Wednesday, March 30, 2011

10 Must-Haves for a Well Stocked Pantry

Photo credit: Incase (Flickr)

Spring is here! When spring rolls around, I always seem to get into spring cleaning mode. How about you?  If you plan on getting rid of the dust bunnies and clearing out the clutter, you may want to spruce up your pantry, too.  Conducting a pantry makeover could be one of the best things that you do for your health and well-being.  Stocking up on key kitchen staples will make meal planning and prep much more efficient.  Plus, it will make it a lot easier to eat more nutritious meals prepared at home.  Even when you have the best of intentions, things don't always go according to plan.  However, a well-stocked pantry can help you out of a tough spot rather than having your health thwarted by the local pizza joint or quickest drive-thru more often than not.  Here's my list of 10 must-haves for a well-stocked pantry.  

{Print this list}
Canned beans (eg, black, kidney, pinto, garbanzo, cannelini):  Canned beans pack a lot of plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Worried about the sodium? Even if you get regular canned beans, draining and rinsing them reduces the sodium content by over 40%.  Quick prep ideas:  Use in bean soups or  salads; Make bean burritos, wraps, or quesadillas;  Toss into veggie salads;  Mix into whole grain pasta or brown rice.

Whole grains (eg, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, buckwheat or creamy buckwheat):  Grains offer filling fiber along with a variety of vitamins and minerals depending on the grain.  Many of those listed can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.  Many of these freeze well, so preparing large batches and freezing also saves time.  Quick prep ideas:  Prepare as a hot breakfast cereal; Enjoy as grain saladspilafs, and stir fries; Toss into soups and stews.

Nuts, seeds, and nut butters (eg, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds):  Nuts and seeds offer plant-based protein and healthy fats along with a variety of other nutrients, like fiber, vitamin E and magnesium.  Quick prep ideas:  Enjoy a small handful as a snack;  Toss into salads, cooked vegetables, hot breakfast cereals, yogurt, and whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa;  Blend into smoothies;  Spread nut butters over whole grain breads, tortillas, or pitas and top with fresh fruit; Use nut butters as a dip for raw veggie sticks or fresh fruit.

Tomato products (diced, whole, stewed, crushed, tomato paste, tomato sauce - preferably without added sugar or salt):  Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and the antioxidant lycopene.  Quick prep ideas:  Homemade saucessalsassoups, stews, and chilis;  Add to pasta or grain dishes;  Serve as toppings or fillers for pizzas, quesadillas, and sandwiches.

Whole grain and/or gluten-free pasta (eg, spaghetti, penne, linguini, shells, rotini, elbow, couscous):  Pasta is fairly quick-cooking, and with so many varieties, it doesn't have to be boring.  Whole grain pastas also provide more fiber and naturally-occurring nutrients, like magnesium and iron, than refined versions.  Quick prep ideas:  Use for traditional pasta dishes dressed with red sauces or olive oil, herbs, and/or spices. Toss in fresh or frozen vegetables for added nutrition;  Prepare pasta salads;  Work into vegetable soups or stews.

Canned or vacuum-sealed light tuna, salmon, or sardines (in water or olive oil):  These protein-rich options are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, like vitamin D and selenium.  Concerned about sodium?  An average serving contains around 180-250 mg of sodium.  You can opt for reduced-sodium versions of these products. Limit canned white or albacore tuna, which is higher in mercury.  Quick prep ideas:  Use alone or combine with other kitchen staples for salads, sandwiches, and wraps. 

Broth (vegetable, chicken - preferably low sodium):  Broths provide the perfect base for soups, stews, or chilis.  They also add a savory flavor when used to cook whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa, and vegetables, like collard greens or kale.  

Whole grain cereals (with at least 4 grams of fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving):  Whole grain cereals offer a source a source of fiber and other nutrients, like magnesium, iron, and niacin.  Since there are so many options, make sure you read the labels carefully for the best options.  Quick prep ideas:  Serve with milk or alternative milks for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks;  Combine with nuts and/or dried fruit;  Mix with yogurt and fruit.

Garlic, shallots, onions:  These foods add a special aroma and flavor to nearly any dish.  They're also rich in flavonoids and phenols, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties.  Quick prep ideas:  Saute and combine with vegetables, grain dishes, soups, stews, and sauces;  Use in salsas and vinaigrette dressings.

Herbs and spices (eg, cinnamon, turmeric, basil, cayenne pepper, ground ginger):  Many herbs and spices have health promoting and body healing properties.  They also add a special kick  to what could otherwise be a dull dish without the extra calories and sodium.  Quick prep ideas:  Add to just about anything!

