Sunday, October 25, 2009

Healthy Hot Artichoke Dip is Perfect for Game Day and Parties

When we're invited to a party where we're asked to bring a dish to share I use it as an opportunity to bring a tasty healthy snack, side dish, dessert, or salad that I feel good about eating. Many parties have food that is packed with fat, preservatives, HFCS, sodium, and who knows what else! The idea is to bring something that is both healthy and flavorful.

The Hot Artichoke Dip is one of those tasty and healthy treats. I served it last year at a jewelry party that I hosted and it was very popular! So today, we're heading to a friend's house to watch a football game and I'm bringing this to share. Traditional artichoke dips are filled with high fat items like cheese, mayo, and whole milk sour cream.

This version uses white beans to thicken the dip and add flavor. The combination of the beans and artichokes make this a high-fiber snack! Using Parmesan cheese, you don't have to use as much as other milder cheeses since it has a deep flavor. The best thing is there is NO chopping! You can make this with the food processor. It's very quick and you can pop it right into the oven when you arrive at the party.

Hot Artichoke Dip
from Cooking Light Dec. 2005
Serve with cut veggies (cucumbers, carrots, celery, cauliflower) and pita chips or crackers.

  • 1/2 cups reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional (*I do this to boost the lemon flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard (*my addition)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, rinsed drained and divided
  • 1 (15 1/2-ounce) can great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor; add 1 can of artichokes and beans. Process until smooth. Add remaining can of artichokes, 3/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tablespoon parsley, and garlic. Pulse 20 times or until artichokes are coarsely chopped.
  • Spoon mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon parsley. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until bubbly.
Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1/3 cup)

CALORIES 98(37% from fat); FAT 4g (sat 2.2g,mono 0.9g,poly 0.1g); PROTEIN 5.8g; CHOLESTEROL 9mg; CALCIUM 108mg; SODIUM 488mg; FIBER 2.4g; IRON 0.5mg; CARBOHYDRATE 10.3g

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spaghetti Squash "Lasagna" Casserole

Spaghetti squash is a Fall/Winter season squash and the cooked flesh is stringy like a pasta noodle. Many recipes with spaghetti squash morph it into a pasta-like dish with tomato sauce, Italian herbs, and Parmesan cheese. You can even form cooked squash stands into patties and make them into savory pancakes.

The squash is packed with nutrition: folic acid, beta carotene, and heart healthy potassium. And you can eat a lot of the squash because it's a low calorie food (8 ounces of cooked squash is 75 calories). Spaghetti squash has a mild, delicate flavor that is perfect for pairing with strong flavors.

This morning, I was inspired to make my spaghetti squash into my nutritious lunch. I love the combination of the tiny strands with tomato sauce and decided to make a squash lasagna casserole. This healthy meal is very affordable. I buy my part-skim ricotta cheese from Trader Joe's and it's antibiotic free and around $2.99 for 16 oz.

Cooking spaghetti squash:
  • Use a heavy chef knif to cut squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape the loose membranes and seeds. Discard or save seeds for future use.
  • Fill a large casserole dish with 1/2 inch water. Place halves face down in the dish.
  • Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hr, until the squash is tender.
  • Let cool.
  • Scrape the cooked squash with a fork to release the noodle-like flesh.
Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash, cooked and shredded (see above)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dried Italian spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1-14 oz can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbs panko bread crumbs
  • Chopped parsley or basil for garnish on top
  • In a pre-heated medium skillet, add olive oil, chopped onions, and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes until the onions are tender. Add cooked squash, Italian herbs, and salt/pepper, and stir to coat with olive oil.
  • Spay a casserole dish with cooking oil. Add squash mixture to casserole and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Add tomato sauce.
  • Dollop ricotta cheese evenly
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top Natural Immunity Boosters to Get You Through the Cold and Flu Season

The weather has changed and it's cold and flu season. At the office people are either getting sick or trying to stay healthy with antibacterial cleaners and sprays. The media and healthcare professionals are pushing the seasonal and H1N1 flu shots on the public as a way to lessen the effects of the flu virus. One of my favorite health blogs by Dr. Mercola, a Chicago medical physician and health researcher, strongly recommends to avoid both flu vaccines in his blog post "Flu Vaccine Exposed."

Mercola writes, "According to the CDC, the majority of flu vaccines contain thimerosal. Some contain as much as 25 mcg of mercury per dose. This means that it may contain more than 250 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit for mercury." He later writes in the story about other toxins found in most flu shots. And the virus strains in the seasonal flu shot are made before the flu season hits so taking the vaccine does not always prevent that you won't get sick. It depends on the virus strains that you are exposed to in the real world.

What are the flu symptoms? Most people suffering from the flu are experiencing: fever, chills, cough, fatigue, diarrhea, runny nose, decreased appetite, and sore throat. Taking acetaminophen or ibprophen can help break your fever and reduce your symptoms.

My friends in major cities such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have been able to get thimerosal-free flu vaccines, but in Indianapolis, I'm hard pressed to find them. In fact, most people I speak to here have never heard of mercury in the flu shots. They are taking them blindly!

