Saturday, February 28, 2009

Make any recipe healthier!

One of my old chemistry friends runs a "healthy eating" group back east. Last month they talked about how to make any recipe healthier. There are so many great ideas that I want to share them here (with credit to the Beans)!

1. Make a food goal - Don't try to switch everything at once, but start with a simple goal, like reducing refined sugars, adding more fiber, eating more vegetables.

2. Start with small changes - Make tacos with less ground beef (if any) and more beans. Instead of mixing cheese into a recipe, shred it over the top. You'll get the same flavor (sometimes more!) with less.

3. Quick Breads - Anything made with baking powder and/or soda rather than yeast is considered a quick bread. That includes pancakes, muffins, cornbread, etc.
  • Generally, you can substitute up to 1/2 whole wheat flour without much of a difference. That means if the recipe calls for 2 cups all purpose flour, you can use 1 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour.
  • You may need to use 7/8 c. whole wheat flour for 1 cup of all purpose flour, or add a bit extra liquid if you find the end product too dry. I seldom need to do this, however.
  • The #1 complaint with whole grain baked goods is the texture. They have a tendency to be dense, chewy, or heavy. In my experience, this can be avoided almost entirely by using proper technique. Always follow the recipe and combine dry ingredients together and keep wet ingredients separate. Make sure your pans are ready to go and your oven (or griddle) is preheated. Then, combine wet with dry gently and with as few strokes as possible. Pour into pans promptly and bake immediately. Overstirring develops the gluten (the stretchy strands of dough you’re used to seeing in yeast breads) and that will create a dense, chewy result. Baked goods should be light and tender. The instant you mix wet with dry, the acid and base contained in baking powder (or the base in baking soda and the acid found in the liquid ingredients) combine and start generating gas. The batter will go “flat” much like a bottle of soda pop if you don’t get it into the oven fast. You want to keep all those air bubbles safely inside the batter so the heat can expand them and give your baked goods a desirable texture.
4. Oil substitutes -
  • Use applesauce for up to half the oil, but realize the flavor will change. I do this routinely for things like banana bread and muffins and have no problem. If you go 100% applesauce the result may be gummy. The fat from the oil contributes to the “tender” texture and it’s hard to do away with it entirely.
  • Believe it or not, pureed black beans are a great oil substitute--and added protein! They can chance the color, so they work best in "chocolate" or "grain" colored foods.
5. Reduce sugar -
  • Cut down on sugar and salt by 1/2 to 1/3. I do that automatically and seldom notice a difference in the final product.
  • Cutting down on sugar gives us our tastebuds back and we appreciate more subtle flavors such as ground almond or sprinkled orange zest, so take advantage of that! Dress up your baked goods with something fun. Try sprinkling brown sugar on top and using less in the batter. The sweetness will be noticed and appreciated on top and you can get away with using less inside. Try adding almond extract or toasted pecans. Even adding some chocolate chips to the batter can make the healthiest muffin (packed with zucchini and whole grains) seem like a special treat.
6. Use less meat -
  • Calorie for calorie, meat is much less nutritionally dense than any vegetable. Use half the ground beef you usually do in your spaghetti sauce. It’ll be more economical and your family won’t notice. Add extra of the other ingredients and the meat will take a backseat. It’ll be flavoring, not the main attraction.
7. Reduce salt -
  • Cut added salt by half; in some dishes you can even eliminate it entirely. A lot of the ingredients that you’ll use for recipes (e.g., canned tomatoes) come to your home pre-salted. You can salt stuff to taste on the table or just before serving. You’ll use less and you’ll be more conscious of it when you do add it.

Banana Muffins

Ok, i'm violating my "5 things" rule but these are worth it. A nice but reasonably healthy treat.

Banana Muffins

1 stick butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
2 medium bananas, mashed
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. water
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and bananas. Dissolve baking soda in water, add with flour. Stir in vanilla. Bake at 400 for 12 minutes. Makes 12 medium-sized muffins.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kyoto Salad Dressing

This salad dressing is amazing! It's a personal favorite as it looks classy, goes on anything from chicken to fruit salad, and has a bit of ethnic flair.

Kyoto Salad Dressing

1/2 c. rice vinegar (sold on the Ethnic aisle--NOT white vinegar!)
1/3 c. yellow mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar (scant)
1 c. canola oil
1 tsp. black pepper

Blend rice vinegar, mustard, salt, and sugar until well mixed. Add canola oil and blend again. Stir in freshly ground coarse black pepper. Pour into glass bottle or salad dressing bottle. Refrigerate.

Takes less than 5 minutes in a blender, chills quickly. Try it with anything!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mini Spinach Quiches

Again, another recipe I've been drooling over for weeks now, but finally got around to trying and giving a wholehearted approval too. I know, I'm breaking my "5 things" rule but these are great, and SO easy!

This is a picture from the Pillsbury website where I found this recipe, but I was proud to say that mine turned out looking just as good!

Mini Spinach Quiche

2 cans crescent rolls (garlic butter is perfect)
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1/4 c. chopped onion
9 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Prep 16 muffin cups with cooking spray. Separate each can of crescent dough into 8 triangles, press one into each muffin cup.

2. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in onion, spinach, salt, and pepper. Fold in cheese.

3. Fill each cup to the top (but don't overfill, they rise when they bake!).

4. Bake at 350°F for 15-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in center comes out clean and edges of rolls are golden brown. Best served warm. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

PF Changs Lettuce Wraps

I think I have a new favorite recipe! I've been waiting to post this one until I tried it--and it really is THAT good.

Lettuce Wraps

4 chicken breast halves (boneless, skinless, frozen is okay)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. white wine (I used white vinegar, rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
garlic powder (or 5 chopped cloves)
dash of allspice

Put chicken in crockpot with onions and garlic powder. Mix everything else together and pour the sauce over the chicken. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 4-6, stirring occasionally. Shred chicken ~30 minutes before serving. Serve buffet style in lettuce wraps.

I added chow mein noodles for a bit of crunch and some stir-fry veggies and rice to balance out the meat. Add hoison or plum sauce if needed!