Helping families eat healthier for less

Helping families eat healthier for less

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bite into NNM with Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by USA Rice Federation and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

The theme for this March’s National Nutrition Month® is “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle.” You can do this now by biting into a morning bowl of creamy risotto rice, flavored with sweet potatoes, cinnamon and raisins. there are so many reasons to "think rice" when biting into a healthy lifestyle. Visit the USA Rice website ( for a wealth of information about rice grown in this country. For example, I learned:

·         Rice is naturally gluten free and the least allergenic of all grains.
·         Rice is naturally sodium-, cholesterol-, trans fat-free with just a trace of fat.
·         A half cup serving of rice is about 100 calories and contributes 15 vitamins and minerals, especially folate, other B vitamins, iron and zinc, making it a nutrient dense choice.
·         Rice supplies complex carbohydrates that our bodies and brains need to function. It triggers the production of serotonin in our brains, a chemical that helps regulate and improve our mood.
·         Rice grown in the US has a positive impact on our environment as the rice fields create wetland habitats for many species of birds, mammals, and reptiles.
·         About 85% of the rice eaten in this country is grown in this country.
·         American grown rice is exported to over 150 countries.

Arborio or risotto rice is different from long grain, white rice.  It’s higher in starch and cooks into a creamy texture around a chewy center. This rice has an exceptional ability to absorb flavors.  The cooking method is different too!  Instead of simmering rice in water, small amounts of hot liquid get added to cooking rice.  The rice slowly absorbs the liquid as one stirs.

For me, rice and coconut are a winning combination. So, when thinking about developing a breakfast risotto, I decided to start with canned lite coconut milk as the base. Then I wanted to add some good nutrition with some mashed cooked sweet potato. To round out the flavors, I added cinnamon, vanilla extract and golden raisins.

Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

2 cans (13.6- to 14 ounces each) light coconut milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup U.S.-grown arborio (medium grain) rice
1/2 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup golden raisins

Warm coconut milk in microwave-safe container, covered, until hot, but not boiling, about 4 minutes. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Ladle in enough hot coconut milk to cover the rice. Stir with wooden spoon over medium flame. As rice absorbs the milk, ladle in 1/2 cup more hot milk and stir. Continue this process until all the milk has been added and is absorbed, stirring constantly. This will take 15 to 20 minutes. Rice should be tender with just a little bite to it. Stir in the sweet potato, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and raisins. Stir well to combine. Stir over low heat until heated through.
Serve warm or cold.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving (for 1/6th of recipe):
322 calories, 13 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g protein, and 38 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of vitamin A.

Cost per Serving: $1.39
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

 Here are preparation photos:

(Left to Right): Adding rice to pan with butter; stirring to coat; adding hot coconut milk in stages.

(Left to Right); Addition of milk and stirring; rice develops a creamy texture; addition of mashed sweet potato,cinnamon, vanilla, and golden raisins.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Serve Meal in Bell Pepper for Nutrition Bonus

STOUFFER'S Macaroni & Cheese inside a red bell pepper.

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Nestle and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Balance Your Plate is a recipe contest by Nestle where you start with a Nestle frozen food item and add other foods to it to make it a nutritious, balanced meal that meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Last month, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee issued their preliminary version of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The report concludes that generally we do not eat enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy and many of us eat too many refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, and salt. We should strive to make half our plate fruits and veggies, at least half our grains whole grains, switch to fat free or lowfat dairy products, watch portions, and get regular physical activity.

Planning a healthy meal day after day can be challenging, even for a dietitian. Some days after coming home from work you’re tired and have no energy and the last thing you want to do is spend an hour or better in the kitchen putting together a healthy meal.

Frozen meals can easily fit into a balanced plate. You make them more balanced by adding a serving or more of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or lowfat dairy. Frozen meals are one way to keep on handle portion size as well as cost, especially when you find them on sale or have a coupon.

Here are some creative ways to make a more balanced meal that start with a Nestle frozen food:
  • Top your baked frozen pizza with salad. Purchase a salad kit from the produce department of your supermarket. (My favorite is sweet kale vegetable salad kit that includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicory, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.) Prepare the salad as directed on the package, and then place it on top of your baked pizza. Cut into wedges and enjoy.

  • Serve your favorite LEAN CUISINE entree with a lower sodium vegetable-based soup, such a carrot ginger.

  • Serve your favorite LEAN CUISINE® entree over a baked sweet potato or baked winter squash.

  • Top your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS® with a zesty bean dip (Rinse and drain a can of white or black beans and put in food processor, along with herbs and spices, hot sauce, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil).

  • Prepare a salsa of mango, green onion, red bell pepper, lime juice and jalapeno pepper. Pour over your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS®.

  • Prepare your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS® as directed on the package. Then cut it up into crouton-size pieces and serve over a tossed green salad.

  • Prepare your favorite LEAN CUISINE® Simple Favorites (such as Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans)  or Morning Collection  (such as Veggie Scramble) entrees according to package directions. Microwave a whole grain tortilla and serve your Simple Favorite entrée inside the tortilla along with a 4-ounce glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

My favorite suggestion to serve a more balanced meal is very simple one. Serve your Nestle product inside a cooked bell pepper. You may be surprised at the nutrition that just one red bell pepper adds to a meal. One medium red bell pepper adds only 37 calories and no fat, 5 mg of sodium, 2.5 grams of fiber and helps you meet 75% of your daily value for vitamin A and over 250% of your vitamin C needed for the day. And if you use a large red bell pepper, you get over 100% of your vitamin A and 349% of your vitamin C for the day and add only 51 calories and 7 mg of sodium. What a tasty way to get your vitamins. Green bell peppers are good, too, although you don’t get near as much of vitamins A and C as you do with the red ones.

You can fill you bell pepper with a number of different Nestle products.  Here are a few examples.

Start with peppers that have flat bottoms so that they will sit upright in a custard cup or container. Slice off the top of the bell pepper and remove the seeds and inner membranes. 

Slice top off pepper and remove seeds and membranes.

I found that it is best to partially cook the bell pepper before filling in. So, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high power for 2 and a half minutes.

Microwave bell pepper for 2-1/2 minutes.

Fill the partially cooked bell pepper with your favorite frozen entrée that has been allowed to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Fill partially cooked pepper with thawed macaroni & cheese.

Here is a red bell pepper with STOUFFER’S macaroni & cheese.

Finished Macaroni & Cheese in red bell pepper.

Here is a green bell pepper stuffed with STOUFFER’S Chili Cheese Mac Cup

Chili Cheese Mac in a Green Bell Pepper.

Here is a pepper stuffed with LEAN CUISINE Turkey Sausage Scramble

Turkey Sausage Scramble in a green bell pepper.

Here’s the complete recipe for the Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Bell Pepper:

Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Bell Pepper


1 12-ounce package LEAN CUISINE® Macaroni & Cheese
1 red or green bell pepper
Parsley or cilantro for garnish, if desired


Thaw frozen Macaroni & Cheese in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Wash and dry the green or red bell pepper. Slice off the stem top and remove the inner seeds and membranes. Place pepper in a custard cup or microwaveable container to hold it upright. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on High power for 2 and a half minutes.
Uncover and fill partially cooked bell pepper with softened macaroni & cheese.
Microwave, covered, on High Power for 2 to 3 minutes, or until peppers are tender. Let set for 1 minute. Garnish with parsley or cilantro, if desired.

Makes 1 Serving.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

dark chocolate + black beans = guilt-free brownies

Guilt-Free Black Bean Brownies

The theme for February for Recipe Redux is to identify your favorite chocolate match.  Valentine’s Day is over and many of us may have “extra” chocolate laying around.  So, we need to show our favorite healthy chocolate combo.

For me, I love dark chocolate brownies. But there can be a guilt factor with the “normal” or “traditional” brownies. So, I make mine using canned black beans in place of the vegetable oil typically called for in the recipe. It saves on calories and total fat and adds fiber. And, it means less guilt while enjoying them.

E-Z Bean Brownies

1 15 oz. can cooked beans, drained and rinsed well (can use black beans or dark red kidney
2 large eggs
¼ cup water
1 19-1/2 oz. package chocolate fudge brownie mix
1/4 cup bittersweet 60% cocoa chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9 X 9-inch baking pan with foil; then spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Place the drained beans in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth and creamy.  In a large bowl combine the pureed beans, eggs, water, and brownie mix; stir just until smooth, about 50 strokes.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Top cooked brownies with chocolate chips as soon as remove from oven. Spread in even layer with spatula. Let cool completely. Lift out of pan and cut into squares.
Makes 20 Servings
Nutrition Information per Serving (1/20 of recipe):
150 calories, 3.8 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.6 g dietary fiber, 3.0 g protein, and 134 mg sodium.
Cost per Serving (1/20 recipe): $0.18

Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices except for the brownie mix (on sale for $1.50 a box).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cheesy Pepperoni Bread Loaf Perfect for the Big Game

This gooey, cheesy bread loaf is sure to please a hungry crowd.

