Friday, December 31, 2010

3.2.1. