Helping families eat healthier for less

Helping families eat healthier for less

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recipe Redux: Mexican Cheese Ball (with Beans)

The theme for Recipe ReDux this month is "Putting the P(ea) in Potluck.."  Because December is full of holiday parties and family gatherings, Recipe Redux requested party-friendly recipes that can feed a crowd that use peas, beans or lentils in festive dish. So, I decided I wanted to do something other than hummus, a favorite of mine, but fairly typical. I wanted to see if I could develop a recipe for a simple cheese ball that incorporated cooked beans.
Typically, cheese balls aren’t high on the list of healthy offerings at a buffet or party table. They often start with cream cheese and mayonnaise and are then rolled in nuts.  A “typical” cheese ball recipe can provide as much as 275 calories, 22 grams of total fat and 10 grams of saturated fat per 1/4-cup serving. I wanted to make a healthier version, naturally. So, I started with Neufchatel cream cheese with 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese and added cooked pinto beans and Monterey Jack Cheese.
I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of adding cooked pinto beans to softened Neufchatel cream cheese in the food processor. I add some shredded Monterey jack cheese with the jalapeno peppers already in the cheese to give it more flavor and a little spice. You end up with a healthier cheese ball with a hint of pintos. The recipe uses few ingredients and goes together in minutes. It does need to be refrigerated for several hours so the cheese can get firm.

Mexican Cheese Ball uses pinto beans

Here is the complete recipe:

Mexican Cheese Ball
1 cup cooked pinto beans (from scratch or from can, rinsed)
8 oz neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (4 oz) shredded Monterey jack cheese with jalapeno peppers
1 cup finely chopped cilantro

Process beans, cream cheese and Monterey jack cheese together in food processor until smooth, about 20 seconds, scraping sides if needed. Transfer cheese mixture to center of a large sheet of plastic wrap. Bring 4 corners of wrap together and twist to form ball. Place ball in bowl to help hold its shape and refrigerate until firm for several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, roll ball in chopped cilantro and place on serving tray. Serve with whole wheat crackers (such as Triscuits) and top with a teaspoon of chunky salsa, if desired.
Makes 16 servings (about 3 tablespoons each).

Nutrition Information per 3-Tablespoon Serving:
72 calories, 4 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g protein, and 115 mg sodium.

Cost per Serving: $0.22 (plus the cost of crackers and salsa)
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices except Neufchatel cheese was on sale for $1.50, jack cheese on sale for $2.00 for 8 oz., and cilantro on sale for $0.50 a bunch.

Click here to download and print a copy of this Mexican Cheese Ball recipe.
Be sure to check out these other Recipe ReDux Bloggers:

the InLinkz code

Monday, November 21, 2011

Roasted Carrot Barley Soup

The theme for Recipe Redux this month is "a whole new grain." I wanted to do something with barley. Although barley has been around for eons, it really isn’t eaten often in this country. I did a little research and learned that a majority of the barley grown in this country is used for animal feed (65%) or malt and alcohol production (35%); only 1.5% is consumed as food. The countries that eat the most barley as food include Morocco, China, India, and Ethiopia.
Barley has a good nutritional profile. I compared the nutrition facts label of two different Quaker Oats pearl barley products: quick and medium. There was no difference between the two products in terms of their nutritional profile. They both had the same amount of fiber, macronutrients, vitamins and minerals for a 48 gram serving. The only differences are the cooking times (45 to 50 minutes for the medium and 10 minutes for the quick) and the texture (the medium is chewier). "Pearled" means that the barley has been polished and the hull removed.
The chart below compares barley with several other common grains.  You can see that one serving of barley is an excellent source of fiber and it is sodium free and lowfat. Quinoa is often touted for its high protein, but you can see that barley isn’t far behind. Costs are compared at the bottom of the chart and you can see that barley is inexpensive and can usually be found at your local supermarket. Many of the more exotic grains (such as faro, kamut, etc.) can only be found at health/natural foods stores or online and are much more expensive.

