Tag Archives: diet

Remember what is important to you…

A couple of weeks back, we got some bad news: an extended family member and family friend had both passed away (from unrelated causes). I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions – sadness in their passing, sympathy for my family and friends, and a sense of relief that they were no longer suffering. Then, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, this past Monday I visited some dear friends in the maternity ward where they were celebrating the birth of their baby girl. There is nothing quite like juxtaposing birth and death, each celebrations of life in their own ways, to put everything else into perspective.

And there has been a lot of “everything else.” Work has been going really well, but then my boss and mentor announced that she was leaving the company to pursue a great opportunity elsewhere. While I know this is an awesome step for her, I am a bit nervous about what the impending changes might mean for, well, everyone. I’ve tried to approach this news with a renewed sense of what really matters, given the previous week’s events, plus the thoughts I’ve been giving to the TED talk about work/life balance. As I’ve said before, change is more than good, and I am trying to keep that in the front of my mind.

Aside from work, we have had a crazy schedule with lots of moving parts – and barbeques which unfortunately means that my diet has taken a major hit. It’s like everywhere I turn there are cookies, and I have been eating like crap. I’m not sure what happened to my self-control, but I am making every effort to rein it back in. The scale hasn’t moved, thankfully, but I know it will if I keep this up. More than the number on the scale, I haven’t been feeling my best and most energetic because I’m not eating well, which is almost worse than gaining weight.

With all that, I am taking this weekend as an opportunity to start over and tackle this summer with a vengeance. My renewed energy nicely coincides with a fitness challenge at work where our CEO charges us with meeting goals as a team regarding health, nutrition, and exercise. I certainly don’t want my team disappointed in me (and the competitive side of me wants to beat everyone else) so it’s win-win. I’m getting back on track with more intense workouts and have done some serious meal planning: on the docket to cook this weekend is a baked zucchini dish and healthy chicken parm.

With all the ups and downs of late, one constant has remained: a necklace I’ve found myself wearing a lot. One side has some straightforward advice: remember what is important to you; the other has a very simple tree of life. It seems to sum up all of the things about which I’ve been reflecting lately – life, birth, death, renewal, seasons, phases, priorities. It’s been a helpful reminder, especially when I know it’s hanging around my neck. I, for one, am looking forward to a great and healthy weekend.

 

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Chicken Rolls with Asparagus and Mozzarella

The other day I walked into Fairway and right in front of me were these petite asparagus spears – they looked perfect for the chicken rolls that were dancing around in my head and with that, an impromptu recipe was born.  After picking up some thin chicken cutlets, I was ready to cook – I had everything else at home, making this an easy weeknight recipe that takes little thought, effort, or preparation.

CHICKEN ROLLS WITH ASPARAGUS AND MOZZARELLA

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken cutlets, pounded thin and evenly
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • salt and pepper, for seasoning meat
  • whole wheat bread crumbs

    Chicken rolls w/ asparagus and mozzarella!

Directions

  1. Sautee asparagus in olive oil until bright green. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Pat chicken dry and lightly season with salt and pepper.
  5. Lay out chicken breast, arrange asparagus on top, and sprinkle with mozzarella.
  6. Roll chicken around asparagus and cheese; place seam down in baking dish.
  7. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.
  8. Sprinkle whole wheat bread crumbs on top of chicken.
  9. Cook for approximately 25-30 mins* or until chicken registers 160/165 degrees with a meat thermometer.

That’s it – veggies plus protein in one fell swoop and a nice way to switch up chicken and vegetables! I suggest serving this with brown rice or cous-cous as a side to round out a nicely balanced meal that makes for a yummy, crowd-pleasing dinner and great leftovers.

This is also a solid base recipe – you could switch out asparagus for mushrooms or another veggie, use a different type of cheese, or even make mini flank steak roll-ups using the same concepts. Happy eating!

*October 31, 2012 update: It might take a little longer than 10 minutes to cook your chicken depending on the strength of your oven, size of cutlets, etc. Never consume raw or undercooked meat – always rely on a good meat thermometer to let you know when food is done!

*November 11, 2013 update: OK, OK, I have heard you all loud and clear – I changed the cooking time from 10 mins – I must have a magical oven or be totally inept at keeping time. Originally, I only cooked these for about 10 mins but the cutlets I used were really, really, really thin. So don’t eat raw meat, cook it long enough, and plan ahead accordingly.

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Light & Healthy Chicken Marsala

My grandmother, a well-seasoned cook and fantastic baker, has always talked about how much she loves reading cookbooks. It wasn’t until recently, when I started cooking regularly for myself, that I understood what she meant. Not only is it a great way to learn new cooking techniques, but so many cookbooks hold information that goes well beyond the recipe. Little nuggets like conversion tables, tips and tricks about which types cookware to use, and basics like the best way to measure certain ingredients grace the pages of the better cookbooks.

So, when my grandmother recommended “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook,” I took her suggestion pretty seriously – she is not quick to refer someone to a bad cookbook. I thumbed through it at her house and fell in love. It was full of such great information about everything from cookware to product reviews to amazing recipes. On my next trip to Barnes and Noble, as I perused the cookbook section, I came across “The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook” – it had all of the great information in the traditional version but all of the recipes were light and healthy! Sold! (Not all of the recipes are “clean,” but I figured I have lots of clean cookbooks and it couldn’t hurt to add something different to my collection.)

I started to make a list of what I wanted to make out of the book – turned out to be basically everything. I settled the “Spa Chicken” and low-fat “Mushroom-Marsala Sauce.” Some Marsala sauces and recipes end up laden with calories – from breaded chicken to heavy cream in the sauce itself. This was a huge turnoff to me, so until now I had considered it an occasional treat to order when eating out rather than something I could whip up at home.

