Health and Nutrition

How Nutritious Are Your Leafy Greens?

I’m not into salads like 70% of the year. Cooked veggies are awesome. And if you know me well enough you know I DESPISE iceberg lettuce. But when those hot, hot, hot summer days roll around I am all about the salads. If I happen to be in the mood for solid food that is, as opposed to ice pops and Jamba Juice. But no iceberg lettuce salads, of course. Hell to the no.

I’ve always assumed there wasn’t too much going on nutrition-wise in salad greens, except for my beloved spinach, which is my go-to one. My boyfriend recently sent me a Lifehacker post about leafy greens with this cool chart. Who knew romaine had it going on? This makes me feel better about what I used to think was a weak excuse for vegetable servings!

What are your favorite salad greens? Iceberg lettuce–yay or nay?


The 2012 Ice Pop Project: Coconut Milk and Roasted Strawberries

My friends said this photo looks like it’s from the Dexter opening credits. Aside from the serial killer vibes, I’m happy to hear that ’cause it is hard thinking of new ways to photograph an ice pop!

Anyway, ice pop #2 is from The Year in Food’s Roasted Strawberry Coconut Milk recipe. It would have been interesting to see how it would taste with cardamom. I didn’t have any, but it tasted delicious and exotic nonetheless. The coconut milk part wasn’t overly sweet, but every couple of bites you’d get that candy-like roasted strawberry. Yum.

Growing Food

My Apartment Garden: Eating My First Home Grown Zucchini

Time for yet another update! We’re in mid-July now and I’m still not seeing any tomatoes. The plant is looking healthy and big (see above), but no sign of the fruit. A friend’s dad just told me he’s had no luck with the Topsy Turvy. Getting worried.

The upside is that my zucchini is doing well. Look at how big this guy is, high up in the sky!

I didn’t get to eat my very first zucchini. I left it to grow big and somehow it rotted on the plant and was floppy…ew. So out of fear, I followed my gardening book’s suggestion of picking them when they’re the size of your fingers. I did so, but didn’t really know what to do with these baby zucchinis so I just had them raw. Not bad, but not great.

I finally did get two decent size zucchinis that did not rot. I kept it simple and turned them into soup with garlic, onions and chicken stock. It tasted especially good knowing that I grew them all by myself, yay. Also, I just found out you can eat the flowers on the plant. I’ve heard of squash blossoms but didn’t put two and two together. Won’t be throwing them away next time!


The 2012 Ice Pop Project: Frozen Margarita

Last summer was when I started getting interested in cooking. My skills were still very basic but I found that a fun and easy thing to make were ice pops and decided that I’d try to have unique homemade frozen treats in the freezer all summer long to share with guests and my roomies. I made some awesome ice pops (see above) and due last year’s success, I’m bringing the ice pop project back. Here is the first treat of Summer 2012:

I’m not really a cocktail kinda gal, and certainly not a fan of cheesy ones. But in March I went to Miami with a girlfriend and after trying my first frozen margarita, suddenly it’s all I ever want to drink on a hot day. So I got really excited when I saw these DIY Margarita Popsicles. Sweet, tangy, boozy…and condensed milk makes pretty much anything taste amazing. A great start to the summer, I must say.


The Raw Vegan Chocolate Truffle: A Real Dessert or No?

You know I take pride in being a healthy food-loving omnivore cook. So when my raw vegan dessert-making friend came to stay over at my place, I got a very interesting and different kind of “cooking” lesson. She taught me how to make something I would never make otherwise: raw vegan chocolate truffles. I don’t have the exact recipe for you, but we basically mixed ground cashews with cocoa powder, melted cocoa butter, and agave nectar, with a little sea salt and vanilla extract. We made little balls out of the thick paste, and then rolled each ball in coarsely ground cocoa nibs. DASSIT. Quick and simple.

The verdict: they were tasty! But here’s the catch. Let’s be real–they’re not chocolate truffles. They reminded me of a cocoa-flavored Larabar. While I love Larabars, I think of them as more of a snack than a dessert. Like with my issue with some vegan recipes, I prefer raw food when it’s supposed to be raw (fruit, nuts, certain veggies), and not when it’s a raw adaptation of something that’s meant to be cooked. I grew up on Leonidas’s chocolate pralines and truffles. So I know these guys ain’t chocolate truffles.