Pearl Barley
(quick or medium)
(1/4 cup medium or 1/3 cup quick, dry)
(1/4 cup, dry)
Brown Jasmine Rice
(1/4 cup dry)
Bulgur Wheat
(1/4 cup, dry)
Total Fat
0.5 g
2 g
1 g
0.5 g
0 mg
1 mg
0 mg
0 mg
Dietary Fiber
5 g
3 g
2 g
6 g
5 g
6 g
3 g
5 g

Total Cost
No. svgs/pkg
Cost per svg

Note: for comparison purposes, all of the grains listed in the chart are for 48 grams of dry (uncooked) product which is 1/4 cup for all products except the quick barley in which 48 grams is 1/3 of a cup.
Next, I needed to decide what to do with the barley. I thought about a carrot rice soup I have had in the past but wanted to replace the rice with barley.
I began by coating carrot pieces with olive oil and then roasting themto bring out their sweetness. The roasted carrots are then cooked with onions, garlic, low sodium chicken broth, barley, and seasonings. Then the mixture gets pureed in a blender.

The final soup is topped with a few dabs of plain yogurt and dusted with cumin.

Here is the complete recipe.
Roasted Carrot Barley Soup
2 pounds carrots, peeled & trimmed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, peeled & minced
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons quick cooking pearl barley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt, stirred
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin powder
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut carrots into 1-1/2-inch pieces. If thick, cut in half lengthwise so that all the carrot slices are about the same size. Coat cut carrots with olive oil. Roast in 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, turning once halfway through baking.
Heat canola oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute. Add carrots, broth, barley, pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 12 minutes or until barley is tender. Remove soup from heat. Carefully puree soup in blender in batches until smooth. Don’t overfill blender container. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt over top. Sprinkle with cumin.
Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition Information per Serving:
116 calories, 3 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g protein, and 197 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of vitamin A and K and a good serving of fiber and niacin.

Cost per Serving: $0.73
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

Be sure to check out these other blogs for more whole grain recipes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Healthy Entertaining on a Budget

The holidays are approaching. It’s time for getting together with family, friends, and others. Here are my 10 tips for entertaining, keeping both budget and nutrition in mind.
1. Planning is Key

Think about and write out your menu in advance. Look for supermarket specials, coupons, and promotions on the foods you will need. Take advantage of foods in season. Get recipe ideas for menus from magazines, friends, TV programs or websites.

2. Invite Guests for Brunch

Suggest that guests come for brunch or breakfast. These meals are usually more budget-friendly than a full-course dinner, especially if there are appetizers & drinks involved. Egg dishes are more economical than meat or seafood entrees. Think about omelets, French toast,  quiche, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast favorites that are good any time of day.
3. Keep Healthy Appetizer Ingredients on Hand

For pop-in guests, keep a supply of healthy ingredients on hand to make appetizers on short notice. Include items such as whole grain crackers, hummus, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, raw vegetables for crudités, and reduced-fat cottage cheese, cream cheese, or salad dressings.
Think about combining red, white and green foods for a festive presentation. And, hard boiled eggs are always welcome. Try stuffing them with hummus  or canned salmon for something different.
4. Double Up on Turkeys

There are many deals on turkeys and turkey parts this time of year. Whether you find turkeys for free or at a big discount, buy two or three, if freezer space allows. You can freeze the turkey whole, in parts or cook it first and freeze it in family-sized portions. Find turkey breasts on sale? Pound it flat, top it with stuffing or vegetables, roll it up jellyroll-style, and roast for a fancy presentation.
5. Think Beans & Grains

Beans and whole grains (such as brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, and whole grain pasta) are inexpensive yet add fiber, nutrients, texture, and flavor to a meal.

Find ways to include whole grains and beans in your meal or, better yet, make them the centerpiece of the meal. Examples include chili, lasagna, baked ziti, pasta with sauce, enchiladas, jambalaya, meatloaf, stews, and soups. Meats, seafood, or poultry can add flavoring, but let the beans, grains and veggies be the stars of the dish. Use a whole grain bread in your stuffing recipe or serve quinoa or other whole grains.

6. Simmer in a Slow Cooker

Less expensive cuts of meat can be successfully prepared in a slow cooker that tenderizes the meat as it cooks. Once assembled, you can forget about this dish and spend your time on other dishes or with guests and family.
7. Serve Extra Veggies

This time of year, there are plenty of vegetables to choose from, including turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes. Buying veggies in season should offer the best prices and flavors. Serve one or two extra sides of vegetables than normal. This will allow guests to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies, the recommendation given by USDA in their new MyPlate graphic. Roasting adds a lot of flavor to vegetables. Or, combine two or more vegetables in a puree for a new flavor treat.
8. Budget-Friendly Beverages

