Pasta Cici

Growing up Catholic with an Italian mother and grandmother, we went meatless on Fridays during Lent. Unlike many of our other Catholic counterparts who did fish fries, we usually at what my mother used to call “peasant food”. Meals such as polenta, pasta fajole, or pasta cici were common. She also baked fish, such as flounder or cod, that would be topped with a mixture of bread crumbs, herbs, and olive oil, then baked.

I recently made this pasta dish for a lenten Friday. The simple photo was so popular, I decided to share the recipe here. It’s a delicious comfort food to me, and it’s fairly simple to make. Enjoy!

Why Aren’t You Following the DASH Diet?

“The DASH diet is proven to work. Why hasn’t it caught on?”

This was the title of a recent article from the Washington Post by Christy Brissette that has gotten a lot of shares this past week, offering thoughts as to why the diet hasn’t been adopted (despite being ranked #1 by US News and World Report for several years).

Brissette reports that while the original research studies for the diet were directed toward managing and preventing high blood pressure, the diet also has additional appeal.

“…the model eating plan for all Americans is the DASH diet, because it outlines a generally healthy diet from which anyone can benefit. Following the DASH diet’s principles will mean you’re eating a nutrient-rich yet not calorie-dense diet that has been shown to be helpful for promoting weight loss and maintenance. A growing body of evidence suggests DASH is also helpful for managing diabetes, preventing cancer and improving kidney health.”

The Post article offered opinions as to what the barriers may be in not adopting an evidence based plan for health. Let’s take a look.

People Don’t Have Access to the Foods and It’s Expensive

This is an easy excuse. Dori Steinberg, a research scholar at Duke University, suggests that people don’t adopt the diet because they may not have access to the foods included. This may be the case in some geographic areas, but there are many people who do have access to markets, have transportation, and could indeed follow the diet plan if they wanted to. Or, if they knew about it.

While “food deserts” exist, there are many who have plenty of access to supermarkets that aren’t following the diet. The notion that it’s too expensive doesn’t fly with me. You don’t have to eat avocados everyday. You don’t have to eat the most expensive cuts of meat. You don’t have to buy designer food. You can buy the vegetables that are on sale or in season, you can look for BOGO fruits (buy one, get one half off or free), you can rinse canned beans (which are very inexpensive), you can purchase store brand barley or brown rice, or store-brand yogurt. You can buy frozen vegetables or canned fruits, that are on sale, or try store brands, which are generally less expensive. There are lots of options.

Patients also need to begin to view some of the more expensive food items as an “investment” in their health. For instance, nuts are expensive; but you are only supposed to eating about 1/4 cup serving, so they can last a while. In the long run, fruits and vegetables are not more expensive than junk food or convenience food (the foods you’ll need to cut back on). Meats are to be consumed in smaller portions (3-6 ounces), so you can spend less, and stretch the portion out for four people.

Do People Who Could be Following the DASH Diet Actually Know What they are Supposed to Eat?

This is my thought – despite the news reports that tout the benefit of the DASH Diet lifestyle, and despite my own efforts to market the diet plan – people, in general, still don’t know what the diet plan includes, or how to follow it, or why they should.

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Brissette:

“The key to helping people eat better is giving them the tools they need to put nutrition information into action.”

For the most part, this education should begin in the doctor’s office. We need more primary care physicians to promote the DASH Diet as an option for “how to eat well”. And then, give the patient some resources. It’s great to say “Well, you should try the DASH Diet or the Mediterranean Diet”, but if your patient has no idea what that means, then the “advice” is useless. Whether the direction to “follow the DASH Diet” comes with a simple flyer, one-pager, a book referral, or a referral to a registered dietitian for counseling, there must be a “next step”.

Next Step: Proper Health Education and Follow-Up

You’d think we’d have this figured out by now. This has been one of my pet peeves for thirty years: Physicians telling their patients to “go on a diet”, “lose weight” or “try the DASH Diet” without any further instruction or support. When I worked in a health center, one of my favorite things to do was clean out the “nutrition education” file drawer that the doctors and their nurses kept…the handouts filed in there were generally outdated, and unappealing. Nobody will take a faded, poorly printed or unprofessional-looking document seriously.

Most patients need the extra step of seeing a registered dietitian to guide them in the first steps of adopting the eating plan. It may only take a few visits.

My goal is to continue to help people understand what the DASH Diet is, and how to set goals to adopt it. As always, my advice is to set small goals, and build on them to create healthy, long-term habits. Nobody can be perfect every day. The goal is to adopt a lifestyle. This means continuously setting goals each week to eat well and exercise. It’s never an all-or-nothing deal, and you don’t have to be an overnight-success.

