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!

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?

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!