Kitchen Sink Soup

IMG_0575

 

Sometimes you just have a bunch of veggies you need to use – they wouldn’t all necessarily fit together well into a neat side dish or salad.  Well, it’s probably a great time to consider making a soup!

I found myself in this situation last night.  I decided I was going to make a soup then started scoping out what I had that would fit together well…. a bag of carrots with a few left, a bag of celery, a red bell pepper, 2 zucchini, half a container of baby bella ‘shrooms, onions, garlic, shallot, a can of diced tomatoes plus two fresh tomatoes, and about a pound of fresh green beans.  Maybe you don’t have all these ingredients… the beauty of the kitchen sink soup is you use what you have.  Maybe you don’t have all those fresh veggies but you have a few fresh veggie and a few frozen (peas, corn, spinach, broccoli)… throw it in.  Here are the basics of what you’ll need to make a delicious soup:

(1) Veggies to develop flavor.  Any of these are great flavor agents: onion, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, celery, fresh herbs, tomato (canned diced tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes with garlic & herbs, tomato paste).

(2) Veggies to add color.  Any of the following would be great examples: carrots, green beans, broccoli, spinach, squash, sweet potato, peas, corn, okra, Swiss chard, asparagus, kale, leek, etc, etc, etc — you get the point, just use what you have and what you think would go well together!

(3) If this is going to be an entire meal (which I recommend, because that makes it super easy) then choose a protein to round it out: could be ground turkey or ground beef that you brown (fully cook) and then throw in, canned beans (black, Great Northern, pinto, lentils; drained & rinsed before adding), tofu, or a rotisserie chicken that you skin and pull apart before adding.

(4) Liquid.  Obviously every soup needs liquid.  I recommend using a homemade or low sodium stock (veggie, chicken, beef) versus a store bought full sodium stock or bouillon.  If you can find a lower sodium bouillon, that would be a great healthy choice, too.

Okay, have what you need?  Now you’re going to want to sauté those flavor developing veggies in some olive or canola oil – I like to sauté them on a high temp at first then turn down the temp and cook them low & slow to derive the most flavor.  Watch them carefully to make sure they don’t burn.  When they’re looking nice and mushy – and if you’re using onion, when they’re looking a bit translucent, then add your liquid and bring to a boil.  Throw in all the other chopped veggies then bring it down to a simmer.  Add your cooked protein.  Add any additional seasonings (I used cumin, salt, and pepper – but get creative and use what you have!).  Congratulations, you just made a healthy, high fiber, balanced, and delicious meal!  Serve.

See?  Cooking without a recipe is easy – and you waste less and save money!  Win-win-win!


Healthy Holiday Spinach& Artichoke Dip

Do you need a dish to bring to Thanksgiving or a holiday potluck?  Search no further.  This holiday spinach dip is sure to please your crowd as they’re snacking and waiting on the main event.  I doubled the recipe – ‘Tis the season for crowds & friendship!  Bring a double recipe to your large holiday gathering OR freeze one to pop in the oven before the next get together or just to snack on at home!

I have been bringing spinach dip to my Thanksgiving get togethers since I was a teenager – it was the first thing I volunteered to bring, it was a hit, and it is requested annually now!  I know it’s not considered one of the traditional items but it works.  I usually bring a few other dishes now that I’m a full on grown person, and since our family gatherings tend to be on the smaller side more cooks are needed.  But this has continued to be a staple dish.

This version of spinach dip is: high in fiber, packed full of healthy protein, uses non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and at the same time doesn’t completely skimp on fat with full-fat cream cheese and parmesan.  I served it with some yummy whole grain pita points.  If that’s not your cup of tea you could also use pita chips, tortilla chips, or bake it up in a bread bowl if you wanted to get super fancy!

I used freshly chopped spinach but you could just as easily substitute the same amount of frozen spinach.  If you’re going to go with frozen, just pop it in the fridge to thaw the day before you make it and follow the same recipe steps.

Ingredients:

1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt

2/3 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

20 ounces fresh spinach, chopped

2 10 ounce cans artichoke hearts, chopped

2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1 tsp lemon zest

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

8 whole wheat pitas, cut into points, for serving

Method:

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and get out 2 8×8 baking dishes.  Chop spinach and artichokes (the more finely you chop, the easier dipping will be!  Whisk yogurt and cream cheese together until no lumps remain.  Stir in parmesan cheese, salt, garlic powder and lemon zest.  Stir in spinach, artichokes, and mozzarella.  Bake 20 minutes, or until bubbly around the sides of the pan.

Enjoy and happy holidays everyone!


