Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Heart HUMMUS!

Hummus. It's been a long-time favorite of mine, and a summer snack staple with the Montauk Moms.
 For those of you who don't know much about me: I've spent every summer of my life in the hamlet of Montauk, NY with my family and our summer friends, who have become endearingly known as the "Montauk Family". We've pretty much done it all & been through it all together. And our collectively favorite pastime? Cooking & eating together! But, that's a whole other topic for a whole other post. 
Anyway, why are you reading this thing again? Oh right, HUMMUS. What's there not to love? It's a quick, portable & delicious. It's also a healthy & nutritious snack, in moderation. And that's where the biggest problem with hummus comes into play; SERVING SIZE. I can't tell you how quickly I can go through an entire container of hummus with another person just shooting the breeze and scooping away. I was horrified to find that a standard 10 oz size container of hummus had about 10 servings, 1 oz (or 2 tablespoons) per serving. And those puny 2 tablespoons came with 80 calories and over 6 grams of fat! Granted, that fat comes from olive oil & tahini paste, which both contain heart healthy unsaturated fats. But fat is still fat when it comes to your waistline.

So, off I went. I was determined to create my own version, lower in fat but just as flavorful & nutritious as the original. It took a few trys and alot of eager taste testers, but I believe that I've finally created a fabulous hummus! The recipe I'm sharing today is pretty standard, with a little extra lemony kick from the zest. The best part of all is that a dip like hummus is so versatile, you can really let your imagination run wild! Feel free to try these add-ins: Roasted garlic, pureed roasted red pepper, pine nuts, chili powder, red pepper flakes...the list is endless!

Yields:16 servings; 2tbs per serving; 50 calories per serving; 1.7g fat per serving
  • 1 - 16 oz. can of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested**
  • 1tbs tahini* paste
  • 1tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 3tbs warm to hot water 
  • 1 large garlic clove, grated**
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
Combine all ingredients except water in a food processor or blender (I've recently discovered my blender give the hummus a smoother texture, so that's my new vessel of choice). Blend ingredients, adding one tablespoon of hot water at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Pour into container & chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to set and for flavors to marry. Best when made the morning (or day) ahead. This will allow full flavor to emerge. Serve with cut up raw veggies, whole wheat pita, or your favorite whole grain crackers. Also great as a spread on sandwiches or wraps.

*Tahini paste may be the only unfamiliar ingredient on this list. Its basically pureed sesame seeds. Tahini is readily available at most major supermarket chains in ethnic food isle. 

**I need to share one of my favorite kitchen utensils with you: the MICROPLANE. It's so quick and easy to use. U can grate hard cheese & zest citrus in seconds. But my all time favorite use for the microplane is to grate smaller items like ginger and garlic. I love the flavor of garlic, but hate biting into chunks, especially in something like a dip, where the consistency should be smooth ans creamy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Creature Comforts - "Fried" Chicken Dinner

So lately I've been craving some good ol' southern comfort food; Particularly, crispy fried chicken & creamy mashed potatoes. Since I have a wedding to attend this coming Sunday (& a dress that won't DARE allow me to gain an ounce), I'm guessing this week isn't the best time to give in to my cravings. What I DID do was concoct my own healthy version inspired by the delicious, calorie-laden original.

Crispy Cornflake Chicken, Sweet Potato Mash & Oven Roasted Green Beans 

Now, I can't take total culinary credit for this dish. Growing up, my mom always tried to cook healthy for the entire family. She would regularly make her oven "fried" chicken thighs & drumsticks coated in cornflake crumbs. It was crispy & delicious and honestly tasted just as good as traditional fried chicken. I've tweaked it a bit to make it even MORE low fat by using chicken breast. Equally tasty, but maybe just a bit drier than the dark meat original. I never knew what exact seasonings she put on the chicken itself, but I'm sure is consisted of the seasoning TRIFECTA: which in my house, always included garlic (fresh or powdered), oregano, and Salt&Pepper. Yes that is technically 4 ingredients, but salt & pepper go hand in hand, and trifecta sounded SO much cooler than quartet (whomp whomppp). I digress...I recommend using any poultry seasoning or spice blend you like. I happened to use a Herbs de Provence blend because it goes so well with poultry, and well, it was in my cupboard. 

