Quinoa Summer Salad with Mint & Lime

So the picture isn't exactly sharp, but the food was on point. A fresh summer salad with mint and lime. It’s exactly what I needed after a weekend of not-so-healthy eating. The weather was finally warm enough to grill again, which of course resulting in me eating a few bratwurst and a burger at a Sunday potluck. On the table alongside all the delicious desserts and sinful side dishes, someone brought along a healthy couscous salad with mint, feta and peas, which was the inspiration for my creation

But I didn’t want a side salad. I wanted something hefty that could pass as a meal on its own. For starters, I replace the couscous with quinoa, which has more then twice the fiber as well as more protein, iron and a host of other minerals. I also may have gone a little crazy with all the extra ingredients I added. I ended up putting in everything green I could get my hands on: peas, green beans, mint, cucumber, celery, lime, arugula. A can of white beans made it in there too… I know, I know, it sounds overwhelming, but I promise, it’s just fresh, delicious and filling. Spicy arugala, salty feta, crunchy celery, crisp green beans. And the mint and lime made it so bright and summery tasting. I wanted to go back for a second helping, but I literally just didn’t have the space in my tummy.


Mexican Breakfast Quesadilla

Holy moly. I forgot how much I LOVE these. Close your eyes, bask in the flavors, savor every bite kinda love. It’s actually probably fairly obnoxious to watch me eat them. But what can I say, they are just that good.

Breakfast quesadillas have been a favorite of mine since about the time I started cooking for myself. They pretty much got me through college. Cheap ingredients that keep well? What college student doesn’t love that! Plus, it’s a one pan dish that is done in no time. I have come up with just about every variation you can think of, but my favorite by far is the Mexican version. The black beans really make it a hearty dish and push it past breakfast food to a decent lunch or dinner option as well.

Admittedly, my recipe has changed over the years. I can now afford to throw in fresh foods like mushrooms, red peppers and herbs, but the basics are the same. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


Greek Veggie Pizza

Winner, winner, Greek dinner. Ok, this isn’t Vegas, but I feel like I won the jackpot with meal! Slices of warm toasted focaccia topped with creamy hummus, succulent sautéed veggies and feta cheese. It’s fresh and full of flavor!

The eggplant is absolutely divine and adds a great meaty texture to the dish similar to that of portabella mushrooms. I know most people shy away from cooking with it, but I promise it’s actually simple to prepare. It’s 3 minutes of work and 30 minutes of just waiting, which you can totally use to make the hummus. Now clearly, you could just leave out the eggplant and double the zucchini, but believe me it’s worth it!

As for what you are getting on the nutrition front:

The hummus is packed with fiber thanks to the chickpeas, which regulates blood sugar, aids in digestion, allows your intestines to absorb more nutrients from foods and lowers levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. The beans also offer a good amount of protein from the chickpeas. Read more about benefits of fiber here.

With zucchini you are getting a great source of vitamin A & C with only 30 calories a cup! Great for weight management. The red bell pepper gives you huge amounts of vitamin C as well as A and E. Eggplant is also very low in calories and the dark skin contains phytonutrients, such as caffeic, chlorogenic acid and flavonoids like nasunin. Nasunin is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells membranes from damage. For more on eggplant nutrition, creat out this link


Mean Green Carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara. Pasta, parmesan and eggs. Pure comfort food. What's not to like? Well for one thing, it's rich, heavy on carbs and doesn't give your body much to work with in terms of vitamins and minerals. 

Just take a look at this BBC recipe. One serving contains around 900 calories, roughly 100 grams of carbs, 40 grams of fat and less than 4 grams of fiber. Yikes. While traditional recipes don't include cream like this one, it's a popular addition to the dish in many homes, restaurants and frozen dinners.

But you don't have to load up on empty carbs to enjoy pasta, cheese and egg. Adding fiber-filled veggies not only cuts the calories per serving, you'll find that you are full sooner and stay that way longer. Better still, your body gets more bang for its buck. This version includes broccoli, zucchini and mushrooms. 

Broccoli is pretty much one of your heavy weights in terms of the healthiest foods. It’s rich in fiber, vitamin A, C, E, K and B6 as well as potassium, folate and riboflavin. It has a LONG LIST of health benefits: promotes detoxification (phytonutrients), helps regulate blood sugar (fiber and chromium), prevents heart disease (lutein), fights high blood pressure (potassium) and lowers cholesterol, boost your immune system, improves eye health (carotenoids), act as an anti-inflammatory agent, which helps against cardiovascular diseases and allergies, and can decrease your risk of cancer (read more, here).

Zucchini is particularly great for those looking to manage their weight. It's a high volume, low calorie food that provides a lot of vitamin A & C to stimulate your immune system. One cup of it cooked is under 30 calories and gives you 40% of your daily vitamin A and a good dose of fiber. 


