Cast Iron Skillet Beef Pot Pie

Pi Day is this coming Saturday. I love making some sweet pies for us to eat on that day. But it is fun to spread the pie love throughout the day. Try a quiche for breakfast or brunch. Pizza “pie” for lunch or dinner. Or a pot pie. Make it a party – even with just your family. Small changes can help with the quarantine time most of us have looming over us right now.

This pot pie is very simple to throw together. It all cooks in one pan. Super simple and hearty. Fill yourself up with some yummy veggies before sampling some sweet pie this Saturday! Enjoy!

Cast Iron Skillet Beef Pot Pie (Serves 4-6)

Cast Iron Skillet Beef Pot Pie

Pie Crust:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup cold water (or more)

Filling:

1 lb beef stew meat
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 ¼ cups low sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup frozen peas
¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Make crust: cut butter into flour, sugar, and salt to form small crumbs. Gently stir in water to form crust. Roll to fit size of skillet. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in large cast iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add beef and mushrooms, cooking for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften.

3. Add tomato paste, garlic, and sweet potato. Cook for about a minute, stirring. Stir in flour and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Stir in ½ cup of broth. Stir until almost evaporated. Add remaining broth and Worcestershire sauce, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring to remove lumps. Stir in peas and thyme.

5. Cover skillet with pie dough. Cut a couple slits in the top of the crust. Bake for about 30 minutes, until crust is browned and filling is bubbling. If crust is browning too quickly, cover it with foil. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 467
Protein: 24 g
Fat: 26 g
Saturated fat: 14 g
Cholesterol: 99 mg
Carbohydrates: 38 g
Fiber: 6 g
Sodium: 481 mg

Recipe notes: You could mix up the veggies if you have some you prefer. You could leave out the mushrooms and do more beef. Or skip the beef and do all mushrooms. I liked the half and half since I have some non mushroom eaters at my house. You could also use your favorite pie crust recipe. This was just an idea for a whole wheat one to try.

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Added Sugars and Nutrition Labels

How much sugar should we eat? Is high fructose corn syrup bad for me? What sweeteners should I use in my home? These are questions I frequently get asked. A dietitian friend of mine, Melanie Betz (@the.kidney.dietitian) did a great post on instagram recently about sugar.

First off. Sugar is sugar is sugar. I don’t care if it is white sugar, honey, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, or whatever other sugar you have seen. These are all sugar. They all are broken down into sugars that are used by our bodies. Having too much of ANY of these isn’t a good thing. There is no evidence in human studies to date that shows a strong difference between caloric sweeteners.

What about non-calorie sweeteners? People are often concerned about these. In moderate amounts, these are generally considered safe. However, it likely isn’t good to rely on these as a stop gap to solve your eating pattern issues. If you are eating too many sweet treats or drinks, just switching to a sugar free version will not fix the overriding problem. The overriding problem is you are consuming these foods that do not provide necessary nutrients. Switching from regular Coca-Cola to Diet Coke saves you 140 calories per can, yes. But did you gain any nutrition? No. Plus you’ve consumed lots of other additives that can have health effects – phosphorus on your bones and kidneys for example.

So how much sugar should you eat in a day. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to 10% or less of calories per day. For the generic 1800-2000 calorie diet, that translates to 45-50 grams of added sugar per day. For reference, one 12 oz can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association is even more strict. They recommend 100 calories per day of added sugar for women and 150 for men. That translates to 25 and 38 grams respectively.

But how do I look at added sugars? The Dietary Guidelines points out that what we are looking at is an overall eating pattern. MOST people consume too many added sugars in sweet beverages and desserts. However, not all sugar is evil. Sometimes it is added to make healthy things more palatable.

I think the classic example to look at is cereal. Here are pictures of 3 cereal labels I found in my cupboard. Let’s take a look and compare.

Cereal Comparison

So let’s look at the carbohydrate section.  Both Raisin Bran and Frosted Mini Wheats have more total carbs than Honey Nut Cheerios.  For total sugars, Raisin Bran has the most at 17 grams.  Until a few years ago, this is all a label would say, total sugar.  Why is Raisin Bran, which you think is healthy, so high in sugar you say?  Two reasons.  First, it has raisins (and bananas in this box), which NATURALLY has sugar in it.  Second, you do need some sugar to make the bran palatable for most people.

Now let’s look at the added sugars.  Raisin Bran is actually the lowest at 11 grams, compared to 12 grams in both of the others.  This is a classic example of why I’m so incredibly glad “added sugars” has been added to nutrition labels.