I also swapped out the creamy mashed potatoes for a sweet potato mash. Check out my Superfood  post for that recipe.

Finally, since my oven was still on and toasty hot, I tossed some string beans with a drizzle of olive oil, salt pepper & a few crushed garlic cloves. Threw it in the oven for 10-12 mins & out came perfectly done (i like my cooked veggies a little al dente).

*Take note of the portion sizes on the plate above. Notice how my largest helping is of the string beans, and the chicken and potatoes are more of a side-dish? This is the way we should be thinking about meal proportions. 

 Crispy Cornflake Chicken
Yields 4 servings: 167 Calories per serving; 2.7g Fat per serving)

  • 16oz - boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 Cup - cornflakes, crushed to desired consistency (finer is better)
  • 1 egg, beaten (or if you don't look @ ingredient lists before cooking like me,        substitute 2 tbs of skim milk)
  • 2 tsp - poultry seasoning (or any seasoning blend you may fancy, salt-free please)
  • salt & pepper to taste
Trim any residual fat off chicken breast & cut into 2"-3" long pieces (should get about 10-12 pieces, depending on size of chicken breast). Add 1/2 tsp of poultry seasoning, salt & pepper to cornflake crumbs. Season chicken pieces with remaining poultry seasoning, salt & pepper. Dredge chicken pieces in beaten egg, then cornflake crumbs. Set dredged pieces on foiled and greased baking pan (Pam olive oil spray is my fave). Once all pieces are dredged & placed on pan, spray pieces lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-17 minutes, or until crumbs turn lightly golden brown. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Super Food of the Week

We've all heard of the trendy term "Superfood" being tossed around, haven't we? What exactly IS a superfood, and why should we care about it? After lots of poking & prodding through nutrition books & websites, I found that there is no universal definition for the term. However, all legit uses of the word superfood reference a particular food that offers health benefits above & beyond the obvious (feeding your belly). A superfood is a food that is typically low in calories, high in fiber, phytochemicals (a.k.a - antioxidants), vitamins & minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and so on. Basically, its a food that's super good for your overall health. Over the past year, I've made it a priority to incorporate widely known superfoods into my daily diet. I was happily surprised to find that I had been unknowingly consuming a good amount of superfoods on my own. Now, I make a conscious effort to consume more of them, or even swap out some ordinary foods for their super counterparts. 

Week 1, Superfood 1: The Sweet Potato

I don't know about you, but I happen to LOVE sweet potatoes. The fact that they are ridiculously good for you in so many ways makes me love them even more!

Coming in at around 100 calories per serving (1Cup), sweet potatoes are high in fiber and loaded with essential vitamins & minerals such as:Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese, Iron, Calcium & Folate, just to name a few. In fact, you can get full day's worth of Vitamin A just from one serving! The Potassium in sweet potatoes aid in preventing heart disease & help to alleviate inflammation and muscle aches. There's also the whole antioxidant factor. Carotenoids, to be exact. Who cares, right? WRONG! Carotenoids are antioxidant compounds found in certain plants that prevent tissue damage & cell degeneration. This means they boost the immune system's response to infections, and deter healthy cells from morphing into cancer cells. Beta-carotene, the most important Carotenoid in Vitamin A, is known to protect the skin against ultraviolet damage and promote an even skintone. And don't forget to add a small amount of healthy fat to your sweet potatoes, as the combination makes it ideal for the body to absorb the highest amount of beta-carotene possible!

Sweet potatoes are easy to clean, easy to prepare and easy to eat. They are great baked, cut into wedges & roasted in the oven, or (one of my favorites) made into a healthy & satisfying mash. 

Sweet Potato Mash 
(yields 4 servings; 137 Calories per serving, 3.7 grams of fat per serving)  
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1tbs extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 4 cloves of roasted garlic (or 1/2tsp of garlic powder)
  • salt & pepper to taste
Wash, peel & cube sweet potatoes and place in steamer. Steam 7-10 min, or until potatoes are fork tender. Mash sweet potatoes with masher or large fork, depending on desired consistency. Add  EVOO, mashed roasted garlic cloves (or garlic powder), salt & pepper. Mix thoroughly & serve. 

