Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eat your veggies

There are some simple things we all can do to make our diets healthier, and with a little willpower and encouragement maybe we can all eat a little bit better this year.

Amber Burgess, nutritionist with Wilson County Health Department, has a list of easy changes we can all make when preparing or purchasing meals.

* Buy breads, pastas and rice made with whole grains. "Try the whole grain versions in all of those," she said.

If you're unsure if you'll like the whole grain versions, do it in steps, she said. First try Barilla's Plus pastas that have extra fiber but are not whole grain.

* Start looking at nutrition labels and make it your business to understand them. It's important to have a good idea of what's in the foods you are eating.

Burgess said she knows it's not always easy to understand the numbers and remember the recommended daily allowance, so she tells clients to pay attention to the percentages on the labeling.

For fat, cholesterol, calories and such, keep servings in the 20 percent or less categories.

* Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

"The objective is to get vitamins and minerals you need and fiber," she said.

Compromise is certainly workable. For instance, if you don't like whole fruit and vegetables, you can drink some juice, although you should limit it to one cup per day.

If your children don't like fresh fruits and vegetables, don't force it on them, she said. Instead, talk to them about why fruits and vegetables are good for them and encourage them, she said, and let them see you eat healthy foods as well.

If you don't have unhealthy snacks around, children will be more likely to eat a banana or apple from the fruit bowl, she said.

She suggests making fruit fun. Do finger foods, small servings of bananas or strawberries presented in a cute way. An apple cut in small pieces is probably more appealing to a child than a huge apple. Children also like clementines because they have no seeds.

Burgess also reminds parents that children can get their vegetables in soups and spaghetti sauce.

* Exercise. To be successful in weight management, you need a combination of good diet and movement.

* Switch to low-fat or fat-free milk.

* When you're eating out, look online for the nutrition facts on menu items. "If you want to pick something healthy, look at calories first," she said.

Burgess said consumers are surprised when they learn the amount of fat, calories and sodium in restaurant foods, including salads when cheese, ham and eggs are added in.

* Switch to fat-free salad dressings. But if you have high blood pressure, be careful when choosing fat-free items. Often the salt and sugar content are very high in fat-free products, she said. Sometimes, the 1/3 less fat is the better option.

"The thing is not to drown your salad in dressing," she said.

Vinegar and oil dressings are usually good choices.

* Pack your own lunch instead of eating out. "It's highly ideal," she said. "You get to choose the serving size and what's put in your meal."

When you make your own sandwich, add some lettuce and tomato, and throw in a piece of fruit to go with it. A small serving of chips is fine, she said.

It takes dedication to get up early enough to make your own meal, but the effort is worth it.

"It's hard, but if you can do it as much as possible, it will save money and on health care costs, too."

* Try to cook your own food. "The more natural the food is, the better it is for you," she said.

At home, you can control the fat and salt that goes into your food and how much fat is in the meat you use.

When buying ground beef, she suggests the 90/10 blend. But if you want a little more fat, 80/20 is OK. And don't forget to drain off extra fat into the garbage can after cooking the ground beef. Lean ground turkey is a good substitute for ground beef.

Burgess shares one of her favorite healthy meals she cooks at home. The sweet and sour chicken recipe is inexpensive, too, she said.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Veggies and Fruit
  • 1 jar canned mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped mixed bell peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes (canned)
  • 1 cup Splenda sweetened pineapple chunks (reserve the juice)
  • 8 to 10 chicken tenderloins cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 tsp. minced garlic sauteed with chicken (add more or less to your liking)
  • 1/4 cup lite soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Splenda brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Juice from pineapple chunks
Brown chicken with garlic in oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Remove chicken and add all veggies except for tomatoes and stir fry for 2 to 4 minutes until desired tenderness.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and ginger and mix together and immediately pour mixture into the skillet, along with the tomatoes, pineapple and pineapple juice. Stir together and bring to a full boil and reduce heat to medium cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve over brown rice and enjoy. I suggest using the 10 minute boil in bag brown rice because “old fashioned” brown rice takes too long to cook!

Amber Burgess
Nutritionist, Wilson County Health Department

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Easy casserole

This recipe is most certainly easy. Easy and delicious.

I first saw the recipe for Baked Penne and Meatball Casserole several months ago while reading through the website for Mueller's pasta (www.muellerspasta.com). For those of you who are regular readers, it's the same website where I found the delicious roasted grape tomato, corn and pasta ribbon soup this past summer.

I printed out the meatball casserole recipe and saved it in a stack of other recipes I want to try one day.

We had planned to make Baked Penne and Meatball Casserole for dinner on Christmas night. Over the years, my sister and I have made a number of pasta dishes for Christmas night, most notably lasagna and baked ziti. But this year I wanted something even easier and remembered the tucked-away recipe.

I bought the ingredients to make a double recipe, choosing our favorite pre-cooked Armour turkey meatballs and an inexpensive canned spaghetti sauce. I usually make the Christmas night pasta on Christmas Eve so I don't have to do much work on Christmas, but this year I decided to wait since the prep time was so short.

