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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wishing You All A Happy Thanksgiving

My only post this week will be brief. I'm hoping everyone takes the time to relax and truly enjoy the holiday. Laugh with your friends and family, sleep late, get some fresh air and put aside your troubles for a day or two. Taking the time to truly connect with others is just as important to your good health as anything else. Put down the phones, the camera, get off the computer and be in the moment. Volunteer at a community dinner if you are alone and bring happiness and comfort to someone else.

I'm offering a quick soup recipe that can be ready in 30 minutes and is a good change of pace for all the big meals you'll eat in the next few days. We ate it last night as we are eating light before the big day.

Tortellini Soup
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
1 carrot, sliced thin
3 cans chicken broth, low sodium and reduced fat
sliced fresh mushrooms, preferably Portabello
1 9 oz. package tortellini
1 diced zucchini
1/2 cup broccoli florets

Saute onion and carrot in hot oil till lightly brown. Add mushrooms, broth, broccoli and tortellini. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add zucchini and simmer 3 to 4 more minutes. Pepper to taste.

Because I have two growing children, I add a larger package of tortellini, more broth and extra vegetables. Neither one complains about eating the zucchini in this soup!

Happy Thanksgiving to all and I'll see you next week!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving meals require plenty of advance planning. First you have to plan the menu based on the number of people coming and whether others are bringing food. Then you have to make a shopping list from all the recipes and worse, do the shopping. Hopefully, someone is helping and you are not alone in this endeavor.

Our menu as it stands today is: roasted turkey that has been brined, cornbread dressing and gravy, cranberry salad, sweet potato casserole, rolls, some sort of green vegetable and of course, pumpkin pie. I haven't decided on the green vegetable as there are several recipes I'm considering, each of which has different fans.

I want to remind everyone that you will feel less guilty about indulging a bit on Thanksgiving if you make healthy choices before (and after) the big day. We've been eating black bean soup recently and last night, we had a stir fry from several leftovers. I had lots of leftover rice from the black bean soup, half a cabbage and a few green onions. I also had about half a smoked pork tenderloin from Sunday. Remember I'm a big fan of using leftovers. I added carrots and sauteed the cabbage and onions in one pot with about 3 Tbsp. of canola oil. When the mixture was lightly browned, I added the chopped pork, seasoned it with pepper to taste and a few dashes of soy sauce. Be careful with soy sauce as it is extremely high in salt. In a separate skillet sprayed with cooking spray, I sauteed the rice with 3 Tbsp. of butter, pepper and a few dashes of soy sauce. I added three beaten eggs and stirred till the egg was cooked. I served the vegetable/meat mixture over the rice and egg mixture. Everyone loved it, it was fast and easy and I used up several leftover items, saving money.

I also hope you are keeping up with your exercise. Holiday time is hectic but this is not the time to quit exercising all together. Today is nice and sunny so I'll take the dog on a long walk. We both benefit. Plan an outdoor activity on Thanksgiving if weather permits. A walk in the park, football or even dodgeball will be fun for everyone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holiday Pie Primer

Just a quick post today on our favorite holiday pies to give you something to think about and one recipe solution.

My favorite Thanksgiving pie is pumpkin and my kids wouldn't consider it Thanksgiving without it. They particularly think one of my sisters has to make it to be good. That may be due to the pumpkin pie I made a few years ago at my mother-in-law's house one Thanksgiving. My husband's family doesn't make pumpkin pies and one Thanksgiving I was horrified to be served lemon meringue pie (!?). Not even that other holiday favorite, pecan pie but a lemon pie! The next time I was in Natchez I decided to take matters into my own hands and bake a pumpkin pie. I whipped up the pie in no time and it was served with the other desserts. However, it left alot to be desired. Something was wrong. I reread the recipe, this time with my glasses on, and discovered I had added only 1/4 cup of sugar instead of 3/4 cup! Now I cut back on sugar intentionally in recipes but never by that much. Lesson learned: wear the reading glasses.

Something to think about this holiday season: pecan pie is one of the worst pies you can eat for calories, sugar and fat. A 1/8 slice of pecan pie has about 450 calories and 21 grams of fat. It's even worse if you top it with ice cream. A 1/8 slice of pumpkin has 230 calories and 15 grams of fat, making it a better choice. If you top your pie at all, try a golf ball size dollop of whip cream instead of ice cream and save more calories.

Since a good bit of fat and calories in any pie comes from the crust, I'm offering this pumpkin creme brulee recipe. My family was surprised to find it just as good, especially since I didn't screw up the ingredients. Give it a try this holiday season and prove you can have your pie and eat it too.

