Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

For starters: 7 steps to meal & menu planning

One of the keys to healthful eating and the best way to stave off boredom and hunger pangs is to be prepared. Spending a few hours at the beginning of your week doing the following things will save you tons of time and frustration later on:

  1. Get busy! A couple of days before—or the morning of—your food shopping day(s), inventory your kitchen to avoid duplicate or impulse buys when you’re in the store or at the market. Write down everything in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry, including oils and spices, and keep like things grouped together on your list (meats, veggies, nuts, etc.). Toss any item that’s expired or compost rotting foods.
  2. Get creative! Based on your inventory list, start thinking of meals you can make to get you through the week. Mix and match what you have on hand to be most efficient. There are plenty of websites like Supercook.com and smartphone apps like Whole Foods Market Recipes that can help you generate recipes based on what’s already in your kitchen…or be inspired by other people’s recipes…or try a simple Leftovers Salad.
  3. Get crackin’! Write down your weekly meal plan. Now that you have an idea of what to make, start plugging in your meals. Be creative, but don’t overburden yourself with anything that’s going to require too much prep or cooking time or will force you to track down ingredients from more than one or two stores. Save that for special occasions. Instead, spotlight one ingredient in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, can that chicken in the freezer be used in one night’s dinner and another day’s lunch? Will the eggs in your fridge be just as good for breakfast one day and in a lunch sandwich wrap the next?
  4. Get ready! Highlight ingredients/supplies you are missing from your inventory—or running low on—and create a shopping list.
  5. Get moving! Go shopping or place a delivery order from your local online grocer, like FreshDirect. Do not overbuy if you don’t have a plan on how to use the extra goods. Stuff is on sale all the time, so be a savvy shopper and use your coupons if you got ’em, but forego any in-store specials if it means you’ll be taking home things you don’t need.
  6. Get cooking! Once you’re home, or your grocery delivery has arrived, immediately unpack everything and refer to your meal plan to start prepping what you can. Now is the time to start divvying things up into smaller packages or snack bags and freezing/refrigerating them. Start that pot of chili, begin steaming the string beans, mash up those sweet potatoes. And if there are folks in your house you can recruit to help you out, DO IT. It’ll make things go quicker and everyone will appreciate the time and effort that went into feeding them such healthful and yummy food.
  7. Get some rest! Now that you’re done and everything is cooked, labeled, packed up, and put away, take some time for yourself or with your family and congratulate yourself on a job well done. All you have to do from this point forward is refer to your weekly meal plan every day or the night before, then defrost, reheat, or assemble your meals accordingly.

Keep motivated by what you’ve just read and download one of my *FREE* templates below. Feel free to add a comment with your successes, challenges, or other helpful strategies.

Stuffed

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year, you might be tempted to jam your craw full of whatever happens to be on the table, including the decorative gourds, which I advise against. As yummy as everything looks and tastes, you will hate yourself the day after for having done so and I don’t want you to hate yourself…because you’re awesome and I love you and nobody hates the people I love. Worse would be if you thought you might as well keep on that downward spiral since more holidays are on their way and you’ll just start eating healthier once everything is over and it’s nice and quiet again come the new year.

And so it begins. You don’t want to give in, but you know willpower goes out the window when you’re surrounded by delicious, homemade food, and people who want to feed you.

How do you partake and not offend? The better—and saner—option would be to sample everything without overdoing it or eat half of what is offered to you and immediately pack up the remaining half as leftovers. Be mindful of how much you’re eating, but, also, savor every bite you take. If you go into every holiday meal with this game plan, but don’t over-think it or berate yourself with every little nibble, you will succeed at being able to enjoy yourself, commend those who made the dishes, and get on the scale the week after without cringing.

Photo credit: Epicurious.com

Recipe: Simply Seitan-ical

I ate my meal so quickly the other night that I didn’t stop to photograph it, so you’ll just have to use your imagination while you read (or look at it yourself when you make your own version).

When I got my first apartment back in 1994, one of my favorite meals to make for myself and when I invited friends over was honey-mustard chicken with two side dishes: (1) glazed onions and carrots and (2) egg noodles with butter.  It would take no time at all to cook up and it was super yummy served immediately or as leftovers.

I’ve moved into a more vegetarian way of eating these days and was craving that meal recently, so I thought I’d make a decent substitute with the ingredients below (serves about 2-3), replacing the chicken with seitan and the buttered noodles with vegan mac & cheese.  If you want to make the original, I’ve included that information here as well.  Either way, if you whip up this easy dish, please let me know how you like it.

