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Healthy Living: Organic Apples

Organic ApplesOne day in the fall when I was growing up as a child, my mom announced an “adventure.” Adventures were the BEST. She’d whisk us off to somewhere secret, the destination unknown to us until our actual arrival. The suspense and anticipation were as much a part of the outing as the outing itself.

This particular day, we went to an apple orchard about an hour away from our house in Virginia, where you could pick your own apples and sample freshly-made apple sauce, apple butter and apple cider. The day was crisp and cool. The orchard was saturated with the hues of autumn. The air smelled like cinnamon and earthy tartness.

Picking our own apples was exhilarating. They tasted so much better, since we’d worked for them ourselves.

I get that same taste now whenever I eat an organic apple, knowing that someone else’s labor has benefitted my health.

Organic apples are grown with no chemicals or pesticides. They’re 100 percent as nature intended, just as if you’d eaten them off the tree right in the orchard.

Traditional apple orchards, grown for commercial purposes, are often heavily sprayed with pesticides, coating the leaves of the trees and the skins of your fruit. Pesticides aren’t good for you, for the workers in the orchards or for the trees themselves.

Organic apples are high in fiber, low in sugar and ready for you to eat, just like you would in an organic orchard.

Healthy Living: Brussels Sprout Chips

Brussels Sprout ChipsMove over potato and slide over, kale. Brussels sprout chips are the newest fad I’ve seen from Facebook to Instagram and Twitter.

I was as dubious of Brussels sprout chips as I was of kale chips, but I figured that if I didn’t like raw kale but liked the chips, I was already a step ahead of the game since I really like Brussels sprouts.

A member of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts have a ton of vitamin K and vitamin C. They are high in folate, fiber, protein and potassium. They have high detox and antioxidant properties. Turn these into chips, and you can enjoy a crunchy, healthy snack that’s guilt-free!

Brussels Sprout Chips

15 Brussels sprouts (about 1 lb)
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, to taste

Heat oven to 350° F. With a small sharp knife, trim bottom of each sprout, releasing the outermost layer of leaves. Pluck leaves off individually and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and a smattering of salt.

Place leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until leaves are lightly browned and crisp.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 64, Calories from Fat: 19, Fat: 2 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 28 mg, Potassium: 441 mg, Carbohydrates: 10 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 4 g.

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Healthy Living: Fall Quinoa Salad

Fall Quinoa SaladDo you realize how hard it is to find healthy recipes on your Pinterest feed during the fall season? Everything is baked, buttery and stick-to-your-ribs (and thighs) kind of fare! There are cookies and breads and casseroles galore, but salads? Not so much.

This is always a favorite fall salad of mine. It combines the flavors of fall without all the fat. Quinoa is a super food, providing protein without all the bad fats associated with meats. It also has pumpkin seeds, which are little kernels of power-packed goodness in and of themselves.

Pumpkin seeds are chock full of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron and copper, and they are a good source of vitamin K. They have been shown to contain phytosterols, which reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds also contain L-tryptophan, which promotes good sleep and lowers depression (and you thought your slices of turkey at Thanksgiving dinner were the only things making you sleepy). Another benefit of pumpkin seeds is that they are high in zinc, which helps protect against osteoporosis. They are also a good source of vitamins E and B, and contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds.

Fall Quinoa Salad

3 cups butternut squash, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup rainbow quinoa, uncooked
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup red onions, finely chopped
3 Tbs pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 Tbs pecans, toasted and chopped

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Place diced squash in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil; season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and roast for 25 minutes or until squash is fork-tender and golden-brown.

While the squash is roasting, rinse quinoa under cold water. Place quinoa in clean water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 22 minutes.

Cool quinoa and squash.

Toss quinoa with roasted squash, cranberries, red onions, pumpkin seeds and pecans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together in a separate bowl. Pour over quinoa mixture. Chill for several hours and serve.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 284, Calories from Fat: 178, Fat: 20 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 13 mg, Potassium: 393 mg, Carbohydrates: 24 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 5 g.

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Healthy Living: Mayo-Free Slaw Salad

Mayo-Free Slaw SaladI don’t like mayonnaise. Paul doesn’t like mayonnaise. I do like coleslaw, and it’s such a fun complement to so many Southern dishes like barbecue or Tex-Mex recipes like tacos.

So, I went on a search for a non-mayo coleslaw.

Eliminating the mayo makes this dish healthier, too. A vinegar-based version of this dish, which gives you the acidity you need to pair with so many proteins, cuts out so much fat and so many calories. A bracing slaw salad lets you combine so many healthy veggies into one cohesive dish.

You don’t even have to use mayo.

Mayo-Free Slaw Salad

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs brown mustard
1 Tbs raw honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
3/4 cup carrots, shredded
1/2 cup English cucumber, grated
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbs celery seed
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together dressing: vinegar, mustard, honey and olive oil. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine thinly shredded cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, green onions and celery seed. Season with salt and pepper.

