Spaghetti Squash Discovery

Every now and then I come across something so simple, so fresh, and so healthy, it’s hard to imagine how I could NOT share it. Particularly since I just posted an article about healthy eating and it’s effects on your body and life. This most recent find of mine may be old hat to many of you, but, somehow, in my 30 years of existence, I have only just discovered spaghetti squash! What an incredible and unusual little vegetable. If you, like me, are often prone to have some starchy side dish with many of your meals such as pasta or potatoes, this would be an excellent substitution with the same general aesthetic. And, let me tell you, preparation doesn’t get much easier!

There are a variety of ways to cook and season it, but I opted for the time-saving simplicity of microwave cooking. I cut it in half length-wise, scooped out the soft middle section that contained the seeds, placed it open side down in a baking dish with 1/2 cup of water, and covered it with plastic wrap. I then cooked it on high in the microwave for 10 minutes. When it was finished I let it cool long enough to be handled and then scooped out the spaghetti-like meat with a fork. I mixed it in a bowl with a bit of heart-healthy margarine, garlic salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. As you’ll quickly discover if you google “Spaghetti Squash,” there are MANY ways to prepare it. You just have to find something that inspires you.  I served it with steamed peas and sautéed mushrooms and onions on the side.  It was a lovely and fresh vegetarian meal requiring VERY little effort.

I highly encourage everyone to give this remarkable little vegetable a try. And let me know how it goes!

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You Are What You Eat

I have discovered, as of late, that what you put into your body has a profound affect on how well it operates. Just like a car is bound to experience mechanical problems if it is only run on the cheapest gas and old, gluey oil.

If we could see the effects of what we ate as clearly as these little guys, we'd probably be a lot more careful about what we put in our mouths!

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with very high cholesterol. I was only 28 years old and weighed 136 pounds – not exactly a likely candidate for such a problem. And none of my immediate family struggled with it either, making the excuse of “I can’t help it, it’s just in my genes” not altogether legitimate. Although genetics may have played a role, I had to look myself square in the face and acknowledge that I was part of the problem. I was all too often resorting to what was cheap and easy and emotionally satisfying rather than what was healthy and best for my body and life. I began to see a nutritionist at our local heart clinic and get my blood work done every few months to check on progress. And, let me tell you, it was remarkable. Here’s a snapshot of the numbers:

This last date is slightly higher on some of the numbers because I'm pregnant, which can raise cholesterol for women.

Once I started seeing significant results and sharing my success with others, people were constantly asking me if it was terribly difficult to change my diet and “deprive” myself of things that we as Americans deem to be innate rights, like fast food, and pre-made frozen meals, and FRIED everything. The truth is, it wasn’t! There is very little that I actually cut out of my diet and SO many ways to make substitutions. Like ground turkey instead of beef, olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, heart-smart margarine instead of butter, egg beaters instead of eggs, 1% or fat-free cheeses, skim milk, canola mayo, high fiber cereals, muffins, pancakes, pastas and breads, and lots more vegetables and fruit. And, of course, less of everything to drink except water. All the things I used to cook and love, I can still cook with some modifications and we can barely, if at all, notice a difference. Everything is fresher, lighter. And if I need something quick and easy on the go, I get a sub from subway or a salad (without heavy dressing). And the best part – because this is a lifestyle change and not a diet – it’s OK to cheat every now and then. The important thing is to generally reform our habits. Learn to pay attention at the grocery store. Care about what we put in our body and not just satisfy our cravings. I still have a ways to go, but I thought I would share my success so far as an inspiration to others that making healthy choices can make a tangible difference even in a short amount of time.

I’d love to hear some of your healthy eating tips and ideas. What are some of your best kitchen secrets?

Green Eggs and Ham

I hate for any meal to be a battle with my two-year old, but especially breakfast.  Mornings are crazy and chaotic at our house with everyone trying to get to work and school at various times and of course the house must always be immaculate in case someone (anyone!) decides to come look at it.  So the last thing I need is to spend an hour coaxing my son to eat something he’d really rather not.  Thus, although my primary goal with any meal is nutrition, at breakfast I try to let Aiden decide, from the options I give him of course, what he would like to eat.  This morning I ran the gambit of all the choices and each was answered with a resounding “NO!”  “Would you like oatmeal?” I asked.  Toast? Pancakes? Fruit salad? Cereal? Granola Bar?  No, no, no, no, no, and NO.  Finally, somewhat exasperated, I asked him, “What would you like to eat, Aiden?”  He answered with a challenging smirk in his eye, “Green eggs and ham!”  My first thought, as a tired, busy mom, was “Seriously, Aiden?!?  No . . . pick something else.”  But a quiet voice in my ear reminded me of one of my parenting goals – only say no if it’s absolutely necessary since there will be ample opportunity to do so.  And why not think outside the box?  So I pondered it for a second and stepped up to my little man’s challenge.  “OK!” I said, “I can do that.”