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Food Safety Fact-Check: Storing and Cooking Beef

I will be blogging this month about how you can incorporate beef into your healthy diet. These posts are sponsored by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative and the Pennsylvania Beef Council, but are expressions of my own.

When designing a kitchen, you may be looking for the shiniest range or refrigerator, but don’t put proper food safety on the back burner.

As National Nutrition Month® comes to a close, I want you to continue to put your Best Fork Forward with proper food handling knowledge. Past posts this month have featured fabulous recipes showing you how to incorporate various cuts of beef into your healthy diet. This one will provide you with tips for proper storage and cooking methods for beef, keeping your whole kitchen healthy.

Proper storage of beef

How long can you keep fresh beef in the refrigerator?

It depends on the cut, but a general rule of thumb is three days for steaks and roasts, and 1-2 days for ground beef. If you aren’t going to use the beef you purchased in that time frame, you can freeze it up to twelve months.

How should I defrost frozen beef?

Always defrost meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter (you can also thaw in the microwave). Foodborne illness is prevented when foods remain at safe temperatures (that bacteria can’t grow in). Be sure the meat is on a plate or in a container that can hold any raw juices as it defrosts.

A note about cutting boards

One of the handiest items you’ll use when cooking, is the cutting board. Try to stock a few different cutting boards, using one for meats, another for vegetables or fruits, and another for breads. Always be sure to clean the boards with hot soapy water after each use. Never cut something on a board that you had raw meat on until it’s washed (be sure not to reuse the plate you had raw meat on either). 

Cooking Beef

There are so many quick and easy ways to cook beef, making it a great choice for busy weeknights and special occasions alike. Here are some terms to be familiar with:

  • Grilling is probably one of the most popular ways to prepare beef steaks and burgers. You can light up the grill and cook the whole meal here. Use foil pouches to steam vegetables, or just toss veggies with olive oil, and cook them right on the grill. Set the  veggies aside and keep warm, while you finish grilling the beef. You may also enjoy marinating less tender cuts for the grill. The marinade adds flavor and tenderizes.  
  • Roasting. Using your oven is great for large beef roasts (such as a rib roast). Simply season the roast, and place into a roasting pan with rack.
  • Braising. Who doesn’t love pot roast? This cooking method requires browning the beef first, and then simmering (I often just brown it in the same pot I’ll roast it in). After browning, season the beef, transfer to large stock pot, add liquid (water, red wine, low sodium stock), and simmer.
  • Stewing. All the nutrients get sealed into the liquid with comforting stews. Try our Easy Beef Burgundy from Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies®
  • Stir-Frying. This is a great way to stretch your food budget. Try slicing beef sirloin into thin strips, and adding sliced peppers, broccoli, or other favorite vegetables. Serve over rice, creating a delicious meal.

How do you determine doneness?

You are probably familiar with the terms rare, medium rare, and medium or well done. They each relate to a certain temperature. Using a meat thermometer, place it into the thickest part of the steak or roast to test (145 degrees is medium-rare, 160 is medium, and 170 is well done).

Ground beef (burgers, meatloaf) should always be cooked to at least medium, or 160 degrees. Also, keep in mind that temperatures will continue to rise about 5-15 degrees for larger roasts once you remove them from the oven.

Keep your kitchen clean, organized, and food-safe to enjoy meal planning, and stay healthy!

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Making the Most of Your Food Budget with Beef

I will be blogging this month about how you can incorporate beef into your healthy diet. These posts are sponsored by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative and the Pennsylvania Beef Council, but are expressions of my own.

The great thing about heart-healthy cuts of beef, is that they are also economical. Cuts such as round steak or lean ground beef can work nicely into your food budget. While cuts such as sirloin and tenderloin may cost a bit more, they can stretch a long way with the right recipe.

Ground Beef: Economical and Nutritious

Ground beef is so versatile in the kitchen. It’s certainly a family pleaser, and with it you can create all sorts of healthy, quick meals. Choose lean beef (90-95% lean) when possible. If you are using a higher fat ground beef, brown the meat, and drain off fat, before adding to the recipe. Here are just a few ideas for quick and healthy dinners using ground beef:

  • Chili. A hearty beef chili is versatile and an excellent opportunity to add healthy beans to your diet (beans like kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans), as well as lycopene-rich tomatoes, and vitamin-C and potassium-rich bell peppers.

    This ground beef is 90% lean. Since the Nutrition Facts reflect a 4-ounce portion, that has 11 grams of fat per 4 ounce serving, only 4.5 grams saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol, it fits the “lean” definition.