But wait?  Mini Wheats and Cheerios are the same in added sugars?  Let’s delve one step further then.  In this case I would go look at the fiber.  Mini Wheats’ 8 grams of fiber definitely beats out the 3 grams in Honey Nut Cheerios.  (Another place you could look would be protein, but that is a discussion for a different day).

I hope you found this helpful as you look at added sugars and nutrition labels!

Disclaimer:  I have no vested interest for or against any products mentioned in this post.  Similar comparisons could be made between any regular vs diet soft drink.  These three cereals happened to be in my cupboard that I purchased at the most recent sale at the grocery store.

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Happy National Nutrition Month

It’s finally March which means it is National Nutrition Month. Double hooray because it also means we are closer to spring. The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is Eat Right Bite by Bite.

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That’s easy to say, but is it easy to practice? It takes a little thought and planning, but it can be pretty easy. Healthy food also doesn’t have to be time consuming. I am a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s books and podcast. She suggests that you time activities, especially if it is something you don’t like to do. Then you know exactly how long it takes. I like to apply this practice to making a healthful breakfast or lunch. It can seem really overwhelming and like it would take too much time. But when I stop and actually do it, it only takes a few minutes.

Today’s example is a spin on avocado toast. I’m calling it omelet avocado toast as it has some of my favorite omelet ingredients. To really speed this up, you can cook up lots of veggies one day and store them in the fridge for subsequent mornings. Then you just need to heat them up with your eggs. The more variety of colors of vegetables the better! You can cook your eggs however you’d like. I’m on a poached egg kick, but this is great with scrambled or fried eggs as well. Enjoy!

Omelet Avocado Toast (Serves 1)

Omelet Avocado Toast

1 slice whole wheat bread, toasted
½ avocado, mashed
¼ green bell pepper, diced
¼ cup sliced mushrooms
½ tomato, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped zucchini
1 egg

1. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Lightly cook pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, and tomato until desired softness (usually about 5-7 minutes).

2. Cook eggs as desired.

3. Top toast with avocado, vegetables, and egg.

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 325
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 21 g
Saturated Fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 186 mg
Carbohydrates: 25 g
Fiber: 10 g
Sodium: 223 mg

Recipe notes: As I mentioned above, you could easily make a large batch of veggies one day. Then heat them up with eggs to make toast, an actual omelet, scramble, or whatever variation you like to keep it interesting. Mix up the veggies to what you like.

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African Hominy and Beans

February is Black History Month. I think we are all aware of traditional Southern United States dishes that get mentioned this month. But it is interesting to look further into the roots of those dishes and the origins of African Americans. Most of us haven’t been to Africa or an African themed restaurant, with the possible exception of Moroccan food. It’s great to change things up and learn about new foods.

This hominy and beans dish is very easy to put together, uses common ingredients, and tastes great. My kids are big beans fans, so they downed this. If you are worried about a spice level, you could halve the curry powder. Depends on if you have a sweet or spicy curry. Enjoy!

African Hominy and Beans (serves 6)

African Hominy and Beans//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed well
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed well
1 cup low sodium vegetable or chicken stock

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté 4 to 5 minutes until soft.

2. Stir in garlic and sauté 30 to 60 seconds until fragrant.

3. Add tomato paste, oregano, curry powder, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Stir in hominy, pinto beans and vegetable stock and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until liquid is mostly absorbed.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 136
Protein: 5 g
Fat: 6 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 18 g
Fiber: 4 g
Sodium: 181 mg

Recipe notes: This is great served over rice.

Source: Slightly adapted from Food and Nutrition Magazine

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Apricot Pecan Bites

Since February is snack food month, I thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite snacks. My kids love little bite sized snacks. Even better if they are sweet. But I don’t want them eating a ton of extra sugar. I do want snacks to have protein and fiber.

Enter these little apricot pecan bites. Sweetened almost entirely from fruit (there’s a little added sugar in the nut butter), these are sweet enough for my kids. They also fill you up quickly. We found this recipe at our local children’s museum. So, while kids need a bit of supervision with a food processor blade, this is definitely a snack they can help you make. Enjoy!

Apricot Pecan Bites (Makes about 24 bites)

Apricot Pecan Bites

1 cup dried apricots
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (preferably unsweetened)
½ cup dates
½ cup dried cherries
juice of 1 orange
6 tablespoons almond butter

1. Place all of the ingredients except half of the cocunut into a food processor. Blend until smooth.
2. Carefully scoop out about tablespoon size portions and roll into a ball. If it is too sticky, try sticking it in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up first.
3. Roll balls in remaining coconut. Store in refrigerator.

