Stuffed Pepper Soup

The other day my sister was hungry for stuffed peppers but she doesn’t like to bite into peppers. We were talking about ways to make stuffed peppers without actually stuffing a pepper. What about stuffed pepper soup!? My husband has the same issue. He likes the taste of peppers in cooked food but to actually bite into a pepper is a no-go.

I found some recipes on Pinterest but to be honest, I put a spin on everything I make. I’m not a recipe follower. A rule follower yes, a recipe follower…absolutely not. So I did find some recipes buuuut I like my own 😉

I’m telling you, this soup is good! So good that the babies and my daughter have put their stamp of approval all over it! Now, the boys eat just about everything, but still they were “yum yum yumming” all over the place and signing “more” every time their brother was getting another bite. My daughter is on the picky side.

Another side note: parents, you’re working too hard if you find yourself making the kids “special kid foods” for meals. They can and will eat whatever you are making if you allow it to become the norm. These boys eat anything we are eating (unless it has dairy as they have a dairy allergy). I don’t make two meals for dinner. I also sympathize with parents of picky eaters. My daughter was a great eater until she was 2, then it went down hill. She’s getting better but still has a meat problem. Lately she has helped me cook which is helping her to feel comfortable around different foods and trying new foods because she’s made them. I’m with you in the trenches, parents. Sure I’m a dietitian and kids should (and will) eat healthy foods but I also understand and believe me, it’s not an easy job being a parent. Don’t make it harder on yourself by preparing “kid foods”…there’s no such thing. Kids can eat whatever you are eating if that is the expectation.

OK back to the recipe. I use grass-fed beef. If you can find a farmer who has a herd of grass-fed cattle, go for it! I’ll get into more of the health benefits of choosing grass-fed over corn-fed in another blog but for now just know that it’s better for you (and the cattle). This recipe also uses tomato soup. I use Campbells because it does not have milk in it (babies have a dairy allergy so we adjust accordingly). It does have high fructose corn syrup but I do not add any other added sugars to this recipe.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound ground, grass-fed beef (90/10)
  • 1 large onion diced (almost to a mince)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 green bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 red bell pepper (diced)
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 10.75 oz can tomato soup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 32 oz beef broth (beef stock would be wonderful as well)
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (I used a frozen bag)

Directions

  1. Heat a stock pot or large pot over medium high heat. Add canola oil and ground beef. Cook until beef is almost done and then add the onion and garlic.
  2. Cook until you see the beef is no longer red and then add turmeric, basil, black pepper, oregano, and parsley. Allow this to cook until the onions are almost transparent.
  3. Add red and green bell pepper and cook until they are tender.
  4. Add the cabbage and allow to cook for about 5 minutes until the cabbage cooks down and is tender.
  5. Add quinoa and stir completely through the soup. It doesn’t look like soup yet.
  6. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato soup, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and beef broth.
  7. Allow to cook on medium low for 20 minutes.
  8. Add cooked brown rice and allow to cook for 20 more minutes.
  9. Serve with some sprinkled parmesan cheese.
Ground beef with the onions and garlic
Added the peppers and spices
Look at all that cabbage!
Now just let it simmer

  NOTES:

  • This could be a great crock pot recipe. I would brown the beef and then add all of the ingredients to a crock pot allowing it to cook all day.
  • You could use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef. You could also make it vegetarian and omit all meat and add lentils or a small bean like black beans.
  • Go ahead and add more veggies. Zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, more peppers, more onion, more tomatoes, spinach, kale…go wild!
  • Add some cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, or even jalapeños to the dish. I usually do but since the boys were eating this I laid low (not because babies can’t have spicy foods, because they can…it’s because my boys get heartburn with spicy foods right now).
  • You can use just quinoa or just brown rice, or frankly any whole grain of your choosing. I prefer the blend of both quinoa and brown rice in this recipe.
  • Most of the recipes that I post are gluten free. It’s not on purpose! See how many options you have if you do have Celiac??? You CAN have a flavorful and fulfilling diet without gluten. **Make sure you check the broth, canned soups, and spices for hidden gluten**

I made it more of a mix of stuffed pepper and stuffed cabbage (halupki) soup. Perhaps my next adventure will be Halupki Soup with sauerkraut to add that punch of tang. Who’s with me!? #slovaksunite #easterneuropeanfood #halupkiorbust

Week 5 Tips: Healthy Cooking

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. From looking for a recipe or making one up, to the grocery shopping, to the prep work, and then serving it the whole process is like my therapy. Eating well and living well starts in the kitchen. Here are my tips for cooking healthier at home.

