Category: WFW

WhyFoodWorks is dedicated to people who want to understand what is happening to their food and their bodies when they eat. Each blog entry offers a question or concept about why a particular food or food component has an effect on your physiology. When you know better, you make better choices because you understand the value of food on a whole new level.

Because the understanding doesn’t stop at “why,” each entry will also include a recipe to show you how to integrate more of the right stuff into your diet – and hopefully get you excited to try some new things!

Your guide to glutamate (+vegan queso salsa dip)

On savory flavor

There are many foods and food components that make food taste savory – that rich, complex taste that’s independent of salty, and sometimes described as “meaty,” and known as “umami.”  One molecule that contributes to those flavors is glutamate – an amino acid that’s found in meat, cheese, and even vegetables including mushrooms, broccoli, and tomatoes.  (Read more here about sensitivity to glutamates, MSG, and the low-glutamate diet for people who are sensitive.)  It’s also found in nutritional yeast, a flaky protein and vitamin-rich product made from yeast cells (I’d write a whole article about its uses, history, and nutritional properties, but this blog post does that quite nicely!).

A word about yeast & yeast extract:

In full disclosure, I was sponsored to help create that video – and I’m grateful to be given a platform for the message!

I was really excited to see my friend Elaine post a recipe that uses nutritional yeast and is both Superbowl friendly and genuinely healthy!  The yeast provides that cheesy flavor, while the creamy texture and cheddar color come from tahini and carrots, respectively.  And it’s nut-free for those concerned about allergies!

 

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picture from EatingByElaine

 

I decided to do mine with another twist, and sub canned tomatoes and chiles instead of soy milk for a Ro’tel-esque spin.  And let me tell you: this tastes AWESOME.  It even got the boyfriend seal of approval to bring to his friend’s Superbowl party today (which is not a healthy foodie oriented kind of crowd).

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Have you used nutritional yeast before?  Any other recipes I should know about?  Without further adieu, here’s the recipe – enjoy!

Vegan queso salsa dip (adapted from EatingbyElaine)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup fresh, room temperature tahini (runny is best, Soom brand is excellent)
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ½ large lemon, juiced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 can (15oz) diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • Garnish: sprinkle of paprika, sliced green onions, fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil and add carrots
  2. When carrots are cooked (soft to a fork, ~10 minutes), drain and add them with all other ingredients except tomatoes to a high speed blender and puree until smooth
  3. Fold in tomatoes and chiles with a spatula
  4. Serve warm with chips or veggies and garnish with sliced green onions, paprika and fresh cilantro. You may want to microwave just before serving.

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Superbowl Snacks Roundup

Well folks, it’s that time of year again…I am completely ambivalent about the teams playing (as always), but super excited for some eating, drinking, and socializing!  It annoys me that healthy food has a bad rap for parties like this – if you’re doing it right, there is NO sacrifice of flavor, fun, or dramatic presentation.  If you’re doing it wrong…well, you get the sad tray of pre-cut veggies that your supermarket has and call that the “healthy option.”

Do not do that.

Here are some gorgeous and delicious options, rounded up from my food networks, and all fit the bill of being nutrient dense and game-day appropriate.  Enjoy!

baked-buffalo-cauliflower-bites-15 Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

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Healthier 7-Layer Dip


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Pollo Asado Fries

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Vegan Warm Nacho Dip (nut-free)

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Spicy Spiralized Sweet Potato Fries

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Pizza Hummus

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Avocado Spinach Dip

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Sweet Potato Skins

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Spicy Salty Popcorn

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Spinach Artichoke Dip

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BBQ Chicken Flatbread

Drink your veggies! (+matcha smoothie bowl)

This is a short and sweet post, with one request – always, always add veggies to your smoothies!  My go-to is dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale (I promise you won’t taste them if you add some sweet fruits like berries and banana!).  Add ins like chia, flax, and nut butters also turn up regularly in the mix, but I am always on the lookout for new ones.  Matcha has been a hot ingredient for a little while (it’s powdered green tea leaves), but I’d never tried it before – and I’d also never made a smoothie bowl!  So here’s to killing 2 birds with one stone:

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The best thing about smoothie bowls is that you can put toppings on for more texture – and get as artsy as you want!  I’m not super big into spending lots of time staging food, but for smoothie bowls it’s pretty easy and the ROI is great.  Under all that granola, coconut, and fruit, there’s an extra-thick matcha smoothie.

