Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's For Dinner?

The weather may still remain warm and the crickets continue their nighttime chirping, but when the school buses start rolling down the streets filled with kids on their way to their respective schools we are forced to face the truth - Summer is over. Gone are the carefree days, now chocker-block full of activities from morning until night. Because life can become hectic once the school year starts, sometimes the "family dinner" can go to the wayside - family members grabbing some grub when their personal schedules permit. Yet studies show that the family dinner hour is an important part of healthy living.

Research shows that when families dine together, kids are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables - fewer fried foods, sodas or food that contains trans fats. When younger kids frequently eat dinner with their families, they are less likely to be overweight than other children. Which is a serious concern considering that nearly one in five children aged 6-19 in the U.S. are overweight. That puts them at higher risk for many health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes -- as well as emotional problems.

" 'One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners,' says Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). CASA recently reported on a national phone survey of 1,000 teens and 829 parents of teens. Eating dinner as a family helped kids in many ways. It helped them get better grades, and kept them away from cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, and more".(Source: Family Dinners Are Important: 10 reasons why, and 10 shortcuts to help get the family to the table. Jeanie Lerche Davis, WebMd Feature)

According to the WebMD article there are ten benefits of family dinners:

  • Everyone eats healthier meals.
  • Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
  • Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
  • They're less likely to drink alcohol.
  • They won't likely try marijuana.
  • They're less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • Friends won't likely abuse prescription drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You'll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you're proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home

Ok, now I know what you are saying to yourself: "The days of June Cleaver and Carol Brady are long gone"! The task of making dinner every might may seem daunting, but you don't have to let it be. Even ordering a pizza for dinner counts as a family dinner, as long as everyone is sitting down together at the family dinner table. However, here are some quick tips for making this seem less like "mission impossible":

  • First and foremost, no TV's allowed and no phones answered. Think of this time as an opportunity to listen to each other and share each other's stories from the day.
  • Set a goal. Twice a week, perhaps? Build from there.
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don't have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or frittatas.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep healthy 'appetizers' on hand. Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, and low-fat cheese -- stuff the kids can snack on after school, instead of chips.
  • Use the crock pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You'll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  • Get the family involved in preparing meals and setting the table. If your children don't learn basic kitchen skills, they'll regret it by the time they're off to college.

Our lives as well as our children's lives are enriched with all sorts of activities that keep us busy from morning to night - take time out to stop and smell what's cooking for dinner, and then enjoy it with your family!


The following meals can all be prepared in 20 minutes or less, enjoy!!

Lemon Basil Shrimp and Pasta

Source: Nancy Hughes, Cooking Light, April 2007

  • 3 quarts water
  • 8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups baby spinach


Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add pasta; cook 8 minutes. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done and pasta is al dente. Drain. Place pasta mixture in a large bowl. Stir in basil and next 4 ingredients (through salt). Place 1/2 cup spinach on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 1/2 cups pasta mixture.

Nutritional Information

Calories: 397 (22% from fat); Fat:9.6g (sat 1.5g,mono 5.3g,poly 1.8g);Protein: 31g; Carbohydrate:44.9g; Fiber: 2.4g; Cholesterol:172mg;Iron:5.4mg; Sodium:666mg; Calcium:88mg

Artichoke and Arugula Pizza with Pruciutto:serves 4
Source: Kate Washington, Cooking Light, 2007


* Cooking spray
* 1 tablespoon cornmeal
* 1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough
* 2 tablespoons commercial pesto
* 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
* 1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
* 1 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto
* 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
* 1 1/2 cups arugula leaves
* 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Position oven rack to lowest setting. Preheat oven to 500°

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; sprinkle with cornmeal. Unroll dough onto prepared baking sheet, and pat into a 14 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread the pesto evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over pesto. Place baking sheet on the bottom oven rack; bake at 500° for 5 minutes. Remove pizza from oven.

Coarsely chop artichokes. Arrange artichokes on pizza; top with sliced prosciutto. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Return pizza to the bottom oven rack; bake an additional 6 minutes or until crust is browned.

Place arugula in a bowl. Drizzle juice over arugula; toss gently. Top the pizza with arugula mixture. Cut the pizza into 4 (7 x 5-inch) rectangles; cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories:419(28% from fat);Fat:13g(sat 4.4g,mono 6.4g,poly 0.6g;)Protein:20.1g;
Carbohydrate:55.3g; Fiber:5.7g; Cholesterol:20mg;Iron:3.6mg;
Sodium:1001mg; Calcium:265mg

Grilled Ham and Mango Quesadillas: Serves 4
Source: Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast, Oxmoor House, APRIL 2009


* 1/2 cup mango chutney (such as Sun Brand)
* 4 (8-inch) multigrain tortillas (such as Tumaro's)
* 8 ounces shaved lower-sodium deli ham (such as Boar's Head)
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled queso fresco
* 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
* Cooking spray


1. Prepare grill.

2. Spread 2 tablespoons mango chutney over half of each tortilla. Top evenly with ham, cheese, and onions. Fold tortillas in half.

3. Place quesadillas on a grill rack coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cheese melts. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories:287(19% from fat); Fat:6g (sat 1.6g,mono 0.8g,poly 0.1g;) Protein:20.9g;
Carbohydrate:35g; Fiber:8.1g; Cholesterol:35mg; Iron:1.7mg; Sodium:882mg; Calcium:171mg

Beefy Corn and Black Bean Chili: serves 6
Source:Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast, Oxmoor House, APRIL 2009


* 1 pound ground round
* 2 teaspoons salt-free chili powder blend (such as The Spice Hunter)
* 1 (14-ounce) package frozen seasoned corn and black beans (such as Pictsweet)
* 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
* 1 (15-ounce) can seasoned tomato sauce for chili (such as Hunt's Family Favorites)
* Reduced-fat sour cream (optional)
* Sliced green onions (optional)


1. Combine beef and chili powder blend in a large Dutch oven. Cook 6 minutes over medium-high heat or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Drain and return to pan.

