DIY Ranch Seasoning

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This month’s RecipeRedux theme is “kitchen DIYs” – things that dietitians do themselves instead of buying!  Be sure to click the blue frog at the bottom of the post for everyone’s hacks.

I started blending my own garlic & onion mix years ago to put in greek yogurt as a healthy, easy dip, and I call it my Guilt-Free Ranch.  A few simple spices you probably already have on hand, and you’ve got the beloved Ranch Dressing flavor profile!  This is also a great base to add other dried herbs to – basil, dill, oregano…the great thing about spices is that they are easy to play with and add so much flavor (and even some phytonutrients and vitamins!) for 0 calories.

DIY Ranch Seasoning Base:

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons freeze-dried chives
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix ’em up, and put them in an empty spice shaker…OR a ceramic spice cell (which I also make and sell – contact me if you’d like one!)

Pre-workout smoothie

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Even the best of intentions need some help sometimes

Ever had one of those days where you scheduled, planned, and looked forward to your workout…until you lost steam an hour before?  Iron will or no, you want to “feel” like exercising – and feel good during the session, too!  On days where I need just a little extra to push me in that direction, I turn to smoothies.  They’re fast to make, fast to eat, and even portable if you have the right cup.

The Daily Burn recently reached out to see if I’d share a smoothie recipe – they’re a health and lifestyle resource site with lots of great articles, tips, and recipes with a beautiful website, so I was excited to be asked!  Here’s my trick: get a carb + protein boost with a hit of caffeine to start my engine.  As they pointed out in this article, caffeine can give your metabolism a little bump up, not to mention make you feel more alert.  The flavors are similar to a mocha latte, but the nutrient profile is way better.  Let me know how you like it!

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 1 cup of brewed coffee, chilled (or at least not super hot)
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves (also shown to help wake you up)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend and enjoy!  Makes 2 servings.

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The Dietary Guidelines: Stop Complaining, Start Contributing

foot-art-famous-portrait-1Ever feel like “the government” is responsible for all your woes (or at least has a big part in creating them)?  Living in DC, I’m particularly close to the bureaucracy, litigation, and law making that is part of our lives, for better or worse.  And the sphere of nutrition recommendations is no exception: I’ve heard everything form conspiracy theories (“the government wants you to be unhealthy so the pharmaceutical industry makes money!”) to the everyday offhand comment about school lunches.

The primary means of communication about what we should eat (and how school lunches should be structured, and how food manufacturers should formulate food) from the government is communicated by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and they’re updated every 5 years.  To keep a very long story short, the Dietary Guidelines (DG’s, I’ll call them) are formed from a two step process:

  1. A committee (the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) reviews all the scientific research on various nutrition topics, and creates an advisory report

  2. The Department of Health & Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture review the report and make the guidelines

What most people don’t realize is that not only are the recommendations the guidelines are based created by a volunteer (unpaid!) committee of esteemed food & nutrition experts, but there is open public commenting on both stages of guideline creation.

Open.  Meaning you, me, and any other schmo or lobbying entity, for that matter, can give our input and point to reasons or research that back it up.  And there’s already buzz about some of the recommendations that could be made, based on the committee’s report – that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern (my take: we should have been focusing on fiber intake all along to lower blood cholesterol levels) and the highly controversial idea that we should focus more on a plant-based diet and eat less meat, red in particular (my take: not controversial, let’s focus on the plants!).

The report is long, and wordy – but it’s all up for you to read, and the commenting period to the government is open through May 8th at 11:59pm…so I encourage you to exercise your ability to give input!  The commenting page also provides a link to the full report.

Click here to participate.

The message about vegetables we shouldn’t be sending

What’s your favorite commercial?

Let’s be real – I actively try not to watch commercials.  They’re a waste of my time squeezed into something I want to watch, and most of them are pretty dry at best – and misleading at worst.  But there are some that get my attention, for good or bad reasons, and I want to call out a few in the food industry.  Surprisingly – trust me, I can’t believe I’m going to say this – some companies selling healthier foods are doing a worse job!

