Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The latest and greatest: Thai Chicken Pasta

(Post preface:  While I did have some food classes in college, the majority of what I studied was: "What's in the human body?  How does it work?  How do nutrients, vitamins, and minerals affect body processes?"  I am not a chef.  However, I am a very willing cook.  This means a few things:  1.  I don't usually create my own recipes.  2.  I spend a lot of time looking up other people's recipes.  3.  It might not always taste the best, but I can tell you 10 solid health reasons why we should eat it anyway.)

From Better Homes & Gardens (

Chicken & Pasta in Peanut Sauce

Find the full recipe here.

My dad comes over for dinner often, and he loves Thai food.  When I found this recipe online, I knew it would be a great one to have for those days when work runs late and I don't have much time to spend on supper.

Start to Finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4

  • 8  oz.  thin spaghetti
  • 1  bunch  broccolini, cut in 2-inch lengths (I used broccoli because I can't buy broccolini locally)
  • 1  medium  red sweet pepper, cut in bite-size strips
  • 1  lb.  skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1  Tbsp.  olive oil
  • 1/2  cup  bottled peanut sauce
  • Crushed red pepper (optional)
1.   In Dutch oven cook pasta according to package directions, adding broccolini and sweet pepper during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain. Return to Dutch oven and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, halve chicken breasts horizontally. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In extra large skillet cook chicken in hot oil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes each side, or until no longer pink (170 degrees F). Transfer to cutting board. Slice chicken; add to pasta and vegetables. Heat through. Add peanut sauce. Pass crushed red pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrient Analysis:  Calories 467,  Fat 10g, Saturated Fat 2g, Monounsaturated Fat 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1g, Cholesterol 66 mg, Sodium 634 mg, Carbohydrate 55g, Fiber 5g, Protein 37 g

  • I added carrots along with the broccoli and sweet pepper.
  • I would add the veggies earlier - like 5-7 minutes before cooking time is over. When you add the veggies, it stops the water boiling for a little bit.  The time it takes for the water to reach boiling again means that the pasta had to cook for that much longer and can lead to mushy pasta (not that this happened to me...).
  • Peanut sauce is spicy!  If you don't want to use bottled sauce, I know there are lots of recipes out there for peanut sauce.  Making your own sauce could reduce the sodium content of this dish and allow you to adjust the spiciness.
  • To save even more time, chop your veggies the night before.
 Hubby's reaction:  Although not a big fan of Asian dishes, he ate it with no complaints.  Dad loved it!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't let other people be your excuse

If your response to my last post was along the lines of, "My husband would never eat that," or "There's no way my child would allow sugar snap peas on their plate," this post is for you. 

Many, many times I have been told, "I don't fix those because no one else likes them" or "I really love [insert healthy food], but no one else in my family eats them so I don't fix them".  I get it.  I just don't think it's a good excuse.  You can't let other people be your excuse for not eating better.  Because ultimately when you miss out on good health and energy, which happens when you don't eat what you should, everyone else suffers too.

Now, do I think that we shouldn't cook our husband's favorite foods?  Absolutely not.  I want my house to be a refuge for my husband, a place where he is prized and appreciated.  I can guarantee you that might be hampered if I served sauteed onions and black bean cakes every night.  (Both random foods that I love and he dislikes).  But if you are fixing meat and potatoes for your man, why can't you fix a side of something green for you?  Here's some tips for fixing a healthy side for yourself:
  • For fresh veggies like broccoli, asparagus, sugar snap peas, etc., chop up one serving (and by serving I just mean however much you think you'll eat.  Never feel bad about eating "too many" veggies.), add ~1 inch water and steam.  If you want, add a little salt, pepper, or other seasonings (lemon-pepper or oregano are good with broccoli).
  • Buy individual microwaveable vegetable sides.  Green Giant has a Just for One! brand.
  • Pop open a can.  Who says you can't heat up half of a can of veggies and save the other half for another night?
  • Raw veggies work great too.  Set them out on the table for appetizers or as part of the meal.
  • Fresh fruit as a side dish.  Strawberries, oranges, pineapple, bananas, and apples are all in season now.
  • Add a salad.  Easiest way to add some green to your day.
And here's some encouragement for parents.  No, I don't have children (yet, Lord willing).  But I have had several people tell me, "My mom told me I didn't like that so I haven't tried it in [insert large number] years."  Children need to be exposed to foods.  Truth is, they probably won't like it.  Not at first.  Maybe not for the first 20 years of their life.  But the more they see Mom and Dad eating it, the more comfortable they will be with it.  Just like I talked about in my last post, we are much more comfortable with foods that we were raised on.  Much easier to learn about foods at 5 than at 50, isn't it?

