DIY: Trail Mix

I hope you all had the happiest/merriest hannukah/x-mas/kwanza. Now onto trail mix. It’s a great snack.  And, it’s so easy to make.  Making it at home will save money AND involve your kids if you let them choose and mix the ingredients.

Nuts are a nutritional power house – they provide healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin E, and protein that help satiate us. Dried fruit provides vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

However, beware tail mix is calorically dense, meaning it’s high in calories for the portion. That’s because dried fruit, as the name indicates, is fruit that has been dried of water, leaving only the concentrated fruit sugar. And, nuts are high in the “good” un-saturated fats (healthy fats are still calories). Despite the high calories, the other healthy factors (vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, protein) make it a nutritionally dense food that can be a great snack. Like most good things in life that have limits, so too with trail mix. Portion control is key. We’re talking 1/4 cup or  about a handful.

Simple Steps to Do-It-Yourself Trail Mix:

1. 1 cup of nuts of your choice, preferably unsalted (almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, brazilian nuts)

2. 1 cup dried fruit of your choice (raisins, cranberries, diced apricots, diced prunes, diced dates)

3. 1/4 cup dark chocolate if you’re really craving chocolate

4. 1/4 cup seeds of your choice to boost the fiber load (flax, pumpkin, sunflower seed)

5. Add a dash of sea salt — it’s better to buy unsalted nuts and add in the salt yourself this way you can control how much salt goes in there. Feeling crazy? Spice around. A dash of chili or cayenne powder never hurt a handful of nuts.

6. Mix all together. Store in plastic bags at room temperature(if your house gets hot, put it in the fridge to prevent the chocolate from melting).

Viola! Quick and easy. Key to portion control – don’t eat out straight out of the bag or else there’s no stopping. I’d suggest dividing ~1/4 cup portions into separate little baggies, but that wouldn’t be very earth-friendly now would it?

Lighten Up Hannukah

Lighten up the festival of lights. Clever pun, eh?

I love latkes, also known as potato pancakes. Well, I should re-phrase. I love my grandmother’s latkes. In fact, I grew up scarfing hers down that I don’t really like anyone else’s (apologies to the public). And because my grandma is awesome, she used to make them specially for me all year round so I never had to wait until December to eat these bad boys.

We all know those latkes and jelly donuts are going down, and maybe even some of the chocolate gelt (coins). But, there are ways to enjoy goods without feeling guilty. Follow the same guidelines outlined in the  Turkey Day Survivor’s Guide. Some include – work out that AM, go for a lot of greens and salads instead of heavier, cheese-filled pasta dishes, try lighter dressings, drink water before diving in for seconds, offer fruit along side the jelly donuts and give up soda, juice, iced tea and other sweetened drinks and save the calories for the good stuff.

Latkes

First, watch what goes on your latkes. They are so good by themselves, I am not one to add on the toppings. But if you must, go for low-fat sour cream or unsweetened apple sauce. The small sacrifices add up, I promise!

A traditional latke recipe, which yields about 1 dozen latkes, calls for: 2 cups potatoes, 1 tablespoon grated onion, 3 eggs, 2 tbsp flour, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup canola oil. Help yourself to 1 or 2 (or maybe 3 or 4) of the traditional guys and then snack on some healthier alternatives as your 4th and 5ths, etc. I found this really good recipe on Wholefoods.com that replaces some of the potato with carrots and green onions. Plus, it has a lot less oil and eggs than traditional latkes. I made these a while back for a non-hannukah event – my man-friend’s B-day. They were really good.

Mine didn’t look as good as the ones pictured, and a few of them fell apart until I got the hang of it, but nonetheless they are worth re-making.

Mini Potato-Carrot Pancakes

Adapted from WholeFoods.Com

Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients

2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
2 large carrots (about 1/2 pound), peeled and grated
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled, grated and squeezed to remove excess water
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup light sour cream
1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced ** the recipe calls for a spiced sour cream dip, but I served them plain and they were great.