  1. Saute in oil instead of butter. Look, don’t get me wrong butter tastes great but it’s also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Oils like canola, olive, and one of my personal favorites grape seed are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol. Fun fact: teaspoon for teaspoon oil and butter have the same calories and fat grams.
  2. Use tons of veggies. Just when you think you can’t add any more, try it 😉 But seriously half of your meal should be veggies so go for it! Instead of loading them up with butter, flavor instead with veggie/chicken broth, onions/garlic, lemon/limes, herbs, spices, hot sauce, and my personal favorite vinegar/vinaigrettes.
  3. Lean on whole grains instead of prepackaged processed grains. Sure Hamburger Helper is quick and easy but it’s also loaded with salt, fat, has no fiber, and little nutrition. To ease into the whole grain world you can definitely try the boxed grains with added flavor. They are higher in sodium than just plain grains but it’s a great start. Ideas include whole wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, farro, brown rice, black, rice, and wild rice.
  4. Choose lean meats. Beef, pork, and lamb are considered red meat. Loin (sirloin, pork loin), lean ground beef, pork chops, eye of round, top and bottom round roast are the leanest. Chicken and turkey breast (white meat) is leaner than the dark meat. Dark meat is leaner than red meat. Although salmon is considered an oily fish and is higher in fat, the fat is WONDERFUL for your health. White fish like haddock and cod are super lean.
  5. Don’t be afraid to play with flavor! Adding herbs and spices to your cooking makes the flavor of your dishes pop without adding too much salt. Admittedly I use some salt in my cooking but not a lot because of herbs and spices. I obviously have my favorites but will branch out depending on the type of food and recipe. Experiment with them and don’t be afraid of flavor!
  6. Gather kitchen equipment. Truth be told I don’t have many expensive items in my kitchen. I like to cook but I’m also pretty simple and use my favorites. These are the cooking tools I use every week: some pots and pans (I prefer stainless steel but you don’t need a huge set, just the necessities), sharp knives (I’m very picky about my knives and I don’t buy sets I just buy the ones I need), cutting boards (wood), silicon lid (to steam veggies in glass), slow cooker (I have a programmable one which helps people who work longer hours), pressure cooker (nothing fancy just works well).
  7. Keep the necessities. Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, garlic, onions, frozen veggies (and fruits), grains, and beans can be on hand because they stay for a long time and you can use them in healthy cooking every week.

Eating out isn’t terrible. I actually think it is good to go out and try new things but make sure you’re eating in more often than out. Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you’ll be eating “cardboard” or spending a ton of money. I’ll be doing later blogs on saving money while eating well so stay tuned. Cooking well can be delicious, quick, and fun. Experiment. Being a good cook doesn’t happen over night. Ask any chef 🙂 Work at it, eat out less, and I assure you this will help with your long term goals.

Minestrone Soup

Why is it that when you make soup it ends up making a huge vat? I freeze it for later. It’s a nice treat a few weeks later without all the work. 
Minestrone soup is the complete package. It is 100% plants packed with tons of vegetables, beans, and whole grains (from the pasta). Plus it’s super delicious! The Italian spices, garlic, tomatoes, and veggies marry together and make this warm “winter” flavor. It’s also quick and easy to make. The entire pot (minus letting it cook on the stove) took about 40 minutes including chopping. 
Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (I use a.lot)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 5 stocks celery chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 32 oz frozen vegetable soup veggies (defrosted)
  • 10 oz bag frozen chopped spinach
  • 24 oz green beans (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • 4 oz can mushrooms, chopped
  • 3, 16 oz cans of beans (I chose pinto/great northern mix, black, and kidney)
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 3 tablespoons basil
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Barilla Protein Plus pasta

Directions:

  1. In a large stock pot, over medium heat, heat canola oil and add garlic cook for about 2  minutes. Add onion and cook until transparent (about 4 to 5 minutes). Add celery and carrots, and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add veggie broth, water and tomato sauce, bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Add zucchini, cabbage, beans, veggie soup veggies, and kale. Allow it to come back to a boil then add oregano, basil, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Simmer for an hour or let cook all day in a slow cooker.
  3. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until tender. Drain water and set aside.
  4. Place 1/4 cup of pasta into soup bowls and ladle soup on top. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top if desired. 
NOTES:
  • Add more veggies…whatever you have!
  • Add more or less cayenne depending on your optimal level of spice.
  • Instead of pasta you could simply omit or add other whole grains like quinoa or barley.
  • Add as many beans as your little heart desires! I enjoy black beans, white beans, pinto beans or even liven it up with some lentils!