Part 1

1 pkg cubed seitan1
1 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp ground kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Part 2

8 oz short/small pasta, like farfalle, penne, egg noodles or elbow macaroni
1 tsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp vegan shredded cheddar, like Daiya2
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast2

Part 3

1 12-16 oz pkg peeled baby carrots, washed
1/2 c yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp “buttery” spread, like Earth Balance or Smart Balance3
1 Tbsp maple syrup4

1if you’re using chicken, go for 2 skinless breasts sliced into strips
2if you’d prefer to use dairy cheese, then substitute these ingredients with a flavorful cheese of your choice instead, like shredded cheddar and grated parmesan; or, skip the cheese entirely and just toss pasta with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil, butter, or margarine
3feel free to substitute regular butter or margarine here
4if you ever even think of using some kind of “pancake syrup” made of corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, I will find out and be very angry with you; invest in a bottle of locally tapped maple syrup and toss out that other crap immediately…I cannot stress this enough

Toss all “Part 1” ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and place bowl in refrigerator for about an hour, tossing mixture again every 15 minutes. After an hour, remove from fridge, and cook mixture in a medium-hot pan for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. (No need to add extra oil in pan since seitan has already been coated with plenty of it.)

Cook up the pasta from “Part 2” according to directions on package.  Drain, reserving about 1/3 cup of cooking liquid. Toss pasta and liquid well with remaining “Part 2 ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Fill a medium pot with water (leave about one inch from top) and a sprinkling of salt; cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover, lower to medium-high heat and cook carrots (“Part 3”) until soft, about 10 minutes. Simultaneously, cook the sliced onion from “Part 3” in a pan with the 1/2 Tbsp oil over extremely low heat, stirring often, until very soft and translucent. Add carrots to pan with onions when done cooking and mix in buttery spread and syrup until everything is coated nicely with the butter-syrup glaze. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, you could place all three parts separately on a plate or spoon the honey-mustard seitan over the mac & cheese.

Recipe Remix: Chili-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Remember this chili recipe? Well, here’s a super simple way to rejigger it: make it, but omit the sweet potato/carrot in the mix. Instead, while the chili’s cooking, roast a sweet potato1 in the oven, then stuff each half of the potato with the chili and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese2 when ready to serve.

Stuffed Potato

Added bonus: sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which gives us healthy skin, teeth, and bones.

1using one well-scrubbed sweet potato for every two servings, slice the potato lengthwise, pierce the outside of it well all over with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil (halves together) and place in oven at 400 degrees for an hour or until the inside is soft and tender; I don’t use a microwave, so you’ll have to research the comparable nuking time yourself
2I used Daiya dairy-free in the pic here

Recipe: Leftovers Salad

The East Village is not exactly known for its spacious apartments. As a matter of fact, my building, much like many of the surrounding ones, is a renovated tenement, which once contained large, shared areas, often housing hundreds of residents at a time from the late 1860s through the early 1900s.

When the buildings were renovated, some of the new apartments inside couldn’t hold “normal”-sized items like stoves, refrigerators, and bathtubs, so, in ours, for example, we have a slim stove, an under-cabinet refrigerator and a stall shower.

All of this to say that, when we make a meal at home or order dinner in, we’d better eat everything right quick; otherwise, there’s not much room for us to store leftovers (our freezer is slightly larger than a shoebox). Unfortunately, sometimes we do end up with extras, but they don’t stay in the fridge for very long. When this happens, I clean out whatever leftovers have accumulated and incorporate them in some way into a second meal, usually in a salad, so I’ve named this post’s recipe “Leftovers Salad.”

For today’s salad (served 2), I had some leftover mujadara and string beans that I had made earlier in the week; you can use whatever dinner leftovers you have on hand, be it grilled chicken, shrimp, or even pasta salad.

Part 1

2 c Romaine lettuce, washed* and chopped
2 c kale, washed and chopped

Part 2

Leftovers

Part 3**

2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tomato (plum/Roma, beefsteak, or whatever’s in season or your favorite), chopped
1/3 c pitted olives, any kind, drained, rinsed & chopped

Part 4***

juice of 1/2 lime (acid)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (emulsifier)
1 Tbsp olive oil (oil)
Salt & pepper to taste

Part 5

2 thick slices sourdough bread, grilled or toasted (a whole wheat baguette would work well, too)
4 Tbsp plain hummus

*the best way to wash lettuce/leafy greens is to peel the leaves from the bunch and drop them into a large bowl while running cold water on them, shaking them around and letting dirt fall to the bottom; then, lift out the leaves and place on a dry towel or paper towels
**the sprinkly part can be substituted by whatever goes best with your leftovers; for example, if you were using grilled chicken, you might want to use chopped walnuts and dried cranberries instead of the tomato and olives
***traditionally, a vinaigrette is made of one part acid, three parts oil, and an emulsifier like mustard, garlic, or egg yolk; so, if you’d rather use red wine vinegar instead of the lime juice or canola instead of olive oil, go right ahead

Toss together ingredients from Parts 1 and 2 in a large bowl; sprinkle with ingredients from Part 3.

For the dressing (Part 4), whisk the lime juice and mustard together in a small bowl, while you slowly drizzle in the oil until everything is emulsified (mixed well with no separation). Add salt & pepper to taste and whisk some more. Drizzle lightly over salad mixture. Serve salad up with the grilled bread, each slice topped with 2 Tbsp hummus (Part 5).