Sweet & savory more your thing (think Thanksgiving candied sweet potatoes)?Instead of roasted garlic/garlic powder, substitute 1/4 tsp of cinnamon or nutmeg and 1tsp of brown sugar for a more Holiday-tasting dish (try it once & you'll TOTALLY get it!) 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The (REAL) Hunger Games

Picture this scenario: Its mid-morning. Breakfast is a memory, but lunch is not quite in sight yet, and you get that first pang of hunger. Shortly after, that pang turns into a full-on GRUMBLE. What to do? Grab a handful of pretzels? Sneak a cookie (or 3, cuz really, who eats ONE tiny cookie)? Rummage through the office kitchen in hopes of finding a package of rogue saltine crackers, candy, or anything else edible? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. (PS- i only know these options because I've done them ALL myself, way too often in the past.)

There are a few different ways to fight this common dilemma. Call it trickery of the mind, tomfoolery even, but it works. And it's much healthier than all the empty calories undoubtedly consumed with past solutions.

  • Drink, Drink, Drink! Water that is. Drink a full 16.9oz bottle of water. Not the most exciting method in the world. But hey, statistics show that you're most likely not drinking enough to keep your body properly hydrated anyway, and its filling that void in your tummy.

  • Water not doing it for ya? Have a mug of herbal tea. Green tea is LOADED with antioxidants. It's also naturally caffeinated. However, it doesn't give you that anxious, jittery feeling that coffee is famous for. Caffeine has been known as an active appetite suppressant. Mint tea is another great option. Mint has long been known to soothe the stomach, aid in bloating, and suppress the appetite. Ask the Moroccans. They've been drinking mint tea after meals for centuries. (after-dinner mint ring a bell?) 

  • Chew on a piece of gum, cinnamon or mint preferably. Cinnamon, like mint, has been said to possess the same appetite suppressing properties. Also, the chewing sensation tricks your brain into thinking you are eating something substantial.
  • STILL hungry? Try a small handful of almonds (10 almonds is 1/2 a suggested serving, and only 70 calories). They are rich in protein and mono-saturated fatty acids, which are both great for you, and great for keeping you fuller, longer. Also, make sure you CHEW, CHEW, CHEW! The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, "that chewing may play a more complex role in the digestion process, impacting nutrient absorption, and feelings of satiety or fullness.

In order to avoid this situation all together, you should really take a good, hard look at your diet & eating habits. What's a typical breakfast for you? I can tell you what a typical breakfast SHOULD be for you. One that's high in protein and fiber. These both keep you feeling satiated and give you the energy you need to keep you going until lunch time hits. My weekday go-to breakfast? Plain (you wont miss the sugar/carbs for long, I promise) Greek non-fat/ low-fat yogurt (Fage 2% total plain yogurt is my FAVE), cut up berries & 1/4 cup of your favorite bran cereal (All Bran, the O.G. of bran cereals; give it a try, you will be delightfully surprised). Coming in at 215 calories & almost HALF of your daily requirement of fiber + tons of protein, it's a smart choice to get your day started the healthy way!

Go,Go Green...Smoothie?!

Okay, before you scrunch your nose, turn your head, or make a dramatic & uncalled for heaving noise (as one of my besties, Enzo, just loooooves to do), please hear me out. I'm the kind of person to try anything twice; you know in case I was wrong the first time. And I'm not one to shy away from anything off the beaten track. Enter the exciting & deelicious world of Green Smoothies! Yes its true, there are green veggies in it ( up to 40% if you ask the smoothie aficionados). And yes, the smoothie is GREEN, sometimes prettier shades than others, depending on the fruit you decide to add. But most importantly, they taste AMAZING!