Let me know how you like it or what you’ve done to change it to your tastes…

Week 4 Tips: Getting in more plants

25 ways to get more plants in your diet

  1. Fruit in oatmeal
  2. Fruit on top of whole grain cereal
  3. Fruit as a side for any breakfast
  4. Nuts or nut butters on fruit
  5. Nut butter on whole grain bread
  6. Veggies for breakfast: like in an omelet
  7. Fruit for snacks
  8. Veggies for snacks
  9. Nuts for snacks
  10. Salad for lunch
  11. Beans in a salad
  12. Fruit in a salad
  13. Fruit as a side at lunch
  14. Nuts in a salad
  15. Fruit in yogurt
  16. Fruit dipped in yogurt
  17. Veggies dipped in plain yogurt (Greek yogurt ranch dip)
  18. Raisins, nuts, and dry whole grain cereal trail mix
  19. Steamed veggies with dinner
  20. Fresh veggies with dinner
  21. Grilled fruit
  22. Whole grains with dinner
  23. Popcorn for a snack
  24. Tofu instead of meat for dinner
  25. Salsa and whole grain tortilla chips for a snack

What are some ways you eat plants every day?

Having a Gluten Free Holiday

Celiac disease is no joke. It’s an autoimmune condition that affects how your body reacts to gluten which is found in some grains. It can be a tough diet because many food products are made with a gluten containing grain or has gluten as an ingredient. I cannot overstate this…CELIAC DISEASE IS NOT A DIET FAD. Gluten free diets, because some individuals believe it is better for you, have been a fad for a few years now but I promise having Celiac disease is not the same. In fact if a person with Celiac disease eats gluten it can be detrimental to their health to the point of severe vitamin and mineral deficiency and even cancer. This is not to scare you but to shine light on how serious it is for people with this disease to remain gluten free for the rest of their lives.

This brings a whole new challenge when the holidays come around…or any time other people are making food and bringing it to share. Those with Celiac know exactly what I’m talking about and those of you who don’t have the disease, this is a good learning point because you may know someone who has it. You see, Celiac Sprue (as it’s formally called) is a serious condition that impacts the small intestine whenever someone with the disease eats gluten. Gluten is a protein found in some whole grains (like wheat, farro, rye, barley) that causes a severe reaction in people with Celiac. Gluten damages the small intestines which makes it unable to do its job; that is, absorb vitamins and minerals.

So what do you do, especially around the holidays, if you have Celiac disease or are cooking for someone who has it? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve been giving gluten free diet recommendation for many years and I’ve also asked the experts…those who have this disease and are able to give real life advice. Here’s what we have to say:

  1. Let people who are planning a party know that you do have Celiac disease. Many individuals want to accommodate guests as much as possible.
  2. Bring a dish that is gluten free and label it as such. Also bring a special utensil that is labeled. Let the host know how important it is that this dish not be combined with anything else and the utensil not to be used for anything else. Need dish ideas? Check out my Christmas Quinoa SaladLayered Taco Dip, and Spinach Kale and Artichoke Dip
  3. If you are the host, have color coded utensils or signs indicating if a food is gluten free. Let your guests know to look out for that and make sure they do not use utensils from other dishes.
  4. Cross contamination is a big deal. This means that gluten has been passed to a gluten free food by using the same knife, cutting board, unwashed hands or utensils. For instance: the host was slicing bread and then used the same knife and cutting board to slice cheese before washing. Gluten is now on the cheese. The person with Celiac thinks they’ve eaten gluten free and later that evening they become ill. Cheese was the culprit and they would have never guessed.
  5. If you have Celiac, don’t go to the party on an empty stomach just in case. Bring gluten free snacks with you as well.

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Celiac disease does not have to ruin your holiday fun and hosting someone with Celiac does not have to ruin your menu. Here are 10 naturally gluten free foods you can serve this holiday season!

  1. Fruits
  2. Veggies
  3. Cheese
  4. Nuts
  5. Potatoes (mashed and sweet)
  6. Corn and rice are naturally gluten free
  7. Meats (as long as they are not stuffed with bread stuffing)
  8. Gravy can be gluten free as long as cornstarch is used instead of flour
  9. Green bean casserole (made with gluten free mushroom soup)
  10. Gluten free stuffing (either a box [check the label] or homemade from GF bread)

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Baking or planning on indulging in some delicious cookies but don’t know where to find them? My good friend Jaemie has some tips and tricks she would like to share:

  1. Gluten free baking requires patience and practice. Baking with gluten free flour is not the same as baking with all purpose (wheat flour). Gluten gives baked goods (and things like bread, pizza dough, and pie crust) elasticity and chewiness. When you take that out it is very hard to replicate and replace!
  2. Jaemie recommends Krusteaz Gluten Free All Purpose flour because of it’s neutral taste and having similar texture to regular all purpose flour. Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix is a great substitute flour for baked goods like cookies because of its nutty flavor (uses almond so be careful if you have a nut allergy).
  3. If you’re not a baker but you love cookies Jaemie suggests: Mi-Del’s GF Candy Cane Cremes and Gingerbread Men, Goodie Girl Mint Slims, Trader Joes GF Candy Cane Joe Joes, and GF Cookie Tray from Cheryl’s Cookies.