What are your pantry must-haves for quick and easy meals and snacks?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Foodie Friday: Grilled Veggie and Sausage Pizza

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Being married to an Alaskan, I am lucky to have family in Alaska.  One of the perks of this lovely relationship is that they will send us home with some fabulous fresh Alaskan goodies, like wild salmon, wild halibut, or caribou.  On our last visit, we were blessed with some caribou sausage.  Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do with this sausage for a long time since I'm not a big sausage person.  Every time I'd open our freezer, it'd remind me once again that I need to do something with it.  Finally, it dawned on!  I joked with my husband that I was going Sarah Palin on dinner with the caribou sausage pizza.  I decided to prepare a grilled California style pizza inspired by Ina Garten's Grilled California Pizzas.  Alaska meets California. How about that?  It's definitely not your typical pizza, but that's what I love about it.  Feel free to tweak it as needed. Obviously not everyone has access to caribou sausage, so turkey sausage would be fine.  This pizza would still be fantastic vegetarian-style, too.  The goat cheese and basil really add so much flavor to this pizza. It's delicious and satisfying.  Enjoy!

Grilled Veggie and Sausage Pizza

Whole wheat refrigerated or frozen pizza dough (I like Trader Joe's.  If you'd like to make your own pizza dough, this recipe works well.  Just follow the directions to sub whole wheat flour for white flour.) 
2 tsp olive oil
3 cups arugula, cleaned and dried
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 small red onion, sliced
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 ounces caribou or fresh turkey sausage, cooked
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ounces goat cheese (I use chevre.)
4 ounces shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)

1) Follow package directions for preparing the pizza dough, stretching into a 12-inch circle.  
2) If using sausage, cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until browned.  Drain and set aside. 
3) Heat the grill on medium, and wait until it's hot.  Carefully place the dough directly on the grill.  Heat on this side for about 1-2 minutes or until it begins to brown.  Using a large grill spatula, carefully turn the dough over and brush with the olive oil.
4)  Add the toppings to the pizza. (I usually end with the mozzarella.)  Close the lid on the grill and cook for about another 10 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese is melted.  
5) Carefully remove to a pizza pan.  Cut into 8 slices and serve.

Serves: 4 (2 slices each)
Nutritional Information:
Calories: 316   Carbohydrate:  30 g   Fat:  14 g   Saturated fat: 5 g   Protein:  20 g   Cholesterol: 33 mg   Fiber:  5 g   Sugar:   2.7 g   Sodium:  638 mg
Excellent source of:  vitamin B6, C, A, and calcium
Good source of:  riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, folate, iron, and zinc

Friday, March 18, 2011

Foodie Friday: Quinoa Pilaf

 Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

If you didn't already know it, I kind of love quinoa.  I love to make up big batches of quinoa in my lovely rice cooker to use in a variety of ways throughout the week.  Quinoa also freezes well, so extra portions can be frozen in small, freezer-safe containers for later use.  It reheats nicely by microwaving, steaming, and stir-frying.  The recipe I'm sharing this week is one that I will be featuring at a health and fitness seminar that I'll be sponsoring this weekend.  What I love about this dish is that it's super simple.  I also love that it's a savory dish with a spike of sweetness from the raisins, and it's full of fabulous textures from the quinoa and walnuts.  Enjoy!

Quinoa Pilaf

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil                                             
2 small shallots, minced                                                 
1 medium clove garlic, minced                                  
1 ½ c uncooked quinoa, rinsed (I enjoy red quinoa as pictured, but you can try pearl or black quinoa, too.)
1/3 c golden raisins                                      
½ Tbsp sea salt        
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper      
 ½ tsp ground cinnamon                                        
3 c vegetable broth, preferably low sodium
1/3 c chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped        

1.  Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot is transparent, about 3-4 minutes.
2.   Add quinoa; toast for 1 minute.
3.  Stir in raisins, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
4.  Pour in broth; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until quinoa bursts its  skin, is tender, and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
5.  Set quinoa aside, covered, for about 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff quinoa mixture with a fork. Repeat several times as quinoa becomes lighter as it cools. Sprinkle with walnuts and cilantro just before serving.