2. Stir in frozen corn mixture, broth, and tomato sauce; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Ladle chili into bowls. Top each serving with sour cream and onions, if desired.

Nutritional Information

Calories:193 (14% from fat; Fat:3g (sat 1g,mono 1g,poly 0.3g); Protein:20g;
Carbohydrate:20g; Fiber:3.4g; Cholesterol:40mg; Iron:2mg; Sodium:825mg; Calcium:0.0mg

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sugar Addict

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am a sugar addict. I take my coffee "light 'n sweet", in buffet lines I gravitate towards the dessert table first, and on more than one occasion I have suffered sugar withdrawal when attempting to lower my consumption of the sweet nectar for health's sake. So, you can imagine my dismay when a friend emailed me a newsletter which briefly explains why refined sugar is toxic to the human body. The newsletter focuses on an event that took place several hundred years ago. Five sailors were shipwrecked in 1793. The only provisions on their ship were sugar and water. When the sailors were picked up nine days later they were in terrible condition due to starvation. (Another source claims that all they had was sugar and rum, which is more believable.) This story prompted the French physiologist, Francois Magendie to conduct a series of experiments where he fed dogs a diet that consisted solely of sugar. All of the dogs died. His conclusion: sugar as a steady diet is worse than consuming nothing because sugar is an "anti-nutrient".

Sugar is derived from cane sugar. In order to remove the bacterial contaminants and make sugar safe for human consumption, sugar must be refined. However, this extensive refining process destroys all of the enzymes, fiber, vitamins and mineral that are natural to sugar and help our bodies to digest it and use it for energy. As a result, consuming sugar actually depletes the body of nutrients through the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination makes upon one's entire system. Hence, why sugar is classified as an "anti-nutrient".

Unfortunately, this information alone doesn't have me swearing off my sweetened morning caffeine jolt. Considering that the average person consumes 175 pounds of sugar each year, it probably isn't convincing you either. However, delving deeper into the dark, addictive world of sugar uncovers more harmful side-effects. Because consuming sugar causes the body to release a rush of insulin, which in turn causes a subsequent blood-sugar drop, it can cause a false sense of hunger - making you eat more. When insulin levels are consistently high as a result of eating too much sugar, advanced glycation end products remain high in the body which promote aging. In order for your body to process sugar, it pulls calcium from your bones and teeth promoting tooth decay and osteoporosis. Sugar in excess is stored as fat in our bodies. Finally, B-vitamin production is depleted with high consumption of sugar, which in turn can impair brain function.

If you aren't convinced enough to give up your secret "candy drawer" consider this: consuming high quantities of sugar has been linked to varicose veins, constipation, hormonal imbalances, ADD and ADHD, increased emotional instability, depressed immune system, increase risk of cancer and degenerative diseases.

What's a girl with a sweet-tooth supposed to do? There are natural alternatives to sugar, most of which can be found at natural or health food stores. Honey, agave nectar, rice syrup, maple syrup and date sugar make up the short list. (I am excluding Stevia from my list, because it is rebaudioside A that is extracted from the plants to be a sweetener and therefore not completely natural.)

Stay strong, sugar addicts. There are alternatives that will allow us to have our cake -- and eat it too!


Recipes for the week: Soft Chicken Tacos, Bistro Dinner Salad, Macadamia Nut-Pesto Fettucini, Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce.

Soft Chicken Tacos (serves 4)

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Cooking spray
  • 12 (6-inch) white corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese (such as Tillamook)
  • Low-fat sour cream (optional)


Prepare grill.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl; rub spice mixture over chicken.

Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 10 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 5 minutes; chop.

Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken evenly among tortillas; top each tortilla with 2 tablespoons cabbage and 1 teaspoon cheese. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Source: Elisa Bosley, Cooking Light, SEPTEMBER 2006

Bistro Dinner Salad (serves 4)

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
  • 4 large eggs
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 bacon slices (uncooked)
  • 8 cups gourmet salad greens
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 (1-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette, toasted


Place nuts in a small skillet; cook over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan frequently. Remove from heat; set aside.

Break 1 egg into each of 4 (6-ounce) custard cups coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave at high for 40 seconds or until set; let stand 1 minute. Remove eggs from cups; drain on paper towels.

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; cool slightly. Remove bacon from the pan, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings. Crumble bacon. Combine walnuts, bacon, greens, blue cheese, and pear in a large bowl.

Combine 1 teaspoon reserved drippings, vinegar, oil, tarragon, and mustard in small bowl; stir with a whisk. Drizzle over greens mixture; toss gently. Arrange 2 cups salad mixture on each of 4 serving plates; top each serving with 1 egg and 1 toast slice.

Source: Allison Fishman, Cooking Light, MAY 2006

Macadamia Nut-Pesto Fettucini (serves 3)
  • 1 (9-ounce) package fresh fettuccine
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3 tablespoons roasted macadamia nuts
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


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

While pasta cooks, place basil and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine basil mixture and pasta in a large bowl, tossing to coat.

Source: Elaine Magee, M.P.H., R.D., Cooking Light, APRIL 2004

Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce (serves 4)
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
  • Cooking spray


Preheat broiler.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a fork. Rub mustard mixture evenly over each fillet. Place fillets, skin side down, on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

Source: Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Week 14, Not Eating Healthy? Blame Your Nutritional Gatekeeper.

"Nutritional Gatekeeper" is a term that was coined in the 1940's. America was entrenched in a World War and meat shipments to the troops threatened to create a protein crisis at home. The goal of researchers was to educate families about alternatives to meat. However, it wasn't clear to whom to direct the information. It was generally thought that those consuming the meals factored heavily into what was eaten at home. Rather, it was found that the Nutritional Gatekeepers were the moms; the ones buying and planning the meals.