So I pulled some spinach out of the freezer and set it to boil while I cooked up some bacon (turkey for us, not ham . . . don’t tell Aiden).   When the spinach was finished, I drained it and put it in a blender with 4 eggs, about 2 servings of egg substitute (trying to curb cholesterol), 1% cheddar cheese, dill, garlic salt, and pepper.  I blended it till it was a slimy green mass of uncooked egg (yum, right?) and then put it in a skillet and scrambled it till it was well done.  Add to that some dark wheat toast and VOILA!  A balanced breakfast of green eggs and “ham”.

I asked Aiden if he liked it.  “Try it. Try it and you may, I say!”  His response: “It’s dewishous!”  To top it all off, we read the book while we ate and he kept proudly exclaiming, “Just like I have green eggs!”  It was delightful.  Proving once again that it always pays to be open-minded and stretch your boundaries a little.  And since children have very few boundaries as it is, they make outstanding coaches.  Bon Appetit!

Can Pizza Be Part of a Healthy Diet? ABSOLUTELY!

My husband and I are attempting to re-focus our efforts on healthy eating. Of course, this means a variety of things to a variety of people.  My understanding of the phrase “eating healthy” might make other, more devoted dietitians laugh at my mediocrity.  But regardless of where your standards lie, pizza is generally not on the list of things one thinks of when imagining a healthy meal. At least not any pizza you can buy “hot and ready” for $5.99 plus tax and grease.  But what about the type of pizza you can actually still call a pie? One made with all fresh, farmer’s market ingredients?  I’ll let you decide for yourself, but in my book, it is a resounding YES! and my family thought so too.

Italian Vegetable Pizza Pie

The Crust –
French Bread Dough (your own or ready-made)
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Minced Garlic

Pre-heat oven to 350′  Start with your favorite recipe for french bread dough, or buy it ready-made at the grocery store.  I used the french bread from Pillsbury’s new line of “all natural” doughs, but I’m sure many of you would prefer to make your own. Roll  out the dough on a greased cookie sheet.  (If it keeps pulling back on itself, roll it out on the counter first and then place it on the greased sheet.) Brush the dough with the olive oil and Dijon and sprinkle with black pepper, italian seasoning and garlic.

The Filling –
1 Large Fresh Tomato, Halved and Sliced
1/2 Yellow Squash, Sliced
1/2 Zucchini, Sliced
2 Large Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Green Onions Sliced
Handful of Fresh Spinach Leave
6-8 Large Fresh Basil Leaves, Chopped
1 Container of Crumbled Feta Cheese
More Freshly Ground Black Pepper

After slicing the tomato, remove all the seeds and discard (so they don’t make the dough soggy). Dry the tomatoes on paper towels and arrange in a circle in the center of the prepared dough. Layer all the remaining vegetables on top in the order that they are listed. Sprinkle with the freshly chopped basil and ground pepper and crumble the feta cheese over the top. Stretch and roll the dough over the top of your layers and pinch together.  If you cannot get it to stay up, you can pin it with toothpicks or kebab skewers. Bake in the oven at 350′ for approximately 30 minutes or untill the crust begins to brown.  In the last 3 – 5 minutes, bring the oven temperature up to about 400′ to brown the crust and make it crisp.  Tada!

If you give this recipe a try, I would love to hear how it goes!  Or, if you’re like me and you never stick to a recipe, tell me about any improvements or changes you make along the way.  Happy cooking!

No Culinary Regrets

It is a somewhat rare occurrence when my expectations for my culinary creativity wholly live up to the end result.  Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself on being a fairly good cook and the end result is usually quite delicious (if I do say so myself).  But, as is the case for most artists when it comes to their own craft, I am extremely critical of my own work and the final product that sits in front of me when I’m finished is not always what I envisioned in my mind when I first set out.  So, no matter how delectable the entree, I always feel a twinge of disappointment for the things I know I could’ve done better.  This, however, was not the case last night.  Last night, I created a dish so sublime, there was not a thing I would change if did it over again.  And when one creates such a dish, it would be shameful not to pass it along.  So, as a subtle break from my philosophizing of late, I bring you my recipe for:

Meatball and Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

The Noodles:
Boil a bag of Egg Noodles (or spiral noodles if you try to stay away from eggs as I do) in salted water until tender.  Drain and douse with olive oil to keep from getting sticky.  Set aside.

The Meatballs:
1 lb ground turkey (you can also use ground beef if you prefer)
2/3 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup milk (I use skim)
3 tablespoons of italian seasoning
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 red onion, chopped (approx 1/4 c)
1-2 green onions, chopped
1 egg (I use egg beaters)
Place all ingredients in a bowl, mixing thoroughly with your hands.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet (or two) and place 2 inch balls of meat mixture into oil, turning frequently until cooked through and brown on all sides.  Set aside.

The Sauce:
4 palm sized baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2-3 sections of the heart of celery, including the leafy tops, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1-2 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of italian seasoning
1 cup sour cream (I use lite sour cream)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup (I use the heart healthy)
1-2 cups milk, to desired thickness (I use skim)
1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese
Place all of the vegetables in a skillet with salt and seasoning, douse with olive oil and sauté over medium heat till all are soft and tender.  Add sour cream, soup, and milk and stir well.  Add the finished meatballs to the mixture.  Saute over low heat with the lid on the pan for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.  Add cheese to the top and stir in as it melts.  Serve over noodles.