Two examples: the one below from Progresso and this one from Bush’s.  Vegetable soup and beans – both companies sell products I don’t buy often, but on the spectrum of prepared foods, aren’t too bad.  But the message they’re sending in these commericals: veggies need to be “snuck” in for kids to eat them.  Take a look and see what I’m saying (if you haven’t already been bombarded by these!).

Then we have this: it’s a McDonald’s commercial.  I’m going to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I had their food (my fast-food splurge of choice is a twice-annual Arby’s trip with the works), and of course this is a blatant attempt to position themselves as a healthy option…but the fruit and veggies are prominent, and being cheerfully enjoyed by kids.  That’s a message that should be reinforced!

What are the best commercials you’ve seen?  The ones that irk you most?

On processed foods (+greek yogurt gnocchi)

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“Processed” foods have been blamed for everything from the chronic disease epidemic to the demise of cooking skills.  And it’s certainly true that our current food supply has more ready-made options on the market than ever before, with thousands of new products debuting annually.  But there’s a large, grey spectrum of processed foods – after all, cooking is processing – and not all of them equal “bad choice.”

When I’m evaluating any food that isn’t in its just-picked form, I ask two questions:

  1. How many other ingredients have been added?
  2. What nutrients have been lost?

Sometimes, the answers are none and nearly none – as with frozen, plain veggies – and sometimes a lot is added, and a lot is lost!  Obviously, those are the products I tend to buy extremely rarely.  Potato flakes fall somewhere in the middle, and probably closer to the “low” side of things: ingredients include dehydrated potatoes and some sodium based preservatives, and they still contain 300mg of potassium in just 1/3 cup of flakes.

Now, if I’m making mashed potatoes to serve, I will absolutely do them from scratch – I leave the skins on for extra fiber and texture, fold in some sauteed garlic and parmesan…so good!  But if mashed potatoes are merely an ingredient in another recipe, I like to use the dehydrated ones.  Heat a little milk in the microwave, stir in some flakes, and you have mashed potatoes in less than 3 minutes; can’t beat that.  I had bought a box of potato flakes last month for fastnacht making, and didn’t use the whole thing.  Since this month’s RecipeRedux theme is to repurpose a recipe or meal, try using your leftover mashed potatoes (or flakes) to make some gnocchi!  Click the link below to see the rest of the recipes for this month.

Greek yogurt gnocchi

Ingredients
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes, warm
  • 2/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • dash salt
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
Directions

Bring water in a large pot to a boil on the stovetop.  In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, yogurt, mozzarella, salt and parmesan, stirring until evenly combined.  Add 3/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, while stirring.  Sprinkle a clean surface with flour, and lightly knead dough to incorporate as much more flour as necessary.  Dough should be soft, but not sticky.  Pat into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick.  Cut with a pizza cutter, creating pieces roughly an inch square – should make ~30.  Lightly press each with a fork.  Place in boiling water; don’t over fill the pot – gnocchis should barely touch each other.  Boil for 8 minutes per batch.  Enjoy with any sauce you prefer!

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The Story of Chocolate & Health (+nutty chocolate brittle)

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The story of how chocolate began to become the darling of confectioners and scientists alike is wrapped up in the story of Alfred Nobel – of the “Nobel” that initiated the peace prize, no less.  Since this month’s RecipeRedux features favorite chocolate pairings (I haven’t met a dietitian yet who wasn’t a least a moderately serious chocolate lover), I did some digging to find out where all the buzz about chocolate and health started, and was fascinated by what I found.  As explained the journal Nutrients, it started with a bang:

“Ascanio Sobrero (1812–1888) traveled from Turin, Italy, to Paris, in the mid-19th century, to work under the renowned chemist Theophile-Jules Pelouze. In Pelouze’s laboratory Sobrero uncovered the reaction whereby mixing glycerol with nitric and sulfuric acids created an explosion, except if the mixture was cooled during the reaction process. This new compound was labeled: nitroglycerine (NG)…Records indicate that Sobrero tasted nitroglycerine and found it sweet, but warned “precaution should be used, for a very minute quantity put upon the tongue produces a violent headache” [6]. Four years later, Alfred Nobel sought tutelage in Pelouze’s laboratory…Nobel’s family was in the road/tunnel construction business in Sweden. Recognizing the financial potential of such a product, Nobel returned with NG to Stockholm. Nobel was concerned with world peace, supported the humanities, and of course valued scientific discoveries. He bequeathed his entire estate to a trust designed to award those, who through their hard work and discoveries, might change the world. Thus, the origins of the Nobel Prize can be linked back to nitroglycerine.