Here are two GF cookie recipes to try this holiday season!

Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

Drop Sugar Cookies

Feel empowered to continue leading a normal life filled with holiday parties, delicious treats, and normal food all the while treating your body with the care it deserves. Have a wonderful holiday season! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

If you or someone you love has Celiac and need more information check out: The Celiac Support Association, National Institutes of Health, Celiac Disease Foundation, Beyond Celiac, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Season of Thankfulness: Snacking

Snacking throughout the day can be one of the most important things you do for your health. If you are trying to lose weight or have diabetes, snacking can help you control your appetite and your blood sugars.

Finding the right snacks; however, can be a challenge. If a vending machine is close by, you know that perhaps snacking isn’t your best move of day. Packing or having nutrient rich snacks on hand is going to be the secret to snack-cess (yep, see what I just did there?).

Eating every 3-4 hours is quite important. Your body actually expects you fuel it because your stomach empties every 2 hours (give or take) so by the time 3-4 hours rolls around your body is looking for more fuel. This doesn’t mean you have to eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! Unless you do then by all means, proceed! It does mean keeping small snacks (about 100-200 calories) with you so that when your next meal rolls around you are not ravenous and making poor food choices.

“Good” snacks:

  • Give your body something it needs (not something it wants)
  • Give your body something it is missing (not something it is craving)
  • Give your body fulfillment (not an empty feeling in a few minutes)
  • Give your body energy (not a sugar/caffeine high)

What falls into those categories? Here’s a list of 25 awesome snacks (not just boring ones) for you to “chew on”:

