Friday Feature: Avocado 10 Ways

There are lots of great ways to eat an avocado–one of the superstars of a Mediterranean Diet. Easy to peel, they contain good fats and are linked with a reduced risk for chronic diseases. Here are ten ways to enjoy their buttery, creamy flavor and vibrant color:

1. Mash a quarter of an avocado on toast for a quick breakfast or lunch.

2. Top chili with chopped avocado and cilantro.

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3. Use chopped avocado in place of tomatoes in salsa or add to a tomato based salsa, homemade or store-bought, to create a tasty dip for chips.

4. Slices of avocado taste great in sandwiches or wraps.

5. Try adding chopped or mashed avocado to pasta. I like the looks of this dish from Inspired Taste. Simple enough for a quick dinner.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

This is the photo from the Inspired Taste website.

6.  Add chopped avocado to salads–both green and grain varieties.

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7. Add to eggs or omelets before cooking.

8. Coarsely mash with a lemon juice and salt as a dip for chips or crackers. Or spread on sandwiches as a healthy alternative to mayonnaise.

9. Feed it to your baby! Avocado is recommended by baby expert, Dr. Sears, as a great first food for its healthfulness and versatility.

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

Sam enjoying his first ever avocados. He looks good in green!

10. Make an avocado butter by mashing a ripe avocado with one tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper and use a topper for a baked potato.

And remember, if you find a good deal on them at the store, they can be frozen! (Best used in mashed form.) Stock up!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

A rare sighting of the elusive, wild avocado. Yes, they grow on trees!

Kids in the Kitchen: Dipping Oil

Several years ago, the memory is a little hazy about the when and where, we were eating a family meal at a very nice restaurant. Definitely not McDonald’s. The kind of place with candles and white tablecloths.

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This is an especially notable detail as I would never, in a bazillion years, ever put a white tablecloth on our own dinner table.  What would be the point, after all? One use and it would never be the same.

But, back to my story. It was here, at this unlikely eatery, that we were introduced to bread and….olive oil. A small white dish with dark, fruity olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar and freshly chopped herbs.

Where was the butter, Sam, the bread hound, wanted to know.

There wasn’t any. A moment of unhappiness (with Jim and I wondering what insanity had brought us here with a child) until he was persuaded to dip his bread. By this time, the two adults in the party were enthusiastically dipping with abandon.

And, if you haven’t already guessed, with one dip, he was hooked.

In fact, to this day, whenever we bring home a nice crusty loaf or baguette, Sam is quite ready to throw together a little dipping oil of his own for the dinner table.

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Here’s the recipe at it’s most basic.

All you need is a good quality olive oil and a nice aged balsamic vinegar.

Simply pour some olive oil onto a plate or shallow bowl to cover the bottom. Then pour or spoon on a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

The young chef in action.

The young chef in action.

And there are definitely benefits to ditching the butter. Researchers have found that consuming a Mediterranean diet heavy in olive oil can help lower some heart risks. Consuming more than four tablespoons a day can significantly lower your risk of having a heart attack, suffering from a stroke or dying of heart disease, according to the recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For more dipping ideas, check out these recipes:

Parmesan and Garlic Dipping Oil

Italian Herb Dipping Oil

Dip away...

Dip away…

Fava Beans: They’re Worth It!

I have many food weaknesses. Ice cream, gummy bears, white bread with lots of butter. I share this as a form of therapy. My public declaration will give me the strength to keep on the righteous path of wellness. Won’t it?

But not all of my culinary longings involve large amounts of sugar, fat and refined grains. Every spring I get to indulge my nutritionally acceptable desire for….fresh fava beans! And just in time for Mediterranean Diet Month.

Fava beans.

As I understand it, they were brought to this continent thousands of years ago from countries located near and around the Mediterranean. Sadly, they haven’t made great inroads into our eating consciousness. Probably because they’re, er, a little labor intensive. They actually have to be shelled and then peeled. Which is why maybe it’s a good thing that the growing season is a short one. I’m quite happy to do all the work (with help) until, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill.

Here’s what you do:

1.  Shell the beans in the same manner as you would peas. This happens to be a perfect job for the kids. They’ll love it, really.

