Tag Archives: Healthy Cooking

Many Uses for Refreshing Iceberg Lettuce

You have many choices when it comes to lettuce at the local grocery store and the farmer’s market. Iceberg seems to have been relegated to second-class status in some circles, but should not hold that position for you and me.

Iceberg is the lettuce my mom used when I was growing up and along with Romaine, it is still at the top of my list.

The main reasons I continue to use it regularly are: it is the least expensive, it stays very crisp when handled properly; it contains a lot of water which is good for you; and, it has a mild flavor, which keeps it from overwhelming other ingredients in your dishes.

Yes, it does have fewer nutrients than some of your darker green lettuces; but, since it is often just a base for nutrient-rich dishes, that should not be a huge concern. Also, you can always mix in a little Romaine or Green Leaf Lettuce for color and a nutrition bump if you choose.

Preparing Iceberg Lettuce

Cleaning and coring iceberg lettuce is quick and easy.

To remove the core, hold the head of lettuce, core side down and gently, but firmly hit the bottom of the head on the counter. The core should break apart from the rest of the head so you can pull it out quite easily. Rinse the head thoroughly with cold water. Also be sure to rinse all the crevices. Wrap in a damp paper towel  and store in the fridge until ready to use. This helps keep it fresh and crisp for two or three days.

Below are some of my favorite ways to use Iceberg lettuce:

Perfect Crunchy Freshness on Burgers and Tacos

For me, a nice crispy leaf of iceberg lettuce with a slice of tomato and thinly sliced raw onion makes a hamburger complete. Iceberg lettuce gives the burger extra texture, color and flavor. Just before the burgers have finished cooking, I tear off nice-sized leaves from the head stored in the frig and dab them with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture so the buns do not get soggy. Perfect!

When serving homemade tacos (one of my family’s favorites), I cut the crispy head of lettuce in half. I cut one of the halves into thin slices about 1/4″ thick. I then cut the slices in half  – and in half again. This creates perfect tiny strips for tacos. (I learned this from a wonderful Mexican cook in my home town years ago.) The lettuce adds a crunchy, fresh crispness to any taco.

Iceberg Lettuce Wedge Salad

Image by Tavallal
Image by Tavallal

This a classic traditional steak-house salad and always delicious when the lettuce wedge is fresh and crisp. It is usually served with a quality creamy Roquefort or Blue Cheese dressing – with or without additional toppings depending on the steak house, or personal preference. It is the perfect side dish for a good steak and potatoes dinner.

Traditional Tossed Salads

Of course, anytime you mention a dinner salad, Iceberg lettuce comes to mind. With fresh veggies, it makes a light, healthy first course or side dish for almost any meal.

I always chop my vegetables first – using a combination of any or all of the following: tomatoes, onions, green peppers, avocados, and cucumbers. I place them in a bowl and add a little vinegar and oil-based salad dressing to add flavor.

Then, I remove my crisp head of lettuce from the refrigerator and tear into bite-sized pieces, placing the lettuce on top of the marinating veggies (but do not toss). If not serving immediately, I cover the lettuce with a slightly damp paper towel and store in the fridge until ready to toss and serve.

When the time is right, I serve in individual bowls with dressings on the side; plus, croutons, bacon bits, sliced mushrooms, grated cheese, or other family favorites.

Main Dish Salads

The above traditional salad can also be used as an entrée – a great way to serve a low calorie, highly nutritious meal for lunch or dinner. I simply add a little more lettuce – usually a darker green type for color – and some grilled chicken or steak, cut into strips, and placed on top.

When serving guests, I put all the extra toppings in small serving bowls so they can create their own finished salad.  To keep the calories down and to savor the wonderful mix of flavors, I typically eat mine with a light vinaigrette or balsamic dressing

Substitution for Bread

Try this healthy, tasty twist for sandwiches. Use two large crispy leaves instead of bread for your next sandwich. Place your favorite sandwich meat or sliced leftover roast chicken or turkey, a slice of cheese, a slice of tomato, strips of raw onion, and a little mayo between two iceberg lettuce leaves for a tasty, crunchy and healthy meal. Tuna salad also tastes great when served between two crisp leaves.

