10.26.2014

Whole wheat and flax carrot cake cupcakes

I know what you must be thinking: "Is a cupcake even a cupcake if it has vegetables and flax meal in it? Get with it."
Trust me on this. Have I ever led you astray?

This is truly the best carrot cake I've ever had, and I get asked for the recipe all the time. I wish I could take credit for it, but it's from Susan G. Purdy's Pie in the Sky, a thoughtfully-written cookbook that explains and troubleshoots the perils of high-altitude baking. I acquired this fantastic book while living 7,200 feet above sea level in Edwards, Colorado, and thanks to Susan, I was able to keep homemade chocolate chip cookies and quick breads in my life. Every recipe in Pie in the Sky was tested at sea level, 10,000 feet, and every step in between, and I continue to reference it often even though I'm back to living in St. Louis at a measly 500 feet.

They must be topped with cream cheese frosting. I might like vegetables in my desserts sometimes, but I'm not that out of my mind.
Carrots belong to the same family as parsnips, fennel, dill, and cumin. They are known for protecting the heart from cardiovascular disease thorough an array of beneficial phytonutrients and antioxidants. In general, vegetables with deep shades of yellow and orange have been shown to be particularly beneficial in promoting heart health. Carrots' antioxidants also have potential to protect the body against colon cancer and vision problems.

Raw carrots are great for a snack, but cooking them intensifies the sweetness and makes the beta carotene more bioavailable. Each cupcake has about 1/2 a carrot and 4000 IU of absorbable vitamin A. Not bad for dessert.

10.12.2014

Spiced cauliflower "couscous" with almonds

I love discovering new ways to use vegetables in ordinary dishes. Did you know that cauliflower can be crumbled down to resemble the texture of couscous or rice? Neither did I, until recently, but it's true and surprisingly delicious.

This is a great technique to have up your sleeve if you're in the business of trying to sneak more veggies into your kids (or yourself). I can see cauliflower replacing rice in loaded burritos, taking quinoa's place in my beloved Southwest Quinoa Salad, and should I dare to dream that I wouldn't mind it in my Couscous Parfait?

Whew. This changes everything.
It's time to get nutty.

For many years, low-fat diets were prescribed to people at risk for heart problems, but removing or reducing fats in the diet usually results in consumption of more simple carbohydrates like white bread or pasta. The body breaks down these foods very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin spikes. Over time, these effects can raise risk for heart disease and diabetes as much as high-fat foods. So what's the solution? Instead of eliminating fats, let's eat the right types.

Many large studies have verified the health benefits of nuts. One Harvard study followed 86,016 women over 14 years and found that those who ate at least 5 ounces of nuts per week were 35% less likely to endure a heart attack than those who ate less than 1 ounce per month. How can this be? Almonds, while high in fat, contain monounsaturated fat - the same type found in olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is known for helping to reduce blood cholesterol, particularly LDL levels. Nuts are also high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that rids the body of damaging free radicals and protects against chronic disease. Almonds' high magnesium levels could play a role in heart health as well: magnesium helps arteries to relax, lessening resistance and improving blood flow. And let's not forget the power of wise choices: is also possible that nuts improve heart health by replacing less healthful snacks in the diet, like those that contain saturated or trans fats.

When snacking on nuts, do be aware of portion sizes. One ounce (about 1/4 cup) of nuts contains roughly 170 calories, so stick with small-ish servings if you are aiming for weight loss. And don't forget to rejoice in the fact that the fiber and fat will help to fill you up and keep you satisfied longer than a carbohydrate-rich snack would.

10.05.2014

Dried lemon rounds

Lemons have long been a favorite of mine. I love how a squeeze of juice can make a dish come alive. I love the tartness they add to fresh fruit sorbets or homemade popsicles. I really, really love a good lemon tart. Heck, I've been known to slice them up and eat them raw. When Mike and I ended up with a 5-pound bag of fresh lemons and no plan for them, my first thought was to make them last. It's the beginning of fall, and I'm not yet ready to give up the fresh flavors of summer. The answer? Dehydrated lemon rounds.
Dried lemons are more versatile than you might think. Drop a couple into a water bottle for a gently infused drink. Toss them into soup, simmering rice, or pots of brazing meats. Pulverize them in a coffee grinder to make your own lemon pepper seasoning. Take that lemon powder and mix with some sugar for a healthier instant lemonade. Steep them in your green tea. Crumble them on a Greek salad. Rehydrate them and add to parchment packages of fish. If you enjoy cooking with fresh citrus, it's a beautiful thing to have dehydrated lemon rounds on hand just waiting to add bright flavor to any dish.

9.22.2014

Berry-beet fruit leather

It's time for Recipe Redux again, and this month's theme is "Get Your Dehydrator On." I don't own a dehydrator, but I do have an oven with a "warm" setting that runs at a pretty constant 175 degrees. Same thing, right?
Beets belong to the chenopod family along with chard, spinach, and quinoa. This underrated superfood has loads of health benefits, thanks to betalain pigments that contain contain powerful nutrients and give beets their beautiful color. Beets have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and detoxification properties, and some new studies are uncovering their potential to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure.

9.15.2014

Creamy green smoothie


It's hard to remember the days before green smoothies at my house. When I lived with my parents, most Saturday mornings involved lounging under the canopy on our backyard patio with hearty whole wheat waffles, loads of dark French-pressed coffee, good conversation, and green smoothies.

Smoothies have become wildly popular in the past couple of years, and as a dietitian and a smoothie lover, I've been soaking it in. When Mike and I got married, we registered for a Vitamix, realizing the likelihood of someone dropping $500 on a blender for us was pretty slim. The first weekend home after our honeymoon, we drove ourselves to Costco with a wad of cash and picked up our very own blending wonder in the 6300 model. No regrets. I also use it to make the greatest hummus.

Smoothies can be amazingly nutrient-dense and delicious with the right combination of ingredients. I had been making this smoothie sans-avocado for some time, but dropping in a big slice of creamy avocado took it to a whole new level. Dreamy, creamy, slightly sweet, and completely nutritious. Fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin D from the dairy, vitamins A and K from the greens), so avocado serves a dual purpose here. But mostly, it's delicious.
There's a vicious, never-ending competition between juices and smoothies in the nutrition world. The juicer people say they get concentrated nutrients in an easily digestible form with freshly extracted juice, while the blender people argue better retention of fiber and whole ingredients by blending. While I think both can be beneficial and provide easy ways to take in more fruits and vegetables, I'm inclined to agree more with the blender folks.

When I toss whole ingredients into a blender and whirl them all together, I know I'm going to end up with the same nutrients as I put in: folic acid, fiber, and vitamins A and K from the greens, vitamin C and antioxidants from the fruit, and omega-3s from the chia seeds. If I sent these same items through a juicer, some juice and undoubtedly some vitamins and minerals will be extracted, and the fibrous skins and other bits that the juicer couldn't liquefy would remain. The majority of nutrients in fruits and vegetables are located in a layer just under the surface of the skin (parents, this is one good reason to avoid peeling fruits and vegetables for your kids if you can - removing the peel also might be removing some nutrients), so it's hard to be sure vitamins and minerals aren't being left behind in the pulp.

There are some great arguments in favor of juicing, and don't get me wrong, I love a fresh glass of juice just as much as anyone. But smoothies are simple: you put good stuff in, you'll get good stuff out. All of it.