Fast forward to 2009, the term Nutritional Gatekeeper is still relevant and has surfaced again. However, this role is not only assumed by mothers but by fathers , grandparents, housekeepers or nannies. Researchers claim that these Nutritional Gatekeepers influence more than 70% of the foods that we eat. This isn't just in the home, but in children's lunches, snacks eaten outside of the home and even what family members order at restaurants. Because the Nutritional Gatekeeper determines what the family will be eating, they are essential in determining the overall health of the family. "A Gatekeeper who struggles with unhealthy eating choices will typically pass those problems onto family members. By the same token, gatekeepers who improve their habits can improve the health of the whole family." (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. Who's Cooking? (For Health, It Matters). The New York Times: March 17th, 2009).
The revived relevance of the Nutritional Gatekeeper relates to both the economic downturn of our country as well as to childhood obesity. Both are incredibly significant issues our country is currently facing, and both are actually intertwined with each other.

When times are tough and people are strapped for cash, the general tendency is to buy "cheaper" food. These foods tend to be packaged, processed, high in fat, higher in simple carbohydrates and loaded with sodium. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, food executives worry that shrunken nest eggs - along with an overhang of home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and credit-card debt - may cause shoppers to tighten the purse strings indefinitely. As a result, these companies are marketing heavily at the Nutritional Gatekeepers. In an attempt to boost sales Campbell’s for example, is setting up in-store displays which contain all of the ingredients to make a meal as well as recently launching an ad campaign promoting its soups as inexpensive meal options.

Expanding waistlines are setting our children up for unprecedented rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems that could cut years off their lives. Faced with the prospect that our children may be the first generation to live shorter lives then their parents, feeding them packaged, processed food may not be the right answer. Nonetheless, there is a misconception that preparing fresh food every night is more expensive then buying packaged which is why these types of foods tend to be "recession proof". However, even with rising food costs, breakfast, lunch and dinner can be had for less then 10 dollars a day. The United States Department of Agriculture's Recipe Finder Database, (http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/) is a useful tool in order to do this. There are also some great tips on how to get your kids to help out in the kitchen!

As parents , Nutritional Gatekeeper or not, we are the greatest role-models for our children. Kids aren't going to eat their broccoli if we don't, and they aren't going to live a healthy, active lifestyle if we don't. Don't think that we are off the hook either. Results from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. It's just common sense: eat healthy and exercise more. That being said, every once in a while indulging in a "Big Mac" and French fries or a piece of chocolate cake will only help keep you from going insane!


Irish Lamb Stew**, Braised Short Ribs with Honey, Chipotle and Black Beans, Stir-Fried Shrimp and Scallops with Cashews, Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts.
**cooked in a slow-cooker

Items already in your pantry or fridge:
butter, salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano, Parmesan cheese, vegetable oil, olive oil, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, Dijon mustard, ground cumin, honey, red wine, Worcestershire sauce

Shopping List:**
1/2 pound fresh scallops
1/2 pound large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb
4 pounds beef short ribs, cut into individual rib portions
1- 3/4 pounds white potatoes
3 large leeks
3 large carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 (12 ounce) package of fresh green beans
3 chipotle chilles
1 cup of cashews
1 bulb of garlic
1 bunch of parsley
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (14 ounce) cans of chicken broth
1 (14 ounce) can of beef stock
2 cans of black beans
sesame oil
brown rice
1 (16 oz) package vacuum-packaged gnocchi
pine nuts
1 (10 ounce) package of fresh spinach

**Most recipes are for 4-6 servings. If you are making more, or less, you will need to adjust the shopping list accordingly**

Irish Lamb Stew ( Source: The Palm Beach Post: Jim Romanoff for the Associated Press. March 4, 2009).

Serves 8
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 3/4 pounds white potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large leeks, whites only, halved, washed and thinly sliced
3 large carrots peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
14- ounce can chicken broth
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a 6 qt slow cooker, combine the lamb, potatoes, leeks, carrots, celery, broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover the slow cooker, then cook on low until the lamb is fork-tender, about 7 to 8 hours. Stir in the parsley just before serving.

Braised Short Ribs with Honey, Chipotle and Black Beans (Source: The Palm Beach Post: "Divas of Dish", Pam Brandon and Anne-Marie Hodges. March 4, 2009).

Serves 6
4 pounds short ribs, cut into individual rib portions
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup of dry red wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 cups of beef stock
3 chipotle chilles, chopped
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp honey
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed

Season the ribs with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, big enough to hold all
ingredients, heat the olive oil over high heat. Sear the ribs in batches on all
sides until nicely charred and caramelized. Remove from pan and reserve. (If the
ribs are particularly fatty, pour off some of the fat.)

Reduce heat to medium and saute the onions and red pepper, stirring often until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then pour in the wine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the wine to reduce for about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, mustard, cumin, oregano, beef stock, chipotles, Worcestershire and honey. Return the ribs to the pan and bring to a simmer. cover and cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender.

Remove the ribs. If the sauce is too thin, turn up the heat to reduce (uncovered) until thickened. Stir in the black beans and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve ribs atop beans and sauce with crusty bread.

Stir-Fried Shrimp and Scallops with Cashews (Source: Paula Deen's Quick and Easy Meals-2009).

serves 6
2 tbsp of vegetable oil, divided
1/2 pound fresh scallops
1/2 pound
large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 (12 ounce) package fresh green beans, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 2-inch pieces
1 cup chopped cashews
1 tbsp mined garlic
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
Hot cooked brown rice
Garnish: toasted and chopped cashews

In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add scallops, and cook for 3 minutes. Turn scallops, and add shrimp to pan; cook for 2
minutes. Remove scallops and shrimp from pan; set aside, and keep warm.

In the same skillet, heat remaining 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add green beans, cashews, and garlic; cook for 1 minute.