Pumpkin Creme Brulee
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Beat the eggs and 3/4 cup of sugar till well blended. Stir in the pumpkin, then the salt and spices and finally the half and half.
Pour into a shallow baking dish that holds 4 cups, such as a straight sided pie pan.
Bake at 325 for 60 minutes or until set and a knife comes out clean. Cool in the refrigerator several hours.
Just before serving, preheat oven on broil. Mix the brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. sugar and sprinkle evenly over custard. Place under broiler, about 6 inches away from the elements and heat until the sugar bubbles and is caramelized. Watch closely as this only takes a few minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

Yesterday I woke up to the fact that NEXT week is Thanksgiving. Sometimes I think an upcoming event is still weeks away because I've been thinking about it so long and our life is so busy. This week I will post some of our favorite holiday recipes and most of them do not qualify as low calorie or low fat. Remember to eat super healthy meals leading up to a holiday and exercise regularly. Then try to limit the indulgences to one day and not go overboard.

I bought a turkey yesterday and plan to brine it the night before in a mixture of equal parts brown sugar and salt (Oh my!)in water with fresh orange halves and rosemary sprigs. I'll roast it stuffed with onion, celery and carrots for extra flavor. I tried brining last year and found it not too difficult. I bought a large bucket just for this purpose and put the whole thing in an ice chest in the garage overnight. It stayed plenty cold in the ice chest but it was also pretty cold outside that year. Google brining for further recipes or tips.

Sometimes we have a more traditional sweet potato casserole but often we have this healthier version. It is surprisingly good and has less fat and sugar plus uses an often neglected vegetable. Give it a try if you are tired of the same old thing.

Mashed Sweets and Turnips
3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 1/2 lbs. turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
2 tart red cooking apples such as Rome or Jonathan, cored and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
In a large Dutch oven combine sweet potatoes and turnips with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until tender. Drain and return to Dutch oven. Add the butter and salt. Mash with a potato masher until smooth. (You can do this part the day before and reheat before serving.)
For the topping, melt the 2 Tbsp. butter in a medium skillet and add the apples, dates and brown sugar. Cook and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the apples tender. Stir in the lemon juice.
Top hot potato/turnip mixture with the apple relish and serve.

My family wouldn't consider it Thanksgiving without one of our two favorite cranberry salads. My mother made this recipe at holiday time for years so it's a sentimental favorite as well. It has lots of fruit and nuts but does contain quite a bit of sugar as well. This can also be made a day or two in advance.

Cranberry Salad
1 small box strawberry jello
1 small box cherry jello
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups chopped red apples
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 package cranberries, washed and chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
Make jello using 3 1/2 cups water instead of usual 4. Put in refrigerator to jell. Add sugar to cranberries, stirring well. Add pineapple, apples and nuts. Add to jello when it has just started to set, mixing well. This looks pretty in a clear glass bowl.

Check back for more recipes this week!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food Confessions

Sometimes, even the cardiologist's family makes poor food choices. Sometimes we indulge in too many sweets or fatty foods. This weekend I attended Christmas open houses at local stores. It is one of my favorite events because they all serve delectable treats and have new merchandise out to start the Christmas shopping frenzy. I managed not to eat too many tasty treats while out shopping. BUT THEN, I came home and made manicotti stuffed with about 50 kinds of cheese and sausage. Good but not the healthiest choice. I didn't deny myself a slim piece of buttermilk pie for dessert either, another bad move considering I'd had plenty of treats earlier.

THEN, on Monday I made a really bad lunch choice because I was in a hurry and there was almost no food in the house. I had purchased an individual sized DiGiorno frozen pizza because I couldn't find the South Beach pizza I like. I made the mistake of not reading the nutrition label or I never would have purchased it. I made the further mistake of not reading the nutrition label before I heated it up. Just before I sat down to eat, I thought to look at the label. I was horrified to see that the pizza weighed in at 790 calories, almost half my daily needs. I didn't read any further as there would be no better news. I ate most of the pizza, feeling guilty about my poor food choices over the last two days.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Read labels before you buy and think about what you are putting into your body before you eat.

From Halloween until January 1, beware and be careful! We are in the season of holidays, parties and family get-togethers which all include foods guaranteed to pack on the pounds and clog your arteries. To help avoid gaining weight, make sure you stick to your exercise routine and make healthy food choices MOST of the time. The following recipe is quick, nutritious and rates high on taste. Serve it after Thanksgiving when everyone has eaten too much and is tired of turkey.