Pumpkin & Flax “Pancakes”: A High Energy Way to Start Your Day

I’m kind of obsessed with pumpkin in the Fall.  I usually roast a whole pumpkin and freeze the pumpkin puree so I can make pumpkin bread, pancakes, smoothies, etc. on into the winter as well.  I was really sad when the huge pumpkin I bought for this molded two days after I bought it.  There’s still time, but I picked up some pumpkin goodies to make this recipe that doesn’t involve homemade pumpkin puree.  Canned pumpkin works great in recipes, and sometimes better than a homemade puree because it’s thicker.

This recipe was inspired by a lecture on circadian rhythm I attended at FNCE in Chicago earlier this week.  The presenter made a strong argument for consuming more calories earlier in the day – think a heavier breakfast and lunch and smaller dinner.  This can theoretically result in less fatigue and having more steady energy throughout the day.  It also has implications for sleep quality and duration.  My colleague David of TD Wellness wrote a great synopsis of this here.

I attended another lecture on thyroid function and diet that I found equally fascinating.  We have moved further and further into the low carb fad in this country – I found it interesting that a low carbohydrate diet is directly related to poor thyroid function.  I’m going to write a separate blog post about that later, because I think it’s super important, but in the mean time – don’t fear carbs, they’re not the bad guy.  Think balanced eating overall, getting a healthy balance of macronutrients throughout the day.

If you’re tired of the same old breakfast day in and day out, this may be for you on a morning you’re able to spare about 30 minutes!

 

Pumpkin Cereal “Pancakes”

Pancake Ingredients:

1 11.5 ounce package Nature’s Path pumpkin seed + flax granola

2 TBSP ground flax seed + 6 TBSP water (or you can use 2 eggs)

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

2/3 cup unsweetened dried cranberries

Topping Ingredients:

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 tsp honey

4 fresh bananas, sliced

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Mix 2 TBSP ground flax with 6 TBSP water and let thicken until it is about the texture of an egg.  Add all pancake ingredients in a large bowl and mix until the ingredients are well combined.  Using heaping 1/4 cup scoops, form into 16 pancakes on baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Let pancakes cool.  While pancakes are cooling, whip heavy cream and 1 tsp honey with a hand mixer until air is well incorporated.  Serve 2 pancakes with 2 TBSP whipped cream and 1/2 a sliced banana.  Serves 8.

 

 


Nana’s Banana Bread Recipe Gets a Makeover

My grandmother, AKA Nana, used to make me my favorite banana bread every time I came to visit.  She would even freeze it and bring it with her when she came to visit my family.  When I started making it myself when I was a teenager, I noticed it was absolutely loaded with sugar…. a full cup per loaf.  Cutting the sugar by half and adding whole wheat pastry flour to her original recipe not only makes it a bit healthier, but also tastes better in my opinion!  No offense Nana, I’ll always remember your banana bread fondly from my childhood, just enjoy it most of the time with a bit of a revamp 😉

 

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt (or use salted butter)

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 very ripe bananas

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup granulated sugar OR sugar in the raw

2 eggs

1/2 cup toasted walnuts (optional)

2 tsp vanilla extract

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Soften butter.  Spray a loaf pan with olive oil, then sprinkle a bit of flour over it, so the bread doesn’t stick coming out.  Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk in a medium size mixing bowl.  In a another mixing bowl, smash the bananas with a fork until there are no big chunks left.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, olive oil, sugar, and maple syrup together until uniform, then add the eggs and mix well.  Add the flour mixture to the large mixing bowl with the butter mixture and combine well.  Then add the bananas and combine well.  Add walnuts *if using* and combine well.  Lastly, add the vanilla extract, and… you got it… combine well.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for an hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Enjoy!

 


Quick and Easy Chickpea and Quinoa Salad

Today I’m giving a presentation on making healthy food fast.  I’ve been testing some new recipes in my kitchen to make sure they make the cut.  They have to be prepped and ready in 30 minutes or less with minimal clean up effort (i.e., they don’t use multiple pots and pans, just one in most cases).  Here is one of the recipes I’ve tested this week leading up to my presentation.  It is really good, and my lab rats AKA my family all gobbled it up.  Hope you like it too!

Quick and Easy Chickpea and Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

2 TBSP EVOO

1 onion, finely diced

1 14 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly

10-15 large Swiss chard leaves (usually 1 bunch from the store)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

2 cups unsalted vegetable stock

1 cup uncooked quinoa

 

Method:

Heat EVOO in a Dutch oven or large saucepan.  Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until translucent.

Add the chickpeas, Swiss chard, and spices and cook about 3-5 minutes or until the chard is cooked down.