In a medium bowl, combine broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and sesame oil. Add broth mixture to green bean mixture, and cook for 1 minute. Return shrimp and scallops to pan, stirring to combine. Serve immediately over brown rice. Garnish with cashews, if desired.

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts (Source: Cooking
Light, January/February 2009).

4 servings
1 (16-ounce) package vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10 ounce) package fresh spinach, torn
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) Parmesan cheese

Cook gnocchi according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts to pan; cook 3 minutes or until butter and nuts are lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add gnocchi and spinach to pan; cook one minute or until spinach wilts, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Week 12, Dangerous Plastic?

I had bathed the girls and put them to bed. Having survived the bedtime routine fairly unscathed (only two books with my oldest), I was looking forward to a little "me" time before heading to bed myself. I sat down at the computer to check my emails, when it happened. I had received the dreaded "mommy alert" email. For those unfamiliar, this is a new phenomenon since the advent of the internet. The email usually contains a dire warning of some sort and has been passed from mom-to-mom with an "I don't know if it's true, but...." intro of some sort. The purpose of these emails is usually very straightforward: You and your family are at risk, heed this advice or else.

The subject: " Warning on Water Bottles". The content: "From John Hopkins : Bottled Water in your car is very dangerous! On the Ellen Show, Sheryl Crow said this is what caused her breast cancer. It has been identified as the most common cause of the high levels of dioxin in breast cancer tissue.
Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car, because the heat reacts with chemicals in the plastics of the bottle which releases dioxin into the water. Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue...........This information is also being circulated at Water Reed Army Medical Center: No plastic containers in the microwave. No plastic wrap in the microwave. Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don't freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic."

Admittedly, my paranoid-mommy radar normally runs on high alert. I had heard about the possible dangers in plastic before, but I had never taken the time to do any research on the topic. I forwarded the email to all of my friends and family, cleared my cupboards of any plastic containers, and threw out all my sippy-cups - then sat down at the computer to do some work. (In all fairness, the email I received was from my very sweet, intelligent, level-headed sister-in-law.)

The concern over harmful chemicals in plastics began in 2008 when a report was issued from the National Toxicology Program (the NTP is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.hhs.gov) which stated that bisphenol A (BPA, a chemical used to make certain plastics found in various products such as food storage containers, baby bottles, water bottles and the lining of soft drink and food cans) could "possibly" affect human development and reproduction. Studies and tests show that trace amounts of BPA are leaching from polycarbonate containers into the liquids and foods that we consume. The question becomes whether or not these chemicals have any adverse affects on the human body. The NTP's research focused on rat pups. These rodents were exposed to high doses of BPA which was administered either through injection or food. As a result, changes were found in both the mammary and prostate glands suggesting a potential cancer risk. In some tests of female mice, exposure appeared to accelerate puberty.

The NTP report went on to say that, in these high-dose animal tests, administered doses of BPA were "far in excess of the highest estimated daily intakes of BPA in children...adults...or workers". NTP's final report concluded that more research is needed on BPA and that there is some concern that BPA can cause developmental and hormonal problems in infants and kids. Although the report is based on animal studies, the group says that BPA's risks to humans cannot be totally ruled out.

How much BPA are we exposed to? The typical adult ingests an estimated 1 microgram of BPA for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Babies who use polycarbonate bottles and formula from cans get more, an estimated 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. To put this into perspective, consider this: a single M&M is about one gram. If you cut it into 100,000 slices, once slice would equal 10 micrograms. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " A Hard Plastic is Raising Hard Questions": The New York Times, April 22, 2008). According to the Bisphenol-
A website, http://www.bishpenol-a.org: "A person would have to consume more the 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate or more than 500 pounds of canned food and beverages every day for a lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the US Environmental Protection Agency". Still, there remains concern about the safety to children and pregnant women when exposed to this chemical.

In reaction to this report many authorities did weigh in with claims that BPA is a safe product when used for many household functions, such as storing food, and in baby bottles. According to a fact-sheet created by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), "The use of polycarbonate plastic for food contact application continues to be recognized as safe by regulatory authorities worldwide." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently issued this statement: "The FDA has confidence that no safety concern exists for BPA in regulated food contact materials. Furthermore, the FDA has determined that the use of polycarbonate-based baby bottles and BPA-based epoxy coated cans used to hold infant formula is safe." (Source: statement from the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety by biologist Julie N. Mayer, M.F.S.). The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis also chimed in: "In the case of BPA, the evidence considered by the panel suggests that the weight of the evidence for low-dose effects is very weak." (Source: Cohen, Joshua and Gray, George. "Weight of Evidence Evaluation of Low-Dose Reproduction and Developmental Effects of Bishphenol-A.")

While most research has focused on children and pregnant women, a study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association raises safety questions for all adults. The study, released in 2008, was based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adults. It found that those with higher levels of BPA in their urine reported higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. In a separate study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov) found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of urine samples collected from more than 2,500 adults and children over age 6.

A 2008 study funded by grants from the NIH, the Department of Defense and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation found that when breast cancer cells were subjected to low levels of BPA, similar to those found in the blood of adults, it inhibited the effects of chemotherapy. They found that BPA acts in the same way that estrogen does - by activating proteins that protect the cells from chemotherapy agents. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " Plastic Chemical May Interfere with Chemotherapy": The New York Times, October 9, 2008). Findings in this study may help to explain why chemotherapy appears to be less effective in some cancer patients.

And if you aren't confused enough yet with all of the conflicting data, the NIH website (www.nih.gov) said this: "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information. More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development, but at this point we can't dismiss the possibility that the effects we're seeing in animals may occur in humans. If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA." (Michael Shel, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.)

