Healthy Choices: Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

On Sunday, my Real Food Challenge will come to an end. One thing I have become increasingly aware of as I’ve stayed away from packaged and processed foods is what a product of this consumer culture I am.

In many cultures, simply finding food to eat is a struggle. Putting a meal on the table takes work — from planting to tending to reaping and dealing with weather, animals and economic poverty. The concept of “favorite foods” is foreign — most people in the world eat anything that is available.

Here in America, we are bombarded with choices and variety of foods. Eating is not such much a necessity of life as it is a cultural and social experience. There are things we eat just because it is right in front of us and looks good. Because food is so accessible to us, we don’t need to put thought into what we eat. But we should.

When I was young, my dad would take me and my sisters out to Friendly’s. My sisters would order big sundaes with whipped cream and hot fudge sauce. I always ordered French Fries. Always French Fries. For me, salty and greasy trumped cold and sweet.

Now, French Fries hold little appeal to me. It is probably because I’ve discovered how much more delicious and flavorful real food is. It may be slightly due to watching videos like this:

Why are we filling ourselves with food that isn’t real and that only does us harm? There are much better choices out there.

Here’s a fry recipe to prove it. Full of flavor, crispness and color. And about a day’s worth of vegetable servings if you eat the whole pan.

If you do, beware — your vitamin levels might soar and you skin might turn orange. But on the other hand, there will be no clogged arteries or elevated cholesterol. It’s a swap I’m willing to make!

Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 lb fresh string beans
  • 1/2 lb fresh asparagus stalks, bottoms trimmed,
  • 3 T. Honey
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/4 t. pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Cut sweet potatoes into “fry” like sticks or wedges. Trim off ends of string beans and “woody” bottoms of asparagus stalks.
  • In a small bowl or jar whisk together honey, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper. If needed, add a little water to thin it out (you want to be a dressing like consistency).
  • In a large bowl, pour glaze over vegetables and toss until fully coated.
  • Arrange on a large baking dish. Bake for thirty-five minutes or until vegetables are tender. I  stuck this under the broiler for five minutes to crisp the vegetables up a bit so they can be “finger food”.
  • Serve with ketchup and honey mustard for dipping.

*Note: if you refrigerate these for later use, the fries will soften and probably not be dippable. Just reheat under the broiler to recrisp.

Making healthy choices never tasted so good.

I’m lovin’ it.

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Make Time for Tempeh

I know it is a week till Christmas (eek!) and this should be a post of festive cookie recipes, but though that post will come, it is not this post.

Truth #1: I am not officially finished with the semester until Tuesday, so my opportunities to bake have been slim.

Truth #2: I did take some time off studying the past few days to do some baking, and, well let’s just say I went a little overboard. As in did not take a shower till noon today, I still have icing in my hair, and I’m pretty sure if I don’t bake again till Valentines Day, that will be just fine with me. (Don’t hold me to it, though).

Truth #3: After a few days of rolling in sugar and flour, the last thing I want to do right now is look at a bunch of pictures of cookies. That time will come. Right now, I just want to eat something full of nutritious and wholesome ingredients. Like Tempeh Quesadillas.

Stay with me, here. Never had tempeh? It’s time you met.

Tempeh is a superfood, made by fermented soybeans formed into a patty, similar in substance and nutrition to tofu. It is very minimally processed and so is rich in soybean nutrition: high protein, calcium, fiber, iron, and beneficial isoflavones. It has a textured, nutty flavor, but also quickly absorbs the flavors of the foods and spices it is cooked with. I have found it to be a very versatile substitute for meat — crumbled into chili or taco “meat”, grilled for a TLT (tempeh+lettuce+tomato), and now used in place of chicken strips in one of my old favorites, the quesadilla.

Tempeh Quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 1/3 pkge tempeh
  • /2 green pepper, diced
  •  2 T. chopped onion
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 T. lime juice
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • 1/8 t. garlic salt
  •  1 large whole wheat tortilla
  •  2 T. hummus
  •  1 T. low-fat cottage cheese
Directions
  • Slice tempeh into thin slices, about 1/2 inch thick.
  • Heat oil in a medium frying pan. Add tempeh, peppers and onion to the pan and sprinkle with lime juice and spices. Saute, flipping tempeh for even cooking until it is lightly brown and vegetables are soft. Set aside in a dish.