Nutrition Information (amount per bite)

Calories: 141
Protein: 2 g
Fat: 10 g
Saturated fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 0 g
Carbohydrates: 13 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 20 mg

Source: our local children’s museum

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Apple Almond Butter French Toast

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day full of romance. Valentine’s Day food is generally fairly decadent – chocolate, candlelit steak dinners, cheesy pastas, etc. But you can always show someone you love them with a healthier option. Homemade breakfast feels fancy for a weekday, especially breakfast in bed.

This apple almond butter French toast is quick to put together but looks and tastes fancy. I love making sandwich French toasts with different flavors. The tart apple and creamy nut butter work really well together. Make it for someone you love soon, if not for Valentine’s Day!

Apple Almond Butter French Toast (Serves 2)

Apple Almond Butter French Toast

4 slices whole wheat bread
4 tablespoons almond butter
1 apple, sliced thin
1 egg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup skim milk
¼ cup syrup

1. Heat a nonstick griddle over medium-high heat, about 350 degrees F.
2. Spread almond butter evenly over slices of bread. Place 1/2 apple slices on two slices of the bread. Top with other slices to make sandwiches.
3. Whisk egg, cinnamon, and milk together in a shallow bowl or dish. Carefully dip sandwiches in egg mixture.
4. Spray griddle with cooking spray. Place sandwiches on griddle. Cook on each side until lightly browned and egg is cooked, about 2-3 minutes per side.
5. Serve warm with syrup.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 562
Protein: 19 g
Fat: 23 g
Saturated fat: 3 g
Cholesterol: 94 mg
Carbohydrates: 76 g
Fiber: 10 g
Sodium: 418 mg

Recipe notes: I prefer almond butter to peanut butter in general. I especially like it here because of it’s cinnamony taste. Peanut butter also works if that is your preference or what you have available. I like a tart apple here, like a Granny Smith. The tartness works well with the sweetness of the syrup and nut butter. You also don’t need a ton of syrup for this – the nut butter really combines everything well on it’s own. If you can’t fit all of the apple slices in the sandwich, just serve it on the side.

Source: original recipe

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Surviving Winter

Winter has been hitting full force at my house for the last week or so. Since it has been cold and snowy since October, more snow and cold is starting to get really old and discouraging. All of us are a little stir crazy. And last week was only the halfway point of “winter”, so we aren’t done yet.

One way I’ve discovered to combat these mid-winter blues is to have parties. Inviting guests over and preparing food can seem really overwhelming. But I’ve found it can be fun and gives you something to look forward to as well.

Last year, my husband and I started an annual formal dinner. We send out a formal invitation – usually just altering a template for a wedding invitation on Microsoft word. Everyone dresses up. We make “fancy” food and serve it on the best china. We plate the food and serve it in courses. It is a ton of fun. It can be a bit of work, but in the end, it is worth it. Here are some pictures from this year’s formal. Please don’t mind that the food pictures aren’t the best – I just snapped something quick on my phone rather than make my guests wait while I staged something nice.

Winter Formal

Beet Salad

Cheesecake

But having people over doesn’t have to be fancy. I wanted an excuse to hang out with some friends one day. So I had an early Galentine’s Day lunch this week. I kept it fairly simple – a couple kinds of quiche, salad from Costco, and simple chopped fruit. Brownies for dessert were a hit and easy to make ahead of time. When I’ve done these in the past, I often ask people to bring things – drinks, fruit, bread, etc. So then it is even less work for me. But it feels so luxurious to eat a real meal and sit down with friends during the week. Pro tip: make extra so you already have dinner for your family that night.

While the formal dinner wasn’t the healthiest meal I’ve ever eaten, we tried to make it a good balance. We served salad, vegetable soup, and veggies with the main course. My china dishes are a bit on the small side, which is great for keeping portions under control.

With my Galentine’s lunch, I made all the dishes something I would want to eat while being health conscious. Lots of veggies available in the quiches. Salad and fruit are easy, nutritious sides. You could skip dessert if you really wanted.

Remember, not everything has to be perfect. I was doing my laundry during the Galentine’s lunch. All the snow in the street made parking a bit crazy with 5 vans in my garage and driveway. Kids were running around and needed diapers changed. But we all still had a great time.

How do you combat the winter blues? Do you have fun entertaining ideas or traditions? I’d love if you shared them in the comments!

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Go Red for Women

Today is National Wear Red Day, part of American Heart Month and the Go Red for Women Campaign. The purpose is to raise awareness of cardiac disease risk factors and prevention, especially in women. More women die from cardiovascular disease in the United States than all kinds of cancer combined. I think heart disease is thought of as a man’s disease, but it is a problem for women too.

The good news is that heart disease and it’s complications of heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke are largely preventable. Diet and exercise can help lower your risks.

