How to Make Do in the Kitchen

My mother taught me a lot about food, including how to work with what you have on hand to make nutritious meals. She lived through many years when money was tight, and her creativity, coupled with a refusal to waste food, served her well for feeding a family of five. While I have more resources than my mom did for most of her life, her make-do mentality has stuck with me, shaping how I cook and manage food in my household.

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My mom, who recently passed away, but is always in my heart.

Thanks, Mom!

I recently came across a recipe in the Washington Post for Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping by Ellie Krieger, nutritionist, cookbook author, and host of Ellie’s Real Good Food. Ellie’s recipe sounded so delicious that I had to make it that night. Problem was, I only had half of the ingredients in the house, and I wasn’t going to the store at 6 PM to get the rest. So, channeling my mother’s flexibility with food,  I changed Ellie’s recipe by:

•  Using canned, drained artichoke hearts instead of the frozen kind.

• Whipping cottage cheese in the food processor to stand in for ricotta cheese.

• Swapping in half as much dried parsley for fresh.

• Using sundried tomato pesto instead of plain sundried tomatoes.

• Substituting regular salt instead for sea salt.

• Relying on minced, prepared garlic instead of fresh

The result? Scrumptious! It goes to show that the best recipes, like Ellie’s, will turn out just fine, even when tweaked quite a bit.

My version of Ellie Krieger’s Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping. Almost the same, but not quite.

Do Recipes Matter?

Improvisation in the kitchen comes naturally to me, but I  have to admit that I had doubts about messing with Ellie’s recipe because I was sure that she had worked hard to get it just right. However, as Jacques Pepin explains in this video, even if I had used the same ingredients, my results could have turned out differently than Ellie’s.

Pepin says a recipe is merely a point of departure, and that ingredients and preparation can, and must, change to fit each particular situation.  As a recipe developer, that’s music to my ears.  I want my recipes to “work” so badly for my readers that I get panicky about other people getting the same results as I do, but I guess I shouldn’t worry so much.  Changing up ingredients offers the opportunity to make food that suits your tastes.

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It seems as if my mother was on the same page as Pepin, in her everyday-cook sort of way.  As a working mom who had a home cooked dinner on the table for us every night except Sunday (when my father ruled in the kitchen), I’m not sure she thought too hard about how a recipe would turn out; she seemed to know that her results would be OK, even with alterations.

Emergency Recipe Swaps

Being willing to improvise, and knowing how, helps you to be a better, more efficient food manager (which saves money), and helps you get food on the table.

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It’s always a good idea to scan recipes before starting to cook and realizing that you don’t have an ingredient, or as in my case, six. However, coming up short on ingredients shouldn’t deter you from making most recipes, although it’s more difficult to alter certain baked goods than meat, chicken, or fish dishes.  Here’s a great source for ingredient substitutions that I refer to frequently.

I also find it helpful, and entertaining, to read comments about online recipes for ingredient swap ideas.  I love to see how cooks change recipes because they want, or need, to tweak the ingredients, and I appreciate the tips that they offer after trying the recipe.

What are your favorite ingredient substitution stories?

 

 

 

 

 

Better for You Chili

Chili is the perfect meal on a cold winter’s day. My version is better for you because it’s light on the beef, packed with vegetables, and features a secret ingredient that boosts flavor and nutrition without overpowering the dish. Better make a double batch of this easy, nutritious dish. It tastes great the next day, too!

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More Beans, Please

I like more beans (technically, legumes) and less meat in my chili to improve nutrition and cut food cost.  Beans supply protein, fiber, potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals, and, as part of a balanced diet, they can help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood that lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. Beans are rich in prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in your gut, which benefits your health in several ways.

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I choose canned, drained beans for the sake of convenience and because I lack the forethought to buy dried beans and soak them! Rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content by as much as 40%.

Have it Your Way

This recipe is flexible.  You can use turkey instead of beef, eliminate the meat and add even more beans to make a vegetarian chili, or use different types of beans, such as white kidney beans and garbanzo beans. Also, I’m a wimp, so I keep the heat to a minimum. Add chili powder, jalapeño peppers, more cumin, or any other spice you like. It’s your choice!

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The Secret Ingredient, Revealed

So, what’s the big secret? A little bit of cocoa powder.  Unsweetened cocoa powder upgrades chili by intensifying the flavor of the meat, and you won’t even know it’s there. Cocoa powder is also good for you.

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Cocoa contains antioxidants called flavonoids. While it’s still unclear exactly how flavonoids benefit health, they may help to lower blood pressure, which protects the heart and the brain.

Buy unsweetened cocoa powder that hasn’t been treated with alkaline, which reduces flavonoid content. Avoid Dutch-process cocoa.

Better for You Chili

Makes 6 servings.

8 ounces 95% lean ground beef or 100% ground skinless turkey breast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 28-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, not drained

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the meat, breaking it up into very small pieces as it cooks.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Remove the meat from the pan. Set the meat aside.

Return the pan to the burner. Add the oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for two minutes or until clear. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute.  Add peppers, and continue to cook until peppers are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, cocoa powder, and meat to the pan. Combine thoroughly. Cover, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Per serving:

Calories: 291
Total fat: 9 grams
Saturated fat: 2 grams
Cholesterol: 33 milligrams
Sodium: 586 milligrams
Carbohydrate: 35 grams
Dietary fiber: 10 grams
Protein: 21 grams

 

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The Benefits of Exercise Buddies

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When your motivation to exercise is low for any reason, it’s a good idea to enlist a buddy, or an entire group. Recent research suggests the company you keep can help you stick with healthier habits, including working out.