  • Lay tortilla in the frying pan. Spread hummus across tortilla and spoon cottage cheese on one half of the tortilla.
  • On the cottage cheese side, spoon tempeh and veggies. Let tortilla heat a bit open-faced, about 2 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • With a spatula Gently fold the empty side of the tortilla over the vegetables and using the spatula edge, “seal” sides together.
  • Continue to heat, flipping quesadilla after a few minutes to brown both sides.
  • Serve warm with salsa, Greek yogurt, or guacamole.
This is not like your typical quesadilla — there isn’t even any cheese! But, trust me, it’s good. When heated, the hummus and cottage cheese get all gooey and delicious and the veggies and tempeh add wonderful flavor. As for nutrition? It’s hard to beat these stats:Who says vegetarians don’t get their protein? That’s 21g right there, as well as 10g fiber and high amounts of both Calcium and Iron.

Whether you eat meat or not, it’s good to expand your repertoire of healthy ingredients and experiment with a few new superfoods. The more nutritious variety available to you, the less you will find yourself reaching for the unhealthier options.

What did you say about Christmas cookies?

Come back soon. I’ve got to brush my teeth a few more times.

So Much to Be Thankful For: Savory Bread Pudding

Yes, Josh, I’m looking at you.

I really am pretty blessed.

I have a family who sees all of my idiosyncrasies, meltdowns and bedhair, and loves me anyway.

A home where I am safe, cared for, and kept warm.

A professor who makes a last-minute decision to cancel class on Thanksgiving-eve.

The unexpected joy of spending the whole afternoon snuggled with sweats, blankets, and cranberry-pomegranate green tea because class was cancelled.

An entire weekend with no deadlines to spend with cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandpa.

A great big extended family who hugs, talks loudly, and eats well in the good old Italian way.

A Thanksgiving eve service that reminds me from Whom all blessings flow; that life is about much more stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie. Yum.

Friends who invite us for Thanksgiving dinner.

The excuse to bake Thanksgiving-y dishes all week long, because, well, we’ll be at friend’s house for the actual dinner and what’s Thanksgiving without a messy kitchen and leftovers?

The butternut squash and Brussels sprouts falling out of the fridge just as I was contemplating vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes.

A healthy, hearty, scrumptious dish to help combat all the sweets and treats I’ll be consuming this weekend.

Savory Autumn Bread Pudding 
~ Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and subed
  • 1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in halves
  • 1 large apple, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 T. dried rosemary
  • 4 pieces whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1/3 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange squash and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  • Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil, salt, pepper garlic, and rosemary. Combine vegetables and onion in a medium casserole dish. Top with bread cubes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour mixtures over bread. Sprinkle raisins on top.
  • Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, until egg is set.

This was baked alongside my sister’s egg-sausage-cheese-frenchfriedonion casserole. I’m thankful all our hearts are pumping.

Guess which casserole was licked clean within minutes? Apparently the beauty of Brussels sprouts is outshone by the glitz of cheese covered French-fried-onions. But I am thankful my family was considerate enough to leave me leftovers. What’s Thanksgiving without them?

Not Missing a Bite

Sometimes I feel sorry for people I see at the grocery store. I see them rushing past the produce aisles to filling their carts with frozen meals and pretty packaging of unnatural ingredients no one can recognize or pronounce. A little part in me grieves for the quinoa and almond butter and Brussels sprouts that sit overlooked in lonely shelves while the cutesy Pop-Tarts and Fritos are given all the attention. Sometimes I want to turn around in the checkout line and ask if anyone knows what they’re missing.

Yes, I realize this puts me at risk for appearing very strange. But I’m all right with that. I think. If taking a grocery trip for a single head of cauliflower is strange; if calling chickpeas a snack is strange; if getting giddy over a jar of sunflower of butter is strange — well, that is just the way I am.

Let me tell you what I think is strange. The other day, I overheard a fellow student bemoaning that she was looking forward to a leisurely lunch but accidentally slept in and didn’t have time to heat up her EasyMac. Instead she had to settle for a breakfast of Milky Ways. I thought of my pumpkin oatmeal breakfast and my packed lunch of yogurt, an apple, fresh and crunchy vegetables and hummus. The poor girl had no idea what she was really missing in her candy-bar breakfast.

One of the things I am most looking forward to as a future-Dietitian, is helping people see the beautiful delicious world of real food. To widen the horizons of their grocery list from the freezer and snack aisles to farmer’s markets and bulk food bins.

Hopefully, once preaching nutrition is my job, people will stop giving me sidelong glances and calling me “that strange health-nut” behind my back. But I really don’t mind, especially if being strange means heating Pineapple Cauliflower Rice in the school microwave after my friend’s EasyMac is well-congealed.

“Normal” people don’t know what they are missing.