Get Well Soon: Lemon Ginger Tea

Success!! The boyfriend is no longer sick and I dodged the bullet entirely thanks in no small part to this tea! I literally made pot after pot of it. It’s just so much stronger and fresher than what you get from a tea bag that you won’t want to go back.

And it’s especially great for colds that give you a stuffy head, scratchy throat and sinus pressure. Why?

1. The lemon juice is full of Vitamin C and phytochemicals, which help boost your immune system.

2. Like any tea, the warm liquid helps loosen congestion in your head.

3. Honey helps sooth your throat.

4. Ginger stimulates circulation and is a diaphoretic, which means it brings heat into the body and causes you to sweat. This helps flush out bacteria and other toxins through the skin.

5. Staying hydrated helps reduce fever and replace fluids lost to sweating.

Added BONUS: You can also use it for gargling. Just add a big pinch of salt to a mug full of warm tea and gargle as you normally would.

But this drink is not just for sick people. It’s makes a delicious tea for the fall and winter months and I drink it cold in the summer and spring. To jazz it up, I just drop in frozen raspberries and mint. Then you have a gorgeous and refreshing drink to serve.


Get Well Soon: Spiced Tomato Soup

So somebody went a bit crazy with sugar after our detox ended and got themselves a cold. Surprisingly, that somebody was not me! I mean I did eat a chocolate bunny here and there, but the boyfriend is the one with a sore throat now. Elated to finally be done with the six weeks of health, he gorged on unhealthy snacks and sweets Tuesday night while watching a soccer game. Come Wednesday morning, there was no getting out of bed.

Six weeks of eating and being healthy. Less than one week of returning to old habbits and he's got himself a cold. Go figure. To be fair, his body had a rough weekend: He travelled all the way to Amsterdam and back to play rugby. Some sleep deprivation and extreme physical exertion were involved (not to mention some celebratory drinking!), but he was doing fine until the sugar got involved. I consider this a testament to how dangerous it can really be especially when your body is already in a weakened state.

To help get him back on his feet and hopefully to help me stay healthy, I made spicy tomato soup.

This soup is a great go-to for when you are under the weather* for a number of reasons:

1. It’s fast and easy. It took me about 15 minutes to prepare. So even if you are feeling rough and have no one to take care of you, making it won’t take too much out of you.

2. It hydrates you. Staying hydrated when you are sick is important, because it helps flush out toxins and waste, thins mucus so you can breath better, keeps your fever down and replaces liquid lost from your hot and cold sweats.

3. Liquid nutrients are easy to digest. Because your body spends less energy digesting fibrous food, it has more left over to heal you. It takes considerably more energy to breakdown a chunk of chicken.

4. Vitamin C in tomatoes is good for your immune system. Adding sautéed red peppers is another great way to add more to the soup.

5. Capsicum (red pepper flakes and cayenne) aid digestion, stimulate circulation, help neutralize acidity (tomatoes) and are an anti-inflammatory (which is great for a sore throat).

6. The garlic has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties when crushed and not over cooked. The alliinase and alliin found in separate areas of the plant react to create allicin, a defense mechanism used by garlic to ward off pests that help us essentially do the same.

7. No added sugar or excess sodium that you will find in most canned soups. The carrot sweetens the sauce without adding unnecessary sugar which will only feed the bacteria you are trying to fight off.

*Although not when you have a stomach bug or an extremely raw throat. Then the acidity in tomato soup can be rough on your body. In that case, it’s better to turn toward clear broths and soups.


Sweet & Tangy Tuna Salad

Have you ever gone back and tried a food you remember hating as a child only to discover you now LOVE it and that your childhood self was an idiot? Well… I have. And oo was it worth it!

When I was younger, there was a long list of seemingly ordinary foods you could not get me to eat without a fight. This included hamburgers, spaghetti and quiche to name just a few. The list also happened to include my mom’s tuna salad. Not all tuna salad mind you, just hers. She would make it with grated carrots and apple chucks. Disgusting, I thought. Surely it’s slimy and repulsive and the texture is all wrong. I demanded plain tuna and she usually obliged, making a small bowl of tuna salad without all the add-ins for me. What a good mommy she is. 

Then, one day, I tried it again. Sweet carrots and apple, crunchy celery, tangy lemon. Low and behold: it was delicious! What a mistake I made all those years, eating my boring tuna salad. And I want to share the recipe with everyone else now! And as an adult, I can now also appreciate the fact that it’s super fast to make and requires minimal cleanup.

