Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mango Salsa

They say to eat your fruits and vegetables in the colors of the rainbow in order to receive all the benefits of each natural plant pigment. My rainbow is definitely ready for the arrival of Spring.

Last night I made my own tried-and-true Mango Salsa in preparation for the seemingly never-approaching warm weather. Even though I could eat an entire bowl of mango salsa by itself, I really love it for its versatility- this recipe serves as the perfect final addition to so many different dishes.  Spicy and citrus complement each other unequivocally, and one subtle ingredient-crushed pineapple-completes the unrivaled balanced flavor.  

Try it as...
  • a trio of salsas with guacamole and pico de gallo, served with tortilla chips
  • the dressing to a tossed a green salad with grilled chicken and avocado
  • mixed into a Mexican rice bowl with black beans, shredded cheese and grilled vegetables
  • the topping to fish tacos made healthy (use a grilled white fish and whole wheat tortillas)

Warning: This recipe is pretty spicy! For all you gringos out there, be cautious with the jalapeno (get rid of the seeds) and cayenne pepper.  If you are like me and can't get enough spice, I dare you to double the amount of jalapeno.

Mango Salsa

1 mango, diced
3/4 cup diced red or orange pepper, diced
1/2 cup canned diced pineapple without juice
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/2 tbsp jalapeno pepper, diced
2 tbsp minced cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp olive oil
dash of cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Tips on Keeping Your Produce Fresh
A few interesting facts to maximize use of those fresh fruits and veggies:
1. Fruits and vegetables should be stored separately, as fruit contains ethylene, an organic compound that quickens the ripening process.
2. Refrain from washing fruit before storing- it goes bad faster.
3. Most fruits should be held at room temperature and out of direct sunlight until they reach ripeness. However, grapes, pineapple and watermelon should always be kept in the fridge.
4. Leafy greens should be loosely wrapped in dry paper towels and stored in a perforated plastic bag.
5. To prevent mushrooms and bean sprouts from turning slimy, store them in paper bags.

Buehner, Kristin. "Keep Your Produce Fresh." Global Gazette. 22 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guilt-free Chocolate Pudding

After realizing that my daily frozen yogurt habit was bad for both my wallet and my weight, and take-home pinkberry is not for people who don't have portion control, I knew I needed to find some type of chocolate, liquidy dessert that would satisfy my nightly cravings- quickly!

This Guilt-free Chocolate Pudding recipe basically saved me.  Sans saturated fat as it skips butter or cream, this recipe relies on pure cocoa for its rich flavor.  The unsweetened chocolate also allows you to monitor the added sugar.  I'm not gonna lie, its not the best chocolate pudding I've ever had in my life, but its pretty damn good...and the texture is spot-on.  No calorie kvetching here.

Guilt-free Chocolate Pudding:
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (not processed alkalai, aka "dutch cocoa")
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups skim milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk for 2 minutes
2. Mix together dry ingredients
3. Add dry ingredients to milk and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir, then cook at 30-60 second intervals if necessary. (I had to microwave for 4 minutes total afterward, so don't be frustrated if it takes a few tries to change the texture from liquid to solid.)
4. Stir in vanilla.
5. Cover, chill

MORE praise for chocolate
I've already listed the benefits of chocolate in a previous post- the antioxidant polyphenol galore- but there's even more new evidence linking chocolate with positive health benefits.  Up until now, scientists understood that polyphenols boosted HDL, the "good" cholesterol, and decreased LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. But they didn't know exactly how the polyphenols carried out these heart-healthy effects.

It turns out that the polyphenols enhance sterol regulatory element protein production, which attach to DNA and activate genes that boost the protein production of HDL and lower it in HDL.  Furthermore, polyphenols inhibit aggregation, or blood platelet clumping, which reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (dangerous thickening of arty walls due to fatty build-up.) Chocolate also has blood-thinning properties, which prevent the clotting that plays a key role in heart attacks and strokes.

And it makes you feel good!  Chocolate (remember, the darker the better) contains anandamine, a naturall brain chemical that triggers elation and and exhilaration. Finally, chocolate boosts serotonin levels.  So go ahead: have your chocolate, protect your heart, boost your mood, and eat it too.

Kantrowitz, Jonathan. "New Explanation for Heart-healthy Benefits of Chocolate." Health News Report. Web. 22 Mar. 2011. <>.
Robbins, John. "Chocolate's Startling Health Benefits." The Huffington Post. 22 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2011. <>.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Zucchini Feta Pancakes

Meet my new best friend in the kitchen: the olive oil spritzer.

I often find myself in a dilemma to use cooking spray or drops of olive oil for pan-searing or baking in a recipe. Cooking spray has no calories, but what is it?? I don't want my batch of fresh roasted vegetables doused in a large dose of this mystery stuff.  On the other hand, I find it hard to mist olive oil straight from the bottle, since it pours out in concentrated high-calorie pools.