Green smoothies are not only super tasty, but easy to make! Just grab a some of your favorite fruit, a fist-full of greens, a splash or 2 of water and...TA-DA! You have a healthy & deelicious breakfast or snack. Any combo will do, and personal taste trumps all, but I've found certain combos more successful than others. (I've included a few recipes on the bottom). Banana is always a great base, lending its creamy texture to a more indulgent feeling smoothie. However if you're like me & hate bananas, you can do one of 2 things; use the right fruit to mask the flavor, OR substitute 1/4 to a 1/2 of an avocado in place of the banana. The avocado lends an even richer consistency and is virtually flavorless. Berries are always a great choice as well. If you have children who detest anything green, of if you're a big baby & can't bring yourself to drink something green, I suggest using blueberries or blackberries as your fruit of choice. They instantly turn anything a lovely shade of blueish purple. Strawberries are great too, but the color of the smoothie is definitely not appealing ( we eat with our eyes too, after all). As far as greens go, baby spinach or romaine lettuce (yeah, I said it) are great starters. They truly are completely tasteless in the presence of fruit, and the nutrition benefits are endless. If you're feeling gutsy, go for kale, arugula or any other dark greens you can think of. These are more pungent in flavor, however.

My personal favorite is pineapple, mango, banana & baby spinach. Its sweet, creamy & refreshing (and you can barely taste banana! woohoo!) Another great tip is to buy fruit when they are super ripe and/or on sale, dice up, bag & store in the freezer. Not only do you have perfectly ripe fruit in any season, but you literally grab, toss in the blender and GO!

As you would most likely assume (because I know you're a smart cookie, if you're still reading) there are countless benefits from incorporating green smoothies into your daily, or weekly, routine. Here are a few gems:

  • being a blended drink, green smoothies are easily digested by the body, and vital nutrients are absorbed almost INSTANTLY into the body.
  • that quick nutrient absorption gives you a killer energy boost, so much more effective & better feeling than the mid-morning coffee jitters
  • unlike green or fruit juices, which is lacking all the healthy fiber that comes with your fruits & veggies, green smoothies are your one-stop-shop for utilizing all the natural goodies your ingredients have to offer; plus that fiber will keep you fuller, longer
  • easy to make, easy to clean-up! (I mean seriously- throw stuff in blender, hit button, pour. Not exactly rocket science)
So what are you waiting for?! Get up, get out & get started on a green smoothie today!

A Few Of My Faves

3/4 C mango
3/4 C pineapple
1 med. banana (can substitute 1/4 avocado)
2 handfuls baby spinach (tear leaves)
1/4 C water (or enough to create desired consistency)

Berry Cool
1/2 C frozen blueberries
1/2 C frozen strawberries
1/2 C frozen blackberries
1 med. banana
2 handfuls baby spinach (tear leaves)
1/4 C water (or enough to create desired consistency)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greetings & Salutations!

Hi all! My name is Danielle, but most of my friends call me Dee. I'm brand-spankin-new to the scene & don’t have much (well, any) experience in the blogosphere. What I do have is an intense love of food, a passion for cooking, and an ever-growing interest in holistic health & nutrition.

Growing up in a crazy Italian family, it seemed every holiday, celebration & special event centered on insanely great-tasting & lovingly prepared food. Years of Sunday dinners & helping mom in the kitchen influenced my love of food & cooking. Interestingly enough, the result of all the good food I’d been exposed to piqued my interest in health & nutrition. Apparently not all good food is good for you! Crazy, right?! Over the years, great food, every day stress & a few tragedies took my emotional eating to a whole other dimension (and a whole other category of clothing sizes). A ski trip with friends was the final wake-up call I needed. Not only was I suffocated in a pair of MEN’S XL snow pants, but I was winded and fatigued after my first run of the day! Being an avid skier & overall semi-outdoorsy my whole life, this happening completely devastated me. Shortly after that incident, I joined the gym, started eating better & set small, manageable goals for myself.

I’m happy to say that it’s been over a year since I’ve started my journey and I’m still as motivated today as I was on Day One. I’m down 30+ lbs., 3 dress sizes, countless inches and, most importantly, I’m much more aware of what I’m putting into my body. This blog is my way of sharing the useful tips, interesting facts, and delicious recipes I’ve acquired and discovered (and a few I’ve even invented myself!). So join me on my journey to a fitter figure, healthier lifestyle, and overall better-feeling me (well, YOU, but you get the drift ;) ) !