Matcha smoothie bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large handful fresh baby spinach
  • 2 cups berries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 Tbsp matcha powder

Directions

Blend all ingredients until smooth and top with fruit, nuts, and granola of choice.  Makes 2 servings (save one for breakfast tomorrow!).

Want to check out some more interesting ingredients?  Click the blue frog at the bottom for the full RecipeRedux link up!  If you need some more ideas of how to incorporate veggies into smoothies, this round up is EXCELLENT:

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From helloglow!

Is that healthy? (a post about word choice)

It’s one of the most common questions I hear

“I like [insert food of choice here].  Is that healthy?” It’s framed as a simple yes or no question, yet I feel myself taking a deep breath every time I hear it.  “Well…that depends…” is almost always how the answer starts, and it isn’t always brief.  An article posted recently described perfectly the root of how “healthy” a food is can complicate and even create confusion about what we should be eating.

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Here are 2 key paragraphs that make a valuable point:

“I submit to you that our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious. They may be delicious when prepared well, and the kale itself, while in the ground, may have been a healthy crop. But the kale on your plate is not healthy, and to describe it as such obscures what is most important about that kale salad: that it’s packed with nutrients your body needs. But this is not strictly about nomenclature. If all you ate was kale, you would become sick. Nomenclature rather shows us where to begin.

“ ‘Healthy’ is a bankrupt word,” Roxanne Sukol, preventive medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, medical director of its Wellness Enterprise and a nutrition autodidact (“They didn’t teach us anything about nutrition in medical school”), told me as we strolled the aisles of a grocery store. “Our food isn’t healthy. We are healthy. Our food is nutritious. I’m all about the words. Words are the key to giving people the tools they need to figure out what to eat. Everyone’s so confused.”

I think that is pretty true.  Clearly, we need to eat mostly foods that are nutritious (or nutrient dense, which is roughly a measure of how many micronutrients a food contains per calorie), but “healthy” relies upon context.  Since no single food provides all the nutrients we need, whether a food is a healthy choice is relative.  Did you just eat 5 bananas?  That 6th banana probably isn’t a healthy choice – despite the fact that bananas are nutrient dense.  For a guy who just ran a marathon, a huge white bagel IS a healthy choice – despite the fact that bagels aren’t nutrient dense.  So foods can be both nutrient dense and a good choice, or not nutrient dense and still (conditionally) a good choice.  Separating “healthy” from “nutritious” allows us to talk about the food patterns and individual needs vs the qualities of our food with a little bit more clarity.

The writer goes on to touch on many food issues of our day – the processing problems, confusing labeling, and industry practices.  It’s not new information, and I think it somewhat dilutes his point, but  he ends with a call for people to take more note of what they’re eating and how it’s prepared – a message I’m always on board with.  Is there likely to be a nationwide move away from calling some foods healthy?  Probably not, and maybe it is just semantics – a point several commenters made – but maybe it could help shift the mindset from good food/bad food to consider the bigger picture and ask a few more questions.

What’s your take?

Savory Chicken & Waffles (the RecipeReduxed version!)

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A word on broth

“I received free samples of Progresso Cooking Stock mentioned in this post at no cost. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Progresso Cooking Stock and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

This week, RecipeRedux is running a contest sponsored by Progresso, featuring a new product of theirs: broth!  I’m always on the lookout for a good broth – with at least a dozen broths and boullions that fill a whole wall in grocery stores, you’d think there would be lots of options, but few make my cut.  Ideally, made with real vegetables (not powders), no preseratives, and without too much sodium added.  That eliminates most of them!  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got my samples in the mail, but Progresso checks every box – here’s the label for the chicken broth:

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And they also have a vegetable broth, which are even more elusive!   Look for it in the soup aisle in a square blue box. (And don’t forget to check out the rest of the recipes by clicking the blue frog at the bottom of this post!)