  1. Fresh fruits. They’re already packed and ready to go! (apples, bananas, oranges, clementines, peaches, pears)
  2. Dried fruits. 100 calorie packs of raisins, cranberries, prunes, or other dried (not fried) fruits are great pick me ups!
  3. Fresh veggies. This requires more planning ahead but carrot sticks, celery sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, etc are wonderful crunchy additions to your day.
  4. Steamed veggies. Sounds weird but they make single serving steamed veggies that, if you have a microwave and enjoy the cooked veggie variety, can be a great mid-afternoon nosh!
  5. String cheese. Let’s face it, 90% of the population loves cheese (I totally made that up). String cheese is super lean and provides your body protein and calcium!
  6. Other portion controlled cheeses. Besides the string variety, many companies are making 90 calorie packs of your favorite variety of cheese. Again providing your body protein and calcium.
  7. Nuts. These nutrient rich poppable palate pleasers come in a variety of types and even some awesome flavors. The 100 calorie packs make them portion controlled and easy to carry around.
  8. Yogurt. Preferably Greek yogurt because it will give your body more protein. Other yogurts are good too because of the live bacteria that will help your gut. Remember that yogurt naturally has sugar so don’t be alarmed when you see the amount of sugar on the food label. In a typical 5.3 oz container of Greek yogurt you are looking at around 6 grams of natural sugar in the product. If it has real fruit, there’s more natural sugar.
  9. Cottage cheese. Packed with protein and calcium this wonderful little snack pairs really well with fruit. Watch the sodium content though! If you are salt sensitive try to choose a brand that has less salt added. Go for 2% cottage cheese instead of full fat or fat free.
  10. Hard boiled eggs. These egg-tastic snacks are full of protein, vitamin D, lutein, and zeaxanthin (antioxidants found in the yolk). The whites are 100% protein but do miss out on some of those key vitamins and antioxidants found in the yolk.
  11. Deviled eggs. They are for more than just summer picnics! This spices up the hard boiled egg. Try mixing the yolk with 1/2 the amount of mayonnaise and use plain Greek yogurt or a mashed avocado for added volume. Dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard adds a kick and instead of plain paprika to make it pretty try adding smoked paprika.
  12. Hummus and veggies. If you haven’t tried hummus yet, go for it! If you don’t like regular hummus try a flavored one. My favorite is roasted red pepper. Hummus is pureed chickpeas so it is loaded with protein, fiber, and other nutrients.
  13. String cheese and pickles. One of my favorites! This is not for the salt sensitive person. Mix that with a little dijon mustard and you’ve got yourself one gourmet snack!
  14. Cheese and apples or pears. Delicious! This salty and sweet snack hits just about every taste bud. Keep the cheese to around 1 oz portion (size of string cheese or 4 dice put together)
  15. Peanut butter (or other nut butters) and apples. This all time favorite can be taken one step further by melting the peanut butter ever so slightly and sprinkling in a little cinnamon in it…then dip the apple. Get a napkin, you’re drooling.
  16. Peanut butter and bananas. Sure this Elvis favorite is a classic but let’s take this one a step further too. Instead of ants on a log with celery, peanut butter, and raisins, lets do ants on a log with a banana cut in half long ways peanut butter on the flat part and raisins.
  17. Celery and peanut butter. Kids and adults both rave over this one! You can even try celery with plain Greek yogurt (mix in a little dry ranch dressing mix to the yogurt and BAM one amazing snack).
  18. Rolled up turkey lunch meat. I like this one because it’s easy, packed with protein, and I like to “dip”. Dip this in yellow mustard, dijon mustard, or grain mustard and it becomes fancier than you’d think.
  19.  Popcorn. They make 100 calorie bags which are great to control portions. Plain air popped popcorn is 3 cups for 1 serving. If you like a little flavor to your popcorn think about adding Old Bay, parmesan cheese, or if you are a fancy foodie – dehydrated vinegar.
  20. Granola bars. But not just any old granola bars. Look for ones with at least 3 grams of fiber for about 100 calories, lowest amount of sugar, and whole food ingredients. My favorite are Kind and Kashi. Remember this is a snack, not a meal replacement. I’m not a big fan of meal replacement bars (100-200 calories).
  21. Trail mix. Make your own! Think energy, protein, and fun. Energy can come from dried whole grain cereal, dried fruit, popcorn, or a mix of all 3. Protein can come from nuts or seeds. Fun comes in all shapes and sizes but personally I prefer dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate mini-chips. My favorite trail mix recipe is: Cheerios (1 cup), dried cranberries (1/2 cup), walnuts pieces (1/4 cup), and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (1/8 cup). Makes about 2-4 servings (2 servings 200 calories each or 4 servings 100 calories each).
  22. Veggies and Greek yogurt dip. Grab a 5.3 oz plain Greek yogurt container and add your favorite dried ranch dressing or dip mix (you can make your own too). Add enough dip mix to get flavor into that yogurt and go to town on your favorite dip-able veggies! Broaden your horizons and try jicama (hee-kama), kohlrabi, parsnips, and turnips in your dip! They are crunchy, delicious, and have more nutrients than potato chips.
  23. Oatmeal. I know it sounds weird but this breakfast favorite can be a great, warm, soothing snack on a cold day. Watch the sugar on some of the packaged ones. Make your own by adding some walnuts, cranberries, and cinnamon with a splash of honey!
  24. Seeds (pumpkin and sunflower). These gems are easy to make at home or on the shelves year round to buy. Great for munching or pairing with raisins like a trail mix.
  25. Frozen yogurt. Not like you’re thinking. Take your favorite Greek yogurt, throw it in the freezer and in a few hours you’ve got an incredible, creamy, flavorful frozen treat!

Let us know, what are some of your favorite healthy snacks?

Souper Easy Wellness Soup

Lame title, I know but it truly is super easy!

It’s fall and where I live, the leaves are gorgeous! Vivid colors that pop out of the green landscape and the cool weather that makes you want to eat warm soup. Here’s a picture taken on a walk last week. Simply beautiful.

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Listen, eating well and homemade cooking does not have to be hard, time consuming, or tasteless. That’s the theme of this blog. I want to show you how to eat well, simply; without having to buy rare ingredients at a specialty store, recipes that take minutes, and taste delicious! This recipe is what I call a “dump” recipe. I dump all of the ingredients into the pot with very little prep time. Easy peasy!

I have spun this soup recipe many ways but I must admit this one may be my favorite. It’s vegan which means it is entirely animal product free! I wanted to do it in October because you could also call this anti-cancer soup or anti-inflammatory soup but wellness soup fits more peoples wants/needs.

You cannot get too many veggies. If I’m missing a vegetable that you usually use in a soup or stew, add it. If there are leftover veggies in your freezer or refrigerator and you want to use them, throw those kids into the pool! Same thing with herbs and spices…use what you have and what you think will taste good together. You can’t go wrong with veggie soup, add what moves you!

To quote my dear friend and fellow dietitian Heather Tressler “Baking is a science, cooking is an art” meaning that when you bake something you probably should follow the recipe or it may not turn out well. Cooking however, is an art meaning that it is up to interpretation. Add, subtract, make it your own piece of art!