Not anymore! I couldn’t have been more pleased with the recipe came out – I don’t think I would change anything about it! And, to boot, this was the first time I made poached chicken as a main dish and not as part of a soup. In stark contrast to my last recipe experiment, I followed the steps on these recipes exactly. Both recipes below are from “The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook” – check them out at http://www.americastestkitchen.com/.

MUSHROOM-MARSALA SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons EVOO
  • 8 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced thin (I used 10 oz. because I love mushrooms!)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    Marsala sauce underway!

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  2. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook until browned.
  3. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Whisk in the broth and Marsala and bring to a simmer.
  5. Whisk the water and cornstarch together and then stir into the sauce.
  6. Simmer until the sauce is thickened and measures 1 cup, about 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

SPA CHICKEN

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, pounded if necessary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, parsley, cilantro, or tarragon

    Healthy chicken Marsala ready to eat

Directions:

  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Combine the water, garlic, thyme, and soy sauce in a 12-inch skillet.
  3. Add the chicken and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. When the water is simmering, flip the chicken over, cover, and continue to cook until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees.
  5. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Slice on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
  7. Sprinkle with parsley and cover in Marsala sauce and mushrooms to serve.
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You are so totally what you eat

A recent RADIOLAB podcast called GUTS really got me thinking about food (as if I didn’t think about food enough already throughout the day…) but it helped me get beyond meal planning and really dig into what happens when you eat. I’m not a biology whiz, but I understand on very basic levels how the human body processes food. I know the types of foods I should embrace to reach my fitness goals, and the types of foods I should avoid. But, that’s about it. This podcast helped me take things to a higher level.

First, the RADIOLAB folks explored what goes on when your stomach digests food. Digestion is pretty basic, right? Your stomach uses what it needs from the food you eat and sends it around to different parts of the body – maybe muscles need to recover, bones need to mend, etc. But, the podcast got me thinking that in a very strange way that any given meal essentially morphs into the being who ate it. It becomes an inseparable part of the body – fueling cells and bodily functions – rather than just being the input and output of a system. This gives a new perspective on the old adage that you are what you eat.

Perhaps the most interesting terrifying part of the podcast was when a researcher, John Cryan, spoke about the thousands of species of bacteria that are alive and well in your body. You’re never alone. There is a whole world of little creatures hanging out in your gut at any given moment, and you better hope they are in balance otherwise you might experience the stomach virus from hell. But, I digress…

Cryan also spoke about some interesting experiments on mice that look at how the presence of different types of lactobacillus bacteria (same stuff in yogurt, cheese, and more) in their guts impacted their personalities and how they react to stress. Turns out, the mice have a direct link – the largest nerve in their body – between the stomach and brain. When the nerve is intact, and the lactobacillus is present, it seems that a message goes from the gut to the brain for the mice to remain calm. Sever that nerve, and the mice react with panic. Then, Jonah Lehrer, a frequent RADIOLAB contributor, came on to say that a similar experiment was done with humans: participants who ingested high levels of probiotics exhibited biological reactions similar to taking anti-anxiety meds. 

From my (non-scientific) everyday observations, it’s pretty clear to me that when I eat well, I feel good. When I don’t, not only does my body feel terrible, but I also feel an emotional impact as well. I’m sure part of it is psychological – that immediate guilt of eating something unhealthy, how it wouldn’t be so hard to have eaten a piece of fruit instead of a cookie – but it makes sense that biological reactions to the ingredients in food could compound these emotions. That’s even more reason for me to steer clear of the bad stuff – and I certainly don’t want to upset the crazy microorganisms that keep my body in balance.

There is no way that this summary has done the podcast justice so click here to listen to the GUTS episode and let me know what you think!

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Power-Up Whole Wheat Lasagna Roll-Ups

I’m always on the search for an easy healthy lasagna recipes (like the no pasta zucchini lasagna!) but today I bring you, by popular demand, power-up whole wheat lasagna roll-ups!  This recipe is easy enough for a weeknight meal, hearty enough to freeze for leftovers, and just plan delicious. For a vegetarian option, simply don’t include the ground chicken.

Power-Up Whole Wheat Lasagna Roll-Ups
 

All rolled up, although a little smushed.

 
Ingredients
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 lb ground chicken (optional)
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed
  • 24-oz. low-fat, low-sodium cottage cheese
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 8 sheets dried whole-wheat lasagna noodles 

Instructions

  1. Sautee diced onions on medium heat with 1 tsp olive oil. Add garlic in next.
  2. Add ground chicken and cook until no longer pink.
  3. Add tomatoes with juice, salt, and thyme. Reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer for 20 min. Stir occasionally to break the tomatoes into pieces.
  4. While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to box directions. Drain, rinse, and cool in colander.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Squeeze all remaining moisture from thawed spinach and place in a large bowl. Add cottage cheese, egg, and 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese; stir until combined.
  7. Spread 1 cup of cooked tomato sauce into bottom of a 9″ x 10″ casserole dish.
  8. Place a cooked lasagna noodle in front of you, spread 1/8 of the cottage cheese mixture across the noodle, and roll it up (see photo below).
  9. Place rolled pasta, seam side down, into the casserole dish
  10. Repeat with remaining noodles, then top with remaining mozzarella cheese.
  11. Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes.
  12. Remove foil and broil for 5 minutes or until roll-ups are brown and bubbly.

Whole wheat roll-ups in various stages of undress.

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