runs over the entire surface.  It's okay to dip back into your batter for more; just use however much it takes to coat the pan.  It's also okay to have holes that you fill with a little extra batter.  It'll all work out in the end, because you let your batter coagulate ;)


My pan is specifically for crepes; it's very shallow and the surface is nonstick.  I got it in France but if you search Amazon for "crepe pan" you'll find many options.  A deeper nonstick pan would work fine as well, if that's all you have on hand.

Eventually your crepe will start to bubble up and pull away from the nonstick surface.  Ideally you want it to get to the point where it just slips right off onto your plate, with a little help from a spatula to unstick any stuck parts.  But even if you have to turn the entire pan upside down, it's not a problem - just wait for the crepe to cool on the plate a little and then spread it back out for toppings.


Sometimes people ask me about cooking both sides.  I've never found that necessary.  Crepes are very thin and are they cook through quite easily.  Cooking both sides just isn't worth the hassle, in my book.  (I also tend to like a wetter, chewier crepe - sometimes when creperies in the U.S. cook both sides they just get dry and boring).



We've experimented a lot with toppings over the years.  To be heart-healthy, our favorite remains fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or bananas with brown sugar and maybe a little whipped cream (well, a lot of whipped cream for me; a little for him).  Dust with powdered sugar... Mmmm...





Anyway, if you've ever been interested in crepes, give this recipe a try!  It makes about 6 crepes and usually people want at least two apiece.  It can be a real crowd-pleaser with decadent toppings or, if you stick to mainly strawberries and a little sugar, it can be a pretty healthy, fairly light breakfast.