Hopefully by now you know you should be limiting your saturated fat and sodium intakes. But what are practical ways to apply this in your diet. Here are a few tips:

1. Sub in healthier fats. Canola oil and olive oil are healthier choices than butter, shortening, and other solid fats. Use these fats when possible.

2. Try cutting the fat in half. You can often cut down the fat in recipes without changing the end result. I often use half the recommended amount of butter in cookies. If making a roux, half the amount of butter generally works as well. If something calls for a high fat sauce or dressing, cut the amount in half or serve it on the side.

3. Stop adding salt. Beyond removing the salt shaker from the table, stop adding salt in your cooking. So many ingredients in your food will already have sodium. If you are worried about the flavor, add a high sodium ingredient that adds flavor along with sodium. Cheese and soy sauce are two easy additions that bring salt and other flavors to the party. Even these should be limited. Remember, salt is an acquired or learned taste. You can lower your tolerance.

What are you doing to help your heart? What can you commit to change? Let me know in the comments!

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Sweet Potato Tots

February is also National Snack Food Month, so it’s a great time to change up your snack routine and find some healthier options. I’ll be sharing a few over the course of the next weeks. Today is sweet potato tots.

I have a strange confession – I have never seen Napoleon Dynamite. But I know enough to know he’s gotta have his tots. Tater tots are delicious, but often not the healthiest snack or side dish. Why? Pre-made tots are high in sodium. If fried, they can be quite high in fat as well. While regular potatoes do provide nutrients, you can mix up your nutrient profile with sweet potatoes.

February is also National Snack Food Month, so it’s a great time to change up your snack routine and find some healthier options

But wouldn’t making homemade sweet potato tots be hard and time consuming? No, not really. These make a great after school snack with some ranch dressing or a fun way to mix up burger night. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Tots (Serves 4-6)

Sweet Potato Tots

1 sweet potato, shredded
¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
⅓ cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir well to combine, until mixture will clump together.
3. Shape vegetable mixture into “tots” and place on baking sheet.
4. Bake for 8 minutes, flip then bake for another 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

Nutrition information:

Calories: 139
Protein: 6 g
Fat: 5 g
Saturated fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 68 mg
Carbohydrates: 18 g
Fiber: 1 g
Sodium: 208 mg

Recipe notes: You can mix up the veggies in these tots. We’ve done mixed veggies, like carrots and broccoli, with good results as well.

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Shakshuka

Happy Hump Day! Wednesday at our house is breakfast for dinner night. I love this tradition for several reasons. First, I don’t have to think about it too much when I’m meal planning. It’s set. Second, most of the time we use staples I already buy or leftovers to supplement our meal here, so I don’t have to allot grocery budget for it. Third, breakfast is fast to cook and quick to clean up. What’s not to love?

Setting aside nights as a specific meal or type of cuisine is a great idea for meal planning. Some people go further than I do, with each night of the week assigned. I’ve even recently seen someone who has the same seven meals every week. That isn’t my cup of tea, but I understand the appeal of routine and simplicity at dinnertime.

To continue our African Heritage Week and Black History Month theme from yesterday, I’m reposting an older recipe today – Shakshuka. It fits with breakfast for dinner at my house. It’s a surprisingly easy dish that is different enough to make breakfast for dinner night feel special. The dish is of North African or Middle Eastern origin.

Shakshuka (Serves 3-4)

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1 tablespoon olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced (preferably 2 different colors)
1 jalapeño chile, sliced into thin strips
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1 (14-ounce) can no salt added diced tomatoes, crushed through your fingers a bit
6-8 eggs (depending on how many eggs each person wants)
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
6 small or 4 large whole-wheat pitas or flatbreads (optional)

1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until beginning to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic; cook one minute more. Add all the peppers; sauté until they soften, about 5 minutes more. Add cumin, oregano, marjoram, and paprika. Cook one minute more.

2. Pour in the tomatoes plus half a can of water. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionaly.

3. Warm pitas or flatbreads, if using.

4. Make indentations in the sauce for each egg. Crack an egg into each indentation. Put lid on the pot. Cook the eggs to your desired level of firmness, keeping sauce at a simmer. Scoop eggs and sauce into pitas or onto flatbreads, if using, or just onto a plate. Garnish with feta. Eat immediately.

Nutritional Information (Amount per Serving):

Calories: 443
Protein: 23 g
Fat: 19 g
Saturated Fat: 7 g
Cholesterol: 389 mg
Carbohydrates: 44 g
Fiber: 7 g
Sodium: 606 mg

Source: adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen

Low iodine adjustment: Skip the feta and pita.

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