Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

I hope you’ve had a great 2016. Every year has its ups and downs. But hopefully the ups were high enough to offset the downs. I wish you all a Happy New Year this weekend.

One quick recipe to end the year – vegetable chowder. Hopefully it will be helpful in clearing out your fridge of any remaining holiday foods. And keeping you warm, as I see the forecast for many early next week is rather cold.

I’ve been tweaking this recipe for awhile, and I’ve made most of my batches with leftovers from holiday veggie trays, cheese trays, etc. It is great for just cleaning out the fridge and pantry, which is great any time of year. Enjoy!

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder (Serves about 8)

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

4 cups low sodium vegetable (or chicken) stock
4 cups vegetables, chopped (broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, etc)
1-2 cups small diced potatoes
2 tablespoons no salt added butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk (preferably skim)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
2 cups shredded cheese (something more flavorful than mozzarella)

1. Heat stock to a boil in a large stockpot. Add potatoes and other long cooking vegetables (carrots, celery). Add other vegetables sporadically so they all finish cooking about the same time (total time, 15ish minutes).

2. When the vegetables are almost done, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add in flour. Stir for 1 minute. Add in milk, pepper, and thyme, stirring frequently. Cook for a couple minutes, until beginning to thicken.

3. Add milk mixture to vegetable pot. Cook until desired consistency (about 5 minutes or so). Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted throughout.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 236
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 12 g
Saturated fat: 8 g
Cholesterol: 36 mg
Carbohydrates: 20 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 491 mg

Recipe Notes: Sorry the recipe is a bit vague in places. It really depends on what vegetables you have, how big you cut them, and how crunchy/soft you like your veggies in the soup. If you have leftover cheese slices from a cheese tray, just crumble them up or dice them up small. They’ll melt faster that way than in slices.

Source: adapted from my mom’s broccoli cheese soup recipe

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New Year’s Word-solution

It’s that time again. Time to review the year that is ending and make plans of how to make next year better. I’ve posted many ideas for setting goals in the past (here, here, and here). This year, I have two thoughts for you.

First, I recently started listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier“. Highly recommend it. She proposed the idea of having a one word theme for 2017 that all of your goals or resolutions revolve around. I think this is an awesome way of combining your nutrition and health related goals with your other goals for the year. As you might have guessed by the image above, I have chosen the word focus. I am constantly either multi-tasking or leaving something half finished because I’m distracted by something else only to come back later and realize I still didn’t finish the first task. Neither of these use my time efficiently. My goal this year is to focus on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. If I’m playing with my kids, I’m only playing. If I’m eating, I’m focused on what I’m eating and why I’m eating it. If I’m exercising, I’m focused on pushing myself. Several of the workout videos I’ve watched recently have mentioned, “If you are going to workout, make it count” or “If you are here, be here 100%”. It’s so true.

Let me know your themes or resolutions in the comments!

Second, I heard an interesting statistic. Apparently, data shows that the first Thursday in February is when all of us have fallen of the bandwagon of our health goals. It is when the decline in gym attendance and the rise in fast food intake intersect. The second Friday in February is the most popular day for fast food eating. So not only have we all fallen off the bandwagon, but we have no intention of getting back on (apparently). So this year, mark February 2nd and February 10th on your calendar. Don’t go out for fast food. Go exercise and eat a healthful meal. Your body and your resolutions will thank you. (Statistics from episode 3 of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know)

If you are hosting a New Year’s party, here is a link to recipes and tips for lighter cocktails. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

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Meaty Lasagna

A few days after Thanksgiving, we had some people over for dinner. We had a still untouched pumpkin pie, so we served it for dessert. They commented they had never eaten homemade pumpkin pie before. I was astonished! Imagine my surprise when I told this story to someone else who admitted the same thing.

It reminded me of a time in college when one of my roommates was making lasagna for dinner. Another roommate walked in and said, “You can make lasagna? I didn’t know that. I thought you only bought it frozen.” Upon questioning her, her mom had never made lasagna which she attributed to picky eaters.

All of these experiences plus the holidays (when I know many people seem to eat lasagna) inspired me to make my lasagna recipe and share it with you. Everyone (including myself) thinks lasagna is hard. It’s really quite easy. It is a “little” time consuming. Only in that you need to plan ahead. But it is pretty hands off for most of that time. And it can easily be made ahead of time. Enjoy!

