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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mediterranean Vegetable Panini

Anything "Mediterranean" has been a buzzword lately. Claims abound that if you eat like someone from the Mediterranean, you will lose weight. I'm not completely sure where "the Mediterranean" even is, but I picture somewhere on the coast of Greece or Italy. The diet involves lots of fresh vegetables like eggplant, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. as well as health fats from olive oil, fish, and avocado. Combined with low amounts of red meat, sugar, and saturated fat plus an active lifestyle, it is claimed that you will suffer less cardiovascular problems, health issues in general, and live longer. I'm sure the sun, sand, and surf of the Mediterranean Sea doesn't hurt... While there is always going to be conflicting information about diets because of marketing and such, here are a few websites for some information: WebMD - Mediterranean Diet Weight Loss Effectiveness?; Mayo Clinic - Mediterranean Diet & Heart Health; US News Best Diet - Mediterranean Diet: What you need to know.

This sandwich was inspired by Udis Bread. They have an eggplant panini that is absolutely amazing, it is a huge slice of eggplant grilled, with grilled red bell pepper and goat cheese. I had bought an eggplant and didn't know what to do with it, so I decided to try my own version of an eggplant panini. I also had a red bell pepper and some zucchini, so I decided to go all veggie-licious. You can sub in whatever vegetables you like, ones that hold up to grilling are the best. Also I don't have a 'real' grill, so the hand dandy George Foreman did the heavy lifting. You could also use a pan and just put a lid on top of the sandwich weighted down with something to grill it.


Ingredients:
1 1/4" thick slice eggplant
2 (or 1 really big) slices of zucchini
2/3 red bell pepper, seeded
Handful of spinach
2 tbsp hummus
thick slice cheese (I had white cheddar)



Step 1: Brush or spray grill with olive oil so the veggies don't stick. Grill eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper for about 10-15 minutes, until softened and beginning to char.
Step 2: Layer the veggies, hummus, and cheese onto some bread. Spray the grill again, and press the sandwich for 2-5 minutes, just to heat through.


I actually took this in for lunch, and though a little moist from the hummus it held up well.
You can use whatever kind of bread you like, or try a wrap or pita pocket. 


Warning: it may be a better idea to wait until you are ready to eat the sandwich to add hummus. The bottom of the sandwich was a little squishy. 
If you get rid of the cheese, then this sandwich is also vegan.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Twice the wine for half the calories!

Just in time for Thirsty Thursday, a smart trick to let yourself enjoy two glasses of wine for the caloric price of one! Whether at home with your girls or sweetie, or out on the prowl at happy hour, this is a sneaky trick to help manage your weight without putting a damper on your social life. 

Disclaimer

Now, before I tell you the trick, let me say this is in no way an endorsement for drinking. I am not giving anyone permission to over-indulge or anything like that. There is much mixed information in the news about how red wine contains antioxidants and resveretrol, so it has to be healthy; or alcohol causes lowered inhibition, weight gain, and loose morals, so it's the devil. There is some truth to both sides, and my life motto is all things in moderation.  Women are recommended to drink no more than one beverage per day, and men two. An alcoholic beverage means:
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, such as vodka (a shot)
While it is true that some studies show various mental and physical health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol (specifically wine), alcohol also contains "empty" calories. This means that you are getting calories from the drink, but no health benefits from vitamins or nutrients. So you need to take into account the calories that you will be adding on top of all your food calories for the day, or you will gain weight over time. This also goes for other "empty" beverages like soda pop or sugary coffee drinks. 


Calories in Wine

Depending on the type of wine, one 5 ounce glass can contain between 100 and 300 calories. That is the typical size of a midday snack or breakfast. The range is large because it depends upon the type of wine and the sugar content. Sweeter wines tend to have more sugar, and thus more calories, than dry wines. Which is unfortunate, because I can kill a whole bottle of moscato in one sitting, but take two hours to force down a dry red. I guess that's the idea...

The website GetDrunkNotFat is aptly named, and specializes in exactly the type of information you would think. They have a great chart here that summarizes many types of beverages (including things other than wine) broken down by calories per serving, serving size, even grams of carbohydrates per serving. You should also check out this amazing infographic on "Wine for Beginners" by Madeline Puckette from WineFolly.com





The part you've been waiting for!

Anyways, there is a way you can have you wine and drink it too. (Nonsensical metaphor, check). Simply ask the bartender or yourself to mix half wine with half soda water. Carbonated water or seltzer water have as many calories as regular water: Zero. Therefore, you can have 2.5 oz of wine plus 2.5 oz of sparkling water, twice! That's nicer than having one glass of wine, and one glass of water, don't you think? 