Let’s get down to it because I know you want the recipe!

Amanda’s Wellness Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or more up to you)
  • 1 medium chopped onion (shortcut: use frozen chopped onions)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you want to really spice it up)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (surprise ingredient)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 64 oz vegetable broth
  • 32 oz frozen soup vegetables (microwave for 5 minutes in a glass bowl)
  • 7 oz frozen corn
  • 10 oz shredded cabbage (you can shred yourself (about 3 cups) or use already shredded
  • 7 oz can of mushrooms (or any type of mushroom you like)
  • 5 oz frozen chopped kale
  • 1, 32 oz can diced tomatoes

Directions

  1. Heat a large stock pot over medium high heat, pour canola oil in and follow it up with garlic and onion. Allow the onion to cook until for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper and balsamic vinegar and allow the vinegar to cook down slightly (about 2 minutes)
  3. Add bay leaves, basil, oregano, lentils, and quinoa. The pan will be fairly dry but that is ok! Allow the lentils and quinoa to toast for about 1 minute before pouring the veggie broth.
  4. Place the soup veggies, corn, cabbage, mushrooms, kale and diced tomatoes into the pot.
  5. Allow soup to cook down (I had mine in the pot all day on low/simmer) or put in a crock pot on low all day.
  6. It’s ready to go right after all of the veggies warm up but I like to let the flavors marry for a few hours.

5 Quick Nutrition Lessons (from this recipe)

  1. Frozen veggies are just as awesome as fresh. In fact when vegetables are not local/seasonal then frozen is actually better than fresh. After veggies are picked they begin losing antioxidants within hours. Frozen vegetables are picked and flash frozen soon after harvesting which saves those amazing antioxidants. So this winter go for frozen vegetables!
  2. Turmeric is amazing (as you notice I have it in almost all of my recipes). It doesn’t work as well by itself so you need to make sure that you are pairing it with black pepper, garlic, and/or ginger for the anti-inflammatory properties to come alive. It’s also not as effective in supplement form. Cook with it! Enjoy that subtle smoky flavor in most of your cooking!
  3. Herbs and spices help improve the flavor of food without having to add a ton of salt. I do add some salt (not a lot by most standards) and let people shake it on if they prefer. We use way too much salt as a society so sometimes it takes a while to get used to the flavor without a ton of it in our food. If you (or someone you cook for) has high blood pressure, congestive heart failure (CHF), kidney disease, and some other diseases you may have to cut back. Reduce the salt and increase those delicious herbs and spices!
  4. Lentils, quinoa, peas, and corn are used as protein in this dish. You don’t need meat in order to eat protein…at all. All of these are actually less expensive than meat but more nutrient rich. So eating well doesn’t have to cost more, especially when you use these plant sources as protein. This soup is a meal in itself…protein, starches/carbohydrates, and vegetables all wrapped up into one delicious dish!
  5. This is a great soup for cold and flu season as well. It has been shown that garlic and onions are natural antibacterial and antiviral foods. They can help your body fight off these nasty viruses and bacteria! Remember when mom made chicken soup for a cold? There’s something to be said about that especially if she used garlic and onion. Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C which is a building block for your immune system and cayenne pepper has also been shown to ward off illness.

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Basically you cannot go wrong with this soup! From chronic disease prevention to common colds this soup has you covered!

I had leftovers that I wasn’t able to eat so there will be delicious leftovers in a few week!

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I’d like to hear from you! What would you add to this soup to make it even more healthy and delicious?

 

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip

I’m a sucker for warm dips. From buffalo chicken, to crab, and spinach artichoke dip. There’s nothing better to eat on a brisk football Saturday or Sunday than a savory warm dip! I watch the Food Network a lot…by a lot I mean some of the cooks/chefs are no longer guests in my house but members of the family (Guy, I’m talking about you!). I’m inspired by their passion for food and cooking as well as their funny personalities. Lately I have been watching Nancy Fuller who has a show called “Farm House Rules”. Many of her dishes are high fat, calorie, salt, sugar, etc but the reason I like her is the love she puts into her food. The other day she was making spinach dip and it inspired me. I wanted to make a rendition of warm spinach and artichoke dip that is packed with nutrients, has a little less calories, and a little less fat but still tastes amazing!

When I’m creating recipes I take ideas from many different sources. Whether it is just general knowledge of food science and nutrition or it is various recipes that I have read I tend to tie all of that together and viola, a new recipe. I sent my husband to the store for these ingredients and let him run wild on the brands. I don’t usually have a specific brand that I’m attached to because I’m a budget shopper and try to select the least expensive yet healthiest option.