Serves: 8
Nutritional Information per ½ cup serving:
Calories:  189   Carbohydrate: 29 g   Fat: 6 g   Monounsaturated fat: 1.6 g   Protein:  6 g   Cholesterol:  0 mg   Fiber:  3.3 g   Sugar: 5 g (all natural)   Sodium:  323 mg
Excellent source of: omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin A and magnesium
Good source of: thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, and zinc

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trendy Bytes: Kombucha Tea

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

I was cruising through Whole Foods the other day and was bombarded by several vendors, including one for kombucha tea.  I've been wanting to blog about this trendy beverage for a while, and if this wasn't a sure sign that I needed to do it now, then I don't know what would be.  Listen to the vendor's spiel and you'd think this is a wonder drink for sure, treating ailments such as acne, HIV, cancer, heartburn, headaches, and more.  If you aren't even sure what the heck kombucha is, then you're in for a not-so-pretty sounding concoction.  

What is kombucha tea?
Kombucha tea is made by fermenting sweetened tea with a slimy, pancake-like mass of yeast and bacteria, which is often referred to as the "mushroom" or "mother" or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).  It looks a bit like this.

Photo credit: zeeweez (Flickr)

After the bacteria feed on most of the sugar, you're left with an acidic tea that contains organic acids, like lactic acid, B vitamins, and typically up to 1.5% alcohol.  The alcohol content is why some vendors pulled these products from grocery store shelves last year amidst reports that some concoctions contained up to 3% alcohol, which is above the 0.5% limit for non-alcoholic beverages.  This even became such a problem that the company, Honest Tea, decided to give its kombucha line the boot.  As for the taste, I'd describe it as tangy and slightly sweet with a touch of vinegar and fizz. How's that for a description?  I have to say that it's not something that I'd likely ever crave.  

So, is kombucha good for you?      
If you talk to proponents or vendors, you'll think so.  It is believed that the probiotic activity of the tea promotes a healthy immune system by introducing friendly bacteria into the gut.  While this is a possibility based on some of the research about probiotics in dairy products, there is still little evidence about the same benefits from kombucha.  

After scouring the published research articles for more on the health benefits, I've found very little strong evidence that kombucha tea is really the wonder drink that it's made out to be. A few preliminary studies in animals suggest that kombucha tea may protect healthy cells and repair damaged cells of the liver and kidneys.  However, I'd need to see stronger, more reliable studies in humans before I'd suggest this as a therapeutic beverage.

While kombucha tea may serve as a source of several B vitamins, it's important to consider that there are a variety of other whole foods, such as legumes or whole grains, that are also excellent sources of not only these vitamins but many other nutrients as well.  

Could it be harmful?
Yes, it's possible.  The tea could become contaminated with mold and fungi due to the ideal growing conditions during fermentation, and some of these microorganisms may cause illness or allergic reactions.  This may be even more likely in people with suppressed immune systems or other health problems. That's why the American Cancer Society warns of these health risks for certain populations, such as those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or pregnant and lactating women.  There have also been a few case reports of individuals  developing serious illnesses after consuming kombucha tea.  

If you're trying to avoid alcohol for any reason, then it may be wise to steer clear of this, too. Some brews could contain nearly as much alcohol as beer depending on how long they ferment.  However, there are some commercial versions that go through a process, such as pasteurization, to remove the alcohol.  

Before taking a sip, you may also want to ask yourself whether you want to eat your calories or drink them.  Some commercially prepared brews that I've checked out contain anywhere between 60-170 calories per bottle, mostly from carbohydrates including sugar.  Commercial brews may also be hard on the wallet since they may cost anywhere from $2-3 up to $5 a bottle.  Ouch! 

What's the bottom line?
Kombucha tea doesn't appear to be the miracle drink that it's promoted as.  In some cases, kombucha tea may be harmful to those with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions, like cancer, HIV/AIDS, or pregnant and lactating women.  If you're trying to avoid alcohol or to watch your weight, then you also may want to rethink this drink.  While there are some potentially harmful effects of kombucha tea, I also keep in mind that there are other things, such as prescription or over-the-counter medications, that have more prevalent short-term and long-term harmful effects, too.  So if you enjoy kombucha tea and have an otherwise nutritious diet, then it would be wise to consider your health status when choosing to consume the drink and find a trustworthy source for the tea. If fermenting your own brew, then it'd be wise to follow safe fermenting practices to avoid contamination with potentially harmful molds and fungi.  

Have you tried kombucha tea? What do you think of it?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Foodie Friday: Pear Walnut Salad with White Tea Vinaigrette Dressing

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Several weeks ago  a few friends and I decided to check out a tea lounge called Tranquil Tea Lounge for a weekend lunch.  This place was amazing!  Each of us enjoyed our own tea. I opted for the Madagascar Vanilla Rooibos, which was absolutely delicious! 

     Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Not only did they have fabulous tea, but they also served fantastic food.  I enjoyed their Pear Bartlett Salad drizzled with a white tea vinaigrette dressing, which inspired me to try this on my own at home.  

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

This brings me to my recipe for today, which is a Pear Walnut Salad with White Tea Vinaigrette Dressing.  I love the variety of savory, sweet, and tartness of the salad.  When opting for a cheese on salad, consider a flavorful one, like gorgonzola or feta, since you won't need to use as much of it.  I also prefer to make my own salad dressing because I can control what goes in it, especially the sodium and sugar. Commercially prepared dressings are often too salty for my taste.  Have fun with the salad. Make it yours.  If you prefer mixed greens or arugula, go for it!  If you like pecans over walnuts, have at it.  I'd love to hear about your interpretation, so shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment.  Enjoy!

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. 

Pear Walnut Salad with White Tea Vinaigrette Dressing

White Tea Vinaigrette Dressing 
Adapted from: Country Home
2 tsp of loose white tea leaves OR 1 bag of white tea
2/3 cup of white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp of honey
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme OR 1/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp minced shallots
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

1.  If using tea leaves, place in a tea ball.  Place the tea ball (or tea bag) and vinegar in a small saucepan over high heat, and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside until cooled.  Once cooled, remove the tea ball or tea bag and gently squeeze to extract as much of the vinegar as possible into the pan.   
2.  Place the tea vinegar into a glass mixing bowl.  Add the honey, thyme, shallots, and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk until well blended and smooth.  Continue whisking and add the olive oil to the mixture in a slow, thin stream.  Makes about 1 cup.  Store in a tightly covered jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.      

Pear Walnut Salad   
10 oz (about 4 cups) baby spinach (You can use mixed greens, arugula, or other leafy greens of your choice, too)
1 pear, sliced (Bartlett or other variety like Anjou)
1/4 c gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/4 c walnuts, chopped
White Tea Vinaigrette Dressing (served on the side)

1.  Toss the spinach, pear, gorgonzola, and walnuts together in a large bowl.  Serve the dressing on the side.
*Note: If you like the added flavor and aroma of toasted nuts, you may choose to toast the walnuts in a pan over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Serves: 4
Nutritional Information: (salad with 2 Tbsp of vinaigrette dressing)
Calories:  219   Carbohydrate:  13 g   Fat:  17 g  (8 g monounsaturated)   Protein:  5 g   Cholesterol:  10 mg   Fiber:  2 g   Sugar:  7 g  (1.5 g added)  Sodium:  220 mg 
Excellent source of: omega-3 fatty acid, folate, vitamin C, vitamin A, and magnesium  
Good source of:  thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and calcium 

Nutritional Information for the vinaigrette alone:  (per 2 Tbsp)
Calories: 95   Carbohydrate: 2.5 g   Fat:  9 g  Monounsaturated fat: 7 g   Protein:  0 g   Cholesterol:  0 mg  Fiber:  0 g   Sugar:  2 g   Sodium:  75 mg  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Foodie Friday: Orange-alicious Smoothie

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Guess what time it is?  It's smoothie time!  I love smoothies. They're always so fresh, delicious, and can be made to taste.  My kids love smoothies, and they really enjoy making them with me, too.  I enjoy experimenting with smoothies, and I recently stumbled upon this great one that I call "Orange-alicious".  I was immediately drawn to the idea from Real Simple magazine since it included carrots, which I somehow didn't think to put in a smoothie before.  My kid taste-testers give this one two thumbs up, and so do I.  Enjoy!

Orange-alicious Smoothie
Adapted from: Real Simple, February 2011.

3/4 c fresh or frozen (unsweetened) pineapple chunks
1/2 c ice (if using frozen fruit, then the ice is not necessary, in my opinion)
Juice of 1 large orange or 1/3 c of 100% orange juice
1 small carrot, chopped (or about 1/4 c chopped)  
1/2 banana (1/2 a frozen banana would work great, too, and you may not need the ice)

1.  Combine ingredients in the blender, and blend until smooth.

Serves: 1
Nutritional Information:
Calories: 159   Carbohydrate:  40 g   Fat:  1 g   Protein:  2 g   Cholesterol: 0 mg   Fiber:  4 g   Sugar:  26 g (all natural)  Sodium:  25 mg  
Excellent source of: vitamins B6, C, and A 
Good source of: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, and potassium
Related Posts with Thumbnails