Meaty Lasagna (Serves 8-10)

Meaty Lasagna

1 lb Italian sausage
½ large onion, diced
½ cup diced carrots
2 cloves minced garlic
2 (15.5 ounce) cans no salt added diced tomatoes
2 (8 ounce) cans no salt added tomato sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaves
½ tablespoon dried basil leaves
½ tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
10 (or so) lasagna noodles (not the no boil)
1 (10 ounce or so) package frozen spinach
1 (approximately 24 oz) container ricotta or low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
⅔ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup mozzarella cheese

1. Brown sausage. Add onion and carrots. Sauté until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute.

2. Add tomatoes through black pepper. Stir to distribute seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook for 20-30 minutes, until thickened to desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove bay leaves before serving or blending.

3. While sauce cooks, cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Before cooking, see how many noodles fit in your 9×13 pan (or lasagna pan). You will have 3 layers, so cook that many noodles.

4. Thaw spinach and squeeze out water. Mix spinach, ricotta/cottage cheese, egg, ⅓ cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup mozzarella. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350.

6. Spread a very thin layer of red sauce in the bottom of your pan (9×13 or lasagna). Top with a layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Another layer of noodles. Now a layer of the ricotta/cottage cheese mixture. Another layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.

7. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until heated through and beginning to brown slightly.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 355
Protein: 16 gm
Fat: 19 gm
Saturated Fat: 2 gm
Cholesterol: 29 mg
Carbohydrates: 30 gm
Fiber: 3 gm
Sodium: 264 mg

Recipe notes: You could use lean ground beef or turkey instead of sausage. I prefer the flavor of sausage. You could easily leave out the meat too for a vegetarian lasagna. You could also throw in a bell pepper to the sauce. This sauce is my basic marinara sauce recipe halved. I usually make the full recipe and just have leftover marinara to freeze. I think I slightly prefer cottage cheese, but that is because that is what I was raised on. Ricotta is yummy too.

If you want to make this ahead, assemble the lasagna. It can be covered and refrigerated for 1 day before baking. I’d increase the baking time to 45 minutes-1 hour then. Or, you could assemble it and freeze it. Then you’d bake it covered for about 1 hour, then uncovered for 30 minutes-1 hour, or until it is cooked through.

This might be a bit full for a standard 9×13 pan. Just keep your layers thin. I have a lasagna pan, which is a bit bigger. I love it. If you have a bigger casserole dish than a 9×13, use it.

Source: adapted from a family recipe

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Fresh versus Canned Pumpkin

Over the last few years, I’ve met several people who SWEAR by fresh pumpkin. They tell me I should never use canned pumpkin because you can really tell the difference between fresh roasted pumpkin and canned pumpkin. Well, this year, I decided to test it out.

First, I used a “pie pumpkin”. This is a much smaller pumpkin. Prior to roasting it, I used it as a table centerpiece. I have heard mixed responses in person and online as to whether you have to use a pie pumpkin or can just use a regular jack-o-latern pumpkin. From my experiences with my baked pumpkin dinner, I think you’d be safer using a pie pumpkin. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins sometimes have smooth, creamy interiors and sometimes are more stringy like a spaghetti squash. You wouldn’t want the stringy texture.

Here is a comparison of the purees. I roasted my pie pumpkin at 400 for about 45 minutes-1 hour, until it was fork tender. (I cut it in half and seeded it first). Fresh is on the right, canned on the left.

Fresh vs Canned Pumpkin Puree

You can see the canned is a much deeper orange color. And a slightly more watery, smoother texture. I could have added some water to mine to puree it to a similar consistency. I didn’t think it was necessary.

Here is the cookie dough. This is flipped from above – canned on the right, fresh on the left.

Fresh vs Canned Pumpkin Cookie Dough

This one is harder to tell a difference. The dough is a bit darker with the canned, but not too much. The doughs mixed up and baked pretty much the same.

And of course, the final product. Back to fresh on the right, canned on the left.

Fresh vs Canned Pumpkin Cookies

Any difference you see is in the lighting. There was not visible difference in the two cookies.

Taste? Well, I tried out both cookies on 18 people, not telling them what the difference was, asking if they had a preference. Most said they really couldn’t taste much of a difference. If they HAD to choose, maybe they liked canned better (although they didn’t know it was the canned one).