You can either serve the “sandwich” open-faced using a leaf or two of crispy iceberg lettuce as the base and enjoy with a fork. Or – create your layers and do a roll-up.

Base, Garnish, or Decoration

One or two crispy Iceberg lettuce leaves make the perfect decorative base under any meat or rice dish. Since it is so inexpensive, it is great to use decoratively for almost any meal.

For example: place it under a scoop of chicken, tuna, or egg salad for a healthy lunch; or, place it under a bed of couscous or seasoned brown rice as a side dish.

This is only a tip of the “iceberg” (LOL). The next time you are shopping pick up a head of this wonderful lettuce and let your creativity take flight.

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Steps to Start a Healthy and Nutritious Diet

Healthy and Nutritious Diet

If you have never learned to eat healthy and have no understanding of proper nutrition, making the choice to live a healthier lifestyle can seem difficult, but it really doesn’t have to be.

All you need to learn are a few basic pieces of information. The reality is that with a little knowledge anyone can start on the road to good health.

Healthy eating is essential if you want your body to continuing functioning properly over the long-haul; if you want to have lots of energy and vitality; and if you want to live a healthy, disease-free life.

The biggest challenge for most people when they first start the process of changing their diet for the better is breaking unhealthy habits that have been in place for a long, long time. But, if you are committed to living the best, healthiest life possible, you cannot compromise on your diet. You must choose a healthy, nutritious way of eating and stay with it for the long term.

The first and most important step in the process (once you are fully committed) is to clean out your refrigerator, pantry, and cupboards.  You must clear your home of bad foods.

Get Rid of All Bad Foods in Your Home

Packaged food with additives
Unhealthy Food
Image by Honey Bunny

Get rid of anything (and everything) that is processed. This means all packaged foods, including snacks, chips, cookies and soda (especially energy drinks). Processed, packaged foods typically contain very few nutrients that the body needs AND are filled with additives.

If you don’t have junk food, processed snacks, pre-packaged dinners, and soda in your kitchen you will not be continually tempted to eat them.

In place of all those “bad foods” you should stock your kitchen with healthy snacks, such as, fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, unsweetened non-fat Greek yogurt, and if you must have carbs – try 100% whole grain products, like crackers and rice cakes. (Read the labels and avoid those that contain additives.)

If you know you will struggle with a sweet tooth, try eating a spoonful of peanut or almond butter, or a handful of nuts.

If you still struggle and are unreasonably tempted by bad snacks, opt for Atkins Nutrition Bars that come in a variety of flavors, including, Brownies. They taste good and have zero sugar.  If you can avoid going this route, I would encourage you to do so, but it is a good choice if you MUST have something sweet.

Learn to Cook Healthy Meals

Healthy meals are made up of lean proteins, and healthy carb sides, including whole- grain starches and vegetables. Fruit and/or nuts are good choices for dessert.

Overall, a healthy eating plan includes the recommended daily allowances from all the food groups. Please note when you look at the chart that SUGAR IS NOT a FOOD GROUP, in fact it is not listed at all.

It is important to take the time to learn which foods are healthy and how they work in the body. I am sure that you already know that fruits and vegetables are at the top of the healthy food list.  You have probably also heard that low-fat and skim dairy products are better for you that whole milk products. But, you may have no idea why any of those foods are healthy.  The secret is the nutrients they contain – you should not only know what they are, but also how they contribute to your health.

Once you have a clear understanding and appreciation of how specific nutrients work in the body, you will be more likely to make healthy choices at meal and snack times. Knowledge is power – so take the time to educate yourself!

Start Cooking at Home

The only sure way you can control the ingredients in your meals and the cooking methods used to prepare them is to cook at home.  Don’t leave the health of your family in someone else’s hands.