  • Stuffed zucchini squash “boats”. Squash is full of vitamins and fiber, and is low in calories. Make a meal out of it by cutting 4 medium zucchini or yellow squash, or one acorn or spaghetti squash in half, scooping out seeds (with summer squash, just spoon out enough squash to make a “bowl”, cook scooped squash with peppers). Saute minced onion, bell peppers, and squash in hot oil, then remove from pan. Season lean ground beef with turmeric, ground pepper, and chili powder. Add beef to pan, and brown. Add pepper mixture back to pan with beef, and mix. Mix the beef mixture with 1 cup cooked brown rice, then fill each squash half with it. Top with 2-3 TB of shredded cheese and bake on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until squash is tender. 
  • Beef tacos or wraps. These are kid-friendly and you can really be creative with toppings. If you have a picky eater in the house, try linking favorite ingredients into new meals. Have you even tried peanut butter and jelly in your beef wrap? Try it!
  • Skillet meals. Beefy pasta or Beef with Barley are not only easy to make, but easy to clean up since they use only one pan. By adding high fiber barley, and your favorite vegetables to cooked ground beef, you’ll have a quick, well-balanced, and satisfying family meal. 
  • Classic Meatloaf. This comfort meal is always welcome at the dinner table. Balance out this delicious meatloaf with a side of green beans and mashed potatoes.
  • Enjoy burger night at home. Not only will you control the fat and sodium in your burger when you grill it at home, but you can also get fancy with the toppings. Instead of shredded iceburg lettuce, go for shredded cabbage or baby spinach. Try avocado slices or alfalfa sprouts with sliced tomato. Dice some peppers and onions to make a quick relish of your own by adding flavored vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, then refrigerating for an hour or more.

Get through the week with these ideas for quick family meals

The classic question: What’s for dinner?, is solved with these easy recipes and ideas. There are so many ways to create quick meals with beef.

  • Leftover Mondays: You don’t have to use sirloin steak to create this steak salad. You can use Sunday’s leftover pot roast and create a new meal with it on Monday night.
  • Taco Tuesday: Add chopped romaine, finely chopped tomatoes, black olives, and bell peppers to your tacos. Pair tacos with a side of red beans and rice (fun fact: crispy taco shells are lower in calories than most soft tortillas). Or make a Taco Salad with lots of leafy greens and veggies.
  • Bow Tie Wednesday: Pasta is so quick and delicious! Add lean beef and asparagus and you have a one dish meal. 
  • Pita Salad Thursday: This recipe is a Greek-inspired version of an open face taco using pita bread.
  • Fajita Fridays: Create a “Make Your Own Fajita Bar” at home. Saute the beef, then set up a buffet with soft whole wheat tortillas along with peppers, and onions low fat sour cream and salsa or homemade Pico de Gallo. Add a mixed fruit bowl as a side dish.

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Bold and Beefy

I will be blogging this month about how you can incorporate beef into your healthy diet. These posts are sponsored by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative and the Pennsylvania Beef Council, but are expressions of my own.

While the DASH Diet is heavy on plants (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds) it also includes dairy products and allows for lean meats. Our Bold and Beefy Slow-Cooker Stew from DASH Diet For Dummies® is a perfect example of how you can incorporate lean beef into your DASH Diet.

This video shows you how simple it is to put this meal together. You can have everything chopped and ready the night before, store in the refrigerator. Then in the morning, it only takes five minutes to put it into your slow cooker, and cook on low heat for 8-9 hours (you can shorten cooking time to 5-6 hours, with the setting on high).


Herbs and Spices and Everything Nice

Herbs and spices add flavor to foods, and are often a great way to reduce the salt you use in cooking. However, some spices may also provide additional benefits to your health. Many contain “phytochemicals”, potentially having some added health benefits.

Last year, General Mills sent me some samples of their new cereals that use natural ingredients and spices to provide color (in place of artificial colors). Turmeric is one of the ingredients they are using to provide an orange color to foods, naturally. They sent me a jar of the spice and I’ve been looking for new ways to use it ever since. I’ve added it to chicken dishes, and soups and stews. But today I thought I’d add some to a smoothie!

Turmeric comes from the turmeric plant, and is often used in Asian cooking (curry). It has a bright orange color and may have beneficial properties that can help ease an irritable bowel, reduce inflammation, or tame a headache. It seems to be trending, and since I had a jar in my pantry, I figured I’d add some to a smoothie.

Inulinwhich is sourced from chicory root, is a functional prebiotic fiber, that may also help support gut health It’s sometimes used as a fat replacer, in foods such as yogurt or pudding. This allows for a lower calorie product (great for middle aged women and men), that also has the benefit of additional fiber.

