Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Healthy and delicious

We all need reminding from time to time that what we eat affects our health. In February, during American Heart Month, we hear a lot about heart health, and one important way to improve our health is by eating a healthy diet.

The folks at Amazon sent me a cookbook from the American Heart Association that is packed with recipes for the slow cooker. In addition to many recipes, the book also contains some information most of us have heard before but probably need to hear again about making healthy choices with our diet.

Some of the main points made in the book are: focus on nutrient-rich foods; eat whole grains when possible; use fat-free or low-fat dairy products rather than the full-fat versions; eat seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids; cook lean poultry and meat, discarding all visible fat, and eat no more than two servings a day; add legumes, nuts and seeds to your menus, including dried beans and unsalted peanuts; and use liquid oils and spray or light tub margarines rather than butter and stick margarines.

The book also encourages cooks to cut back on sodium, added sugar and saturated and trans fats.

With each of these healthier choice tips, the book editors give some slow cooker solutions, relying on recipes from the cookbook.

For instance, recipes for balsamic-glazed beets with toasted walnuts or crock-roasted carrots and parsnips are good ways to use nutrient-rich root vegetables. Work in some whole grain with double-mushroom and barley soup or wild rice with harvest vegetables. Add some nuts to your diet with pistachio and pumpkin seed snack mix.

Limit sugar by making your own chai tea or decadent chocolate pudding cake, and choose vegetarian options, such as spicy vegetable curry, a few times a week in an effort to cut back on fats.

I enjoy my slow cookers and always look for ways to put them to use and make easy and delicious meals. I’d love to try several recipes featured in “Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook,” including pepper-pineapple chicken and brisket with exotic mushroom and onion gravy.

I made chicken pastry Saturday night and tried simple mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish. I have cooked whole sweet potatoes in the slow cooker before, and I’ve also made a sweet potato casserole using canned sweet potatoes. This was the first time I used peeled, fresh sweet potatoes in a slow cooker dish.

I put the dish together after returning home from my Saturday morning grocery shopping and enjoyed smelling it cook during the day in my small slow cooker. I didn’t have the full recommended cook time before dinner, so I turned the slow cooker on high for the first hour to give the potatoes a jump start. They cooked on low for maybe five hours after that and were soft and ready to mash.

I was unsure if I would like the nutmeg, but I added it anyway and was pleasantly surprised.

I enjoyed the sweet potatoes that night and again Sunday with leftovers.

Barbecue-Spiced Turkey Breast
  • 2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 bone-in turkey breast half (about 2 pounds), skin and all visible fat discarded
In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients except the turkey. Sprinkle all over the turkey. Using your fingertips, gently press the seasonings so they adhere to the turkey. Transfer with the meaty side up to the slow cooker.

Cook, covered, on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours, or until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board. Cover loosely. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to finish cooking (it should reach a minimum of 165 degrees) before slicing. Serve with the cooking juices if desired.

"Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook"

Simple Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened apple juice
In the slow cooker, make a layer of half the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with half each of the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Repeat. Pour the apple juice over all. Don't stir. Cook, covered, on low for 6-8 hours.*

Just before serving, use the back of a large spoon to mash the sweet potatoes against the side of the crock until the desired consistency.

"Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook"

* The lower time is probably plenty; keep a watch on them and don't allow to burn.

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