Once you are clear on the healthy foods that you should be eating, take the time to learn healthy cooking methods to ensure that you are preparing and serving your family the meals they deserve.

Eat at Regular Times

When you first start on the journey of eating a new and healthier diet, it is wise to eat on a regular meal schedule. The majority of people who eat unhealthy foods most of the time are always in a hurry and frequently eat in a rush or at odd times of day.

Yes, people lead very busy lives, and eating junk and fast food on the go is typical – so, to break the pattern, you must plan ahead.  To avoid grabbing whatever fast food is handy, get a small cooler and take your lunch with you. A fresh tuna salad, or roast chicken sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread is much healthier for you than a Big MAC. If you have the convenience of a lunch room, try packing a nice salad.

Plan Ahead

The weekend is a good time to plan for the week, and prep food that can be used easily throughout the week.

Plan ahead for healthy dinners as well, by cooking ahead of time and using the freezer to its fullest advantage. Check out my cookbook, Cook Ahead – Freezer to Table, which can be purchased through Amazon.com.  It is filled with healthy recipes that can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and pulled from the freezer for quick, healthy meals any time.

There are healthy frozen meals available at the market as well, and can be a good alternative for those who really cannot cook. These include, Healthy Choice and AMY’S Organic Meals, among others. Be careful with your choices, not all frozen meals are healthy – read the labels carefully.

Shop the Periphery of the Market

The periphery of any super market has all the healthy foods, and  the inside aisles carry all the processed and unhealthy ones. Think about it, the produce section, the fresh meats, and the dairy products are all on the periphery. Next time you are at the market take a stroll and look around the periphery to see what is there. In fact, do most of your shopping there.

Final Thoughts

Begin with small steps. Some people can make the change to a healthy diet cold-turkey and be highly successful at it. If you do not believe that is possible, take it one small step at a time.  Even if you merely substitute one soda a day with a glass of water, or one candy bar with an apple, it counts. If you normally eat fast food each day for lunch, try eating a healthy meal instead at least every other day.

When you begin with tiny steps, it will not feel as drastic. This will also give you plenty of time to learn about healthy foods and healthy cooking methods, which I promise you will learn to love over time, if you stay the course.

AND . . . the best part of all is that you and your family will look better, feel better, stay more in control of your weight, and live longer, healthier lives.

Five Top Fat-Burning Foods

Fat-Burning Foods

Fueling your body properly is one of the key factors in eating healthy. There is a lot of on-going research regarding fat-burning foods that can help you burn calories and manage your weight.  If you understand the research, and use the ingredients correctly, you will be able to enjoy all of the possible health benefits. Let’s take a look at five top fat-burning ingredients.

Iced Green Tea
Image by Beum Gallery

GREEN TEA

Green tea has grown in popularity and moved from the category of an exotic beverage to a household name – right up there with orange pekoe tea. The extract of green tea provides you with EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), caffeine and antioxidants that all do wonders for your body when combined properly.

The caffeine combined with the EGCG helps to boost your metabolism and process carbs.  At the same time, antioxidants in the ingredients help flush toxins out of your body and build a more efficient immune system. Matcha Green Tea is by far the best choice.

RASPBERRY KETONES

These were made popular by Dr. Oz, the TV medical guru.

These ketones are the primary compound that creates the aroma of red raspberries.  It is a protein used by your body to help regulate your metabolism. According to recent studies, it is helps your body dissolve fat molecules quicker. Plus, the idea of indulging in a diet that includes the beautiful aroma of raspberries is an added plus.

WHITE KIDNEY BEANS

Also known as “the magic bean” and there are good reasons why.  In addition to being a good source of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and anti-oxidants, they also help control blood sugar and aid in weight loss.

One of the main problems with eating carbohydrates is that they can send your blood sugar soaring; plus, when you have excess blood sugar or glucose your body, it is converted int fat. To slow down this process there are carbohydrate inhibitors that work by stopping the release of alpha-amylase (the enzyme that converts carbs into glucose).  White kidney beans supply you with that inhibitor.