I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.

Cabot Creamery is a  family-farmer owned cooperative of more than 1200 farms located throughout New England and New York. One-hundred percent of Cabot's profits go back to their farmers.  Their Cheddar cheese is a protein-rich snack and is naturally lactose free.

The big football game is just about here and it's time to think about what snacks to prepare for a  roomful of guests. Whether it is a football game, family reunion, or any large gathering, this recipe is perfect to feed a crowd.

Cut bread into 1-inch squares.

Slice cheese into 1/8-inch slices.

Tuck cheese into rows.
Wrap pepperoni slice around cheese slice.
Tuck cheese and pepperoni into rows.

Below is the complete recipe. I used an 8-ounce package of Cabot's Pepper Jack and an 8-ounce package of Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar cheese. I found a beautiful 2-pound round loaf of whole grain bread at my local Costco store.

Cheesy Pepperoni Bread Loaf

1 2-pound loaf whole grain round bread
2 8-ounce packages Cabot cheese (Seriously Sharp, Extra Sharp, Vermont Sharp, and/or Pepper Jack)
1 5-ounce package sliced turkey pepperoni
2 tablespoons sliced green onions (both white and green part)

Heat oven to 3500 F. Cut two pieces of aluminum foil, each about 30 inches long, and place on baking sheet forming a cross.

Using a serrated knife, cut bread into a grid pattern with rows about inch apart in both directions. Be careful not to cut through to bottom crust. Place cut loaf into center of foil on baking sheet.

Cut cheese into about 1/8-inch slices, getting 35 to 40 slices per 8-ounce piece. Then cut all slices in half yielding cheese pieces that are about 1-inch squares. Place half of cheese slices into parallel rows of bread so that just the top of cheese is exposed. If needed, press up on bread carefully from underneath to open up each row to make room for the cheese. Start with the center rows and work to outside edges. For the other half of the cheese, wrap each slice of cheese in a pepperoni slice and insert into remaining bread rows that are 90 degrees from the first rows. Tuck cheese and pepperoni deep into row so that just the top is exposed.

Wrap foil loosely around bread. Bake 25 minutes. Pull back foil and top with green onions. Broil about 6 inches from heat until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: Recipe can easily be cut in half, using a one-pound road loaf of whole grain bread, if desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving:
376 calories, 17 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 6 g dietary fiber, 23 g protein, and 790 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Cost per Serving: $1.40
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

Be sure to check out these other cheesy favorites.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Recipe Redux - Spicy Bok Choy Soup

Spicy Bok Choy Soup is fast and easy.

This month for Recipe Redux we were given the challenge to show a healthy dish we are heating up with smoke and/or spiciness. I choose spiciness. It is perfect for lunch or dinner on a cold, winter day

This is an fast and easy soup that goes to together in no time. You can add as mush or as little sriracha sauce as you like.

Spicy Bok Choy Soup

3 cups bok choy
6 cups chicken broth                
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or sherry  
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (use both white and green parts)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce, or to taste
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
6 to 8 ounces dry Chinese egg noodles or soba noodles

Cut off the stem end of bok choy; separate leaves. Wash and dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, garlic, and green onions in a large pot.  Season with pepper and sriracha sauce; stir the ingredients until well mixed.  Heat over medium-high heat. Once the mixture has reached a boil, add bok choy , sesame oil, and noodles. Reduce heat to medium; cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Ladle soup into bowls.

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving:
148 calories, 2 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber, 7 g protein, and 541 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of vitamin A and C.

Cost per Serving: $1.25

Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

Preparation photos:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Modified Chef John Ash's Brisket Braised in Coffee

Pork Roast Slow Cooked in Coffee

The theme for Recipe Redux this month is “Grab a Book & Cook.” Because Recipe Redux is celebrating 42 months, our challenge was to grab a cookbook and prepare/modify a recipe found on page 42 or 142.

I have a four-shelf bookcase filled with nothing but cookbooks, so selecting just one cookbook for this month’s Recipe Redux was a challenge. After looking at a few to see what recipes fell on pages 42 or 142, I selected Chef John Ash’s Cooking One on One: Private lessons in simple, contemporary food from a master teacher. I have met John a couple of times at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and he is not only extremely knowledgeable about culinary topics, but he is also very approachable and kind.