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Missing from the photo is chopped frozen kale.

In any rate I heated a medium pot over medium-high heat, added oil, garlic, and onions. I sauteed these until the unions were soft and began literally throwing in the other ingredients. It was pretty simple and took me about 10 minutes overall. I made it in a pot but you could also make it in a slow cooker for game day and keep in on warm the entire day stirring it once in a while. Notice my shortcut garlic and short cut onions. Those are staples in my house (check out my blog on kitchen short cuts).

Nutrition Lesson: Unlike a typical spinach artichoke dip I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese…an actual French cheese), and part skim mozzarella cheese. I do not like fat free options unless it’s yogurt or milk. Especially when something should have fat (sour cream is literally cream [fat] that has been soured) it probably needs that fat to be that product…follow me? All cheese needs fat to keep it together including cream cheese. If you completely take out an essential ingredient like fat you have to add other things to it. There’s way too many food additives in what we eat so my tip is either use an alternative ingredient (like Greek yogurt) or use the real deal and just eat less.

Back to the recipe. I enjoyed playing with this recipe. It was the first time I’ve made it and it turned out pretty good! The only changes I would make would be to add even more veggies including artichokes (probably 1 1/2-2 cans), cooked cauliflower, shredded carrots, and shredded zucchini. I think they would be fantastic additions to this and boost those antioxidants!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup diced onion (add more if you like)
8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1, 14 oz can artichoke hearts in brine, chopped (save the brine)
8 oz chopped frozen kale (defrosted and drained)
10 oz chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat canola oil over medium high heat in pot. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is tender. Lower heat to medium – low heat and add cream cheese, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add chopped artichoke hearts and the brine and mix. Place kale and spinach in the cheese mixture and mix. Sprinkle nutmeg, pepper, and salt and mix. Allow dip to cook until ingredients marry (about 5 minutes). Place in serving dish, slow cooker, or keep warm on the stove until service.

NOTE: this is definitely a make ahead dip! Make it ahead and keep refrigerated until the party. Take it out and place into a small slow cooker. Serve with whole grain tortilla chips (corn, wheat, mix of grains). Nutmeg may seem weird but it adds another dimension of flavor!

Dietary restrictions: this recipe is gluten free (get GF tortilla chips), vegetarian, nut free, and soy free

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Final thoughts: Eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun. This recipe isn’t the lowest in calories but it is better than the original and also provides some nutrients through the veggies, probiotics with the yogurt, and and protein with the cheese. Enjoy!

Challenge: even if you don’t make “healthier” versions of your game-day favorites, just simply eating smaller portions. This will help your overall health!

Healthy Kitchen Shortcuts

I have 3 kids, 4 and under. Don’t be alarmed, two of those are twins. My goal as a wife-mom-dietitian is to provide the best food I can for my family. That means making healthy, homemade meals in between diapers, spit up, and toddler problems.

Cooking dinner tonight I came up with this blog post. You can read about me in my bio section but I like to get as fresh and as local as possible. But let’s get real, sometimes we are looking for healthy AND quick. Taking shortcuts has been my go-to since having children.

Here are the 5 quick and healthy items I keep in my kitchen always:

  1. Minced garlic. Yep, I buy the garlic in the glass container and I LOVE IT! Almost everything I cook has garlic in it. Any time I need a clover or two I get in my refrigerator, grab a spoon and boom, it’s done! Fresh garlic is delicious but when I need a time saver (which is daily at this point) I go with it!
  2. Diced frozen onions. Similar to the garlic, I could grow my own onions, dice, and freeze them and someday I will. But right now I need diced onions without having onion juice all over my hands when the babies are screaming. Frozen diced onions it is! This only works if you’re cooking, if you are making a dish that isn’t cooked (summer salsa, salads, etc) then use fresh onions.
  3. Frozen veggies of all types. When I’m making vegetable soup in the winter I buy frozen. If I have any fresh then of course they go in the pot but frozen is so much better than fresh in the winter. All year long I keep frozen broccoli and cauliflower bulk bags in my freezer. Corn isn’t a veggie but that’s also a staple frozen food that we keep on hand.
  4. Lemon and lime juice concentrate. There’s nothing better than fresh lemons or limes but in a pinch, concentrate can be a recipe saver. You can use the concentrate in any recipe that calls for lemon or lime juice so it works well in fish and chicken dishes, salsa, sauces, and tea.
  5. Quick grains like quinoa, farro, and brown minute rice. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and farro (pronounced fare-oh) are whole grains packed with fiber, protein, and nutrients. All three of these power packed grains cook completely in about 15 minutes unlike regular brown rice or other grains that may take about an hour to cook. To flavor these up toast them in a dry pan first and then cook with vegetable or chicken broth or stock.