Stir in the vegetable stock and quinoa.  Continue to cook for 10-15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender.  Taste and add a bit more pepper or garlic powder as needed.

Enjoy!  This serves 4 as an entree or 8 as a side.


Overnight Magic: Slow Cooker Steel Cut Apple Cinnamon Oats

Mornings can be hectic… trying to get out the door for work, school, or whatever else you’ve got going on.  So many people label themselves as “not a morning person.”  I’d definitely fall into that category, so anything to simplify the morning I vehemently support.  If you find yourself with some spare time in the evening to go ahead and prep breakfast to make your morning go smoothly, I highly recommend throwing this into the crock pot.

I first made this recipe when I was staying with a friend for several people.  It was a huge hit!  I’ve made it in my house a few times since for my family at home.  Check it out!

 

Ingredients:

2 large or 3 small apples, peeled and diced

2 cups steel cut oats

5 cups almond milk, or other milk of your choice

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup brown sugar

 

Method:

Place all ingredients into the crock pot.  Stir until well combined.  Set crock pot to low and cook for 8 hours.  Stir and serve.


This Rosemary Orange Smoothie Goes Great with a Chill Weekend Breakfast!

 

I’m a huge smoothie lover.  They’re a quick, easy, and fun way for me to get fruits and veggies in my kids (and myself), and many of my digestive health clients need to be on a liquid diet as a part of the management of their condition.  Finding a smoothie that packs in some green veggies without sacrificing flavor is an added bonus.

We first tried this smoothie when we happened to have all the ingredients on hand as a little “experiment” – looking at all the ingredients I wasn’t quite sure how it would taste.  It was a HUGE hit with everyone so we’ve made it many more times since then.  Foodies will especially appreciate how nicely the flavors meld together.  Enjoy!

This recipe is by Julie Morris, L.A. based natural foods chef.  I greatly admire her creativity – I have a few of her books and always love everything I make from them!  Earlier this week I reached out to her to see if she’d mind if I published this recipe on my blog.  She wrote back yesterday and graciously agreed!  I recommend Julie’s book, Superfood Smoothies, to friends and clients a lot and am happy to recommend it here too.  Check out her book and her site if you like this recipe!

 

Rosemary Orange Smoothie

Makes 2 16 ounce servings

1/4 cup dried white mulberries

1/4 cup raw cashews

3 cups baby spinach

2 TBSP mashed avocado

1 tsp orange zest

1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1 1/2 cups orange juice

2 cups ice

Blend together all the ingredients, except the ice, until smooth.  Add the ice and blend once more until frosty.  Taste, and sweeten if desired.

 

 


Delicious and Healthy Homemade Farro Risotto

img_1790

I got to go on a lovely date with John, my husband, last week while my kids were staying with their grandparents for a couple of days.  For dinner we went to a neighborhood staple here in Decatur, Leon’s Full Service.  I ordered a dainty dietitian-lady dish – the farro risotto with roasted chicken, which John teased me about as he ordered his usual manly brisket.

… AND THEN HE PROCEEDED TO TRY TO EAT MY ENTIRE DINNER.

Okay.  Not really.  He was polite about it, but he definitely preferred my meal, stole more than just a few bites, and eyed it jealously the entire meal.  I had to try to recreate a healthy homemade version of this.  It was so good I may even be able to get my kids to eat whole grains and vegetables for dinner.  After some trial and error, the following is what I’ve come up with.  It’s a very similar taste to the Leon’s version, minus the heavy cream that I suspect was very involved in the original dish.  I didn’t include the chicken recipe here, but it could be topped with a grilled or roasted chicken or pork of your choosing.  Bonus: the kids ate it up and no alternate food/bedtime snacking was required…!

Healthy Homemade Farro Risotto

Ingredients:

3 cups unsalted chicken stock

3 TBSP olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, diced

1 cup pearled farro

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 tsp salt

5 ounces cooking greens (I used baby spinach and swiss chard, but you could use any combo of these or kale/baby kale)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Method:

(1) Add chicken stock to a small sauce pan and heat over low heat.  You’ll slowly add the warmed stock to the farro later on.

(2) Grab your Dutch oven or large sauce pan and heat on medium heat.  Add 3 TBSP olive oil, coating pan.  Add diced onion and cook 4-6 minutes or until the onion is tender and starting to turn translucent.  Then add the garlic and cook an additional minute.

(3) Add the diced baby bella ‘shrooms  and the farro to the pan.  Cook on medium-high heat for approximately 3 minutes, then deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine, scraping any yummy browned mushroom bits off the pan.