Fill a large punch bowl with assorted 100% fruit juices, with or without the alcohol, for adults and children. Or, add club soda to juices or wine to add carbonation without adding calories, fat, or sugar. Or, combine an inexpensive sparkling wine with orange juice for mimosas or with other fruit juices. Make your own eggnog with fewer egg yolks and more egg white and skim milk.
9. Flip the Dessert

Flipping the dessert means that instead of having a large slice of decadent cheesecake, for example, with a just a garnish of half a strawberry, you have a serving of berries with just a small cube of cheesecake.  Decadence, but with portion control.
Or, how about some cranberry or wine poached pears or a mango sorbet? Serve desserts in individual dishes, such as tarts, custards, puddings, or lowfat ice cream. You can serve them in glass dishes on a doily, sprinkled with powdered sugar or cocoa or garnished with a piece of fruit. Add a swirl of fruit puree or dark chocolate sauce to a plate around a piece of angel food cake, apple cake, or gingerbread.
10. Presentation is Everything

You cake turn “everyday” foods into something special simply by paying more attention to how the food is presented. Use fancy plates, bowls, and platters. White or glass plates let the food take the spotlight. Take a few extra minutes during the prep stage to cut your vegetables so they are all the same size. Make an extra effort to garnish food dishes with parsley, greens, spices, fruit slices, or cut up raw vegetables. Little touches can add a lot of pizzazz and eye appeal to a dish.
Also, music helps set a festive mood, as do candles. It’s okay to mix and match dinner plates. Portion control is easier with smaller plates. Consider using 8 or 9-inch plates instead of ones that are 10 or 12 inches in diameter. Use real or silk flowers for a centerpiece or even a small houseplant can do the job. Lastly, remember to relax and enjoy the time with your guests.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin Chili Chicken Pizza is Great for Fall

Several years ago I met a best girlfriend who lived in Illinois and we attended a pumpkin festival in Morton, Illinois, the “pumpkin capital of the world.” As part of the festival we watched part of the punkin chunkin’ contest. (As I now live in Delaware, I know all about punkin chunkin’ because it all started in Delaware back in 1986 when a group of guys, of course, wanted to see who could “throw” a pumpkin the furthest. In 1986, the furthest thrown was 126 feet. Last year, using different kinds of contraptions, they can now throw a pumpkin over 3,000 feet. Amazing!)
Anyway, one of the novelty dishes one could buy at the event in Morton, Illinois on a cold, fall day was warm pumpkin chili that had chicken and beans in it. So, when Recipe Redux said the theme this month was pumpkin, I thought back to that pumpkin chili that I enjoyed so much. However, I wanted to give it a new twist … so I created a pumpkin chicken chili and use it to top a pizza. Beow are photos of the pumpkin preparation.

Instead of cutting a raw pumpkin into small cubes, I wanted to try shredding it raw, to see how that would work in my chili. It worked great. As you can see from the photos above, you cut a whole fresh pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, peel the outside, and then grate the raw pumpkin. You could also use a shredding disk on a food processor, if desired. I bought a medium-sized, 6-pound pumpkin and used only about an eight of it for the chili. So, there is a lot of pumpkin left to make bread, puddings, or other pumpkin favorites (see links to other blogs below).
Here are some photos of the chili and pizza preparation.

The pizza is hearty and nutritious. Here’s the complete recipe:
Pumpkin Chili Chicken Pizza
1 pound ground chicken
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup shredded raw pumpkin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, reduced sodium if possible, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp chili powder, or to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 thin 12-inch ready-to-cook whole wheat pizza crusts (such as Boboli or other brand)
2 tsp olive oil
1 (15 oz) can pizza sauce, (look for brand with the lowest sodium)
2 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large nonstick skillet, cook chicken over medium heat until browned. Drain if needed. Stir in onion, bell pepper, pumpkin, and garlic. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in beans and seasonings. Set aside. Place pizza crusts on pizza pans or baking sheets. Brush pizza crust with olive oil. Divide pizza sauce evenly between 2 pizza crusts and spread into an even layer. Divide chicken chili mixture evenly between the 2 pizzas and spread into an even layer. Top each pizza with 1 cup shredded cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove and cut each pizza into 8 wedges.
Makes 8 servings (2 wedges each)
Here are some photos of the finished pizza.