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2.  Of course, you aren’t done yet. There’s still that second coat that has just got to come off. Some people claim that they’re fine left intact, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Boil a pot of salted water, and toss them in for a minute or less. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

3.  The next job is for adults or older kids with good motor skills. You must delicately pinch a hole in the light outer skin before popping out the fava bean with your fingers. It’s actually not that hard but, again, time-consuming. Better yet, do it with your kids as you talk over their day. Family bonding time.

At this point, they’re ready for anything. I feel about fava beans the same way I do about strawberries. They’re so delicious I only want to eat them plain–without a lot of adornment. This means I usually just saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Just long enough to ensure that they are tender throughout.

Dinner tonight?

I toasted slices of whole wheat sourdough and spread on a thin schmear of olive tapenade. Next came a slightly thicker schmear of hummus (yes, we’re embracing the Mediterranean theme) followed by a generous sprinkling of the pan cooked favas and fresh ground pepper.

first layer, olive tapenade

first layer, olive tapenade

Simple dinner

Simple dinner

If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few good ones.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodle and Fava Bean Salad from Food52.

Fava Bean and Radish Bruschetta from the Kitchn.

Grilled Fava Beans from 101 Cookbooks.

Remember a little hard work never did anybody harm. And since favas are a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorous and folate, they will only do good things for your body. Enjoy some this season!

#1 Best Food Buy for Your Money

I ate a lot of beans in college. Money was tight, and beans were cheap.  A big pot went a long way in those days towards filling my belly without emptying my wallet.

I’m not complaining.  I happen to like beans.  My family likes them as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot to like:

Nutrition:  It’s no wonder, since Jim became a vegan, that we are consuming more beans than ever.   According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, 1/4 cup of cooked beans = 1 ounce of animal protein. They’re also a great source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and iron. Did I mention that they’re high in fiber and low in sodium and fat?

Low cost:  Despite how incredibly healthy beans are, somewhere along the way they picked up a reputation for cheapness. As in not fashionable. They seem to conjure up images of dirty-faced, Depression era children in faded, patched overalls scraping them up from tin plates.  But, considering the aforementioned nutritional benefits, they are literally worth their weight in, if not gold, then cold hard cash.

Look for them in the bulk section of your grocery store for even greater savings.

Versatility:  Beans are the Marlon Brandos (or Matt Damons, depending on your age and inclination) of the food world.  Hand them a script and they’ll play their part with academy award winning aplomb.  From main dish to dessert there are literally bazillions of tasty recipes out there.

Here are a few I’ve found online that have made repeat performances at our table:

Stored in tightly sealed glass jars/plastic tubs, they have an almost unlimited shelf life. But make a point to consume them in at least year’s time for best flavor. While the unassuming bean may never be chic, it’s an inexpensive, nutritional powerhouse  that deserves a starring role in your meal plans.

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to....

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to….

Leftovers? Hard Boiled Eggs 5 Ways!

Growing up as a young child in the late 60’s and 70’s, snacks were pretty simple.  There was a lot of grape jelly Wonder Bread, buttered saltines, sliced bananas in milk and, of course, hard-boiled eggs. My mother had four children to tend to, and in those days, snacking didn’t receive the attention (or advertising) it gets today.

And as Easter approaches, I start thinking about those hard-boiled eggs. Definitely one of the least processed food items of my youth.  Eggs offer a fair amount of protein and vitamin D.

file5681298361896If you’re flooded with hard-boiled eggs over the upcoming holiday weekend, here are a few tasty ways to put them to use:

1. Breakfast or snack.  I know, obvious.  But they are so great to have on hand for a quick breakfast, to pack in a lunch, or snack on after school with a grind of salt and pepper.

2. Deviled.  This is the one dish I take to an event that is always well received. Simple to make.  A food processor is handy here, and I found a cake decorator at a yard sale to do the filling. This is the recipe I use.

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Makes those deviled eggs look almost too good to eat.

3. On salads.  When I add sliced egg, garbanzo beans and pumpkin seeds, salad becomes a one dish meal.  Love this slicer.

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4. Egg salad sandwiches.  Comfort food for me.  Dice up a few eggs. Add mayo or an oil based dressing. Mix in whatever you like. Fresh herbs, olives, celery and onion all work well.

0025. Frijole Mole.  Another type of egg salad I chanced upon in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Click the link to get the recipe.  It calls for green beans and lots of basil, but these days I use broccoli and cilantro because it’s what I have.  I prefer diced red onion, raw, for color and crunch. Delicious on bread, sandwich style, or with crackers and veggies.