Lemon Dill Salmon
4 salmon steaks or fillets
4 medium carrots, sliced diagonally
1 each zucchini and yellow squash, sliced thin (I add at least one more)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. lemon pepper
Preheat oven to 450. Spray a 9 x 13 or larger cooking dish with Pam. Place salmon in dish, arrange carrots around fish. Top with squash. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over fish and vegetables. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake 17 to 20 minutes until fish flakes easily.
This dish takes about 10 minutes to prepare so you can be eating in about 30 minutes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Guilty or Innocent?

I'm continuing my discussion of sugar today with the bad boy of sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup. Several early studies linked America's rapidly increasing obesity problem to our equally rapid rise in the consumption of high fructose corn syrup since the 1970's. But does it deserve this bad reputation? The question isn't easily answered as research has shown mixed results.

While high fructose corn syrup is made from corn, it has none of the nutritional value of eating an ear of corn. The industries' claims that it has no artificial ingredients may or may not be true depending on where it is manufactured. Another industry claim is that it is fine to eat in moderation but because high fructose corn syrup appears in so many foods, it can be hard to watch how much you consume.

High fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar and extends the shelf life of processed foods leading to the rise in its use. Many foods containing high fructose corn syrup are high in calories but low in nutrition, making them poor food choices. It is found in breads, soups, sodas, yogurt, snack food and fruit drinks to name a few.

Once again, I recommend cutting back on sugar and processed foods like snack cakes and sodas in general. Your daily diet should consist of whole fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Reading food labels and understanding what you are reading is key to better nutrition and better health. I like to distinguish between "treats" like snack cakes or cookies and "snacks" like fruit or cheese. A snack is part of a healthy diet while treats are to be eaten once in awhile.

Do some research online and read some food labels. Then make better choices. I hope the weather is nice where you live and you can get some fresh air and exercise this weekend.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sugar, Not So Sweet?

Ah, sugar, the ultimate seducer, wrecker of diets, destroyer of teeth. What would we do without you? Fortunately, I've never been a sugarholic but my husband's family is adicted. His parents used to bring their own sweets to my house because I didn't serve enough desserts. His mother has cut back on sweets at the recommendation of her doctor and I admire her self control. My side of the family has their share of problems when it comes to sugar with at least one person fighting diabetes.

My husband brought home a brief article about sugar last night from Cardiology News, thus prompting today's topic. "The American Heart Association recommends that Americans drastically cut their intake of sugar to ward off obesity and related conditions." Not surprisingly, a 2004 survey found that Americans eat about 22 teaspoons (or 355 extra calories) of added sugar a day! That's rather disgusting when you think about it. Measure out those 22 teaspoons and take a good look. Would you want to sit down with a spoon and eat that much sugar straight up? The article says that most of that sugar is in drinks with about 8 teaspoons in the average 12 ounce soda. (Remember I addressed drinks in an earlier blog.)
There is plenty of added sugar in other foods that you might not even think of having sugar. Read the labels. The ketchup, salad dressing, tomato soup and a package of spicy Kung Pao asian noodles found in my kitchen right now all have added sugar.

What to do? Give up sodas. Just give them up all together or at least cut back to one a day per person. It will help on your food budget as well. I was adicted to Mountain Dew but now I couldn't even begin to drink one. They are simply too sweet for me. I don't think switching to diet sodas is the answer. I heard a blurb on TV yesterday that people who drink too many artificially sweetened drinks have a higher risk of developing kidney problems. Cut back on all sugary drinks like lemonade, orange juice, coffees and watch those flavored bottled waters. Many have sugar in them.

Cut back on the sugar you add to food when cooking. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I cut back on sugar when baking and no one notices. In some recipes, I omit the sugar. Keep candy and store bought cakes, pies, and cookies out of the house. Remember that granola bars are mostly glorified candy bars.

Now at this point, I should mention that our house is not a sugar free zone. My husband's nurse was surprised that I made doughnuts recently. I do have a bit of an undeserved reputation as a total health nut. I LIMIT the bad stuff and I bake it myself mostly. We have dessert about 2 or 3 times a week. The kids eat a sweet breakfast on Wednesdays and I make pancakes or muffins on Saturday or Sunday. There are healthier alternatives that still take care of your sweet tooth. Earlier I mentioned Fiber One pancake and muffin mix for example.

It would be lovely to eat what we want all the time but to be healthy, we have to eat healthy most of the time. I choose health for my family. I hope you do too.

My next post will talk about high fructose corn syrup.