Plastic is one of the more remarkable inventions of the 20th century. Our reliance on plastic not only insures the ease of our daily lives, but also the safety. Think of the last time your plastic ketchup bottle fell out of the fridge. We come in contact with some form of plastic hundreds of times during a normal day. So, how do you know what products contain BPA and how to limit your exposure to them?

Any product made of hard, clear plastic is probably made from polycarbonate unless it specifically states that it is BPA-free. Some polycarbonate plastic bottles have the numeral 7 in a triangle stamped on the bottom of the container. However, 7 is a catchall "other" category for a variety of plastics. If it is a soft and pliable plastic, more than likely it is not a polycarbonate. Refillable water bottles, which are usually hard and shatterproof, are made from polycarbonate unless otherwise specified.

According to the FDA, 17% of the American diet comes out of a can. Virtually every canned product, has a liner with BPA. However one brand, Eden Organic Baked Beans, claims its cans are BPA-free.

Until further research is done, the simplest way to limit your exposure is to switch to frozen or fresh vegetables. Use glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers, particularly for hot foods and liquids. Try to avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers and substitute a wet paper towel for plastic wrap when re-heating. Several companies sell BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups, including the popular brand Born Free. Ultimately, make the decision that you are most comfortable with and best suits you and your family's needs.


Recipes for the week: Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Cumin Spiced Carrots, Pasta with White Clam Sauce, Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup, Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction

Items Already in the Pantry or Fridge:
mayo,cumin, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, honey, salt, black pepper, unsalted butter, Parmesan cheese, flour, dry white wine, balsamic vinegar, dried rosemary, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal, milk, 1 egg, cooking oil, ground red pepper, apple juice

Shopping List**
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1 bulb of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 medium tomato
1 red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce
1 bunch of carrots
2-6 1/2 oz cans of minced clams
10 oz of linguine
1 3/4 cups of half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
2 medium onion
1 bunch of fresh parsley
1 cup dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch celery
1/2 cup of frozen whole kernel corn
fresh chives (enough to garnish)
1-8 oz container of sour cream
1 pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 cup of cranberry juice

**Most recipes are for 4-6 servings. If you are making more, or less, you will need to adjust the shopping list accordingly**

Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Burgers with Cumin Spiced Carrots ( serves 6)

4 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp cumin
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of mayo
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 avocado
1 medium tomato sliced
slices of red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce

Combine the juice of 2 limes, honey, soy sauce, cumin, garlic and black pepper in small bowl. Place chicken into a shallow baking dish and cover the chicken with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine the mayo, juice of 1 lime, cayenne pepper and cilantro in a small bowl. Set aside.

The chicken can either be cooked on the grill outside, on the stove in a grill pan or in the oven at 400 degree for about 20 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Serve on Kaiser rolls and garnish with the mayo mixture, slices of avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce.

Cumin Spiced Carrots:
4 medium carrots cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tbsp of butter (unsalted)
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Place the carrots into a medium pot, cover with water and bring to a bowl. Cook until slightly tender. Drain. In a pan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook until tender. Serve alongside the burgers.

Pasta with White Clam Sauce (serves 4)

10 oz linguine
2-6 1/2 cans minced clams
1 3/4 cups half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
1 medium chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine*
1/4 cup Parmesean cheese

Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until tender but not brown. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Add the half and half, 1 bottle of the clam juice. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Stir in the clams, fresh oregano, parsley and wine. Heat through. Serve over hot pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

*Non alcoholic wine is available in some stores.

Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup (6 servings)

1 cup of dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of ground red pepper
4 cloves of garlic minced
8 oz sour cream
chopped chives for garnish

Corn Cakes:
2 tbsp of flour
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup boiling water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 red pepper chopped
1/4 cup of sweet onion chopped
1 slightly beaten egg
3 tbsp cooking oil

To make the soup:Rinse the beans. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven combine beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand for 1 hour. Or place beans and water in a pan. Cover, and let them soak in a cook place for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans.

Return beans to saucepan. Stir in two cups of water, the broth, onion, celery, cilantro, salt, red pepper and garlic. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 1-1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.

Remove approximately 1/3 of soup and transfer to a blender. Holding the lid on the blender down tightly, process the soup until smooth. Add back to the saucepan. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chopped chives.

To prepare the corn cakes: In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine add the boiling water to the corn meal, stir to make a stiff mush. Stir in the milk until smooth. Add the corn, red pepper, onion and egg. Add flour mixture until well combined.

In a large skillet heat the 2 tbsp of cooking oil over medium heat. Drop the batter by rounded tbsp into the hot oil, making 6 cakes. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the black bean soup.

Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction (serves 4)
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/4 apple juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Slice the tenderloin lengthwise, almost all of the way through, making a pocket. Set aside.

In a large skillet cook the spinach in a small amount of water just until wilted; drain well. In a small bowl combine the wilted spinach, artichoke hearts, cheese and rosemary. Spoon spinach mixture into the pocket in the tenderloin (filling will be exposed). Place in a shallow roasting pan, stuffing side up. Roast in a 435 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into meat registers 160 degrees.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan combine the apple and cranberry juices with the balsamic vinegar. Bring to boiling. Boil gently about 15 minutes or until the mixture measure 1/3 cup. Spoon the juice reduction over the tenderloin during the last 10 minutes of roasting. To serve bias-slice the pork. Serve with a garden salad.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week 11, Organic or Not....

Here is the dilemma; I am standing in the produce section of the local grocery market. In one hand, I hold a conventionally grown apple. It is firm, red and shiny. In the other hand, I hold an organically grown apple. It is also firm, red and shiny. The only outward difference that I can discern is that the organically grown apple has a label that says "USDA Organic", and the price is a little higher. Should I buy the organic apple? Is it a safer, more nutritious apple then the conventionally grown apple?

This quandary has lead me to do some research, in an attempt to become a more informed consumer - and also insure that I am feeding my family the "right" foods.