Directions:

In a large bowl, fold together onions, carrots, potatoes, egg, flour, salt and pepper until well combined. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, form each pancake by dropping about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture into the skillet. Space pancakes about an inch apart, flatten and cook, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total. (Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to skillet halfway through.) Transfer to a paper-towel lined baking sheet to drain briefly. Serve with a teaspoon of flavored sour cream on each.

Nutrition: per serving (1 each): 60 calories, 4 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 125 mg sodium, 4 gm carbohydrate, 1 gm protein

Jelly Donuts (AKA Sufganyot)

Good news, baked donuts taste really good. But whether you go for fried or baked, be mindful of the size. Make donuts holes injected with jelly or mini donuts instead of humongously large donuts. Check out this mini donut pan from Norporo. It sells on Amazon.com for $9.00.

Jelly donuts and latkes are easy and perfect to make with kids. If you don’t want to buy a pan just for the occasion, improvise with what you have. I found this creative recipe on Bakinwithmykid.com. It is a donut recipe that calls for using a cupcake/muffin tin instead of a donut pan. The donuts come out looking like a mix of a muffin and a donut hole.

Baked Jelly Donuts for Hanukkah

Adapted from Bakinwithmykid.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prep Time: 10 mins  Cooking Time: 8 to 10 mins

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 6 oz container of non fat organic vanilla bean yogurt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon+ 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter (melted)
1 jar of your favorite jelly

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar together and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl stir together oil, lemon juice, sugar, egg and yogurt. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the hole. Gently fold everything together until combined. Place batter in a plastic baggie, seal and cut off the corner then pipe dollops of batter into a greased muffin tin OR donut pan. Each muffin cup should only be 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for a few moments and then flip over onto a cooling rack while still warm. Dip the tops of the donuts into butter and then sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar. Let cool slightly. Fit a pastry bag with the 1/2 round tip and fill the bag with jelly. Insert the tip into the end of each donut and pipe a squirt into each donut. Makes 12.

Happy Hannukah!

And to those who celebrate Christmas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas!

I hope you make these with your kids because these are  fun, healthy and freakin’ cute!

Healthful Giving: Holiday Gift Guide

It’s holiday gift giving time. This year, give your kids, parents, siblings, spouse, nieces/nephews, boss, co-workers, friends, teachers a healthy gift. A healthy gift is a gift that keeps on giving. So corny, yet so true.

1. Active Gear. For kids think a new ball, bat, cleats, jump rope, bike, scooter, snowboard or even Wii dance and other active games. For adults try sneakers, sporting goods, work out attire, yoga mat, pedometer, hiking gear, ear warmers for running. Don’t want to get that personal? A gift card to a sporting good store will do.

2. Get Moving. Purchase some classes at the new yoga or dance studio that opened in your ‘hood or try a gym membership. Better yet, buy a package of classes that you can split between you and your gift-ee to go together. And to those who like winter sports, a ski lift ticket is a sure win. For an adventurous friend try a trapeze or aerial yoga class.

3. Learn. Search online for local culinary schools/centers to purchase public classes (maybe one to attend together). Whole Foods on Bowery in NYC has some parent/adult-child cooking classes. The Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC has a ton of healthy cooking classes.

4. Stay Hydrated. There are tons of cool (PBA-free) water bottles to help kids and adults stay hydrated during sports, school and work. Helping the environment isn’t a bad thing either. My two favorites are :

Vapur “Anti-Bottles” 

They’re re-usable, foldable, washable (dishwasher safe) and only about $10.

Bobble Water Bottle

They have a built in filter to purify tap water. And, they come in fun colors.

5. Cookbook.  Can’t go wrong with a healthy cookbook from Ellie Krieger or a subscription to EatingWell magazine. There are also a couple of cookbooks for kids.

6. Sprout. Indoor gardening kits for kids are great, especially for those who don’t have yards. I started a small make-shift “garden” in my NYC apartment, which I will update you on at a later date. But, I sprouted a black bean! It brought me back to elementary school when I had to do sprout a bean at home.

7.Tea Of The Month Club. No further explanation needed.

8.Artisan Ingredients. Try a really nice olive oil and vinegar set or a spice rack with fresh spices.