I wake up very early to attend kickboxing or weight training classes at my favorite studio, and I often wonder why I do it, especially when it’s cold and dark outside.  While I would love another hour of sleep, the people I work out with motivate me to exercise first thing in the morning.  Some of my exercise mates are good friends, but most of them are acquaintances. Whether or not I know them well, they make my life better.

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On days when my work outs are more solitary in the gym and there’s no hooting and hollering to energize me, I still feel supported because I am surrounded by people doing the same thing. I don’t always know the details of their lives, and they may not know much about me, but I feel like we are partners in crime, silently cheering each other on.

Life often gets in the way of my work outs, and I don’t always exercise as often as I should. Exercising with others helps me to stick to a schedule as much as possible. My buddies make it easier to get back into the swing of things when I’ve been away on business, or sick, too, and they never fail to make working out more fun!

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A Better New Year’s Resolution

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It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to self-improvement. Americans typically vow to eat better, exercise more, and quit smoking on January 1. That’s why I was struck by the results of a recent Marist poll that found the majority of those asked said being a better person was their top goal in 2017.

I’m not sure what being a “better” person actually means to the people who were polled. Maybe they intend to be more considerate of friends, family members, and co-workers, donate more time or money to people in need, or resist the urge to be rude when they’re in a bad mood. The meaning really doesn’t matter, however. The fact that people have a desire to live a more purpose-filled life or be kinder to their fellow human beings fills me with hope, and puts a new spin on new year’s resolutions.

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Being a better person is full of possibilities, unlike most January vows, including swearing off all of your favorite foods and going to the gym seven days a week when you don’t really want to.  Punishing resolutions sap your energy, and can leave you feeling frustrated when you don’t live up to your own drastic expectations.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with efforts to eat better, exercise more, and give up the cigarettes.  There is evidence that people who make resolutions at the beginning of the year to do something positive are more likely to stick with those vows six months later. All I ask is that you be forgiving of yourself along the way, because slip ups will happen (nobody is perfect!).  As my friend and colleague Rebecca Scritchfield, author of Body Kindness says, it’s important to have compassion for yourself on the journey to better living.

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Seems that you can’t go wrong with being generous with your time and money, or simply being kinder every day. Research shows giving back stimulates the reward center in your brain and relieves stress.

Doing good benefits your body and brain while helping others.  Sounds like the perfect resolution to me!

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No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Quick Bread

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Kick off 2017 with this no-added sugar quick bread that’s perfect for a New Year’s day brunch, snack, or everyday breakfast. Dried fruit and bananas provide natural sweetness so there’s no need for sugar or other sweeteners.  Almonds and walnuts supply heart-healthy fat, and the recipe calls for oat flour instead of wheat flour to keep this dense, satisfying bread gluten-free and packed with whole grain goodness.

You can mix and match the types of nuts and dried fruits you use, and make 12 muffins out of the batter instead of a single loaf. Enjoy this better-for-you bread with peanut butter or cottage cheese, or pair with eggs or Greek yogurt. Happy New Year!

Fruit & Nut Bread
Makes 12 servings.

2 medium ripe bananas, broken into large chunks
2 large eggs
1⁄4 cup canola oil
2 cups oat flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup chopped almonds
3⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
3⁄4 cup dried unsweetened apricots, chopped into small pieces
3⁄4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Coat a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan with cooking spray, and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas until no longer chunky. Using a whisk, add the eggs and canola oil and combine well. Add the oat flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Add the almonds, walnuts, apricots, and raisins, and blend well.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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Cool for 15-20 minutes out of the pan before cutting.

* To make oat flour, place 2 cups of gluten-free one-minute or old fashioned oats in a food processor and process on high speed until oats achieve a powder-like consistency, about 1 minute.

Per serving (1 slice or 1/12 of the loaf):

Calories: 253
Total fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 1 gram
Cholesterol: 35 milligrams
Sodium: 135 milligrams
Carbohydrate: 29 grams
Dietary fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 6 grams
Calcium: 64 milligrams
Iron: 2 milligrams

Healthier Holiday Chocolate Fruit and Nut Treats

With so much mindless eating going on this month, it’s especially important to think about making better food choices, including holiday splurges.  My recipe for healthier goodies – dried fruits and nuts coated in chocolate – is a big hit with family and friends who get the homemade treats as gifts.

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Dried fruits, such as apricots and raisins, provide natural sweetness as well as nutrients that help to keep you healthy.  Nuts, including peanuts, which are technically a legume, pack heart-healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, beneficial plant compounds.  Recent studies have found that whole roasted almonds have 25% fewer calories than what is listed on food labels, while walnuts supply 21% fewer calories.

Try these better-for-you chocolate treats and let me know what you think!

 

How to Survive the Holidays

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How was your weekend? It can be difficult to eat right, limit your alcohol and get enough sleep during December, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. We could all, including me, use some words of wisdom from nutrition experts about how to handle what the next few weeks have in  store, minus the guilt. Check out this updated post featuring 13 tips from 14 nutrition pros and make December better!

 

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