On page 142 of his cookbook is a recipe for Brisket Braised in Coffee. Have leftover coffee? Hate to throw it away? This is a great way to use it.

I modified Chef Ash’s original recipe in several ways. While at the supermarket, ready to buy the needed ingredients, I decided to substitute a pork end roast for the brisket listed in the original recipe. This is because the brisket was $7.49 per pound, meaning that a 4 pound piece of meat would be about thirty dollars. The pork end roast, on the other hand, was $1.49 per pound, or about six dollars total. I also decided to use a slow cooker to prepare this recipe instead of a 300 oven for 3 hours. I wanted to let it cook for hours so that the flavors would meld and the meat would be ultra tender. I also cut the amount of olive oil in half, reduced the amount of salt, and used canned tomatoes with no salt added in place of regular canned tomatoes.

Here are photos of the preparation steps:

Top: browning the roast; Middle: adding strong coffee; Bottom adding other ingredients.
Here is the roast cooking in the slow cooker:

All ingredients cooking in slow cooker

Here is the modified recipe:

Modified Brisket Braised in Coffee

4 pounds pork end roast (with bones), trimmed of excess fat
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large yellow onions (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds total), peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sliced fresh garlic (about 1 medium bulb or 12 cloves)
2 tablespoons (or more) pure chile powder, such as ancho or Chimayo
2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar (with mother, if desired)
4 cups strong brewed coffee
1 cup homemade chicken, meat, or vegetable stock or broth
1 14-1/2 ounce can no salt added diced tomatoes with their juice

Season meat with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven and brown the meat on all sides over medium-high heat. Remove meat and place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic and sauté over medium-high heat stirring frequently until they just begin to color. Add the chile powder and sauté, stirring, for a minute more, until fragrant. Add the fennel, cumin, sugar, vinegar, coffee, stock, and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Pour mixture over meat in slow cooker. Cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours on high heat (or 8 to 10 hours on low heat) or until meat is tender.

Remove meat from slow cooker and place on cutting board. Puree the braising liquids and vegetables until smooth using an immersion blender (or transfer to a food processor or blender and puree in batches). Season with salt and pepper, as needed. Slice meat thinly across the grain. Serve meat with warm sauce spooned over it.
Serves 8.

Nutrition Information per Serving:

587 calories, 30 g total fat, 10 g saturated fat, 144 mg cholesterol, 2 g dietary fiber, 47 g protein, and 365 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of protein, thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B-6.

This roast is good the day it is prepared, as well for a few days later.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dehydrated Mushrooms Easy To Do

Dried Mushrooms Are Easy To Do

The Recipe Redux theme this month is to think dehydrated favorites using a food dehydrator, a low, slow oven, or natural sunshine to preserve natural healthfulness. I decided to try dehydrating mushrooms. I have purchased dried mushrooms in a package before, like porcini and wood ear, but had never dried drying my own before this month’s challenge.

I started with a bunch of white button mushrooms. Of course, you can use any type of mushroom.
You start by cleaning them. I used a dry paper towel and rubbed them gently to remove any visible dirt. Several sources suggest that one not use water to clean them as this adds too much moisture to the mushrooms and they will take longer to dry.

I then used a slicer to cut the mushrooms into uniform slices. This slicer can be used for cooked eggs and strawberries, as well as mushrooms. It creates uniform slices. You can also use a sharp knife or a mandolin.

Place the sliced mushrooms in a single layer on a dry baking sheet. Do not spray with cooking spray or coat with oil. I also decided to experiment and seasoned half of the slice mushrooms with dried thyme. You can use any of your favorite spices. Curry, lemon pepper, or basil are other ideas.

Bake in a 150 to 170 degree oven for one hour. The lowest temperature my oven goes is 170 degrees. Several sources I read said 150 degrees. After one hour, turn the slices over. Place back in oven and cook for another hour.  Check the mushrooms. They should be dry and brittle and crack when you bend them. If not this dry, put back in oven and cook for another hour.
Let the dry, cooked mushrooms cool completely on a rack.
Once dry, place in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in a dark, cool place.

Dried mushrooms can be rehydrated in boiling water or soup. Use them in pasta dishes, stews, soups, omelets, or a variety of dishes.