(4) Add 1 cup of the warmed chicken stock plus the 1/4 tsp salt to the farro/mushroom mixture and cook (still over medium-high heat) approximately 10 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed.  Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and continue to cook until this is absorbed.  Repeat this until the stock has all been incorporated, which should take about 30 – 40 minutes total.  Stir in greens and cook 3-5 additional minutes.  Stir in parmesan cheese, or add it at the table, whichever you prefer.

Recipe makes approximately 6 adult sized servings.  Enjoy y’all!


How Can Diet Help Cultivate a Robust Gut Microbiome?

thwartedagain

 

Our gut microbiome – the name given to the sum total of all the bacteria living in our digestive tracts – is now considered by the scientists who study it to function as it’s own “organ,” acting in many surprising ways in the body. There are some seriously interesting links between the gut microbiome, inflammation, the so called “gut-brain axis” (i.e., anxiety that often couples with digestive health symptoms).

 

Poor microbial diversity, low levels of beneficial bacterial strains, and/or high levels of harmful bacterial strains have been shown to play a role in irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and even depression and anxiety.

 

There are a ton of interesting articles to read up on more of this background information, but my goal here is to outline some dietary habits that both cultivate optimal bacterial diversity and function to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria (in with the good, out with the bad!). The good news is that this advice is pretty consistent to what we already know about diet and overall health! Here’s the scoop:

 

  • Eat a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables! Isn’t this the diet advice we hear most often? A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and beans is also a diet rich in fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols. An incredibly interesting study from 2014 compared individuals fed an entirely animal based diet versus people fed an entirely plant based (vegan) diet over the course of 10 days. They found the vegan group displayed an increase in bacterial diversity, while the all-animal diet group displayed an increase in some detrimental species. This included Bilophilia strains, which have been associated with increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease. Whoa!
  • Include fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, and raw vinegar.
  • Limit highly processed foods. Fresh, plant-based foods are best for your gut microbiome. So what is the absolute opposite of that? Foods out of bags and boxes with tons of additives you can hardly pronounce. Consumption of a highly processed diet has been linked with low bacterial diversity and high levels of harmful bacteria.
  • Garlic – not just for warding off vampires – also wards off harmful colonic bacteria. Consuming garlic and other fresh herbs frequently also help support a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
  • Probiotic supplements may help, particularly if you’re on or recently have been on antibiotics. Look for a brand with several different strains. Examples of beneficial strains include: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, L. acidophilus, B. Bifidum, L. reuteri, B. longum, and Streptococcus thermophilus.

 

Another important take away here is this: your gut microbiome, like every aspect of the human body, is quite resilient. There seems to be this idea among a lot of patients I talk to that if you take antibiotics, you’re dooming yourself to months of poor health due to the effects on the microbiome. This is simply not true. Now many studies have shown that bacterial diversity and balance improve quickly after completing a course of antibiotics and are pretty much back to normal within a few months. You can help this process by doing the above-mentioned things, so don’t fret too much (at least about this aspect) if you come down with a nasty bug and need antibiotics!

 

Photo credit: thwartedagain on Flickr


Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe, With Easy Low FODMAP Modification

5
Pesto has become one of those things that I just can’t bring myself to buy in a jar.  The fresh version is pretty easy to prepare, with just a few ingredients.  To maximize my efforts I usually make a huge recipe, at least enough for two full meals with leftovers.  It freezes well and will keep in a regular freezer up to 3 months without affecting quality.  It can easily be converted to a low FODMAP version as well, see below the original recipe for the super easy modification.  Here it is, trust me it’s delicious!

 

Ingredients:

4 cups basil, rinsed and squeezed dry, then packed

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

3 large cloves of garlic

1 cup toasted pine nuts

1 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

 

Method:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend well.  I usually blend it for about a minute and a half to make sure the pesto has a consistent pureed texture.

 

To prepare a low FODMAP version of this pesto sauce, simply omit the garlic, or infuse olive oil with garlic then strain solids using this method:

 

Simmer 6 finely sliced garlic cloves in 1 cup olive oil for 5 minutes on low heat, then strain solids from the oil using a fine sieve or strainer.  This adds flavor to your oil/pesto without increasing the FODMAP content!

 

Typically hard cheeses like parmesan are well tolerated by IBS sufferers and those with lactose intolerance because the lactose level is quite low.  However, diet and digestion is highly individual and there are some folks who can’t tolerate dairy at all.  If dairy intolerance or allergy is an issue, nutritional yeast (available here or in most grocery stores for a bit cheaper) can be used as a substitute for parmesan cheese without affecting the flavor!  If you’re unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it definitely has a unique appearance which throws some people but I promise it’s delicious!