I wanted to put a spin on a traditional recipe and use broth in a place it isn’t usually found: savory waffles.  So I made a version of chicken & waffles that takes it from indulgent brunch dish to a cozy, healthy dinner meal…a crisp, hearty waffle that’s fiber rich, pulled chicken with mushrooms and onions, and for that crunch – a pretty fried parmesan crisp!  There’s broth in every layer, from the waffle to the chicken to the easy gravy.  This dinner got rave reviews from my [not so objective but still discerning] tasters and is perfect for cold-weather eating.  Make, share, and enjoy!

Savory chicken & waffles

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken thighs
  • 8 oz mushrooms, roughly diced
  • 1 small white onion, roughly diced
  • 3 cups Progresso chicken broth, divided
  • 1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup flax meal or oat bran
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup canola or olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp dried powdered sage

Directions

In a pot on the stove, heat 2 cups of broth, chicken thighs, mushrooms, and onion to boil and then reduce to simmer and cover.  Simmer for 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked and tender.  Preheat your waffle iron.  Meanwhile, combine flour, flax, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine.  Place the remaining cup of broth, milk, egg and oil in a separate mixing bowl and whisk to blend.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir just until mixed; some lumps are ok.  Scoop into your waffle iron (amounts may vary; mine holds ~3/4 cup of batter and makes 3 large waffles) and cook per iron instructions.

When chicken is cooked, use two forks to gently shred it in the broth – you can leave chunks of various sizes.  Strain broth into a separate bowl and add sage.  Heat the butter on medium high until melted in a wide sauce pan, sprinkle in flour and whisk until dissolved and bubbling.  Gently pour broth from the bowl into the sauce pan, stirring continuously.  Adjust heat and continue to stir until the broth thickens.

To make parmesan crisps, heat a non-stick skillet on high and then sprinkle cheese into 4 separate small piles.  Wait for it to sizzle and brown, then gently flip with a non-stick spatula.  Brown the second side and remove to a plate; allow to cool and crisp.

Layer the chicken and mushrooms onto a waffle, drizzle with gravy, and top with a crisp – voila!

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The *new* breakfast rule (+pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin granola)

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Not one but THREE pumpkins in this granola…if you count the pumpkin spice (which technically isn’t a pumpkin product, but it’s inherent to the spirit of any sweet pumpkin dish!).  Today I did a food demo/mini seminar at a business out in the Mosaic District, and baked up a huge batch of the granola as snacks for employees while we talked about breakfast.

I’m a big fan of breakfast – not just because of the foods, but because of what it can do for your day energetically when done right.  I’ve followed most of the same rules of thumb for years now, but recently added one: the 12 hour fast.  Pay attention to when you finish eating for the evening, and then how early you typically have breakfast the next day – is the time lapsed 8 hours? 10?  There’s science to back the idea that this could help with weight regulation, breast cancer rates, and even diabetes, and it’s actually a pretty easy tweak!

So track your habits for a week or so and see how those meals fall. Time for an adjustment?

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Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin granola

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 c pumpkin puree
  • 1⁄2 c pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2 tsp pumpkin spice
  • 2 c old fashioned oats
  • 1⁄4 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil + 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c raisins and/or craisins

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients but raisins in a mixing bowl, stirring until evenly distributed. Spread into a thin layer on a baking sheet with sides and bake for 1 hour, stirring to allow steam to escape and even heating every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before adding raisins. Store in an airtight container. Will keep for 1-2 weeks.

Healthy 2016: nutritious food prep for fast, delicious meals

quionoa bowlphotocred & recipe: the cozy apron

Sick of setting New Year’s resolutions to diet? Tired of feeling confused about what foods are healthy? Frustrated that there isn’t enough time to prepare healthy food? Pants a little tight after the holidays? Disorganized and haphazard in the kitchen?