Introducing the olive oil spritzer!  At around $7 each (here is mine), this cute little pump bottle sprays out a light, calorie-conscious mist of pure olive oil.  It certainly came to the rescue for these Zucchini Feta Pancakes, a wonderful light pancake reminiscent of potato latkas made healthy from shredded zucchini, egg whites, and scant olive oil, thanks to the spritzer :). I baked mine rather than frying them, and still preserved that signature hearty crunch of a vegetable pancake.

Zucchini Feta Pancakes (thanks again, Mollie Katzen)
Preparation time: 30 minutes      Yield: serves about 4

4 eggs, separated (yolks optional)
4 packed cups coarsely grated zucchini (about 4 1-inches)
1 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup finely minced scallions or onion
1tsp. dried mint (or 1 tbsp. fresh, finely minced) optional
a little salt (optional, to taste)
lots of black pepper
1/3 cup flour
oil for frying/spritzing

I used fat free feta cheese, whole wheat flour, red onion instead of scallion, and skipped the mint. Mollie recommends sour cream or yogurt for topping, but I tried applesauce and ketchup.

1) Beat the egg whites until stiff.
2) In a medium-sized bowl, combine zucchini, egg yolks (or not), feta, scallions, seasonings, and flour. Mix well.
3) Fold the egg whites into the zucchini mixture.

To fry: Heat a little oil in a heavy skillet. When it is very hot, add spoonfuls of batter, and fry on both sides until golden and crsip.

To bake: Preheat oven to 425 degrees farenheit.  Line a piece of tinfoil over a baking pan and spritz with olive oil.  Bake for 15 minutes, turn over and spritz the other side of the pancakes with oil, and bake for 15 more minutes.

4) Serve immediately, topped with sourcream/yogurt/applesauce/ketchup.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quinoa Granola Bars

Although I am a big believer in eating whole foods whenever possible, I have my weaknesses for processed foods- especially granola bars.  Take a quick look at the ingredients in a conventional granola bar and you'll be surprised at just how unnatural the product is. Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut bars have 25 ingredients, over 5 of which are unrecognizable (and unpronounceable)! Are 3 types of corn syrup, 2 types of oil, and 5 colors of dye really necessary in your granola bar?  As I found out from making Quinoa Granola they are not!

The three essentials of a granola bar for me are taste, convienence, and energy. This recipe satisfies all three: flexible fruit & nut combinations let you customized your bar, storage is simple: keep in an airtight container, and the unique use of quinoa gives this granola bar added protein and a delightfully nutty flavor.

Love these bars as much as I do? Check out the link below, where Anja has created over a dozen different types of bars and squares using whole ingredients such as Walnut Raisin Honey Nuggets and Almond Butter granola bars. Yum!

Quinoa Granola Bars (reblogged from Anja's Food 4 Thought)
Yields 12-15

1 cup rolled oats
1/3 uncooked quinoa
2/3 cup nuts (almonds, pecans and/or hazelnuts have been tested and approved)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup cranberries
1/3 cup prunes
2 very ripe bananas, mashed

I mostly stuck to the recipe here, but substituted dried cherries for dried cranberries, and used a nut combination of almonds and walnuts.  I also added 1/4 tsp of vanilla, a dash of cinnamon, and 1/4 cup skim milk (which I needed to get my uncooked granola bars to stick together!)

Combine all ingredients except bananas in a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are finely chopped and stick together.  Add mashed banana and pulse again until well incorporated. Use the prepared baking sheet as surface and fill large cookie cutters with the batter (if you don't have cookie cutters, bake batter in a large square, using a knife to get the edged straight, and cut into pieces after it cools.) Gently remove the cutter to keep the bars in shape. Repeat until all batter is used up.
Bake 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Differentiating Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods
Simply, eating whole foods is eating food in its natural state. Think an apple vs. apple juice, or a whole potato vs. mashed potatoes.  When you refine and process a food, it can lose a lot of its nutritional benefits.  For example, refining a whole grain removes the bran and coating, which contain a significant amount of fiber.  Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are naturally loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, a natural compound in plants that includes cell-protecting antioxidants.  Another benefit to eating whole foods? Avoiding unhealthy additives in the form of preservatives and chemicals.

Griffin, R. Morgan. "The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods." WebMD. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


This hearty tomato-based vegetable stew is rich in taste and light in calories. With so many veggies in the mix, its not surprising to learn that the word ratatouille is derived from the french word touiller, meaning to toss.  I found this recipe in the "eat right" section of Shape Magazine, where it won vegetarian recipe of the month.