9. Kitchen Gear. For a little gift, look for a small kitchen gadgets. For a bigger gift, think a set of pans, coffee maker, mixer, or blender to make fresh smoothies. A lot of the flash-sale websites, like GiltGroup.com and OneKingsLane.com, have good deals on great quality kitchenware. For kids, think fun cooking gadgets or a monogramed apron to make your lil’ guy feel like a chef.  WilliamSonoma.com has a lot of really cute kid’s kitchen gear, though it’s a bit pricey. Check out personalized kid’s Star Wars aprons and Star Wars spatula.

 10. Assortments. Instead of chocolate, candy and chocolate covered popcorn, send an assortment of fancy nuts or dried fruit. 

And yes, this post was a scheme to publish my wishlist :-)

Is Eating Cereal Like Eating A Twinkie?

Happy Monday.

It’s time to check how much sugar is added to your and your kids’ cereal. The Environmental Working Group recently published a report disclosing the amount of suga’ added to our breakfast staple. They reported that Kellog’s Honey Smacks, Post’s Golden Crisp and General Mills’ Wheaties Fuel are made up of close to 60% sugar by weight and have about 20 grams of sugar in a 1 cup serving.  What’s 20 grams, you say? That’s roughly about  about 5 teaspoons of sugar. And this is before adding the milk. While these results are based on 1 cup, I don’t know many who eat only 1 cup with the super- sized bottomless bowls out there.

While Honey Smacks and Golden Crisp seem like obvious offenders, you must always be on the lookout for more subtle violaters. Doing my own research I found Kellog’s Raisin Bran, often misperceived as a “healthy cereal” due  to its high fiber content, also has 20 gm of sugar per serving. You can blame the sugar coated raisins for that.

Allow me to demonstrate how much 20 gm, or 5 teaspoons, of sugar is. Well, it’s the same amount of sugar in:



5 sugar packets

OR 1 Twinkie, 6 oz Coke, 1/2 cup Ben & Jerrys Vanilla ice cream.

The report found 44 other cereals, including Captain Crunch, Apple Jacks, Honey Nut Cheerios and Fruit Loops to have at least 3 teaspoons, or 12-15 gm of sugar per 1 cup serving. That’s the same amount of added sugar as eating 1 glazed Dunkin Donut or 3 Chips Ahoy Cookies. Yikes!

Battling The Cereal Aisle:
1. Read the label. Ignore the claims on the front of the box. Disregard prior notions of perceived “heathy” brands. Ingredients are listed in order of % weight, so look for lists with whole grain as first ingredient. Avoid those with sugar, corn syrup, cane juice as the first 2 or 3 ingredients. The same goes with blindly trusting brands. For example, generally I’m a Kashi supporter, but some of their cereals (Go Lean Crunch) has 12 gm of sugar, so never skip the opportunity to label read.
2. Control the sweetener. Buy unsweetened version and add your own sweetener – fresh fruit, dried fruit or nuts preferably, but 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, chocolate syrup or even sugar are are all better than buying pre-sweetened. Better that you control it. A perfect example, buy corn flakes (instead of frosted flakes) and sweeten it yourself, or buy plain bran flakes and let your kids make their own raisin bran by throwing  in raisins (non-sugar coated).
3. Use smaller bowls. Bigger isn’t always better.
4. Milk choices. Use fat free or 1% milk, especially if you are battling high sugar cereals.
5. Mix it up. If your kids (or you) refuse to give up Honey Nut cheerios or Captain Crunch, then compromise. Start with half  the bowl filled with plain cheerios and the other half with honey nut, and slowly make the bowel 75%–>100% lighter choice.
6. Fiber. Look for cereals with at least 3 gm of fiber (even more is better) to help you feeling full. While fiber is great, sugar is not, so you keep that in check when reading labels. Many high sugar cereals (Fruit Loops) are coming out with whole grain, higher fiber choices. While it’s a step in the right direction the excessive sugar still makes it a no-go.
7. Avoid artificial colors. While it may entice kids, seeing my milk turn bright pink or blue just doesn’t seem right or natural.

