Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

One of the things I have come to cherish most, living in my new town in North Carolina, is my weekly trip to the farmer's market.  Every Saturday, I manage to drag myself out of bed before noon to indulge in my favorite coffee (and a pastry that catches my eye) while I circle around the tiny market to find fresh, local ingredients for the week.  One of my favorite vendors, Heeks Farm, has the most beautiful greens- kale of every variety, fresh spinach by the pound, bok choy, collards...the works!  The farmer is amazing and his goods always come with a tip or recipe suggestion.  This week my eyes were drawn to greens I had never seen before- Brussels Greens (the leaves from brussels sprout plants?! Yes.) My friendly farmer's recipe suggestion? "Steam them and use them for chicken lettuce wraps."  Done and done. 

What makes this bite better?
These wraps are a great way to introduce greens if you have never tried them before- brussels greens, kale etc.  Substituting a healthy green for a processed carbohydrate not only increases vegetable intake but also provides vitamins and minerals that are missing in processed wraps.  If you are using greens that need to be cooked, steaming is a great way to maintain water-soluble vitamins.  

Sides:  Thai peanut dressing, spicy cucumber salad and sesame soy sauce.

1 pound lean ground chicken
1 bunch brussels greens
1/2 pound of mushrooms
1 can water chestnuts
1 carrot
1 cucumber
Sesame oil
Low-sodium soy sauce
Spicy mustard
Ginger (optional)

In a large pot, bring 1-2 inches of water to a boil.  Place a steaming basket in the pot.  Remove excess stems of the greens and steam 4-5 pieces at a time for 3-4 minutes.  

In a skillet, drizzle olive oil and approximately 2T minced garlic.  Add mushrooms, cleaned and quartered.  Allow the mushrooms to cook down and brown slightly.  Add the chicken.  Sprinkle a small amount of ginger if desired.

In a separate bowl, mix one part sesame oil with one part soy sauce.  Add spicy mustard to your flavor and spice preference.  Add half of the mixture to the chicken and conserve the other half for serving the wraps. Add the water chestnuts and sauté until chicken is fully cooked and flavors are blended.  Salt and pepper to taste.  

Serve wraps with a spicy cucumber salad, thai peanut sauce and the remaining sesame soy.  Enjoy :) 

-If brussels greens are not available, any type of lettuce or leafy green could work. Leafy greens like kale, collards and cabbage should be steamed. 
-I bought the thai peanut sauce already made.  Make sure to check the label to avoid buying a sauce with hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup or lots of sugar. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Asparagus Salad

When I first started cooking, I wanted to create and execute dishes top chef style.  I was always trying to think of intricate recipes with lots of ingredients that would result in some mouth explosion of culinary genius.  That's all good and great, but I'm not a top chef nor am I on a television show.  I'm just trying to cook food that tastes great and is healthy.  My adventures in the kitchen and my journey learning about food has lead me to become more of a traditionalist.  Simple food is best.  My food philosophy- choose quality food and let it shine.  Good food speaks for itself.  It doesn't need to be dressed up in a snazzy outfit.

This seasonal asparagus salad is an expression of that idea.  Seasonal food not only tastes better but is better for the environment. In addition, when you prepare food with a simplistic perspective, it's easier and faster than creating an elaborate dish. This salad takes about 15 minutes, tops.  When you make this salad take a minute to actually think about how good the asparagus tastes. It's a novel idea that we often don't consider when we are inhaling food.  Slow it down and appreciate.

What makes this bite better?
Asparagus is a super-food high in Vitamin K, folate, phytosterols, polyphenols, flavonoids, ascorbic acid and saponins.  Studies have shown these components to reduce cholesterol and increase antioxidant defense in the body. Asparagus is used in chinese medicine to purify the lungs and is a fundamental component of Ayurvedic medicine used to regulate hormones, reduce inflammation, prevent gastric ulcers, treat nervous and liver disorders and fight infection.  Plus, it's a known aphrodisiac.
Asparagus Salad
1 bunch of Asparagus
Parsley about 1 Tablespoon finely chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 2 tbsp)
Lemon Juice (about 1 tbsp)
Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
Walnuts (optional)

Rinse the asparagus and remove the harsh outer skin with a sharp knife or peeler.  Chop into bite size pieces, in any shape you desire.  Finely chop parsley and add to the asparagus.  Gently drizzle olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the salad to mix.  I used my hands because it's more fun.  If desired add a sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano cheese or a handful of chopped walnuts.  Serve and enjoy :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cobb Salad

When planning a menu for a summer gathering, there are a few variables that must be taken into consideration.  Easy preparation should be a priority.  Most, if not all of the meal needs to be prepared in advance.  No one likes to spend their time in the kitchen while entertaining, especially during the summer.  In addition, it is impossible to anticipate everyone's dietary restrictions or food preferences so it's important to have a meal that is adaptable.  Leaving the assembly to your guests ensures everyone will eat what they want and like.  MYO Cobb Salad is the great way to change up the summer party offerings while keeping things delicious and light.  Plus, I can't resist the urge to use this amazing chalkboard table overlay (it's just a piece of chalkboard painted glass!).