Nobel suffered from poor health and intense pain related to angina pectoris. He was advised, coincidently, to take NG for his heart complaint. At the time, it seemed incredulous to Nobel to consume a compound utilized in road construction. Seven weeks before his death he wrote:

My heart trouble will keep me here in Paris for another few days at least, until my doctors are in complete agreement about my immediate treatment. Isn’t it the irony of fate that I have been prescribed N/G 1(nitroglycerine), to be taken internally! They call it Trinitrin, so as not to scare the chemist and the public.

[7]

Why did the physicians prescribe NG? Twenty years earlier Benjamin Richardson, a medical doctor and researcher working in London, investigated the physiological effects of amyl nitrite that was administered to a frog. The capillaries in the frog’s foot dilated demonstrating the relationship between NG and vasodilatation [8]. Others worked on the physiology and mechanistic pathways of nitrites over the 19th century. William Murrell, a London physician, prescribed NG to patients and published the positive effects NG provided on relieving chest pain [9,10,11,12]. During this period NG was prepared as a liquid and not easily transported. Murrell wrote to British chemist William Martindale requesting that a solid form of the drug be prepared so that patients could consume the drug, regardless of location, when angina pectoris occurred. Murrell suggested placing the drug (hundredth of a grain) in chocolate [13]. At the turn of the 19th century, consequently, NG and chocolate became linked. The public loved this “drug,” while Murrell regretted his request. He believed the chocolate-coated NG pill would be misused and treated as candy; he tried to retract his original suggestion, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he continued to prescribe NG to his patients [14]. Murrell had no way of knowing that an active ingredient in cocoa (flavonoids) would be investigated for its up-regulation of nitric oxide (a derivative of NG).”

Fascinating, right?  You can read the rest of the article here: Cocoa and Heart Health: A Historical Review of the Science. (For a peer-reviewed publication, it’s easy to read and eloquently written!)  It’s important to remember that chocolate, like any drug, should be taken with the right dosage and frequency.  A small amount of cacao or dark chocolate (which contains more of the active compounds) on a daily basis is better than a hunk of milk or candy chocolate a few times a month in terms of health benefit.  I look for chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao – and particularly love it with salt and nuts – or both!

Which brings me to my loaded chocolate “brittle” – easy and quick to make, but impressive to gift or serve.  With the crunch of toasty pecans & cashews, the sweetness of dried fruit, and a salty flavor when it hits your tongue, this is the perfect thing to include in a gift basket, or just twist into cellophane as a party favor.

 Nutty Chocolate Brittle

Ingredients
  • 1 bar dark chocolate
  • 1 oz nuts
  • 1 Tbsp dried fruit
  • dash salt
Directions

Heat oven to 300F.  Place the chocolate bar in a piece of tinfoil with 1-3 inches extra space around each side; pinch around form of bar and corners to make a mold.  Distribute the nuts and dried fruit onto the bar, making sure each piece comes in contact with the chocolate.  Sprinkle on salt.  Place in oven for 5-7 minutes until chocolate is melted.  Remove and chill until hardened.  Peel off tinfoil.

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Cauliflower gougeres

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One last cheddar recipe to round out the week!  See my Cheddar Pizza Bites and Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip to get the full scoop on the contest and to learn more about Cabot Cheese.

Cauliflower gougeres

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp butter, chunked
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 ground red pepper
  • Head cauliflower, riced
  • ½ c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon peel, grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large pan on the stove, heat butter until melted.  Add salt, cauliflower and cayenne and stir to coat thoroughly, cooking for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. With wooden spoon, stir in flour all at once until mixture forms ball and leaves side of pan. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until batter is even. Stir in cheese, parsley, chives, and lemon peel until well mixed.  Use two spoons to make small balls and place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

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I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.