I'm glad I didn't make it in advance because the predictions of a big snowstorm sent my sister and her family back to South Carolina before lunchtime Christmas Day. We had so much to eat at my mother-in-law's house on Christmas Day that my family didn't want the meatball casserole Christmas night, so I saved the ingredients and made the casserole one day last week.

Indeed, it only takes a few minute to put together this casserole, and with a green salad and crunchy loaf of bread, you have an easy weeknight supper.

You can add your own touch to this recipe, mixing in some sauteed mushrooms and peppers or trying different varieties of pasta sauce.

I do have one recommendation for this recipe. The meatballs were frozen when I put them in the casserole, and they were not heated through at the end of the recommended cooking time. Next time I make this, I will let the meatballs and pasta sauce simmer on the stovetop while the pasta is cooking. That way the casserole really should be heated through in 30 minutes.

Baked Penne and Meatball Casserole
  • 12 ounces Mueller's penne
  • 8 ounces frozen Italian-style meatballs
  • 1 (26 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce, any flavor
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Combine pasta, meatballs, pasta sauce and 1 cup cheese in a large bowl; mix well. Turn into a lightly greased 2 1/2 quart shallow baking dish; cover.

Bake 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Uncover, top with remaining 1 cup cheese and parsley. Bake 5 minutes, or until cheese melts.

* Notes: I omitted the parsley and used turkey meatballs. The meatballs were frozen when I mixed them into the casserole and didn't cook all the way through in the recommended baking time. Next time, while the pasta is cooking, I will simmer the meatballs and pasta sauce so the meatballs will be cooked through in the 30-minute baking.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cinnamon rolls

When my children were little, I'd often give them a cookbook for Christmas. I'd pick out something colorful and interesting that would catch their eye with age-appropriate recipes.

It had been a few years since I gave a cookbook, but "Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat" caught my eye at the bookstore last month, and I bought a copy for Anna.

We've had fun flipping through the thin volume of recipes tested and tasted by teenage sisters Megan and Jill Carle and pointing out things we want to try: Roman apple coffee cake, fried apple rings, potato skins, wonton soup and vegetable lasagna, for starters.

The recipes each have a photograph along with commentary with one of the two girls telling a little about the dish with a tip or two for making it. For instance, Megan says to be careful not to overcook the fresh egg noodles in the vegetable lomein recipe. Jill notes that toffee bars were the first thing she ever learned to bake.

Anna and I had a hard time choosing which recipe to try first last week when she was still home for Christmas vacation, but we settled on a recipe for cinnamon rolls that doesn't require yeast. Megan, a vegetarian, had learned the method while visiting Germany as an exchange student. I was a little surprised to see one of the main ingredients in this recipe is cottage cheese. The recipe also calls for 2 tablespoons of baking powder. That's right, tablespoons.

I tried to streamline the recipe some by using my mixer instead of the food processor or blender recommended to puree the cottage cheese. It didn't work. I learned from these two young cooks that my food processor, small as it is, did the job of mixing ingredients for these rolls.

We really didn't think ahead when we were making the rolls that it would take a large area to roll them out, so we made a mess. Learn from our mistake and spread out when you make this recipe.

Our cinnamon rolls were in the oven in about 30 minutes from the time we started prepping the ingredients and making the dough. We were eating hot-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls in just over an hour from when we started. Pretty amazing. Even more amazing? They are delicious. No, they do not have a wonderful yeasty aroma, but they did smell heavenly cooking on a cold winter afternoon.

Cinnamon Rolls
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 4 1/4 cups flour, divided and more flour, for dusting
  • 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter*
  • 1/2 cup honey*
Preheat oven to 325.

Place the cottage cheese in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add the sugar, eggs, oil and milk and puree until smooth. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the baking powder. Add 3 1/2 cups of the flour and stir until the mixture forms a dough. Using your hands, add the remaining 3/4 cup flour a little at a time by sprinkling a little flour over the dough and folding the dough over to mix it in. Repeat this process until the dough is smooth and not sticky. (You may not need all the flour.).

Spread a thin layer of flour on a flat surface and roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 20X25 inches.

To prepare the filling: Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt the butter and brush over the entire surface of the dough. Drizzle the honey over the butter, then sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the dough. Starting on the longer side, carefully roll up the dough as tightly as possible.

Lightly butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 13x9 baking pan.

Using a serrated knife, cut the roll into 1 1/4 inch thick slices with a sawing motion. If you press down while cutting the dough it will smash together and lose the "roll" effect.

Arrange the cinnamon rolls in the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until done. (To check for doneness, pull up slightly on the center of one of the rolls in the middle of the pan. The dough should pull apart. If it stretches, it needs to cook more.)

Remove from oven, run an knife around the edges to loosen the cinnamon rolls, and invert onto a serving platter.

*I used 1/4 cup butter and much less than 1/2 cup honey.

"Teens Cook"