Start fresh with a plan, customizable recipes, and learn to do it all with cooking demos with me in a MessHall workshop!

Reset your defaults.

Eating healthy is a habit. Your “defaults” – the things you do and eat on a daily basis – are the most important elements of your health. When those are healthy and structured, your life becomes healthy and structured. Don’t go on a diet – have a healthy, intentional diet. It all starts with a plan! This workshop provides you with a hard copy guide to target the areas that matter most, and customize them to fit in your real, busy life.

Learn to meal plan & prep like a pro:

We’ll lay some ground work with a short presentation to highlight some key elements of a healthy diet (for any eating pattern!), show how to make food prep an easy, structured part of your weekend (that won’t take all day!) and enjoy an adaptable meal you can use to plan lunches and dinners for weeks. Then comes the REALLY fun part: creating make-your-own jars to start you off right at home!

What’s included during the workshop:

  • Healthy eating workbook and planner
  • A crash course in nutrition science
  • A delicious, freshly prepared meal
  • Make-your-own chia pudding, granola, and overnight oats jars to take home
  • Improved sense of confidence and mastery in the kitchen – and beyond!

Make 2016 the year you start to do food right.

Diets work…as long as you’re on them! Only make changes you intend to keep – for a lifetime – and ditch the “I’m doing this to lose 10 pounds” mentality. You’ll be able to apply the info you learn here all year long, and far beyond.

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Get tickets here –> https://www.eventbrite.com/e/healthy-2016-nutritious-food-prep-for-fast-delicious-meals-tickets-20066570653

Hope to see you there!

On fish sauce (+spicy brussels sprouts)

I first cooked with fish sauce during a cooking class I took in Thailand in 2008.  It was one of the highlights of my trip – which I did solo for 3 weeks – and Asian cuisine was definitely not in my repertoire at the time!  Let’s revisit that day:

1034_515630655198_9155_nGreat apron, right?  We made curry and pad thai and sticky rice.  But about the fish sauce: it’s a staple of Thai cooking and is made by fermenting fish for months or even years with salt in huge vats.  It smells pungent, tangy – and definitely fishy, of course.  You only need a little bit in a recipe to add lots of flavor depth (due to their tasty umami glutamates); I add a splash anytime I do a stir fry or Asian-inspired sauce.  Look for it in the Asian aisle at the grocery store or any Asian market.

The RecipeRedux theme this month celebrates the round-up’s 54th month of postings (!!) – so everyone turned to the 54th or 154th page of a cookbook to put their spin on a recipe (click on the blue frog at the bottom for the rest of the recipes).

IMG_3128Truth be told: I like Gwyneth Paltrow.  I own her cookbook, IT’S ALL GOOD: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, (thanks Gracy!) and I like that too – it’s full of veggie-centric recipes that are pretty simple.  And on page 154, she has a recipe for spicy brussels sprouts that includes fish sauce:

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I love that the sprouts are steamed and then sauteed – it cooks them quickly and still gives some nice browning, which you really need in a brussels sprout.  Since I didn’t have 4 cups, I tossed in some gorgeous colored cauliflower (yup, all natural and that vibrant!) which was delicious and beautiful.  The simple sauce gives a hit of spicy and then that delicious savory flavor – I chose to whisk that together and pour it on in the pan, instead of after as her recipe calls for.  And I think you could use the same sauce and cooking technique for a lot of veggies – carrots, broccoli – even winter squash?!  Try it!

Spicy Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower

Ingredients

  • 2 cups brussels sprouts
  • 2 cups cauliflower (colored optional)
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • dash kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons sriracha (or more if you like it hotter!)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (you can sub soy sauce for vegans)
  • 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

Directions

Trim the ends of the brussels sprouts and cut in half.  Chop cauliflower into bite-sized florets.  Steam all together for 5-6 minutes.  Heat oil in a pan on high and add drained veggies.  Sprinkle on salt.  Saute, moving frequently, until sides are browned (another 5-6 minutes).  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients with a fork and drizzle over veggies at the end of their cooking.  Toss to coat and serve warm.