Best part of this whole principle is that my husband and I both eat foods that we didn't "like" before we were married.  Michael really likes kiwis.  I didn't think I liked kiwis, but I have always tried to buy them fairly regularly for him.  Guess who discovered that she likes kiwis?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Besides potatoes, corn, and peas, what vegetables do you like?"

I live in the Midwest.  I counsel Midwesterners.  Midwesterners eat a Midwestern diet.  Traditionally, we grow a lot of potatoes, wheat, and corn and raise a lot of cattle.  So that's what we eat.  It's what our grandparents and parents grew up on and fixed in their homes.  I often ask, "Besides potatoes, corn, and peas, what vegetables do you like?"  (Mainly because these are all starchy veggies and I'm looking for any non-starchy vegetables that they like).  In response, I get a lot of blank stares.  Not their fault.  They just haven't been introduced to other types of veggies.  However, we now have more access to different vegetables and fruits than ever before and we should use that to our nutritional advantage.

I am going to try to do regular posts about seasonal produce that you might not always include on your grocery list.  These posts are not for you produce section rockstars (although any preparation ideas are welcome!).  These posts are for those who need to shake out of that potato, green beans,and corn rotation that's been going on far too long.  You know who you are....

Spring produce that you should try this week:


Sugar snap peas are one of my absolute favorite spring vegetables (although technically they are a fruit...but that's another post).  This variety of peas is a cross between garden peas and snow peas.  This results in a delicious combination of an edible pod and, unlike the snow pea, larger and sweeter peas on the inside.  The sugar snap pea has been around for a few centuries, but was not really available in the United States until the late 1970's.  No wonder our grandparents didn't eat them! 

They are a cool weather crop and are available from late spring to early summer.  Fresh snap peas have a limited distribution throughout the U.S. and are most often available pre-packaged in the refrigerated section of the produce aisles.  You can also find them frozen, but don't expect to see them among the other canned peas because the canning process turns them into mush.  Bigger supermarkets or Wal-Marts should carry fresh snap peas consistently this time of year.  I can't find them every time that I shop at my local grocery store, but every once in awhile I get lucky.  Granted, I could probably ask the produce manager what days they are delivered, but there's something thrilling about such an unexpected surprise when I roll past the bagged salad (it's the small things in life isn't it?).

The best thing about these peas is how easy it is to prepare them.  Many times they are sold in steamable packages and only need to be popped into the microwave.  If your package isn't steamable or if microwaving plastic freaks you out, just put them in a saucepan with ~1 inch of water and let them steam.  They honestly only need to be cooked for 3-4 minutes or just until tender.  Any longer and they will lose some of their sweet taste.  I only add a little salt and pepper.  Sugar snap peas are pretty flavor-packed and don't need a lot of extras.

Health benefits:
  • 1 cup has 67 calories, 0.3 g fat, 11.4 g carbs, 5.2 g protein
  • Good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin (the last 3 are all B vitamins and necessary for us to be able to process other nutrients).
  • Also a source of iron, phosphorus, and potassium
  • 1 cup has 4.5 grams of fiber.  For perspective, you could eat 2.5 cups and have almost half your daily fiber requirement.
  • For anyone counting carbs, sugar snap peas are considered a non-starchy vegetable.  If you eat 3 or more cups, count it as 1 carb serving.
When you buy them, look for bright green, firm pods and avoid any that are yellowed or speckled. 

Anyone else love sugar snap peas??

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Veggie Burritos

Last week while I was in Louisville, I ate at this great Mexican restaurant and ordered their veggie burrito.  It was delicious!  I came home and tried to find a similar recipe online with no luck.  I decided to try to make it myself.  It turned out pretty good so I thought I would share the recipe:

Total Time:  30-45 minutes
Servings:  3-4
2 T Olive oil
2 broccoli crowns, chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can refried beans
Whole wheat tortillas

1.  Heat olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add veggies.  Sprinkle with oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Cook veggies to your preferred level of tenderness.  2.  While veggies are cooking, heat refried beans in a saucepan over low.  3.  Once the vegetables are done, heat tortillas in the microwave for 5 seconds.  On each tortilla, add refried beans and cooked veggies.  Like this:

After-thoughts:  I also served rice and guacamole to complete the meal.  I really liked the cauliflower in this recipe.  I do not like raw cauliflower and have always heard that they have the best flavor when sauteed which I found to be true here.  For an alternate way of cooking the veggies, I would suggest roasting them.  Sorry that I don't have exact measurements for the seasonings.  I really don't think this could be messed up though!