Carbonated water gets its fizzy property from dissolved carbon dioxide. Many names are basically synonymous, including: soda water, seltzer, carbonated water, club soda, sparkling water, and mineral water, with small distinctions. The exception, which is not synonymous, is tonic water. This is definitely not water-flavored; if ever you have tried it you are aware of its bitter taste. This bitter property comes from the organic compound quinine.  
What quinine looks like. In case you ever need to
organic chemistry your way out of a situation at a bar.
While bitter compounds are typically rejected by your taste buds (from an evolutionary mechanism which protected early people from ingesting poisons, see the comic below), quinine has been used in medicine for centuries. In fact, quinine has been and is still used occasionally to treat malaria. Interestingly, it is also naturally fluorescent. So if you're at a club with black lights, you could always order a gin & tonic and amaze your friends with your glowing beverage. 
The same logic applies to foods and drinks. If it was bitter, it might be poison. At least nowadays we know better.

So now that you know, choose your fizzy calorie-free mixer, and your wine of choice. May I recommend not diluting a very expensive fine wine, but going for something like (now) three-buck-chuck? Simply because, if you can afford a $200-bottle of wine, I assume you want to enjoy the wine for itself. In that case, please proceed, and maybe email me so we can be friends?


You can even use flavored soda water so that you don't notice a taste difference, or improve the taste of a wine you aren't terribly fond of, but are tired of that 1/3 full bottle in the fridge.
It makes a bubbly beverage that feels even more special. And good news, there is no scientific evidence that carbonated water harms bone health, in case that was a concern.
Enjoy responsibly!


For more health effects of alcohol, check out:

Do you have any healthy or frugal drinking tips?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ways to Use Hard Boiled Eggs & Ham

Happy Easter! If you are reading this today, Easter Sunday, then thank you loyal reader! If this is a day, week, month after the fact, don't worry. This post is created with you in mind. On Easter Sunday, the typical American family will enjoy a nice meal of ham and boiled eggs, with many other possible additions including Easter bread, bacon, quiche... This means there is likely to be some amount of ham and likely large amounts of eggs left over. 

Since one can only eat so many cold ham sandwiches and limited amounts of egg salad, I put together a reference of many kinds of recipes to re-purpose leftover foods into new and exciting dishes! Keep in mind, cooked ham keeps great in the freezer for up to 6 months, so that is always an option. Hard boiled eggs will keep in the freezer up to a week.


Recipes for Hard Boiled Eggs

 
Photo from "Spoonlighting" blog, I recommend reading it

Classic egg salad: chop up eggs and mix with mayonnaise. This can be jazzed up many ways- add Tabasco, dill, curry powder, celery, etc.

Tuna salad: take plain tuna fish salad to the next level by adding chopped boiled eggs to it. Adds a nice texture balance, and even more protein.

Potato salad: make a classic potato salad and toss in some eggs as well. Boil chopped potatoes until soft, drain and toss with mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, spices, and a few chopped eggs.

Deviled: take the yolks from the eggs and mash separately. Add mustard and mayonnaise. You can get crazy and try crushed nuts, pesto, BBQ sauce, whatever your  imagination thinks up. Put into a plastic ziplock, cut a corner off, and pipe the filling back into the egg halves. Garnish with a dash of paprika or fresh dill.

This classic strawberry shortcake, from the LA Times, with a secret ingredient: boiled egg yolk in the batter.

Cobb salad: make a bed of lettuce, then cover with chopped tomato, bacon, avocado, and hard boiled egg. Really, boiled eggs can top any salad.

Soup garnish: serve a hearty chilled gazpacho or borscht the traditional way, topped with a halved hard boiled egg.

Pickled: using spices, vinegar, and some beet juice for that lovely ruby color, pickle your leftover eggs and they will keep much longer. Try this recipe from Allrecipes.

Noodle soup: add a cooked egg into anything from fancy glass noodle Pho to ramen to add a kick of proteins and vitamins.

For even more ideas, see Health's article "8 Excellent Recipes for Hard-Boiled Eggs"

Recipes for Leftover Ham


Photo from "Petit Jean Meats". They recommend heating their ham
in your dishwasher to save oven space. Go read it, I'm not lying.

Sandwiches: this one's a given. Who doesn't love a few thick slices of ham on a soft roll or bun, slathered in mayo and topped with tomato? But once you've had that three days in a row for lunch, it's time for something a little more exciting...

Breakfast: leftover ham is a rockstar in the breakfast department. Layer it with a cooked egg and cheese on a bagel, wrap it up in a breakfast burrito, or add it to any frittata, quiche, or strata.