It’s mainly a labeling issue. These treats are indeed tasty, fairly healthy, and pretty to look at. But if not a chocolate truffle, what to call them? My friend who taught me how to make them referred to them as raw vegan BALLS, which sounds totally unappetizing but more accurate than truffles I guess!

Do you ever eat raw vegan desserts? Which are your favorites?

Cooking Skills and Tools

Rebelling Against the Cookbook Extinction

Ever since I discovered food blogs, I’ve pretty much neglected my cookbooks. With so many exciting and creative recipes that are on the internet for free, I’d never run out of things to make. While cookbooks remain static, food blogs keep with the times with trendy recipes. Some people think cookbooks will go extinct, and when you think about our technology, it sounds very likely.

There’s still something alluring about a physical cookbook, though. I’ve decided to start making better use of my small, haphazard collection. Some I bought very intentionally, some I randomly bought on a whim, and some were gifts. I’d say my current favorites are the Joy the Baker Cookbook and In the Small Kitchen (my Amazon affiliate program links)–two books very well suited for the 20 or 30-something cook. I also have two Barefoot Contessa books that I go back to time and time again. Ina Garten doesn’t play games. Either way, I’m going to try pick a recipe from my tangible recipe collection each week and fight the cookbook extinction!

Do you use cookbooks, or do you think they’re a thing of the past? What are your go-to cookbooks? (p.s. I’m in search of the perfect clean eating omnivore cookbook! Know one?)

Party Food

Any Excuse to Use Sriracha Sauce!

I love Sriracha. Never mind that I have the wimpiest tolerance to heat and spice, I find any excuse to use that stuff. I’m not usually a bean dip type of girl, but when I saw this recipe for Spicy Sriracha White Bean Dip, I was all over it. It’s super quick and easy to make, and pretty clean too. So next time you need a little healthy snack or are too lazy to cook a real meal, whip up some Sriracha bean dip! Scoop it up with homemade baked tortilla chips or veggies. Yum.

Book Review

Book Review: Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato

Guess what. I joined an online book club! I’ve wanted to post more reviews of food, nutrition, and cooking-themed books so this is the perfect opportunity to share some good reads with you.

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering how some chefs are so skinny. I wouldn’t say I’ve gained weight since learning how to cook, but I’ve definitely felt more gluttonous ever since I really got into it a half year ago. And I’m not even that good! I imagined that if I could produce top restaurant quality food myself, I wouldn’t be able to resist my own cooking. So it’s kind of perfect that the book club’s selection this month happened to be Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato (my Amazon affiliate program link). The author is not a chef herself, but rather a journalist who once covered celebrity chefs at one point in her career, which led her to wonder about how chefs eat.

And there isn’t one answer. I like the fact that the book is a collection of thoughts and practices from different famous chefs rather than a follow-this-diet-plan nonsense book. I agree with some of their ideas, and disagree with others. But it’s interesting to read about their different strategies to stay healthy nonetheless, and you can pick and choose what might work for you. The underlying theme that I took from the book is to cook simple meals from whole and natural foods most days. You can treat yourself to decadent things you enjoy, but that’s not everyday eating…even for celebrity chefs! There are also lots of little cooking and eating tips in the book that were helpful, even for people who already know their way around the kitchen. Smart Chefs Stay Slim is an enjoyable, easy read.

Now it wouldn’t be a good book about celebrity chefs if there weren’t some scrumptious recipes involved, right? There are plenty of tasty but healthy recipes sprinkled throughout the chapters by different chefs. Here’s one I tried out:

The book has quite a few seafood recipes which is awesome because fish is one of the healthiest things you can eat, yet totally underrepresented in cookbooks and food blogs. I decided to make Laurent Gras’s Halibut Ceviche with Jalapeño and Parsley. I used cod instead because I happened to have a very fresh fillet I wanted to use. I love ceviche but have always been too nervous to make it, thinking I’d leave raw meat to professionals.  But it came out great and we didn’t die of food poising, yay! WIll be making a lot of ceviche this summer. How awesome is it to “cook” fish without having to turn on the stove or oven?