Health Benefits:  I didn't analyze the nutrition facts for this recipe.  I suppose I could if you really wanted me to.  With veggies, olive oil, whole wheat tortillas, and beans, there's really nothing to feel bad about here.  Trust me.

Hubby's reaction:  And I quote, "Do we have any taco sauce?"  Once that need was remedied, he ate two burritos.  I definitely took advantage of the fact that he commented before supper that he needed something healthy in him since he had eaten poorly all weekend (Love this man!  Just the fact that he would think that thought melts my heart).  So when I broke the news that we would be eating veggie burritos for dinner, I quickly followed it up with, "remember how you said you needed to eat something healthy???"  Best news is that he ate these leftovers the next day. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring Garden Week 2

Despite the snow, the spring garden is 2 weeks in and we have some signs of life!  We also planted potatoes this weekend and another row of carrots.  The ground looks pretty dry, but I promise these plants have been receiving plenty of water.  Please forgive my photography skills....

If you look really hard you can find 2 carrot plants

Beans (soon we'll add some wire for them to grow on)

Sugar snap peas in a pot

Just a woman and her garden

Poor little guy got snapped in the snow


Isn't it cool that God designed plants to grow like this?  And cool that there are specific nutrients in these plants to meet the needs of our bodies?  What a creative God we have!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wasn't that me just yesterday?

The first time I had to think about managing my weight, I was a junior in high school.  I specifically remember thinking, “This sucks.  I am going to have to think about this for the rest of my life.”  Little did I know, right?  The more accurate thought would have been, “ I am going to have to think about managing the weight of hundreds of people for the rest of my life.”  Thankfully, the Lord has been so good to me these last few years, and I’ve been able to learn how to control my weight without having to give it too much thought. 
Anyways, once I realized that a super-skinny-even-though-I-eat-awful body wasn’t in the cards for me, I began to diet.  And it wasn’t pretty.  Fruits and vegetables?  Hated them.  Never mind the fact that I probably hadn’t tried any of them in 10+ years (so since the age of 7).  I needed to lose weight, and I wanted to do it quickly.  Does anyone remember Snapple-A-Day ? (because apparently I was too good for Slim-Fast).  When drinking my lunch panned out, I switched to eliminating an entire macronutrient – carbohydrates.  This worked for awhile, but things started to go downhill fast when I couldn’t go to a birthday party, eat at Olive Garden, or take communion.
Eventually, I discovered that eating right and exercising regularly actually does work.  I learned to love fruits and veggies – which I promise can happen.  But changing your eating habits and exercising regularly takes some effort.  And, most importantly, doesn’t happen overnight.  The recommendation for healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs of weight loss per week.  People don’t want to hear this.  We want to hear that we can lose at least 10 lbs by next Friday.  And here’s a confession: sometimes I find myself frustrated when someone tells me they aren’t willing to do what I recommend for weight loss because the results aren’t quick enough.
First of all, the fact that I would even be frustrated is crazy.  Wasn’t that me just, like, yesterday???
But, alas, I had thoughts of frustration just the other day.  And in that moment, in my heart, the Lord said to me, “Alex, isn’t this exactly like what you are doing right now?”  Because here’s the thing, I’m a worrier.  And lately, I have been anxious about some things.  And instead of trusting in the Lord and believing his promises, my instinct is to go around what I know I should do (pray, read Scripture, rest in Him) and try to get results my way.  I think this should happen or I want this, so instead of relying on God to work, I start to plan ways that I can take action to get what I want.  Yet, God is asking me to be patient and wait on Him.   
I can promise you that eating right and exercising will lead to weight loss.  Much more awesome is Jesus' promise in Matthew 6, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  I know what he’s asked me to do for today.  And that’s all I need to know.
So, whatever you may be worrying about today, I pray that we could "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”