A placebo-controlled study of 60 people showed that those who were taking the inhibitor lost an average of 6.45 pounds in 30 days compared to the 1 pound over 30 days in the placebo takers.

WHOLE GRAINS

The body uses twice as many calories to break down whole grain foods versus their processed white counterparts, which is a primary reason to switch. Choices include:  whole grain pasta, rice, breads and cereals.

100% whole grains are natural and healthy, however, it is the overall diet that matters – just switching to whole grains is not enough. These fat burning molecules can only be successful when the overall diet is managed well. For example cutting back on your sugar consumption is critically important.

HOT PEPPERS

Capsaicin is the compound in peppers that gives them their heat, and it also heats up the body, which increases the number of calories that are burned.

How to Use the Top Five Fat Burning Ingredients

1.    Green Tea Iced Tea

This one is easy – simply substitute green tea instead of your regular Earl Grey.

To make a tasty tea, combine fruits into the process of creating the tea. The easiest way to infuse your tea with fruit is simply add the fruit.  You can also squeeze a lemon or orange wedge into the green tea for a light citrus flavor; or, add lightly mashed strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or raspberries and stir them into the tea.

More favorites are made with melon cubes (watermelon or cantaloupe) – or use peach or nectarine wedges. They all add tasty fruit flavors to iced green tea. Experiment and find the combinations of fruits that you enjoy.

2.    Raspberry Ketones

Raspberry ketones can be purchased in liquid form and added to juices and protein shakes. You can also purchase it in capsule form. Click here to look at some of your options: Raspberry Ketones.

3.    White Kidney Beans

My first choice for these magic beans is to use them in chili.  The beauty of this method is that it requires minimal effort and produces maximum flavor. Use ground turkey instead of ground beef to make the chili even healthier.

Chili is also an excellent choice for anyone who is managing their diet for weight control.  It stores well in the fridge or the freezer and offers ready-made individual meals whenever you need them. By adding other healthy ingredients, such as, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and even carrots, you can make this hearty meal even healthier.

4.    Whole Grains

There are many ways to use whole grains in cooking. The most obvious one is to use them in place of all white flour products. For example: use 100% whole-wheat pasta in all your pasta dishes; use brown rice instead of white in stir fry, side dishes and salads; and choose whole-wheat products instead of white breads, bagels, muffins and tortillas.

5.    Hot Peppers

There is a wide variety of peppers from mild to hot – and many of them are available in multiple forms:  raw, cooked, dried, and powdered (cayenne). Peppers can be added to eggs, stews, salads, meats, fish, poultry, sauces, stews and soups.

Cooking Healthy Stir Fry

Broccoli Shrimp Stir Fry
Image by JeffreyW

Stir fry is one of my favorite dishes. Cooking healthy stir fry requires no particular expertise – you just have to be willing to take the time to chop everything (it is worth it). It is delicious and filling – a wonderful complete meal that is perfect when you are tired and hungry. And . . . almost everyone enjoys stir fry – even the picky eaters will be happy with a colorful, tasty stir-fry for dinner. (Hint – chop everything in advance; then, all you have to do is put it together and cook. Dinner will be ready in less than 15 minutes.)

Equipment Needed

Stir fry is traditionally made in a wok. This is the preferred choice because you can cook the food easily without having to add a lot of oil. Heat builds up evenly in a wok so that the ingredients cook quickly.  Meats sear nicely, and vegetables are cooked to perfection (not overcooked) – and everything retains nutrients to the max.

Never fear . . . even if you don’t have a wok, you can still prepare a delicious stir-fry. Use an ordinary frying pan – cast iron skillets are excellent (and not too expensive), or you can also use non-stick or hard anodized cookware as well, but, be sure they are very hot before adding the ingredients.