Pineapple Cauliflower Rice

~ eight servings ~

Ingredients

  • 4 c. cooked brown rice
  • 2 c. chopped cauliflower
  • 1 t. coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 can (15oz) pineapple tidbits: drain and reserve juice
  • 1 T. ginger
  • 1/3 c. almond milk (or other milk)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, saute cauliflower in coconut oil until tender and slightly browned.
  • Pour 1 c. pineapple juice over cauliflower. Reduce heat, cover, and let cauliflower cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in pineapple tidbits, rice, and ginger. Let heat throughout, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour in almond milk and stir to coat rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you cook the rice beforehand, this meal is really as quick and easy as reheating a frozen pizza. It’s much more tasty too. I expected to be the only one eating this, but the first batch I made was gone in a day. The family loved it too (and they’re not strange).  

I kind of want to make a huge pot and hand out samples at the grocery store checkout line. 

Packable Snackables

It was 4:45pm on a Wednesday. My philosophy professor was an hour into a lecture of Mill’s On Liberty. And I was captive to the vending machine out in the hall.

I seriously could not stop eying it. From the Snickers bar on the top row all the way down to the Doritos at the bottom. Who was I? I can’t remember the last time I bought something from that black abyss of junk food. Yet now, stomach growling and mouth salivating, I was about ready to yell out loud “Give me liberty or give me Reese’s!”

Hunger will do funny things to you. Which is why I try to counteract the 3 o’clock slump by carrying healthy snacks with me. Instead of resorting to desperate measures like borrowing change for a bag of chips, pulling into the nearest fast food for a large order of fries, or ordering a fourth cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts (zing!), I can just reach inside my Mary Poppins backpack for instant energy, satisfaction, and nutrition.

Here are some of the “packable snackables” that have been saving my life I’ve been enjoying lately.

  • Dips and Dipables. This is one of my favorite ways to add veggies to my diet, which also serve as great vehicles for yummy dips, like hummus, salsa, plain yogurt, and cottage cheese. In the picture above, I packed yogurt, hummus, and white bean dip with carrot sticks, green pepper strips, cucumber slices and Mama Pea’s Tofu Dippers (look, I’m eating tofu by itself now!)
  • Fresh fruit. Grabbing an orange, banana, or apple from the fridge is more convenient than any fast-food drive-thru — and will make you feel ten times better. I also like to pack containers of fruit salad (diced melon, sliced peaches, grapes) to eat as a “desserty” option after lunch. It makes it easier to say no to Twinkies when my sweet tooth has already been satisfied.

 

  • Dried Fruit. I’m going on a long car trip today and in preparation, baked up a batch of apple trips to chew on the road. Dried fruit is one of my favorite no-mess travel snacks. Or you can eat half a batch straight off the pan if you prefer. To make your own apple chips, slice five apples into thin (1/8″) slices, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a 250F oven for about 2 hours or until they are dry and crispy. Easy peasy, no sugar-added alternative to the $$-bags of candied dried fruit at the grocery store.
  • Yogurt. Satisfying, protein-rich, and oh so convenient — what is there not to like about yogurt? Well, maybe the high-sugar content of some of the leading brands. When buying yogurt, choose Greek (2x the protein!), low-fat or fat-free, and less than 30 grams of sugar. If you are planning on being out all day, store your yogurt in a cooler.
  • Bars. If you really want nutrient-dense convenience, stock your purse/backpack/car with whole food protein bars. They are perfect for beating that mid-day slump, refueling after exercise, or supplementing a sub-par restaurant meal (aka, salads for mice). Just be sure to choose brands based in whole foods, and not candy bars dressed up in healthy packaging.

Odwalla asked me to review three of their latest bars and of course I jumped at the opportunity (who doesn’t want to get free food in the mail?). I immediately stuck the Berries Go Mega in my book bag to eat between classes. 1000mg of essential omega-3s from flax, 25% Calcium’s Daily Value, and 5g of fiber? Sounds like an instant brain and mood booster to me. I was pleasantly surprised at how thick and chewy Odwalla’s bars are — not like some of those skimpy protein bars that leave me still hungry.

I ate the Banana Nut as fuel before a day at the mall with Elizabeth. Shopping works up an appetite and I was not spending precious dollars at the food court. I was really impressed by the flavor and texture of this bar — just like homemade banana bread, in all its whole-grain and walnutty richness, but full with vitamins and in such a convenient portable package. I was one happy shopper. Odwalla is definitely worth checking out — and their website is so cute! You can search by whole-food ingredients!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a cooler suitcase of goodies to pack before hitting the road. But please share your favorite healthy on-the-go snacks in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas!

Disclaimer: I was sent Odwalla products free of charge to review for the blog. All opinions are my own.