Slowly drizzle the dressing onto slaw until desired amount is reached.

Chill until ready to serve.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 155, Calories from Fat: 119, Fat: 13 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Potassium: 197 mg, Carbohydrates: 10 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 7 g, Protein: 1 g.

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Dine In: Butternut Squash-Stuffed Shells

Butternut Squash-Stuffed ShellsThis has been one of the best weeks in recent history for a variety of reasons, but principal among them was finding out that my parents are coming to visit for Christmas!

Most years, I only see my parents once during summer vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia. On extra-special bonus years, I might get another visit in. This appears to be one of those years.

I’m already planning my menu for the four whole days they’ll be visiting.

I come from an Italian family, and my mom’s stuffed shells are the best ever. Mine are never as good as hers, so I’m not even going to try to duplicate the recipe this time around. Instead, I’m going to honor the dish with a variation on the traditional take on stuffed shells.

This is a recipe full of interesting flavors. The butternut squash is slightly sweet, especially after it has roasted and caramelized. The spinach, with its touch of acidity, offsets the sweetness of the butternut squash while the creaminess of the ricotta is balanced by the texture of the pine nuts. Then, the lemon brings it all together with a lovely brightness.

This is a great dish for a fall Friday night or to put in your holiday repertoire this year.

Butternut Squash-Stuffed Shells
Serves 8

2 cups roasted butternut squash
olive oil, for tossing
1 box jumbo pasta shells
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 egg
1 tsp lemon zest, grated
4 Tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup butter
10 sage leaves (if you can’t find sage, substitute oregano or basil)
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon

Peel and chop the butternut squash, and then toss in olive oil. Roast at 425° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Meanwhile, cook your jumbo pasta shells according to directions.

In a bowl, combine 2 cups ricotta, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, spinach, egg, salt and pepper. Combine well. Add the roasted squash and grated lemon zest.

Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the mixture into each shell, and place in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour 4 tablespoons of melted butter over shells. Bake shells at 400° F for about 20 to 25 minutes.

While the shells are baking, make your sauce.

To make the sage brown butter sauce, melt the 1/2 cup butter in a sauté pan until it’s golden-brown, bubbly and has a nutty fragrance. Add at least 10 sage leaves and sauté until slightly crisp. Remove from heat and add the fresh lemon juice.

Remove shells from oven, pour sauce over shells and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 527, Calories from Fat: 292, Fat: 32 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (17 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 96 mg, Sodium: 344 mg, Potassium: 370 mg, Carbohydrates: 41 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 20 g.

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Shop the Sale: Mexican Steak Salad

Mexican Steak SaladThe days are getting shorter, dusk is coming earlier and my new solar-powered porch lights are making me want to spend more evenings on the back patio. Well, that and it’s not 100 degrees every night any more.

As much as I can complain about the summer heat in Texas, I do love the more mild autumns and winters. I REALLY love the fact you can comfortably grill outside all year long in the South, minus maybe a handful of days.

I like this steak salad because it combines my favorite food group, steak, with a more healthy salad, making it a hearty meal. The acid from the lime juice offsets the rich fattiness of the steak and the queso fresco provides a pop of flavor without a lot of added fat.

I also like this steak salad because boneless sirloin strip steak is on sale this week at Brookshire’s. The boneless sirloin really benefits from the marinade, so don’t skip that step!

Mexican Steak Salad

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs garlic, minced
1 lb boneless sirloin steak strips
1/4 small red onion, sliced
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tsp
1 small head romaine lettuce, torn
1 small head butter lettuce, torn
1/2 cup cilantro
1 cup queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, sliced
3 Tbs lime juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Mix the soy sauce with cumin and garlic. Marinate the steak in the soy sauce mixture for 30 minutes. At the same time, soak the red onions in ice water for 30 minutes. (It takes away the “bite” of the onion.)

Preheat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the steak 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest 5 minutes, and then slice against the grain. Follow the same directions for a gas grill.

Toss the steak with the romaine, butter lettuce, cilantro, queso fresco, onions and avocado. Whisk 3 tablespoons olive oil with the lime juice, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour over salad and serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 384, Fat: 26 g (6 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 52 mg, Sodium: 663 mg, Protein: 29 g, Carbohydrates: 10 g, Sugar: 2 g, Fiber: 5 g, Iron: 3 mg, Calcium: 140 mg.

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Healthy Living: Pumpkin

PumpkinsIt’s that time of year for all things pumpkin.

I know you’ve seen the jokes about Pumpkin Spice everything (have you seen the new pumpkin spice M&M’s candies?), but pumpkin deserves the hype it gets this time of year.

Pumpkin (not the spiced latte version) is rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Technically a gourd, pumpkin is low in calories but abundant in vitamin A and flavonoid antioxidants such as lutein, xanthin and carotenes.