Soups: ham and navy bean, ham and barley, ham and potato, the possibilities are endless here. Just search "ham soup" and watch how many pages Google finds. Don't forget, the bone add a nice layer of flavor so don't get rid of it. Add it to the stock while it simmers away and enjoy extra umami. 

Scalloped potatoes: another ham classic, just layer thinly sliced potatoes, coat with flour and butter, and ham, add a little milk, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. You can add in extra veggies like peas, happiness like bacon, or get crazy and use sweet potatoes to up the oomph of health.

Casseroles: add ham into any type of casserole. Ham, broccoli and cheese. Ham, beans and rice. Ham... you get the idea. Adding new ingredients and baking it all together gives the leftover a fresh breath of life.

Pizza: use small chunks or thin slices and add ham to homemade pizza. Add pineapple for Hawaiian, sausage and pepperoni for meat lovers, BBQ sauce, or ranch.

A great idea for any types of leftovers that freeze well is to freeze them in smaller, recipe-sized or single-serving packages. That way, when you're rushed for dinner and just want to throw some ham into tonight's pasta primavera, you don't have to wait to defrost a big chunk, you can just grab one of the two-slice packages you froze.

Two really great resources for inspiration come from AllRecipes. They have a collection of Leftover Ham Recipes as well as a special Easter Ham section. You should also check out PremeditatedLeftovers article on 10 uses for leftover ham plus 5 things to do with a ham bone.


What's your favorite way to use leftovers?


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Baked ham & greens frittata

Frittatas are an awesome brunch staple, because they are easy to make and infinitely customizable. This would be a great Easter brunch option! They are the perfect answer to a vegetarian source of protein. Add in tofu, beans, and whatever veggies you want, but the eggs do the heavy lifting in the protein department. One typical large egg contains 6 g of protein, which is 12% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult (source: USDA). It also has keratin for your eyes, vitamin D, A and B, with only 70-80 calories. There aren't many other protein sources with as complete nutrition for such a low per calorie count.

What's a Frittata anyway?

Frittatas are most similar to a crust-less quiche. So if you love quiche but want to cut down on carbohydrates, calories, and saturated fat without sacrificing taste and versatility, a frittata is perfect for you. There is some confusion as to the difference between a frittata and an omelet. The main difference is that  omelets traditionally have the egg mixture cooked and folded around a filling which is added on top at the last minute, whereas a frittata is all mixed and cooked together, not folded over. A frittata is also traditionally baked in the oven for all or part of its cooking time. Your best choices for a perfect frittata are cast iron or a non-stick oven-safe frying pan. 

Now, if you have never tried a frittata, it may be intimidating. Or perhaps you have tried before with little luck. They turn out too dry, tough, overly browned, stuck to the pan, or too bland. That's ok. There are a few tricks to the perfect frittata every time. Whatever pan you use, make sure to spray with cooking oil or spread some olive oil around so the eggs don't stick. You need more for stainless steel than for non-stick or cast iron. Then make sure to cook any meat thoroughly first, then the veggies, then add the eggs. The rest of the tips are below.



Ingredients:
6 large eggs
1/2 cup spinach
1 cup cooked asparagus
4 slices deli turkey
Cheddar cheese
Spices (Mrs. Dash & garlic salt) 

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400. Cook any meat you're using first (bacon, sausage, chorizo), remove it, and drain any fat. Then cook your veggies until slightly softened. You want them to still have a little crunch, as they will be cooked further.
Step 2: Add the meat or tofu and heat until warm. Season liberally here, as you will lose some flavor. I used a Mrs. Dash seasoning mix and generous amounts of garlic salt.
Step 3: Spread the contents of the pan into an even layer. You can sprinkle on a little cheese to let it melt here. Then beat the eggs in a separate bowl until fluffy and pour over the veggies and/or meat. Tilt the pan around so the eggs spread all the way to all edges. Let it cook just until it begins to set and is hard around the edges.
Step 4: Put the whole pan into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. When you cut a hole in the center and no raw egg is left, pull it from the oven. Let cool 5-10 minutes, then cut into wedges like a pie and serve.
It turns out only gently browned but cooked through. The eggs are springy and light, and it is super filling without feeling heavy.
Frittatas have so many uses! If you've had a late day and are starving but don't want too complicated of a dinner that you can make fast, just throw whatever veggies into it, have a nice glass of wine with it, and there's a 20 minute dinner. If you're having friends or family over for brunch or lunch, add a light salad. If you want to make a nice weekend breakfast for yourself or your family, just make some toast. Frittatas are so versatile. 

Enjoy, and Happy Easter!

(Easter Sunday is the 20th, in case you didn't know. I had to look it up too, don't worry.)