Check out the book club I joined, The Kitchen Reader, and the lovely Aileen’s blog, 300 Threads!

Lunch and Dinner

A Creamy, Cheesy One-Pot Meal

One of my favorite blogs, Big Girls Small Kitchen, posted this gorgeous recipe for a Tex-Mex skillet Creamy Chorizo-Chicken Casserole last year as an April Fool’s joke, saying it was only 100 calories per serving (I wish). This recipe, however, is no joke. It is seriously delicious.

There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about this casserole per se. I did feel slightly guilty every time I had a serving of this amazing creamy, cheesy casserole, though. You know me, I’m pretty liberal about what I consider clean eating. I eat meat, cheese, butter–all that stuff “health-conscious” people don’t get down with. But I just don’t feel like a meal is complete without vegetables. The point of one-pot dinners is having everything you need  in one pot, right? I know I shouldn’t mess with genius, but I thought I’d give it a tiny makeover, just to make it a little more nutritionally balanced. I swapped out a bit of the meat, cheese, rice, and cream for some tasty veggies. I promise–it tastes just as ridiculously good.

Chicken and Chorizo Casserole with Tomato and Bell Pepper
Makes 4 servings
About 690 calories

Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen

1/2 pound fresh chorizo
1/2 pound boneless chicken thighs or breast
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 medium tomatoes, diced removing seeds and water
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 lime, juiced
1 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 cup coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Season the chicken with salt and 1 teaspoon of the ancho chili powder. In a large cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in the skillet on both sides until browned and cook through, about 15 minutes. In the same skillet, brown the chorizo until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the chorizo and chicken to a plate and set aside.

Melt the last tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, remaining chili powder, cumin, salt, and flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the broth. Simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened.

Stir in the cream, sour cream, and lime juice. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. During this step, you can roughly cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and slice up the chorizo when not busy stirring.

Remove the skillet from heat. Fold in the meats, cooked rice, and most of the cilantro. Set aside the leftover cilantro for the end. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Remove from the oven and garnish with remaining cilantro leaves.


What a Mug Cake Has To Do with Clean Eating

Dessert is not healthy. Unless your idea of dessert is just plain fruit, then yes, that’s pretty healthy. But real desserts like cookies, ice cream, apple pie, or crème brûlée are not. There are things you can put in desserts like fruit, nuts, or vegetables to give it a vitamin or two, but let’s be real. It’s mainly sugar, butter, and/or flour. It’s totally fine if you have small servings of them once or twice a week with a healthy diet, but it will never classify as a nutritious food on its own.

And if you’re going to have dessert, eat a real one. Made out of real ingredients. It might be easier to buy something packaged that has a year-long shelf life at the supermarket but processed food is so not worth it. It doesn’t taste all that great and it’s bad for your health.

Ingredients in Iris’ chewy chocolate chip cookies: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt, chocolate chips

Ingredients in Chips Ahoy chewy chocolate chip cookies: Enriched Flour, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1, Riboflavin Vitamin B2, Folic Acid, Semisweet Chocolate Chips, Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin An Emulsifier, Milk, Palm Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Dextrose, Cornstarch, Soybean Oil, Salt, Baking Soda, Molasses, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Caramel Color, Annatto Extract Vegetable Color, Natural and Artificial Flavor


So while real dessert isn’t necessarily good for you, manufactured desserts with all kinds of weird additives are definitely much worse. The problem is, of course, you don’t always want to whip up a batch of cookies, or bake a whole cake. And you may not have a quality bakery near you. Here’s where the mug cake comes in.

You no longer have an excuse to go to the junk food aisle of the supermarket when you’re craving a sweet treat. This 5 Minute Chocolate Fudge S’mores Mug Cake recipe…well, takes five minutes to make! Literally. OK maybe seven minutes the first time I did it just ’cause I was reading through all the steps but from then on, five minutes. It’s tasty, easy, and you made from real-ish food. Don’t like s’mores? Google “microwave cakes” and I’m sure you’ll find other quick and easy desserts you can enjoy. So put down the Twinkie! Make a mug cake.