So my verdict: I’ll be buying canned pumpkin. To me, there wasn’t a big enough difference to justify the work and money of making my own.

But I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Gingerbread Pancakes

Breakfast is a nutritionally important meal of the day. But I also find it to be an emotionally important meal. When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I need a good breakfast to help me turn my day around. And it really works. No bowls of cold cereal. I need warm food that makes me feel happy. I love easy ways to make breakfast seem special, since I usually don’t have much time on those days.

These gingerbread pancakes fit that bill. If you tried my gingerbread pancakes last year, these are even better.  Lighter and more fluffy.  Still great gingerbread flavor without being overpowering.  And no sugar in the batter besides molasses!  Hooray!

Gingerbread Pancakes (Makes 10-15 pancakes)

Gingerbread Pancakes

1 large egg
1 ½ cups skim milk
5 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ⅓ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, milk, molasses, oil, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

2. Heat a griddle or non-stick pan to medium-high heat (350 if electric). Lightly spray pan with cooking spray. Pour about ¼-⅓ cup batter onto griddle for each cake. Cook until they start to bubble and bottom looks set. Flip and cook until browned.

Nutritional Information (Amount per pancake):

Calories: 110
Protein: 3 g
Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: less than 1 g
Cholesterol: 16 mg
Carbohydrates: 18 g
Fiber: 2 gm
Sodium: 138 mg

Notes: I prefer white whole wheat flour, but “regular” whole wheat flour also works here. As with all pancake batters, I find the amount of liquid is a little bit tricky. You can add more milk if you need a thinner batter.

Source: Children’s Museum Denver

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Oven Baked Tacos

The holiday season is upon us. We are all very busy and stressed. Easy dinners are the order of the day, yes? These oven baked tacos are a win on that score. They can be put on the table in about 30 minutes and are delicious. And there isn’t a big mess afterwards. I hope these help ease a little of the December stress in your life.

Oven Baked Tacos (Makes 12 tacos)

Oven Baked Tacos

12 hard shell taco shells
½ tablespoon canola oil
1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
½ jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed if desired, diced small
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tomato, diced
½ cup salsa
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
2 tablespoons water
½ cup shredded cheese (your preference)
Shredded lettuce
Chopped green onion
Chopped tomatoes
Sour cream
Shredded cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400. Line taco shalls in 9×13 baking dish.

2. Heat a medium to large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and ground meat. While it begins to brown, chop vegetables. Add onion, peppers, and garlic once meat is mostly browned. Saute, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and pepper soft. Add tomato, salsa, taco seasoning, and water. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until thickened and combined.

3. Spoon meat mixture into the taco shells. Top evenly with shredded cheese.

4. Bake for 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve with desired toppings.

Nutritional Information (Amount per taco):

Calories: 158
Protein: 10 g
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 3 g
Cholesterol: 32 mg
Carbohydrates: 12 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 277 mg

Recipe notes: Don’t worry if your shells crack a bit trying to get them in the pan. Once you put the filling and cheese in, you can patch them back together. I would start checking the tacos at 5 minutes. The longer they are in the oven, the softer the shells become. Mine were in 8 minutes (convection oven) and the bottoms of the shells were almost too soft/soggy. The nutritional analysis uses ground turkey and doesn’t include in toppings. Refried black beans are a great side dish to serve with this.

Source: Adapted from Six Sisters’ Stuff

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Have your pie and eat it too

Thanksgiving Card

A fellow dietitian sent me that card. I found it very amusing.

I hope you are enjoying getting ready for Thanksgiving. I am now that my grocery shopping is over. And I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving full of delicious food.

How does this dietitian approach Thanksgiving? With very little thought to calories, more to strategy. My stomach can only hold so much without feeling sick. So, I prioritize foods I want. And I also keep my portions small. Why? Because I can eat more things that way. Like stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, turkey, Brussels sprouts, jello, homemade rolls, etc.

Do dietitians eat dessert? Heck yes. My annual white chocolate pumpkin cheesecake is on the menu, as are several pies. I plan to eat more than one kind. But, again, I will keep to small pieces. Again, this is more of a stomach space issue than calorie issue.

Holidays are not the time to think about calories. You’ll go nuts and be miserable. But try to focus on not gorging or making yourself sick. Feeling overly stuffed isn’t enjoyable either. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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