This smoothie recipe includes both turmeric, and Dannon Triple Zero® yogurt (which contains chicory root fiber). And of course, I wouldn’t share it if is wasn’t delicious! Not to mention that it’s filling, and only 160 calories!

Easy Overnight French Toast

Death by pancake, waffle, or French toast?

There is so much news out there about how you’re supposed to eat right? It’s mind boggling at times. You don’t have to be a perfect eater to be a healthy eater. And not everyone is gluten intolerant.

Set the table and simply strive to choose a variety of foods. Eat your fruits and veggies, and take time to make eating a social, nurturing activity. If you have children, eating together as a family is always a good idea – not just for the nutrition, but also for the important bonding that can occur at the table.

For instance, putting together a quick Sunday brunch can help create some special family time on the weekend. It doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be easy! Like this French Toast recipe. All you have to do is assemble it the night before, then bake it on Saturday or Sunday morning for your weekend brunch. Add some sliced fresh fruit – whatever is handy and in season (I enjoy apple and pear slices now, along with peeled clementines or oranges), a pitcher of milk, a carafe of coffee or pot of tea – and BOOM! You have a balanced family brunch.

The Power of Protein

I will be blogging this month about how you can incorporate beef into a healthy diet. These posts are sponsored by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative and the Pennsylvania Beef Council, but are expressions of my own.

A balanced diet supports health.

While everyone has a different opinion about exactly which foods to eat, most people who are striving to eat a healthy diet will agree with that statement. I’m pretty sure that if we just get back to basics, we’d be in pretty good shape.

A healthy diet is created based on a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats (macronutrients, or “macros” for short). These three macronutrients provide the calories (or energy) we need every day. To maintain a healthy weight, you’ll want to be consuming just enough calories for your activity (when you consume more than your body burns, you gain weight). Your goal is to include nutrient dense foods so that your diet also includes all of the vitamins and minerals you need.

Beef is a nutrient dense food. It provides vitamin B12, B6, zinc, niacin, selenium, iron, phosphorus, choline, and riboflavin. Of course beef is an excellent source of protein too. Protein helps maintain muscle, supporting strong, lean bodies. If you are working out regularly with both weights and cardio, consuming adequate protein is important for both repair (the small tears that can occur with use) and maintenance of muscle tissue. 

Weight Control

Research has shown that consuming protein in equal increments is more effective than consuming larger amounts at one sitting. Therefore, it’s optimal to include about 15-25 grams of protein at each meal (your protein needs may vary based on age, gender, and activity). Adding  a small portion of a high protein food to each meal also helps with satiety (you’ll feel more full, longer). This can be an effective strategy for weight control.

While I recommend that you eat a variety of foods, keep in mind that lean beef provides a great source of protein at a low calorie cost. This is something to consider, especially if you are a middle aged woman (like me). You want the most bang for your buck, so to speak. For instance, 3 ounces of lean beef provides 25 grams of protein at only 154 calories, but 3 ounces of salmon only provides 17 grams of protein, and 3 ounces of cheese would provide you 22 grams of protein but at a cost of over 300 calories. So include variety, but be aware of calories too.

Heart Health

You know I support DASH Diet research, but there’s another interesting study called BOLD. The “Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet” (BOLD) study, showed that consuming lean beef daily as part of a heart-healthy diet, can reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol by 10 percent. The BOLD and DASH diets are very similar, but the BOLD study specifically looked at how adding lean cuts of beef would impact LDL levels.

Check out the section “Beefing up Your Plate, Not Your Waistline” of Chapter 17 in Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies® for more information about including beef in your heart healthy diet (click on “Look Inside” the book, for a sneak peak).

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Roasted Cauliflower & Chick Peas with Chard & Feta

Since it’s National Nutrition Month®, I’ve decided to upgrade my blog by creating better recipe posts for you, that will include a print function.

I will be repurposing a few older posts so that you will have this improved recipe display. This is one of my favorite nutrient-packed side dishes. It does use Feta cheese, which is high in sodium, but it’s used in small amounts. My theory is this – make vegetables taste really good and you’ll eat more of them. The benefit of the swiss chard and chick peas outweighs the bit of extra sodium. Enjoy.

You’ll begin with washing and prepping the veggies, breaking cauliflower into flowerettes, and rinsing chick peas.

These will be roasted in the oven for about 20 minutes, at which point you’ll add the chopped Swiss chard.

Roast for another 10-15 minutes.

Then toss together in a casserole dish, adding feta and panko. Return to oven for another 15 minutes.