Use Healthy Oil

Always use healthy oils to cook your stir fry – this is critical for heart health.

Healthy cooking oils include canola, grape seed and olive oil. Canola oil has a high smoke point which is (required for high-heat cooking), a neutral flavor, and the lowest amount of saturated fats. If olive oil is your choice (as it is mine), use pure olive oil, which has a high smoke point (avoid virgin or extra-virgin for high-heat cooking). Chinese cooks normally use peanut oil, which has a pleasant nutty flavor, but not as healthy as the others mentioned.

Canola is always a good choice as it has only 7% of unhealthy saturated fats; and it is also rich in omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, and has the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except Flaxseed oil.

WORD OF CAUTION: Use only as much oil and salt as absolutely necessary – in other words use a light hand when adding these ingredients.

Ingredients

Start with fresh vegetables, which are low in calories, have no fat, and can be eaten in abundance. You can choose almost any vegetable that appeals to you – some popular choices include: cabbage, broccoli, peas, green beans, mushrooms and peppers. They are high in fiber, fill you up, and keep you full longer.

Add Lean Protein

To make stir fry even more appealing you can add lean protein. Good choices are:  white meat chicken or turkey breast, or even ground turkey in your stir fry. Shrimp is also a popular choice. These choices keep the calorie count down and the health benefits up.  Be creative . . . experiment with different ingredients to create a finger-licking good stir fry full of healthy goodness.

Below are some good recipes to get you started.

Stir Fry with Basmati Rice

INGREDIENTS
•    1 large onion, peeled and diced
•    1 tablespoon salt
•    2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
•    1 cup brown Basmati rice
•    ½ cup diced carrots
•    1 cup boiled red beans
•    ½ cup bell pepper, cut into thin strips
•    ½ cup diced tomatoes
•    1 small bunch fresh cilantro, washed and finely chopped
•    ½ tablespoons red chili powder
•    Canola oil
•    Optional: chicken, beef, shrimp or turkey

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place 2 cups of water and a tablespoonful of salt in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Add brown rice, cover, and cook until done (following directions on the package). If you prefer, cook the rice in a rice cooker.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside (with cover) as you prepare the vegetables.
  4. Crush the garlic and allow it to stand for a few minutes for production of allicin, which provides antiviral and antibacterial properties that strengthen the immune system.
  5. In a large pan or wok, heat oil and add the onions – sauté until soft.
  6. Add the crashed garlic and sauté until it turns light brown.
  7. Add cubed carrots – cook for ~3 minutes.
  8. Add tomatoes and cook for 1 minute more.
  9. Add bell peppers and toss lightly as you enjoy the delicious aroma in your kitchen.
  10. Add red powdered pepper.
  11. Reduce heat and gently stir in the cooked brown rice.
  12. Add chopped cilantro and turn off the heat.
  13. Let mixture stand for one minute and serve this delicious complete meal.

Chicken and Spaghetti Stir Fry

INGREDIENTS
•    2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cubed
•    1 tablespoon of healthy cooking oil (Canola & pure olive oil – both good choices)
•    1 tablespoon salt
•    1 cup boiled fresh peas (or defrosted frozen peas)
•    1 pound dry whole-grain spaghetti
•    1 ripe pineapple, cubed
•    2 small plantains, peeled and thinly sliced
•    2 large tomatoes, sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook spaghetti as directed on the package – until tender.
  2. Strain pasta, return to the pot, cover, and keep warm.
  3. Heat oil in a wok or large heavy-duty frying pan.
  4. Add chicken pieces and brown on one side – then, flip and cook 2nd side.
  5. Add tomatoes and mix well. (Juices from the tomatoes will prevent chicken from drying out and sticking to the pan.)
  6. Add plantains and cook for one minute.
  7. Add peas and diced pineapple – cook for 3 minutes.
  8. NOTE: Keep the pan covered when you are not stirring to ensure maximum absorption of flavor in the chicken.
  9. Stir in the spaghetti and mix gently.
  10. Remove from heat and serve on warmed plates.

