Maple spiced nuts (Recipe Redux)

I've previously shared about my affinity for snacks. Some people prefer to eat three square meals per day, and that may work for them, but I find snacking to be totally beneficial for the vast majority. Snacks can help regulate blood sugar levels, manage satiety, improve focus and concentration, and help ward off the infamous 3 pm "crash" in energy. Additionally, snacks are often vital in helping active folks consume adequate calories. Let's do some math: the typical "healthy" meal for many active people consists of chicken breast, broccoli or other vegetable, and brown rice. Six ounces of chicken breast alongside one cup of brown rice and one cup of roasted broccoli adds up to roughly 575 calories. If all three meals offer similar caloric density, this would result in around 1700 calories eaten in a day: perhaps enough to support a goal of weight loss in some, but for most, this will not be enough to result in muscle gains, improved body composition, or optimal athletic performance. Enter the essentiality of snacking.

This month's Recipe Redux theme is Start Smoking in the New Year. Bloggers were asked to create a recipe highlighting smoked or spiced foods, and these Maple Spiced Nuts make a nutritionally valuable and delicious snack. They're a satisfying blend of sweet, salty, and spicy: the maple syrup creates a perfect crust of sweetness, and the cayenne pepper adds an interesting bite. I've had a bag stashed in my desk drawer all week. Great decision.
Cashews have popping up everywhere these days, and I'm not disappointed - these guys pack in a lot of nutrients! A quarter cup of cashews (about 1 ounce) provides 20% of your daily magnesium, 24% of your phosphorus, 70% of your copper, and 23% of your manganese. Nut consumption is tied to lower risk of heart disease and gallstones, and weight gain. The copper in cashews assists in a variety of metabolic processes including formation of red blood cells, maintenance of blood vessels and nerves, immune function, and development of bone while the magnesium works to regulate nerve function, blood pressure, and bone structure. Grab a handful - they're good for you!


Cinnamon apple chips

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday complete with family, laughter, gifts (both giving and receiving), and food. I had all of the above in abundance this year, and my heart and belly are full.

I'm pumped to show off my new toy: this dehydrator. Ever since a Recipe Redux theme involving dehydrators earlier this year got me inspired to try drying anything and everything, I've been wanting a nifty gadget like this one that makes dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and more a breeze.

These apple chips are a very basic recipe, but they're easy and make a great snack. Wins all around.
To me, cinnamon is the essence of the colder months. Warm, sweet, and fragrant: precisely what I want when the weather is chilly and I'm craving the homey scents of the holidays. Fortunately for us, cinnamon is also loaded with health benefits. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties that work by inhibiting the release of arachindonic acid from cell membranes. Arachidonic acid is an inflammation-promoting fatty acid that, when released, activates a chain of messages that tells the body to create new platelets and clot blood. Cinnamon also boasts anti-microbial properties that allow it to act as a natural preservative. Cinnamon may help control blood sugar by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties, thus stunting the rise in blood sugar after eating. Add a sprinkle to your oatmeal and your waffles. And make these apple chips.


Blueberry millet muffins (Recipe Redux)

It's time for Recipe Redux again! I've missed a couple of months due to, well, life. It's good to be back. This month's theme is "Grab a Book and Cook," and participating bloggers were instructed to grab the nearest cookbook and cook the recipe on page 42 or 142 in honor of the 42nd month of Recipe Redux challenges. I'm currently loving Amy Chaplin's At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: it's thoughtful, beautifully photographed, and the recipes are delicious. I'm always drawn to the introductory sections of health-centered cookbooks when the author invites the reader into her kitchen to engage in the nourishing rituals of shopping for fresh ingredients, exploring essential kitchen tools and equipment, and piecing together a healthier lifestyle. Amy's book does not disappoint: her knowledge of ingredients, beautiful suggestions for menu composition, and creative use of nourishing foods make the peek inside her sophisticated vegetarian kitchen truly worthwhile.

This recipe calls for spelt flour. Spelt (see photo below) is a grain similar to wheat, and if wheat flour is all you have, it'll be just fine.
There's been lots of hype around ancient and alternative grains this year, so I might as well throw another one out there: millet. Millet is a grain commonly found in bird seed, but it's worth working into the human diet as well. It's is a good source of magnesium, a mineral shown to benefit heart health by lowering high blood pressure and reducing risk of heart attack. Millet is also high in phosphorus, copper, and manganese. As other grains, millet provides fiber, which we know plays a role in preventing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, and obesity. Muffins are a great way to experiment with this great grain!


Herb-dijon egg salad tartines

I've followed Sara and Hugh - the genius duo behind the beautiful blog Sprouted Kitchen - for years. Sara has quite the knack for writing home-run recipes that are both nutritious and gorgeous, and Hugh captures those recipes with stunning photography. This is one of their many masterpieces and a favorite of mine. It's simple to prepare, keeps for several days in the fridge, and makes a great portable lunch.
Add mustard to the list of nutritional wonders found in the Brassica family of vegetables. That's right: mustard is in the same family as brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage. Mustard seeds contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates.  These glucosinolates break down into smaller nutrients called isothiocyantes that have been shown in some studies to protect against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and slow the growth of existing cancer cells.

Mustard belongs in your kitchen. A dab of dijon or a sprinkle of the ground spice adds a punch of flavor to a huge number of recipes. There are many varieties to choose from, so get experimenting!


Mushroom quinoa burger with herb aioli

I am on a never-ending quest for excellent vegetarian entrees. I've noticed that when I search for meatless meals, most of the results are salads, soups, and other light dishes that wouldn't satisfy the grown man I cook for daily nor put a dent in the caloric needs of a couple of people training for a marathon (January 11 can't come soon enough!). We are meat eaters, but I love the idea of being able to survive on foods from the earth. Vegetarian meals are budget-friendly and nutrient-dense, so I try to go meatless one or two days each week. Some of our favorite meals (hello, wonderful falafel) happen to be meat-free, and I love adding new vegetarian recipes to my dinner arsenal.

I've found that patties are great ways to bulk up a meal without adding meat. They are versatile, full of flavor, easy to throw together, and actually provide satiety. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy being hungry, so I'm not about to try surviving on salad for the sake of meat avoidance.

These mushroom quinoa burgers are quite tasty: even my husband, a don't-call-it-a-burger-if-there's-no-meat guy, sent me a text to tell me how much he liked them after I packed a couple in his lunch one day. And that herb aioli? Heaven.

Don't settle for salad, people.
It's always exciting to watch food trends. Every year or so, there seems to be a new sweep of products and diets that hit the market and take it by storm. A prime example: quinoa. Until a couple of years ago, all of the people who regularly ate quinoa would probably be able to fit in my living room, and everyone else was like "quin-what?" Today, thanks to the rise in popularity of gluten-free diets and alternative grains, quinoa is a staple in many health-conscious households.

Quinoa - not actually a grain and instead a member of the chenopod family along with beets and chard - is rich in nutrients, unlike many grains. It is high in manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and folate, and packs 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. There have been few research studies on health benefits of quinoa in humans, but some studies on rats have shown that daily quinoa intake reduces internal inflammation. This isn't surprising given the anti-inflammatory compounds found in quinoa, including phenolic acids and vitamin E.

The outer layer of the quinoa seed contains phytonutrients called saponins. Saponins, while possibly beneficial to health, are quite bitter-tasting, which is why most people choose to rinse quinoa prior to cooking.