A Friendsgiving feast (+pistachio pumpkin biscotti)

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Happy Friendsgiving!

Yesterday I hosted my 11th Friendsgiving, which is a tradition I’ve loved since college.  Throwing an open-house style potluck with lots of friends is a no-fail way to have a great time, and this year was no exception!

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Along with this pecan pie, I also made biscotti. This month’s RecipeRedux theme is “creative quick breads,” and since biscotti are technically  a quick bread (leavened without yeast), I figured these fit!  Click the blue frog at the bottom of the post to see all the other healthier-for-the-holidays quick bread recipes from members.

No fewer than 3 different people at the party asked who made them, so they are as delicious as they are pretty!  Wrap some up in a cellophane bag with a nice ribbon, pair with a mug and you have a lovely hostess gift this holiday season. 😉

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Like the mug?  Check out StonewarebySarah for handcrafted gifts – lots of new items listed!

Pistachio pumpkin biscotti (adapted from Simply Recipes)

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 6 ounces shelled pistachios
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of pumpkin purée
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine dry ingredients (through pistachios) in a mixing bowl and whisk until evenly mixed.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla together, then add to dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, then used hands to knead into a ball.  Break into two even pieces and shape each into a flattened log.  Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment for 45 minutes, then remove and cool for 20.  Lower oven temp to 300F.  Slice rolls into 1/2 inch-thick pieces, lay out on baking sheet, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

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4 Turkey Alternatives (that will please any crowd!)

This morning I was featured on the local ABC7 to discuss alternatives to turkey for the holidays – my third DC area television appearance!  Check it out:

http://wjla.com/embed/features/good-morning-washington/turkey-alternatives-for-thanskgiving

Many thanks to the ABC7 team for making me feel so welcome and comfortable – they are as genuinely nice off the air as they are on it!

Want to learn how to do meal prep for healthy eating every week of the year with recipes personalized for you?  I offer personal nutrition assessment + cooking classes – check my package options to learn more!

Turkey Shortage?

A bout of avian flu in the midwest killed about 3% of the nation’s turkeys this year – though not before most of the frozen turkeys sold this November were already raised and frozen, according to the National Turkey Federation.  So prices may be higher ($0.59-1.99/lb for frozen birds in our area) but the supply is still robust.

To order a (DC-area) locally  raised turkey from a small farm, try:

But, since it’s unlikely that turkey as we know it was even present at the first Thanksgiving, why not buck the trend and offer something different?  Below are four ideas + recipes – each with their own claim to the place of honor as entree for the big day!

The other white meat: for meat-lovers who want something stuffed

A pork tenderloin is an impressive dish to serve, and could easily be stuffed with the same elements as a turkey – nuts, cranberries – and this recipe even include butternut squash!  The tenderloin has about the same amount of protein as turkey, and pairs nicely with similar ingredients.  Try this recipe by Gina (shes uses turkey tenderloin, but I used pork) – and don’t forget to visit your local farmer’s market to get higher quality, better-raised meats.

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The turkey shaped option: for visual effect

Cornish game hens are a breed or crossbreed of chicken; they’re very small, so these would make a nice individual-sized serving, or if on the larger side perhaps served by the half.  This recipe features some amazing fall flavors – lemon and sage – and Elizabeth shares my outlook on meat sourcing and portions to boot.

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The vegetarian/vegan option: for the meat-free

What would a holiday post be without something from Martha Stewart?  Her stuffed acorn squash includes beans, quinoa, and nuts for protein that the squash lacks with a beautiful outcome that any guest would be delighted to have.  It would probably go well with a bechamel sauce, too!

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The seafood version: a nod to our shellfish-eating forefathers

It’s likely that the early Thanksgivings included fish or shellfish, so serving a pescatarian option is very apropos!  Rosemary is one of my favorite cold-weather flavors, and oranges are in season now – added bonus, this dish takes under half an hour from start to finish: a big time savings so you can focus on side dishes.

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