I start the research with the meaning of the word "organic". According to mayoclinic.com, the word organic "refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution....farmers don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease." Specifically, these farmers cannot use herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics. These animals must also have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing. (source: http://www.webmd.com).

The federal government allowed food to be labeled "organic" starting in October of 2002 - approximately 6 1/2 years ago. (http://sciencenews.org, Federal Government Launches Organic Standards. John Pickrell). If a food bears the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label, it means it meets strict government standards that regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. USDA organic foods are at least 95 percent organically produced. Using an "organic" label on your product is voluntary, however most organic producers use them.

Products that are completely organic - such as fruits and vegetables or other single-ingredient foods - are labeled 100% organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more then one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, either use the USDA seal or the following wording on their labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
  • 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can't be used on these packages.
(source: http://www.mayoclinic.com)

In 2006, sales of organic foods and beverages totaled $16.7 billion. Although this is a major increase from when the organic seal was first introduced, it is still slightly less then 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. (source: http://www.nytimes.com. Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not. Mark Bittman)

New York University professor Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH recommends "If you can afford them, buy them...how can anyone think substances, such as pesticides, capable of killing insects, can be good for you?" But many experts say there is not enough evidence to prove any real advantage to eating organic foods. According to the chairman of the department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, David Klurfeld, PhD: "There's really very limited information in people on actual health outcomes with consumption of these products...We don't know enough to say that one is better then the other".

To date, there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. A few studies have shown that organic foods do have higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants. However, the differences are so small that they probably have no impact on overall nutrition. When you take into account that nutrients like vitamin C do oxidize over time, even though the organic food may have more vitamin C to begin with, if it sits in your refrigerator for any amount of time, it could lose that benefit. (source: http://webmd.com).

While it is debatable whether organic food is more nutritious then conventional food, it is clear that organic food may be safer. "If you're talking about pesticides, the evidence is pretty conclusive. Your chances of getting pesticide residues are much less with organic food," says John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

Even so, the amount of man-made pesticide residues found in conventional foods is still well below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe. Therefore, the issue becomes whether these small doses overtime add up in our bodies and lead to increased health risks down the road.

Nutrition and safety aside, advocates for organic food claim that the health of the environment and society alone are enough of a reason to "go organic". Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil. However, if you buy an organic mango that has been flown in from Chile, and then placed on a truck that ships it to your grocery store - you really haven't done much to reduce your "carbon footprint".

Back in the produce aisle, my head still spinning, I've decided that while the big picture is important - I need to make a decision that is best for my family. The most important piece of information I have taken from my research is the best thing I can do for myself and family is to eat more whole foods: lots of fruits, vegetables and grains. According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., there are certain foods that are more susceptible to pesticide residues then others. They refer to these foods as "the dirty dozen". If you are like me, interested in feeding your family healthy food while not breaking the bank, focus on buying the organic version of these particular foods:
  • peaches
  • apples
  • sweet bell peppers
  • celery
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • pears
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • potatoes
Whether or not you chose to buy organic, you can keep the amount of pesticide residues down on the foods you consume by washing produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues. Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables. (Of course, you will lose a substantial amount of nutrients by doing this). Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat. If you are stuck making the decision whether or not to buy the organic "Oreos" or the original version; don't buy either - they are both junk food.

Items already in pantry or fridge:
7 eggs, milk, salt and pepper, olive oil, flour, sugar, olive oil, dried basil, red pepper flakes

Shopping List:

2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms

1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto
3 large vine ripened tomato sliced
1/2 pound of sliced provolone cheese

1 pkg dry yeast

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small oragne
1 tbsp honey
3 scallions
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots

1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 large container of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini

1 orange bell pepper

Recipes for this week: Pizza Margherita, Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps (made in the crock-pot), Crust less Quiche, Vegetable Lasagna

I did take pictures this week, but the camera was dropped before I downloaded them and it is now broken. I didn't have tim
e to get it fixed before I published this post. So, I only have one picture of the lasagna and I took that with my phone's camera!!

Vegetable Lasagna

Pizza Margherita, with Mushrooms: (Serves 4)

To make this recipe I use my "Lodge" cast-iron pizza pan. You can use any circular or rectangular cookie sheet, or if you have a pizza stone that works well too!

**This dough recipe is for a bread machine, and very easy to make. I advise to make first thing in the morning and punch the dough down to allow to rise at least twice before you use the dough. If you don't have a bread machine or the time to make the dough ahead of time you can buy it at the grocery market, usually in the deli section or buy the canned tubes of refrigerated pizza dough. If you do have the time double the recipe for the dough and freeze one portion for later use!!


1 1/8 cup warm water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast

This will make one 15" circle.

2 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
About 6 thin slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until slightly tender; set aside. Drizzle your pizza pan with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Place the dough onto the oiled pan. Sprinkle the top of the dough with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cover the pizza with the mozzarella slices, spread the top
with the mushrooms. Add the provolone cheese, add the tomato slices and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Cook the pizza in a 425 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Serve with a garden salad.

Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps ( Serves 6)
**cook in a crock-pot**

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 scallions; chopped
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

Place the tenderloin into the crock-pot and add all the ingredient up to the carrots. Cook on low for about 10-12 hours, or until the pork shreds very easily.

Add the carrots, almonds and bean sprouts to the pork mixture. You can refrigerate this mixture and serve it cold, or serve immediately.

Place some of the mixture into the center of the wrap, place 2-3 slices of the pear or apple on top and roll up into a wrap.

I serve with a cucumber, endamame, tomato salad.

Crust less Quiche(serves 4-6)

6 eggs
2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/4 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto; chopped up
1/4 of milk (your choice, can be any fat content, or even heavy cream if you so desire)
1 large vine ripened tomato sliced
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices of provolone cheese

Saute the mushrooms until slightly tender, then add the prosciutto and saute until slightly crispy.