Burgers and hotdogs, step aside.  This is perfect for this weekend's poolside party or backyard bash!

Summer Party: Make Your Own Cobb Salad
 Cobb essentials: Blue Cheese and Bacon
Vegetarian-friendly meat on the side; salt and pepper to taste

What makes this bite better?
At this point in the summer everyone has had their fill of burgers and hot dogs.  Salads can be surprisingly filling and serve as refreshing substitutes to the typical summer spread.  Substituting Balsamic Vinegar dressing instead of a heavy blue cheese dressing saves lots of calories and improves the profile of the dish.  To save a few more calories, remove the yolks of the egg whites before adding them to your salad.  This salad is full of healthy protein (grilled chicken and hard-boiled egg) as well as healthy fat (avocado).  Blue cheese and bacon can be added in small quantities to add huge flavor and great texture without tons of calories.

MYO Cobb Salad
Grilled Chicken
Applewood smoked bacon
Blue Cheese crumbles
Hard-Boiled Egg
Mixed Greens/Spinach
Balsamic Vinegar

The trick to a great cobb salad is perfectly cooked chicken and outstanding bacon (not that bacon isn't always outstanding).  All the other ingredients can be easily prepared by slicing, dicing, pouring and tossing.  

Grilled Chicken
The best way to cook chicken is to use a food thermometer to prevent it from drying out.  Trim the excess fat from each chicken breast and season each side with salt and pepper.  Heat a grill pan to high heat and cook the chicken on each side for about 3 minutes (this will create grill marks= visual appeal).  Lower the heat to medium and allow the chicken to cook about 5 more minutes.  Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken.  Remove from heat once the temperature reaches 165 degrees (this is the temperature required to kill salmonella).  Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing.

The Applewood Smoked Bacon from Whole Foods is my favorite.  It's thick cut and incredibly flavorful,  so you only need to use a small amount to gain tons of flavor and texture.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mushroom and Kale Stir Fry

On rare occasions when I was little we would have "breakfast for dinner."  Looking back, the idea seems simple enough and makes complete sense. When there is no time to assemble an entire dinner, you reach for the ingredients you always have on hand-bread, eggs etc.  However, when I was little this seemed so exciting and completely out of the ordinary.  This makes me think about how much meal ideology shapes our diets.  Healthy ideas, like eating vegetables at breakfast or eggs at dinner, sometimes seem odd.  But, that doesn't necessarily mean we can't do it.

I eat this dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The veggies and brown rice give me enough fiber and energy to keep me full.  The egg is a great source of protein, especially since I am always trying to cut back on the amount of meat I eat.  Go ahead- eat outside of the box.

What makes this bite better?
Whenever people are looking to lose weight, protein takes center stage and everything else gets cut out.  However, most people in the pursuit of weight loss forget that too much meat in our diet is detrimental to our health.  Eggs are a great meat substitute for multiple reasons.  Not only are they an excellent source of protein, but they are affordable.  It isn't always easy to purchase organic, local, humanely raised meats; the purchase of these meats is often limited not only by price but also by availability.  Organic, cage-free eggs are readily available and while they may seem expensive compared to regular eggs, they are quite reasonable compared to their chicken and beef counterparts.

Mushroom and Kale Stir Fry
Brown Rice
Crushed Red Pepper
Chicken Stock (optional)

Clean and chop the kale and mushrooms.  I used cremini and portobello mushrooms because I prefer a heartier mushroom in a vegetarian dish.  Prepare brown rice according to instructions (I typically use boil-in-a-bag brown rice because it's so easy).  Dice the onion and in a large pan, sauté with olive oil for 3-5 minutes.  Add the kale and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and allow to brown on one side before sautéing.  Add the crushed red pepper and salt to desired taste.  Add about 1/4 cup of chicken stock (or use water) to create a slight broth.  Add desired amount of brown rice and combine.  In a separate pan, prepare one egg for each person (I prefer sunny side up).  The yolk creates a sauce that works wonderfully with the spice.  If you are preparing the eggs scrambled, you can add them directly to the stir fry.  I always serve this dish with jalapeño salsa.  Serve and Enjoy :)