I'm 19 weeks pregnant and during my recent doctor visit, the nurse recommended that I take both flu shots since pregnant women are consider high risk for more severe flu symptoms. I told the nurse that I don't want to expose myself or my baby to mercury and I plan to use natural immunity boosting methods to avoid getting sick or lessen the symptoms. I told her that after limiting my mercury exposure with fish in my diet and ensuring that I'm taking mercury-free fish oil for my DHA supplement that I don't see how I can expose myself to that much mercury. The nurse had nothing to say to that, other than suggesting that I find a mercury-free flu shot.

And this week, Aaron is sick with the flu. It's possible he has the H1N1 flu for all we know, but that's not preventing me from eating dinner with him, kissing him, or being near him. So far What I am doing is boosting my own immunities naturally.

Natural Immunity Boosters:
  • Adequate sleep - 8 hrs
  • Hydrate with pure water
  • Exercise
  • Vitamin D (using supplements or sun exposure) - see my post
  • Whole food nutrition-rich diet - avoid processed foods
  • Washing hands with soap and warm water

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Using Fall's Gem, Acorn Squash, For An Easy Spiced Soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the cooler weather and the produce that the season brings: squash, apples, and root veggies. In my produce delivery shipment last week, I received two acorn squash, which immediately inspired me to make soup. My strongest craving during my pregnancy has been soup, so that wasn't a surprise, really!

Acorn squash has a dark green hard skin and tastes best roasted to deepen it's naturally nutty and peppery flavor. Acorn squash is high in fiber, vitamins A, C and potassium. This variety gets overshadowed by the popular butternut squash. Because of its size it's ideal for stuffing with raisins, apples, and turkey sausage and spices.

To cook, try roasting:
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Use a sturdy, heavy knife to cut the squash vertically. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and membrane. Do not peel the hard skin.
  • Place on a cookie sheet face up and coat with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  • Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until fork tender.
  • Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Then with a paring knife, peel the skin gently from the flesh.
Making the quick soup: (roast the squash ahead of time and store for quick weeknight meals)

  • 1 tbs butter
  • Roasted acorn squash (2 medium)
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 3 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 cup lowfat milk or half and half
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp curry
  • Dash nutmeg
  • Place roasted squash in the food processor (use two medium squash).
  • In a soup pot, melt butter on medium. Add chopped onions and minced garlic and cook until translucent (2 minutes). Add onion and garlic mixture to the food processor.
  • Add 2 cups of chicken broth to the food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.
  • Add squash mixture to the soup pot and return to heat. Add remaining chicken broth, milk, and spices and warm on medium for 10 minutes.
**If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken broth.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Easy Ways to Get "5 A Day" Servings of Fruits and Veggies

This week a CDC study revealed that 14% of adult Americans on average get the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Worse yet, less than 10% of American teens are eating the recommended servings daily. But the old slogan "5 a Day" may not be enough. The new US food guidelines are 7-13 cups of fresh produce per day.

It's not a surprise that teenagers are worse off nutritionally than adults because based on the result - they have a terrible example!

So why are eating fruits and vegetables important? Fresh fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to maintain a optimum health. A balanced diet with an emphasis on fresh produce is beneficial to:

  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Protect against diseases - type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease
  • Maintain stable metabolic functions

I heard about these findings when I was driving to work on the NPR Morning Edition broadcast. Then, I looked around and it hit me as I drove passed the fast food restaurants along the street. It's really not a surprise when Americans are buying fast food, precooked frozen food, convenience food in bags or boxes, and well...not cooking from fresh ingredients! I have to admit cooking has been a challenge for me in the last two months because I live in a tiny rental apartment with a terrible kitchen. We made the move to Indianapolis from Chicago, leaving behind our gorgeous granite counters, gas stove, and spacious workspace kitchen! Our condo is on the market and we're waiting patiently to make the move to our new home in Indy. Being focused on my health, I have found ways to eat fresh produce both raw and cooked.

Tips for getting fruits and veggies in your diet...

  1. Sign up for a produce delivery service or stock up at the local Farmer's Market. Eating seasonal local produce is not only better for the environment, but it's budget-friendly! You can try out new varieties instead of the same old tired choices you make if you go to the grocery store. If you have the produce delivered to your doorstep, there are no excuses for not getting to the store if you're busy. I order from a local company in Indy to get organic, seasonal local produce. I receive a shipment every week filled with fruit and veggies. Since it's already here, I have no excuse to wash, cut, cook, or pack up fresh in my lunches for snacks.
  2. Look on your plate - your meal is incomplete without fruits and vegetables. Making a sandwich? Add lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, or roasted red pepper inside. Add a fruit and veggie as a side dish. Sometimes I saute veggies if I get tired of steamed vegetables for dinner. You can try a mix of onions, peppers, and zucchini for a quick side dish sauteed with minced garlic and olive oil.
  3. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at peak season with minimal processing. They are very nutritious and plain versions (not mixed with suaces) are always budget friendly. I always stock broccoli, chopped spinach, and frozen peas on-hand in the freezer for quick side dishes. Check out my quick pesto pasta that I used with frozen peas and trick for my pasta with frozen spinach - no need for defrosting!
  4. A few more tips here on WebMD.