Whisk the eggs together with the milk, add salt and pepper. Add the egg mixture to an already greased 9 inch pie-plate. Add the mushroom and prosciutto mixture. Top with the cheese and then the sliced tomatoes.

Cook in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbly and slightly golden and the center of the quiche is not "jiggly".

Serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.

Vegetable Lasagna (serves 6)

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli (I like to use the "steamer" bags) - cook according to directions on pkg.
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini sliced lengthwise very thin slices
1/2 large orange bell pepper, sliced very thinly

Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, sugar, basil, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl - combine well. In a 13 x 9 casserole place about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the casserole, add about 4 lasagna sheets, cover with 1/4 ricotta mixture. Lay the zucchini on top. Cover with marinara sauce, add 4 lasagna sheets, cover with ricotta, place the broccoli on top, cover with sauce, 4 sheets of lasagna, ricotta mixture, cover with remaining broccoli and slices of bell pepper. Cover with remaining sauce and the shredded cheese. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and cook in a 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Uncover and cook until the cheese is bubbly at the center of the lasagna and golden brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week 10, Food Trends.....

I have been amused lately by the avalanche of recent articles proclaiming that cooking at home is the new "it thing". In its January issue, Food and Wine magazine projects home cooking as one of the biggest food trends for 2009. Gourmet magazine echoes this theme with a prediction on the return of the casserole and an increase in cooking classes for beginners.

Nancy Stohs, of the Oakland Tribune, reports that "the beleaguered economy, a continuing "green" ethic and that age-old hunger for new and different flavors all feed into the predictions plucked from various trend-watchers' crystal balls". Home cooking tops this years' list, with an emphasis on retooled comfort food classics, entertaining on a budget and "exotic" recipes made easy.

But I guess I am left scratching my head, when was it not "cool" to cook at home? Who new a desire to make our families yummy, home-cooked meals would put us all at the forefront of the new cooking-nista fad ;0

Home cooking is not the only trend to make the list. In her article for the Oakland Tribune, Nacy Stohs does point out that it is not just cooking at home which is having a renaissance. No new "trend" would truly be complete without a new shining of the armor on the old guard:

- Buckwheat is the new grain
- Sugar alternatives, such as agave syrup
- Non-chicken eggs
- Peruvian cuisine
- Artisan or micro-distilled liquors, culinary cocktails (concoctions created to complement specific foods) and organic wines.
- Bite sized desserts
- New cuts of meat (such as Denver steak and pork flat iron steak)
- More gluten-free foods
- Home canning

We will have to reconvene midnight December 31, 2009 to find out which trends actually did catch on. At least, for now, you can pretend that you are part of the culinary "in" crowd!

Now, before all of you home cookers go out for a celebratory latte, reveling in the fact that what we have been doing daily for our families has become a trend up there with skinny jeans and vests - not so fast. There is always a catch!

The Health section of the March 17th, 2009 The New York Times, reports that "studies show that the biggest influence on family eating habits is the person who buys and prepares the food". These people are know as "nutritional gatekeepers". The term was coined during World War II, when meat shipments to troops threatened to create a protein crisis at home. The goal was to educate families about alternatives to meat, but it wasn't clear at whom to direct the information. Researchers claim that these "nutritional gatekeepers" influence more the 70% of the foods that we eat. This isn't just in the home, it's in children's lunches, snacks eaten outside of the home, and even what family members order at restaurants. The difference between gatekeepers from WWII and the present is that not all gatekeepers are moms. They may be a mother, father, a grandparent, a housekeeper or a nanny.

"A gatekeeper who struggles with unhealthy eating choices will typically pass those problems on to family members. By the same token, gatekeepers who improve their habits can improve the health of the whole family"
(source: Tara Parker-Pope, March 17th, 2009: Who's Cooking? (For Hea
lth, It Matters): New York Times: Health)

According to Cornell researchers, there are five different types of gatekeepers:
- Giving cooks - enthusiastic cooking, specialize in comfort food.
- Methodical cooks - rely heavily on recipes, cooking is strongly influenced by the cookbooks they use.
- Competitive cooks - think less about health and more on making the most impressive dishes.
- Healthy cooks - often serve fish and use fresh ingredients, but taste is not the primary goal.
- Innovative cooks - like to experiment with different ingredients, methods and cuisines, a process that tends to lead to more healthful cooking.

To figure out what cooking personality you have, and where your biases are, you can take a quiz at nytimes.com/well.

"A lot of giving cooks believe they are healthy cooks, but they are by far the least healthy. On the other hand, if you like food, then the healthy cook is not necessarily the person you want to hang out with. They will trade off a lot for healthy. But innovative cooks have the best eye for freshness, yet there is still emphasis on taste. If you like great food and still want to eat reasonably healthy, the innovative cook is the person to hook up with."
(source: Tara Parker-Pope, March 17th, 2009:Who's Cooking? (For Health, It matters): New York Times: Health)

You may be cooking at home more these days. But is your cooking healthier?


Recipes for this week: Stuffed Peppers; Chicken Matzo Ball Soup; Linguine with Mint Pesto and Peas-served with Goat Cheese, Tomato Crostinis; Roast Chicken stuffed with Apricots and Matzo.

Items already in the pantry or fridge:
rice, salt and pepper, olive oil, butter, vegetable oil, dried basil, balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, white pepper, paprika, dried dill, Worcestershire sauce, 4 eggs, cinnamon, sugar

Shopping List:

6 green bell peppers
1 bunch of celery
2 onion

1 bunch of fresh mint
1 lemon
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 fennel bulb
1 vine ripened tomato
1 small red onion
4 oz dried apricots

2-3 cups of baby carrots
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 bulb of garlic
1 1/2 cup of pig
noli or pine nuts
4 oz Parmesan reggiano cheese block
2 - 4 1/2-5 lb chicken
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (optio
4 oz goat cheese
1 box of Matzo

1 box Matzo Ball Mix (recommend Manischewitz)
1 - 16oz whole wheat linguine
1 - 16 oz pkg frozen baby peas
1 small loaf of french bread

Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice (serves 6)

6 green peppers
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces)
tomato sauce
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil

2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided

1 tbsp sugar (optional)
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 egg lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 pounds lean
ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

This recipe is a little more time-consuming then most of my recipes, but it's a satisfying meal on its own.
I like to add sugar and cinnamon to the beef mixture, it gives it a nice sweet/savory taste. However, omit this if you feel that you or your family might not like that.