Some healthier choices: Original Cheerios, Multigrain Cheerios, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Rice krispies, Kix, Chex, Life, Shredded Wheat,  Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted oats, Nature’s Path/EnviroKidz brand,  Barabara’s Bakery brand.

Quinoa 101 + Spiced Quinoa & Avocado Salad Recipe

Gotta love kids. I watched this 10+ times. Every time I made an edit, I insisted on re-watching it.

Quinoa is grouped in the grain category because of its taste and texture. But, it’s actually an edible seed from a dark leafy plant similar to spinach. For those visual learners, this is a quinoa flower:

Quinoa is pretty much a nutrition power house. It has a higher % protein by weight compared to most grains. According to the USDA, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa has ~8 more calories compared to couscous and brown rice,  yet brings more protein, fiber and iron.  Unlike most grains like wheat, rice and oats, quinoa is a complete protein. Meaning, it has all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein primarily found complete in animal proteins), that our bodies cannot make and must get from food, making it a good option for vegetarians. And, it’s a good source of minerals like magnesium and phosphorus.

Quinoa is gluten and wheat free for all those allergy-ied and sensitivity-ied. Be on the look out for quinoa flours and pastas popping up on the market. Quinoa has a mild taste and fluffy texture, making it very easy to like because it tastes so darn good. And, my favorite part about it? It’s super easy to make (cooks only in 10-15 minutes compared to 30-40 minutes for rice).

Making It:

1. Rinse in small colander under running water – wash away the soapy foam that will appear.

2. Pour quinoa and water into a pot, it’s usually 1:2 ratio (1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water), cover, boil for 10-15 minutes until fluffy. You will start to see small white squiggles,which are just the outer germ rings, separatting from the seeds. Have no fear- they are harmless.

3. Now for the good stuff… Mix it onto anything. Substitute for any rice, barley or couscous dish. Mix with veggies, add any spices or herbs, why not some (low fat) cheese, throw in a salad or soup, add to a wrap, stuff into a pepper, mix with some honey, almonds and fruit for breakfast.

Now for a recipe. I wouldn’t dare post this without including a recipe to keep my dear friend and co-worker Jess reading.

Quinoa & Avocado Salad with Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette Salad

Adapted from Fine Cooking (another fav)

Photos getting better, eh?

Ingredients:

3 tablespoon raisins (preferably a mix of dark and golden)
1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well
Kosher salt
1 large lemon
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1-1.5 teaspoon ground coriander  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
1-1.5 teaspoon ground cumin  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 medium scallions thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
1.In a medium bowl, soak the raisins in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and cool to room temperature.
3. Grate zest from lemon and squeeze then squeeze as much juice as you can into a small bowl. Whisk lemon zest + juice, olive oil, spices, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss with quinoa, raisins and avocado. Season with pepper. Tastes really good room temperature or chilled.

Cracking the Whole Grain

Everywhere you go you hear whole grain this, whole wheat that. Everywhere you shop you see label claims of whole grain goodness. We all know whole grain is healthier than its white refined counterpart, but do you actually know what whole grain means? I get asked this question a whole lot.

Whole grain is literally a whole, or entire grain. That means it has 3 parts: bran (outer layer), endosperm (inner layer) and germ layer.

File:Wheat-kernel nutrition.svg

Bran: Highest concentration of fiber and iron, a good source of protein and B vitamins.

Germ: Highest concentration of protein and poly-unsaturated fat, good source of fiber, iron, B vitamins, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Endosperm: Highest concentration of carbs, least amount of protein, iron, fiber, no B vitamins or fat = least nutritious part of the grain.

If you can’t guess where this is heading, refined white grains, like white bread and white flour, strip off the germ and bran layers removing the protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins and fat and leaving the endosperm, aka the carbs. That is why white bread  has very little nutritional bang for its buck. The fat and protein found in bran and germ can readily spoil, which is why companies thought to strip them away lengthening bread’s shelf life.

White bread isn’t “bad” for you in the sense that it has harmful ingredients. Rather, it is mainly carb with little vitamins and nutrients so it doesn’t have any benefits, making it essentially empty calories. Where as the protein, fiber, vitamins, iron and polyunsaturated fats in whole grains help lower cholesterol, ease bowels, increase satiety and can even have protective effects against certain cancers. 