I’ve learned, after having twins, that sometimes shortcuts are A-OK and you have to be A-OK with the shortcuts. Cooking healthy doesn’t have to mean preparing a gourmet meal, using tons of ingredients or ingredients that you have to find at a specialty food store, or spending hours in the kitchen.

Final thoughts: We unfortunately do not live on a cooking show set where there are tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs/spices, and any ingredient we so desire. Sometimes we need shortcuts to make our lives easier especially when cooking for our family day in and day out. Use some shortcuts to make your life simpler!

Challenge – if you are overwhelmed with cooking and menu planning for your family, figure out which shortcuts would work best for you and run with it! Share your shortcuts with us!

10 Minute Pressure Cooker Pork Chops

If you do not have a pressure cooker but love quick cooked meals, seriously consider getting yourself one. No joke these things are amazing! They take quick cooking to a whole new level! I know some people (my parents) have a pressure crock pot and love it. I don’t have one yet but it could be on my wish list (hint hint). This recipe uses a standard pressure cooker but I’m sure you could also use a pressure crock pot. Now just to give you some perspective, I made these pork chops in less than 10 minutes. Sure you can grill thin cut pork chops in about 10 minutes but my entire meal (starch and vegetable) was included in the whole pot!

I started out with a nice marinade. Actually I threw the first try down the drain because it was way too sweet and I wanted more of a tangy bite to these pork chops, especially since I was cooking them with green beans and potatoes. This marinade came out tasty and was quick!

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic (short cut)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

I mixed all of that together and then put it in a zip close bag. I placed 4 boneless pork chops into the bag and mixed it around until all of the pork chops were coated. Let marinate all day (or for at least an hour).

About 15 minutes before I warmed up the pressure cooker I took my meat out of the refrigerator. Animal protein always cooks better when it is close to room temperature. I took my pressure cooker out and placed it on medium high heat. When that was heated I poured some canola oil in the cooker and waited until that heated up. Two chops went into the hot oil at a time until each side was sealed (about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes each side).

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After the pork chops were sealed on each side I put them aside and placed the veggies in the pot.  After the veggies were in I put 1/2-3/4 cup of water into the cooker as well. This is a super important step! If you don’t add enough water the bottom of your pan along with the vegetables will burn!

The pork chops went on top of the veggies and the pressure cooker was sealed. My pressure cooker allows for high or low pressure. I put it on high. As soon as my red tab popped up (if you have a shaking pressure cooker start the time as soon as it starts to shake) I put the timer on for 5 minutes and let it cook.

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After 5 minutes I took the cooker off of the hot stove and let it set 1-2 minutes before running it under cold water. You’ll know the pressure is lowered when the popper goes back down. Read your instruction manual to know exactly when the pressure has been relieved. Vola! It’s done and it was delicious!

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Pardon the picture lighting and the lack of creativity…oh and the circa 1980’s plates (you know you’ve eaten on some variation of this pattern of plate before). All my fancy food picture dishes are packed away for our move and we are just surviving at this point in our lives. This is real life people!

Final thoughts: I know you are focused on the recipe but please note how I plated the food. First the plate is a salad plate, not a large dinner plate. Also, the green beans take up half of the plate, the potatoes about 1/4 of the plate, and the meat is about the size of the palm of my hand. This is truly important because you can make the healthiest meal on the block but still eat too much!

10 Minute Pressure Cooker Pork Chops
Serves 4
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 thin cut boneless pork chops
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 medium red onion
3 cups baby potatoes
1/2 pound fresh green beans
1/2-3/4 cup water (check your pressure cooker instructions)

Directions:
Mix apple cider vinegar, yellow mustard, garlic, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Pour into a sealable bag. Place pork chops into the bag and allow to marinate at least an hour (preferably 8-10).

Heat pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Pour oil in pan and wait until that heats. Place pork chops into pan and sear on each side (about 1 1/2-2 minutes each side). Remove pork chops and add onion, potatoes, and green beans into the pressure cooker. Pour water over vegetables and place the pork chops on top. Seal the pressure cooker and allow the pressure to build up until a tab pops up or it starts to shake (again read your instruction manual). Set time for 5 minutes after the pressure is built. Take cooker off of the heat and let set for 1-2 minutes. Run pressure cooker under cold water until the pressure is relieved.

Dietary restrictions: gluten free (check your Worcestershire sauce), dairy free

Open the pressure cooker, plate, and enjoy!