Pumpkin is recommended by dieticians to control cholesterol and help in weight reduction (again, not the candied variety). Pumpkin is full of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, and has a lot of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. In addition, pumpkin seeds are a great source of dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. Pumpkin seeds are also a wonderful source of protein, minerals and vitamins. Nutritionally, 100 grams of pumpkin seeds account for 559 calories; 30 grams of protein; 110 percent RDA of iron; 4,987 milligrams of niacin (31 percent of RDA); selenium (17 percent of RDA); zinc (71 percent) and no cholesterol.

Pumpkin can be baked, braised, stewed, simmered, pureed, steamed, roasted and eaten in almost any way you can imagine! If you haven’t already hopped on the pumpkin bandwagon, take a hayride with this awesome vegetable this fall.

Dine In: Mashed Potato Pancakes

Mashed Potato PancakesOn Monday, you’ll read about the Swiss Steak that Paul made for dinner last weekend, so I apologize that these posts are coming in a little out of order. You see, to go with the Swiss Steak, we made mashed potatoes, and because we had leftovers the second day, we made the first day’s mashed potatoes into mashed potato pancakes.

They were delicious, but I think we’ll both readily admit there was a steep learning curve involved. Turns out you can’t just smash the day-old mashed potatoes into patties and drop them in hot oil. I mean, you can and we did, but I think there is a better method out there. In fact, I know there is.

You start with cold, day-old mashed potatoes, but then you need a binding agent, like egg. We used cheese, which is a delicious add-on, but it wasn’t enough to hold the potato pancakes together. We didn’t dredge the potatoes in anything, but it turns out, that would have given them a crispy, golden crust.

Ours were still good, but these are even better! We had them with leftover Swiss Steak, but I even had one again the next morning, topped with Canadian bacon and a fried egg. The golden yolk ran down over that potato pancake, and it was a little bite of heaven.

Mashed Potato Pancakes

2 cups mashed potatoes, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten
6 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Tbs onions, minced or grated
2 Tbs green onions
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 250° F. Keep the potato pancakes warm in the oven when you’re done frying them.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and the egg. Then, add the onions, chives or green onions and cheddar. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Combine well.

In a large heavy skillet like cast iron, heat 1/8 inch of the oil over moderately high heat until it is shimmering but not smoking. Press a heaping mound of potatoes into a patty and place in the oil. Fry until they are golden-brown, about 1 minute per side. When they are golden, place on a platter lined with paper towels and keep them warm in the preheated oven.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 146, Calories from Fat: 44, Fat: 5 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 39 mg, Sodium: 253 mg, Potassium: 275 mg, Carbohydrates: 20 g, Protein: 6 g.

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Shop the Sale: Beef and Broccoli

Beef and BroccoliConsidering my son’s current affinity for white rice, I try to work it into as many dishes as humanly possible. While Luke is a sweet boy, he’s a picky eater. He likes rice, approximately two vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower) and meat.

That doesn’t always make cooking easy.

This dish satisfies all his requirements AND is made in the slow cooker (which makes me happy). In addition, chuck roast is on sale at Brookshire’s this week, so really, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Beef and Broccoli

1 lb boneless beef chuck roast, sliced into thin strips
1 cup beef stock or beef broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbs sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs cornstarch
1 (12 oz) bag frozen broccoli florets
white or brown rice, cooked

Whisk together the beef stock, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, sesame oil and garlic in the crockery of a slow cooker. Place beef strips in the sauce, tossing to coat. Cook on low setting for approximately 6 hours.

When your beef is almost finished, remove about 4 tablespoons of the sauce from the slow cooker, and whisk it with cornstarch. Stir it back into the slow cooker and add broccoli. Turn heat to high; let cook for about 30 more minutes, or until sauce is thickened and broccoli is cooked through. Serve over rice.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 563, Calories from Fat: 316, Fat: 35 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 117 mg, Sodium: 2090 mg, Potassium: 402 mg, Carbohydrates: 24 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 14 g, Protein: 34 g.

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Healthy Living: Grilled Peaches

Grilled PeachesOne of my favorite healthy treats in the summertime is grilled peaches.

They’re a perfect summertime dessert or a healthy snack. Peaches are about 50 calories per fruit and have zero fat. They’re full of antioxidants and phytochemicals. They have lots of vitamins A and C, which are good for your skin. Peaches are also said to reduce anxiety! They have a diuretic effect, which is good for the kidneys and bladder.

Plus, they’re super-easy to grill.

Grilling a peach caramelizes it beautifully, bringing out all its natural sugars. If you use local honey, you get added sweetness and a crisp crust on your peach.

Slice your peach in half. Remove the stone. Brush cut-side with local honey. Place on grill, cut-side up, over medium heat; grill until it begins to soften. Flip over to cut-side, and grill until there are char marks and the honey has caramelized.

Serve immediately.

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