And you are doing your body a favor with this meal: The tuna salad is packed with protein (about 40 grams in one can!) and is super low in carbs and fat! If you use wild tuna, you are getting a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plus the carrot and apple give you fiber, vitamin A and C. Carrots also contain carotenoids, an antioxidant found in plants that is associated with a range of health benefits by helping protect your cells from damage that causes aging and cancer. To read more about what antioxidants are and what they can do for us, check out this Huffington Post article.


Asian Noodle Salad

This salad is addictive. Like addictive in the same way that Pringles are addictive. Like once you start, you won't want to stop until you have literally finished everything and licked your fork... and maybe the bowl.

This may seem meaningless coming from someone who clearly already loves salads (see my other salad posts) so I'll put this in perspective: I packed my rugby-playing boyfriend this salad for lunch and the first thing he said when he came home today was "We've gotta make that salad again." A true sign that this salad has magical powers of being deceptively healthy.

The recipe was inspired by one posted by The Pioneer Woman. I've kept the main ingredients largely the same, but my version adds eggs, peanuts, sesame seeds, Sriracha, rice wine vinegar and fish sauce and uses considerably less oil, soy sauce and sugar. So you can feel that much better about eating it.

And it’s already ridiculously healthy to start with! You are getting a huge boost of vitamins A, B6, C, E and K as well as fiber with the baby spinach, napa cabbage, red cabbage, bell peppers, sprouts, grated ginger and garlic. This is strengthening your immune system, bone development and vision as well as helping regulate your blood sugar. All that with only a handful of calories. The red cabbage also contains the antioxidant flavonoid anthocyanin. They are the same dark pigment, which gives blueberries and other dark berries their antioxidant properties. Antocyanin has shown to fight oxidation of cells, which leads to cell aging, cancer and inflammation. This makes it great for improving cardiovascular health.


Popovers: Celebrating the End of My 40-Day Detox!!

It's over!!! I made it!!!

My 40-day experiment of removing sugar, processed carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol from my diet finally came to an end. I completed my journey just in time to celebrate Easter with chocolate bunnies and champagne! Lucky me!

Within the first week of my new, healthy diet, I was already planning what I would eat first once it was over. A bowl of cinnamon toast crunch? Walnut caramel ice cream? Chocolate chip cookies? Maybe just a plain baguette with jam and butter? After 40-days, I had plenty of time to figure out the perfect way to celebrate bringing sugar and flour back into my life.

The winner: Popovers.

I like to think of them as French toast crossed with a croissant in muffin form. Crispy corners with a doughy, eggy center that is somehow still light and fluffy. They are so perfect, in fact, that when you pull them in half there is even a pocket in the center to load up with butter, honey, jam and fresh fruit.

In my family, popovers are the breakfast of choice for holidays and celebrations. And I am always entrusted with baking them. You see, as delicious as they are, they can also be fickle like a soufflé. The key is making sure you don’t open the oven door while they are baking. All the hot air holding them up will rush out before they’ve had a chance to bake into the right shape.

What is especially nice about these treats is that while they aren’t exactly as full of vitamins as a kale and spinach omelet they don’t require much sugar or fat compared to other baked goods. And, depending on what you top them with (reduced fat cream cheese, fresh fruit salad and honey are my favorite), they aren’t as decadent as they taste!

Veggie Frittata with Pan-Seared Tomatoes

Time for some spring cleaning? Frittata lets you use up all those things in your fridge you weren't sure what to do with. In my book, frittata is only second to stir fries in making something delicious out of nothing. Basically whatever veggies and/or meat you have on hand will be delicious when covered in egg and cheese. Sixty percent of the time it works every time. You could probably throw in cardboard and your guests would be none the wiser if you added enough cheese.

That said, my frittata did not include cardboard, but a medley of vegetables I impulsively bought without a meal in mind. They just looked so enticing I couldn't help myself. With mushrooms, broccoli, onion, red pepper and zucchini in my fridge, I figured I'd better get them on a plate before they ended up in the compost. For good measure, I threw in some turkey breakfast sausage and feta.

With this dish, you are not only getting all the vitamins and minerals from the various vegetables, eggs themselves are a great source of nutrition. Besides being are a great source of protein, they also contain choline, an essential nutrient for your cardiovascular system, brain function and cell membranes.

What exactly does choline do? Well the choline goes into phosphatidylcholines (PC), which are a major component of your cell membranes. PC is known to help your body from accumulating fat and cholesterol in the liver and supporting liver repair. It does this by repairing damage to the cell membrane inflicted by toxins, alcohol, etc. (read more here).

Your body uses PC to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in memory and other bodily functions. It is implicated in slowing down aging-related processes as well as improving brain function and memory (WedMD).

Those of you worried about heart disease and cholesterol may be relieved to know that the Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating says: “No research has ever shown that people who eat more eggs have more heart attacks than people who eat few eggs.”  Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, dietary cholesterol, such as that found in eggs, does not effect everyone in the same way.