Food for thought

I spend a good number of my days talking about dietary guidelines and exercise recommendations, because so many of my patients have diabetes and obesity.  Just today, one patient decided to switch from one meal replacement plan to another (after losing 20 lbs!) because she ‘got bored’ from the meals that were being offered to her.  I understood her frustration, but I couldn’t help also wondering…what if she were *taught* how to cook a variety of healthy meals that she could then diversify on her own, to mix things up with the seasonal produce and draw from different flavor profiles??  You could have Asian food one night, Mediterranean another, etc, etc.  So many possibilities…

Eating healthily and mindfully is SO NOT BORING!  I can attest to this because I have an endless stream of recipes and ideas from the magazines, cookbooks, blogs, and websites I follow in my spare time.  J’s obsession is sports.  Mine is cooking and trying out new recipes.

I firmly believe in Pollan’s maxim: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  And by food, he means REAL food, not stuff that has been processed and then fortified because it no longer has nutrients.

I ran across an editorial in the NYT the other day that encapsulates a lot of what I believe and try to tell my patients when they ask me for the ‘best’ diet or the diet ‘most likely to succeed for weight loss’: Simple Rules for Healthy Eating.  It basically expounds a little on Pollan’s very simple (yet very valid) advice.

Some of the key points:

  1. Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods.
  2. Eat heavily processed foods rarely.
  3. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible, which should be prepared from unprocessed foods as much as possible.
  4. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine.
  5. Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol (consume in moderation).
  6. Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation.
  7. When you do eat out, try to eat at restaurants that follow the same rules.
  8. Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible.

AMEN to the last point – it is so much easier to cook and enjoy food when you are doing it with those you love!  🙂

Mini quiches for everybody!

Even when I was younger, I never felt that enthusiastic about the rigmarole of Valentine’s Day.  I’m hardly alone in thinking this, regardless of being single or in a relationship.  J and I were even dismayed last year when we made the mistake of going out for dinner during the weekend, and found that the menu for the pink and red holiday had been extended to the entire weekend.  Ugh.

That said, there is much joy to be found in life’s little pleasures and small, everyday gestures of love and affection.  For me, that means cooking and spending time with family and J.  I made these mini mushroom, spinach, and proscuitto quiches for an impromptu brunch with his family yesterday.  Crustless and portion-controlled, these savory bites were full of protein, vegetables, and flavor!

Mini quiches

Mini Mushroom, Spinach, and Proscuitto Quiches (makes ~12)

  • 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 1/2 tbl butter
  • 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 6 slices proscuitto (~3 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup 1% milk (or skim milk)
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese (fontina or gruyere; I used white cheddar since that’s what we had)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly coat a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan with olive oil.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, shallot, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook until shallots are soft and the mushrooms are dry and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the baby spinach until the spinach is just wilted, but still bright green, 2 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In the same skillet over medium heat, crisp the proscuitto.  Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg whites, and milk until well combined.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Divide the egg mixture evenly between the muffin tins, filling them about halfway.  Top evenly with the mushroom and spinach mixture and then the crisped proscuitto.
  5. Bake until the quiches are well risen, golden brown and set, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bisous, bisous, bisous!  Quiche, quiche, quiche!  😉

and to all, a good night!
and to all, a good night!

Not your usual spaghetti…

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Do you fear the carbs?

I spend a good portion of my patient time counseling patients on how to manage their weight and diabetes, and often that involves talking about food choices, nutrition, and exercise (yes!  a few of my favorite things!).  Some of my patients hardly know where to start, while others have embraced multiple fads (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Grain Brain, Gluten-free, etc), sometimes even eliminating whole food groups or cooking (i.e. only eating raw) in their efforts to lose weight and feel better.  There is a lot of controversy over carbohydrates, which have recently been cast as the new enemy in our fight against diabetes and obesity.

I wish I had an answer for “Which diet is the best diet,” but I don’t.  The best diet is the one you actually adhere to, the one you can follow sustainably.  For me, that means a more plant-based diet that emphasizes fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, while also incorporating lean protein, whole grains, and good fats.   Make your calories count, and be mindful of avoiding foods that are highly caloric but not necessarily nutritious.   It’s amazing how different 2,000 calories can look on your plate, depending on what you choose.

I think that carbohydrates (whole grain, unprocessed and unrefined ones) do have a place in our diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.  For those seeking to expand their options beyond pasta, however, the following is a tasty rendition of spaghetti squash – this would never be a substitute for pasta…it stands alone as a tasty interpretation of this now very popular squash, which is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. 

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto, Lemony Kale, and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 slices proscuitto, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 packed cups of chopped kale leaves
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup oven roasted cherry tomatoes*
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • salt & pepper
  • optional: freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Drizzle cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for about ~30-45 min until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork.
  3. Remove squash from the oven, cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands.  Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbl olive oil to the pan.  Saute shallot and proscuitto until slightly crisp.  Add garlic, rosemary, and chile flakes.
  5. Add the kale leaves and a good pinch of salt.  Stir in lemon juice.
  6. Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, the oven roasted cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate.
  7. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.

* for oven roasted cherry tomatoes – halve cherry tomatoes crosswise and toss with a little olive oil, making sure they are evenly coated.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stir in minced herbs if using (e.g. thyme or rosemary).  Roast in preheated oven at 250 degrees F for about 1 hr or until shriveled and almost dry, with a little juice.

Warming up from the inside out –

As the Northeast braces for terrible, horrible, no-good, “frozen tundra” weather, I feel a little guilty to be enjoying the unusually warm and dry weather we are having on the Other Coast.  I did spend four years in -3o degree F temperatures, however, so I am not exactly one to run away from the cold.  In fact, cold weather is the best running weather, as far as I’m concerned.

One of the best things about coming in from the cold is the enveloping warmth that greets you when you escape the outside, and finally shed all of your layers.  Even better is a bowl of soup to warm you up from the inside out.  Perhaps it is the memory of my mother’s comforting soups, some of them enviably simple in their composition, that makes me gravitate towards making soup now when I’m in the mood for comfort food.

I’ve moved beyond the simple broth-based soups I grew up with to heartier soups inspired by winter vegetables and other produce I’ve seen in the market, although my preference is still towards lighter soups.  The following recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Soup, adapted only slightly from America’s Test Kitchen (The Best of 2015 issue), is my idea of a perfectly balanced soup – not too heavy, delicately flavored, and nourishing.  Simmering the cauliflower for different lengths of time adds complexity to the flavors, and the lower insoluble fiber content of cauliflower lends itself well to silkier, creamier soups without added cream.

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup (slightly modified from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower (2 lbs)

1.5 tbl butter, divided use

4 tbl olive oil, divided use

1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly

1 small onion, halved and sliced thin

salt and pepper

4.5-5 cups water

1/2 tsp sherry vinegar

3 tbl minced fresh chives

Instructions:

  1. Pull off outer leaves of cauliflower and trim stem.  Using paring knife, cut around core to remove; slice core thin and reserve  Cut heaping 1 cup of 1/2 inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside.  Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  2. Melt 1 tbl butter with 2 tbl olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add leek, onion, and 1.5 tsp salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium high.  Add 4.5 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, about 15-20 minutes longer.
  4. While soup simmers, melt remaining 1/2 tbl butter in 2 tbl of olive oil in 8 inch skillet over medium heat.  Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and slightly caramelized.  Use slotted spoon to transfer the florets to small bowl, toss w/ vinegar, and season w/ salt to taste.
  5. Process soup in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds.  Rinse out saucepan.  Return pureed soup to saucepan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistently w/ remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste.  Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of olive oil, and chives and season with pepper to taste.