Now for the grain dictionary:

Enriched – Returning nutrients that were lost when the whole grain-ness was stripped away. The good ‘ole government mandates “enriched” breads and wheats to return the following vitamins/minerals: Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron. Many companies have been adding back the fiber, though it’s not mandatory.

Unbleached / bleached – Categorizes if the flour has been subjected to a whitening process or not. Bleached flour goes through more processing and chemicals, so go for non-bleached flour. Whole grains are not bleached.

Multi-grain – Several types of grains were used in the product, like a mix of wheat and oats. It does NOT mean it’s whole grain unless the wheat specifically listed as 100% whole wheat on ingredient list.

Organic – Describes certain standards used to grow grain (type fertilizer, etc), but does NOT refer to how the grain was processed. You can have organic white bread.

Sprouted- Right now that is no regulated definition and it can vary based on company. A type of natural and raw processing that uses the enzymes of the grain to germinate, or sprout. Some studies show sprouting allows our bodies to better absorb some nutrients like the iron and B. It can only be considered whole wheat if the bran, endosperm and germ layer are all left intact, and in that case the label usually indicated “whole grain sprouted.”

Examples of whole grains: WHOLE wheat bread, WHOLE wheat flour, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, bulgar, whole grain barley, popcorn, millet, whole grain buckwheat. All of the above are awesome. Next time you head to the aisles buy one that you’ve never tried before. I have a soft spot for homemade popcorn.

Reading label is key (C’mon peeps). Unless the ingredient list has 100% whole wheat flour, it’s not all whole wheat. Companies are so sneaky. Even “made with whole wheat” doesn’t mean  100% whole wheat. Even “whole grain” listed on the front doesn’t mean the whole product is made of whole grains without the “100% whole grain” marker.Other tricky words that do NOT mean whole grain: Durum, semolina, refined, stone ground, wheat berries, multigrain, cracked wheat, bran.



Holy Pesto

I know that in almost every post I say “if I only had 1 message to get across…” and so far that has included kids’ involvement in cooking, bravery to try new foods, food label reading and the banning canned goods. But, I am back with another main theme: Cooking isn’t that hard – it can be accessible to anyone. Hey, I work with a tiny kitchen that has a small fridge (breaks my heart) and no dishwasher. So if I can do it, you can. A perfect example – home-made pesto.

People think to buy pesto, not make it. I had a bunch of basil on it’s way out, and I knew I had to do something. Plus I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use my fav kitchen gadget – the immersion blender. I didn’t follow any recipes, and through trial and error I got it right. My first batch was quite garlicy to the point of un-edible (but like mother like daughter my Mama just told me she did the same thing).

Little Bites Home Made Pesto:

1 bunch of fresh basil (always keep basil in the fridge wrapped in wet paper tower)

1/4 cup heat-healthy olive oil to start– I usually end up adding more

Salt + Pepper

1/2 clove garlic, chopped

Instructions:

1.Clean basil well and tear off leaves from stems — a great thing for the kids to do

2. Add basil leaves, garlic, dash of s+p and 1/4 cup olive oil to start

3. Use an immersion to puree until smooth

4. Add more olive oil to thin out as needed. Add more salt, pepper, garlic for flavoring

Many recipes call for pine nuts which adds texture, so feel free to add in 1/4 cup at a time. I didn’t have any in my cabinet, so I had to improvise using what I had, and it came out great without them. Many recipes also call for parmesan cheese, but that’s just adding fat and calories to something that already has a fair amount of oil.

Ways to eat pesto:

1. Add onto pasta, or in my case gnocchi

2. Mix into potatoes – taste great in mashed or roasted potatoes

3. Use as a spread on your next turkey or egg sandwich instead of high fat mayo and high sugar ketchup

4. Delicious as a salad dressing

5. Add onto orzo + cherry tomatoes for a quick, easy and inexpensive side dish

6. Flavor up your hummus

7. Add onto plain grilled or baked chicken breast or fish