What’s your favorite way to use surplus Easter eggs?

Hippity, hoppity...  Easter's on its way.

Hippity, hoppity… Easter’s on its way.

Eating Breakfast: Yes and No

National School Breakfast Week was last week.  I had this post scheduled, but somehow it slipped my mind.  Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit.  But even though NSBW is over, breakfast eating goes on!  I can take some comfort in that.

The word on the street is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s also the most likely to be skipped.  Is eating that morning meal–literally breaking the fast–really necessary?

Here’s the lowdown:

YES:

  • Children  The research is clear that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, have better concentration and more energy.   And children who eat breakfast are healthier overall.  Breakfast is a great time to get in more fiber by way of cereals and whole grain breads.  A 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics found that adolescents who ate breakfast daily had a lower body mass index than teens who never ate breakfast or only on occasion.
  • Adults  The big issue for grown-ups is weight management.  Breakfast skippers are more likely to eat larger amounts at the next meal or snack on high calorie convenience foods.  As with children, breakfast is a great way to get in all the fiber, vitamins and minerals we need in a day.  And while studies show adults don’t suffer dramatically from decreased concentration and focus the way kids do, short-term memory doesn’t hold up well.

NO:

What if you’re just not hungry in the morning?  Maybe a cup of coffee and you’re good to go.  Is it really necessary to choke down something to eat simply because you’re supposed to?  I wondered about this because, honestly, sometimes a latte is all I want.

After consulting the Nutrition Diva, however, I learned that while breakfast is an important meal for most people, skipping (adults only) isn’t much of an issue as long as you observe these two rules:

1.  Eat good food.  Uh, no stopping at the donut drive-through.  And that grande mocha frappuccino?  That won’t work either.  If you’re eating out, look for healthier options like fruit or a sandwich.  I keep nuts in my car for “hunger emergencies”.  That way I don’t end up answering the siren call of a passing candy bar.

2.  Don’t wait too long.  If you’re at all like me, then you might actually reach the point of no return.  The all-consuming hunger that isn’t satisfied with a banana.  Rethink your morning food plan and recharge sooner rather than later.

Breakfast is personal.  Make the choice that works for you, but make sure your children are eating—and eating healthy foods that will support their brain function.  Perhaps my memory mishaps are part of the biology of aging—or maybe I should just eat up in the a.m.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.

I’ll take some oatmeal with that, thanks.

The Science of Addictive Junk Food

What if I told you that overeating had a lot less to do with lack of willpower and self-control than you thought?  That weight gain and the subsequent diet related diseases of the day are partly out of our control?  Just who’s responsible, anyway?

There was a very interesting article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Michael Moss, the author of the newly released book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

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There’s lots of money at stake, and the snack food industry is heavily invested in keeping us eating more and more junk food–through the use of economics, chemistry and psychology.

So if you’re wondering why that Coke you’re drinking tastes so delicious, why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and how on earth we became one of the fattest nations in the world, you need to understand the level of manipulation of our taste preferences.

If you’re interested in reading the whole New York Times article, know that it’s long.  Make a bowl of popcorn (the real stuff, not the microwaveable kind–unless you DIY) and get comfortable.  It’s a fascinating read in a cloak and dagger kind of way…  Here’s the story.

I don’t want to be manipulated.  I’m pretty sure that a choice between soda and a diet soda isn’t much of a choice.  And I don’t want to spend more to eat more, compromising the health of my family.

Here are 3 ways you can take control:

1.  Buy real food.  It’s the most important thing you can do. Choosing food that is as close to its natural state as possible means you can avoid all the “science” that creates frankenfood that doesn’t nourish us.

2.  Be a smart shopper.  Cruise the outer aisle of your grocery store. That’s where most of the real and minimally processed foods can be found. Steer clear of the displays at the aisle ends. They’re for high profit, heavily advertised items likely to be bought on impulse. Make a list and stick to it!

3.  Cook at home.  Using real food to cook meals at home allows you to control the flavor, freshness and nutritional content of the food your family eats.  You’ll enjoy your food more and save money to boot.

We already know we need to eat better, but even knowing that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  But it’s not hopeless either.  What do you think?

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