Although the recipe calls for pairing the ratatouille with tempeh, a soy-based product, I chose to add quinoa and chickpeas for my protein. Although I'm sure animal based proteins would go nicely in this dish, they are definitely not necessary, and I urge you to stick to vegetarian proteins for this one- see below for some startling statistics on the benefits of eating vegetarian.

Ratatouille (with tempeh)
Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes (about 2 medium) or one 15-ounce can low-sodium diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (I only had balsamic and apple cider vinegar, which I split evenly and it tasted fine!)
1 12-ounce package tempeh, cut into 1-inch pieces (or tofu/1 8 oz. can chickpeas/cannellini beans)
1/4 cup basil leaves, shredded (optional)

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add onion and bell pepper and saute for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add remaining oil, eggplant, and zucchini. Season with salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.
Add tomatoes with their juices, honey, vinegar, and tempeh. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Divide among four shallow bowls and top with fresh basil.

Why to consider Vegetarian (even if only for a day)
19% of the total use of fossil fuels in America goes to our food supply. On average, three calories of energy create one calorie of edible food. However, some foods require ALOT more: each calorie of grain-fed beef requires 35 calories of energy. As a general rule, eating foods produced directly through photosynthesis, such as plants, will require less total energy than foods produced by animals who eat those plants (on average, it takes 6 kilograms of plant protein to produce 1 kilogram of animal protein; the ratio for beef is 40:1!).  However, be mindful of how pesticides and food miles can deviate from this rule: plant foods can be heavily fossil-fuel fertilizer based and cultivated with energy-consuming equipment, and pasteurized/grass fed beef required approximately half the energy of its industrial-produced counterparts.

Sustainable Food Committee, Emory University. Eating Sustainably: An Introduction to Sustainable Food. 2010. Print.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Double Broccoli Quinoa

This recipe is one of my favorite dinner bowls.  A delicious variation on traditional pesto, it features broccoli in both pureed and floret form.  The chunky pesto sauce is a perfect complement to the soft, grainy texture of the quinoa- a tasty, easy-to-make complete protein that I will delve into more below.

Double Broccoli Quinoa comes from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks, one of my absolute favorite food bloggers. Heidi features natural and whole foods in her cooking and categorizes her recipes by both ingredient and type (low carb, gluten-free, etc.) to help you find exactly what you're looking for.  While she tosses her quinoa bowl with sliced avocado (easy access, she lives in California!), I went for a more rustic Italian taste by adding sliced sundried tomatoes and red onion sauteed in balsamic vinegar.  I also replaced the heavy cream with fat-free cottage cheese to cut calories and add texture, and thus cut out added salt because cottage cheese is already high in sodium.

Double Broccoli Quinoa (original recipe link here)
Serves 2-3

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
3 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems
1 medium garlic clove
1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Optional toppings: slivered basil, fire oil (optional)*, sliced avocado, crumbled feta or goat cheese

*(Heidi's "fire oil" consists of hot oil and red pepper flakes. I just sprinkled red pepper flakes over my dish plain for some added heat)


  • Heat the quinoa and set aside.
  • Now barely cook the broccoli by pouring 1/2 cup water into a large pot and bringing it to a simmer. Stir in the broccoli. Cover and cook for a minute, just long enough to take the raw edge off. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside. Or...toss 1/4 cup water with broccoli and microwave for 2 minutes.
  • To make the broccoli pesto puree two cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, half the almonds, Parmesan, and lemon juice in food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and cottage cheese and pulse until smooth.
  • Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with about 1/2 of the broccoli pesto. In the pan used to cook the quinoa, heat a few drops of olive oil (enough to just cover the entire bottom) on medium heat.  Add in sliced sundried tomato and onion, and cook covered for 2 minutes. Pour in balsamic vinegar, and cook for an additional minute.  Toss sundried tomatoes and onions with the quinoa mixture.
  •  Taste and adjust if needed. On a serving platter, top with remaining almonds, hot red pepper flakes, and any other optional toppings.

Quickie on Quinoa 
Although it is often associated with and used like a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually a chenopod: a subfamily of the flowering plant Amaranthaceae, which includes foods such as sugarbeet, spinach, and chard. A balanced set of all nine essential amino acids makes quinoa a rare complete protein source for humans among plant food. Quinoa contains a notable source of lysine, an amino acid essential for tissue growth and repair. Additional health benefits include high fiber, magnesium-which helps relax blood vessels to contribute to migraine relief and cardiovascular health- and iron.  Quinoa is also gluten-free.  This fluffy, slightly nutty-tasting "grain" is a perfect alternate to rice or pasta. No wonder the ancient Incas referred to it as"the mother grain!"

"Quinoa." WHFoods. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. <>.
"Quinoa." Wikipedia. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. <>