Preparation Note: You can use your favorite pizza dough from scratch, if you prefer. Also, you can just make the pumpkin chicken chili and not put it on a pizza crust. Simply add a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes to the chili mixture when the pumpkin is added.
Nutrition Information per Serving (2 wedges):
444 calories, 16 g total fat, 6.5 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 7 g dietary fiber, 26 g protein, and 448 mg sodium. One serving of this recipe provides an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium and fiber and a good source of vitamins B-6 and niacin. Note: sodium could be reduced further if homemade pizza crust was used and kidney beans were cooked from scratch instead of using canned.
Cost per Serving: $1.73
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices except ground chicken was $2.99 a pound and cheese was on sale for $1.50 for 8-ounce package of shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese.
Click here to download a copy of the Pumpkin Chili Chicken Pizza recipe.

What to do with the Pumpkin Seeds?
I didn’t want to throw away the pumpkin seeds, so after removing the seeds from the pumpkin, I removed the strings and pulp and rinsed them. I divided the seeds into two 8-inch glass baking dishes, then sprayed them with olive oil cooking spray. I seasoned one batch with curry powder and the other with sumac. (I had never used ground sumac before but discovered it while on an ethnic market cooking tour in San Diego as part of the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo last month. Sumac has a lemony flavor and is often used in Middle Eastern cooking on such things as rice, fish, kabobs, and meats.) I decided to try cooking the seeds in a microwave instead of the oven and found some guidelines online. Microwave for a total of about 7 minutes on high power, stirring every 2 minutes. Of course, microwaves vary in power so your actual time may be different.
I looked up the nutritional value for pumpkin seeds and found that just 1/4 cup roasted seeds provides 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sodium, and 3 grams of fat, all for and 74 calories.

Be sure to check out these other great blogs for more delicious pumpkin recipes.

Cherie Schetselaar - Grain Crazy Fresh Pumpkin Risotto
Alexandra Caspero- Delicious Knowledge Pumpkin Enchiladas 
Katie Hamm - Healthy & Happy Hour Pumpkin-Bacon Ravioli  
Alysa Bajenaru - Inspired RD Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Fries 
Everyday Tastiness Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Elizabeth Jarrard- Don't (White) Sugar Coat It Vegan Pumpkin Soup
 Kristen Bourque- Swanky Dietitian baked pumpkin oatmeal 
Marie Spano Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins 
Regan @ The Professional Palate Pumpkin Ravioli in a Walnut-Sage Cider Sauce 
Danielle Omar - Food Confidence RD Pumpkin Goulash 
Emma @ The Hearty Heart (Vegan) Cocoa Pumpkin (Whiskey) Mousse 
gretchen - kumquat baked mini pumpkins 
Emma Stirling - The Scoop on Nutrition Recipe Redux Chermoula Chickpea & Pumpkin Sliders  Recipe Janel Funk: Eat Well with Janel Pumpkin Pie Smoothie 
Nicole @ Whole Health RD Kaddo Bourani - Candied Pumpkin with Yogurt and Meat Sauce
Yuri - Chef Pandita Pumpkin Apple Soup 
Lisa @ Healthful Sense Pumpkin Cream Pie Filling & Pudding
Jessica Fishman Levinson - Nutritioulicious Recipe Redux: Pumpkin Pancakes 
Jane Schwartz, RD  pumpkin recipe
Kat Lynch - Eating The Week Pumpkin yogurt dip for waffle sticks 
Katie Caputo- East Meats West Pumpkin Stuffing  
Serena @ Teaspoon of Spice Whole Pumpkin Cheddar Gratin Whole Pumpkin Cheddar Gratin
Kristina @ Love and Zest Pumpkin Mash 
Carrie Miller - Nutrition Know How Baked Stuffed Pumpkin & Pumpkin Orange Muffins  
Ann Dunaway Teh - Eat to Nourish, Energize & Flourish Pumpkin, Squash and Apple Soup 
Kara Lydon - Peace, Love, and Food Pumpkin Yogurt Dip 
Stephanie Howard - Give Them Something Better Fall Harvest Chili 
Karman Meyer-Nutrition Adventures Pumpkin-Potato Breakfast Hash
Ayla Withee- Eat Simply Salt and Vinegar Pumpkin Seeds  
Heather Calcote - Dietitian on the Run Pumpkin Rosemary & Mushroom Quinoa 
Jill Melton-The Relish Dish Ham and Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin 
EA-The Spicy RD Pumpkin Pesto Bruschetta 
Liz Weiss & Janice Newell Bissex - Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen Ghoulishly Good Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin  
Diane Welland - Eat Well, Eat Clean Pumpkin Cranberry Scones