TIP: This dish is very easy to make in large quantities and save for meals throughout the week.  The mushrooms-kale rice can be an excellent side during another meal or can be very satisfying on its own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Egg Muffins with Mushrooms, Chives and Gruyere

Whenever people try to restructure their eating habits, the hardest hurdle to overcome is convenience.  Rightfully so- everyone wants what is easiest, quickest and cheapest.  However, that usually is not what is best for us.  Adopting and maintaining a healthier diet requires the perfect combination of nutritional quality and ease.  

I am always looking for new ways to address this dilemma, especially to cater to people's busy lifestyles.  I got the idea for these easy egg muffins from Pinterest (where I get my ideas for everything in life).  The homemade version of these egg muffins ensure that they are actually made with eggs, and not whatever yellow liquid happens to be used in processed egg products.  You can make enough for the whole week and freeze the leftovers, so you always a breakfast on hand that is healthy, quick and convenient. 

What makes this bite better?
One of the current trends in Nutrition research explores the "built" environment.  The "built" environment is defined by the things around us and how they impact our health.  Factors such as the number of fast food restaurants, ability to walk places, access to supermarkets and the number of parks in your neighborhood contribute to your health, without you even knowing it!  Many studies exist on this topic and show that the more often you are exposed fast food restaurants, the more likely you are to go to one.  This study also found that people who frequent fast food restaurants as little as once per week have overall less healthy diets than those who never visit fast food restaurants.  Obviously, fast food consumption is linked to weight gain, obesity and other obesity-related diseases.  If you live in an area with a lot of fast food chains, taking measures to avoid temptation is essential.  These egg muffins provide the convenience you need, without requiring you to take a trip to your nearest fast food establishment. 

Egg Muffins with Mushrooms, Chives and Gruyere
8-9 eggs

Beat the eggs with salt and pepper and distribute evenly in a lightly oiled cupcake baking pan.  Clean and dice the mushrooms and chives.  Cut the gruyere into small cubes.  Add all other ingredients to the egg mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow the eggs to cool in the oven.  Remove and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if desired.  Store in the refrigerator or freezer.  Reheat for breakfast.  Serve on pita, an english muffin or enjoy alone! 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yogurt with Flax, Honey, Almonds and Fruit

We have reached the most critical time of year when those of us who have made New Year's resolutions will decide whether or not we are actually going to keep them.  Most resolutions are prompted by the guilty behaviors of the holiday season- save money, lose five pounds, make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and family.  However, once the holidays are far enough behind us, we lose the steam that encouraged us to make those resolutions in the first place.  In my humble opinion, one of the most common reasons people give up on their New Year's resolution is simply because they did not have a strategy for how to implement their new found improvements in the first place.  A plan is key.

Many of my family and friends recruited my help in their pursuit to lose weight in the new year.  A few dietary assessments and eating habit evaluations later, everyone is always surprised by my plan- "You need to get more..."  More fruits, more vegetables, more fiber, more water, more exercise, more sleep.  Granted I could have put together a few "less" statements but they aren't as important.  Often, if we focus on increasing what is good for us, the negative elements seem to creep out on their own.  Identify the healthy elements missing from your diet and add them.  This yummy breakfast is ideal for increasing intake of fiber, omega-3, antioxidants and low-fat dairy and it is full of power foods such as blueberries, almonds, oats and flax.  Not to mention, it's a perfect way to start your day.

What makes this bite better?
When people begin their New Year's resolutions for weight loss, they often target every meal and cut out everything they normally eat.  This is not an effective strategy for integrating and maintaining healthy weight loss.  This is why I prefer to recommend people begin by re-vamping their breakfast.  Not only is it an easy meal to improve but it also sets the tone for the rest of the day, hopefully encouraging better food choices.  This breakfast is satisfying and full of healthy components like fiber and omega-3s that are often difficult for new health buffs to integrate into other meals.  The health benefits of omega-3s are vast and flax is an easier, much less expensive and more environmentally sustainable source of omega-3 than fish or fish oil supplements.

Yogurt with Flax, Honey, Almonds and Fruit
3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup oats
1-2 cups fruit (bananas and blueberries are my favorite!)
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon flax seeds

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, or in a to-go container in the morning.  I used rolled oats because they were what I had on hand.  However, for the highest fiber content, use steel cut oats.  Enjoy :)