Cook and ENJOY in good health!

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Healthy Cooking for Weight Management and Heart Health

Mixed greens on whiteEating and cooking for good health is becoming more and more popular. People all over the world are adopting a healthy lifestyle to help fight the devastating effects of stress, pressure, obesity, and life-threatening diseases.

For many years, fitness through exercise was the main focus for individuals interested in a healthier body; but there is much more to it than that.  Adopting a healthy lifestyle is not just about exercise.  Changes in the diet through healthy cooking and healthy eating play a major role.

An important factor than too many people ignore is that healthy eating requires the use of proper cooking methods. You can buy healthy, fresh ingredients and destroy the nutritional benefits by preparing them in unhealthy ways, such as: cooking with unhealthy fats, adding sugar and refined flour products, etc.

It is a fact that the way you cook your food can affect your health by increasing your cholesterol levels, triggering serious weight gain, putting yourself at risk for heart disease, and more.

Avoid Unhealthy Cooking Methods

Choosing the right cooking techniques can have a significant positive impact on your health.

The right methods will help to control fat intake and also help retain the nutritional value of the ingredients. Unfortunately, there are many popular cooking methods like deep frying and cooking with butter that create wonderfully delicious meals; but, cooking with those methods continuously is dangerous to your health.

Use Healthy Cooking Methods – and Live Longer

  1. Steaming is one of the easiest and most nutritious cooking methods for preparing healthy and tasty dishes (especially good for vegetables).  It preserves the natural pigment and nutrients in food, which leads to glowing, healthy skin.
  2. Baking can also be a healthy cooking technique when used wisely.  When the term baking is used, we think about breads, desserts, biscuits and other goodies. If you must bake, avoid using butter for greasing pans for baking; use parchment paper or no-stick cooking spray, which, has not fat or calories.  Also try baking with coconut oil – a healthier alternative to butter.
  3. Poaching is a wonderful culinary technique for eggs, chicken, fish and seafood because it does not require unwanted fat and still provides very tasty dishes.
  4. Stir-Frying is a good technique for cooking a combination of chopped vegetables and lean meat, fish, or poultry. The ingredients should be cooked over medium heat while continuously stirring and tossing, using as little oil as possible. Olive oil is a great choice for stir-fry because it is one of the healthiest oil choices, plus it contains beneficial nutrients and adds a delicious flavor.
  5. Grilling is a wonderful way to cook vegetables, meat and poultry. It requires no added fat, and the natural fat drips off the grill and away from the food.
  6. Stews and Soups can be made on the stove top or in a slow cooker. The important step to make a healthier dish is to refrigerate the dish before serving so the fat can solidify and be removed before it is eaten. Another side benefit of letting it sit for a time is that the flavors tend to blend even more, making it very delectable.

All the above methods of cooking are great options for a dedicated and healthy lifestyle.

A Healthy Heart Means a Healthier Body and a Longer Life

To keep your heart happy and healthy, there are some things you should keep in mind.

  1. A well-balanced healthy diet is one of the most important steps in keeping your heart healthy.  This can be done by cooking with fresh herbs, eliminating refined sugar and flour, using whole grains, eating lots of vegetables and fruit, and choosing lean meat like chicken and fish over red meat as often as possible.
  2. Reduce the use of packaged, processed, and canned goods. Most of them contain harmful additives (preservatives), plus a lot of sugar and salt. They may also contain saturated fats and trans-fats that are extremely bad for you. All of the items mentioned should be avoided if at all possible.
  3. Incorporate physical exercise into your daily routine. It can be walking, jogging, running or yoga. Exercise helps you maintain your optimum body weight, aids in quality sleep,  reduces your stress levels, and keeps your mind and body working at peak performance.
  4. Have the following checked regularly: blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar. Make sure they are within normal, healthy limits because unhealthy numbers in any of those areas over a prolonged period of time can damage your heart.