Cut tops of peppers; remove the seeds and membranes. Chop the edible parts of the tops and set aside. Place the pepper in a large pot, cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the peppers for 5 minute
s. Drain and set aside.

While the peppers are boiling, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the green pepper (from the tops), onion, celery, garlic until tender. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine egg with remaining salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, (sugar and cinnamon if desired), Worcester
shire sauce. Gently stir to blend; add the ground meat, COOKED rice, and 1 cup of the tomato mixture. Mix well. Stuff the peppers with meat mixture and place in a 3 qt baking dish. Pour remaining tomato mixture over the stuffed peppers. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes. If desired, top the peppers with the shredded cheese just before peppers are done, bake until the cheese is melted.

Chicken and Matzo Ball Soup (serves 6)

4 1/2- 5 lb whole chicken
1 - 32 ounce can low sodium chicken broth
half of onion, chopped
fennel bulb, chopped
2-3 cups of baby c
arrots, very coarsely chopped
2 tsp dried dill
salt and pepper
Matzo Ball Mix
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegeta
ble oil

I know that I have put a chicken soup recipe on my blog before, but this recipe is so incredible easy, delicious and healthy that it begs to be rep
eated! Give yourself time to boil the chicken ahead of time, this will help to keep the soup low fat. Don't hesitate to use fennel, it has a very sweet, mild flavor when cooked.

24 hours ah
ead of time, place the cleaned chicken into a large pot and cover with water. Boil the chicken until cooked, the meat will start to separate from the bone.

Remove the chicken, wrap and refrigerate. Cover the chicken broth and place in the refrigerator.

Approximately 2 hours before you are ready to eat, remove the chicken broth and skim off and discard the fat from the top. Add the 32 ounces of the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Remove the chicken meat from the bone, discard the skin, c
hop coarsely, and add to the chicken broth.

Add the onion, fennel (chop up the bulb only, discard the greens), carrots, dill, salt and pepper to taste.

Make the matzo balls according to the package directions. Hint: make them small - you should get about 12 balls, they will expand. Add them to the boiling soup, cover the pot tightly, reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes to cook the matzo balls. Allow the soup to continue to simmer on a very low heat until all the vegetables are tender. Serve with a nice loaf of bread.

Mint Pesto with Peas on Whole Wheat Linguine, served with Goat Cheese, Tomato Crostinis (serves 4)

1 -16 oz pkg whole wheat linguine
1 -16 oz pkg frozen baby peas
1/2 cup pignoli nuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups fresh mint leaves
3 medium cloves garlic
black pepper, optional

1 s mall loaf of french bread
3 tbsp of olive oil
kosher salt
garlic powder
4 oz goat cheese
1 vine ripened tomato, diced
3 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

In a food processor combine the nuts, cheese, olive oil, mint, garlic and pepper and process until smooth. Add more oil if the mixture is too thick. Should be slightly thick and smooth.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Place the frozen peas into a colander that you are planning to drain the pasta into. When the pasta is done pour the boiling water slowly over the peas as you drain the pasta. Put both the peas and pasta back into the pot and add the pesto sauce, toss until combined.

To make the crostini:
Slice the bread into 1/4" thick slices. Place onto a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt pepper and garlic powder. Place in to a 375 degree oven and bake until golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine the chopped onion, the diced tomato, the remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix to combine.

When the toasts are done, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Spread with about 1/2 tbsp goat cheese each, and cover with a dollop of the tomato onion mixture. Serve alongside the pasta.

Chicken with Apricot-Matzo Stuffing (serves 6 )

4 1/2-5 lb chicken
1 garlic clo
ve crushed
olive o
il for brushing the bird
salt and pepper
15 oz chicken st
ock (hot)
4 oz dried apricots
4 oz matzo
1 large
onion, finely chopped
2 oz butter
grated rind of half large lemon
good squeeze lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
a pinch of white pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put a poultry cradle or grilling rack into a roasting pan that will just hold the bird comfortably.

Cover the apricots with water, cover and cook on high in the microwave for five minutes, or simmer in a small covered pan for 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

Crumble the matzo as finely as possible into a large bowl. Add the liquid from the apricots (6oz) and leave to soften.

Cook the onion in the butter until softened and golden.

Add the seasoning and the beaten egg to the matzo, then add the onion in the pan and cook gently until the matzo starts to brown and loses some of its moisture. Stir in the well-drained apricots and mix well. Stuff the cavity of the bird.

Make a shallow nick on each side of the bird where the leg joint meets the breast and insert half the peeled clove of garlic just under the skin.

Brush the bird all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the hot stock into the roasting pan, then lay the bird upside down on the cradle or rack. Roast it this way for 20 minutes to the pound - plus 20 minutes for a 5 lb bird, the total cooking time should be 2 hours.

Baste the bird every 1/2 hour with the stock, then 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time, turn it over and cook breast-side up. Lift it on to a carving dish or board, cover lightly with foil.

The juices in the bottom of the pan can be made into a gravy if desired. Drain the liquid through a sieve into a small pot, to remove any crispy bits. Add some dry white wine, bring to a boil. Add about 2 tbsp of Wondra gravy powder, whisk briskly as you add, until combined. Allow to simmer until it reaches the desired consistency.

Serve with salad, or steamed spinach.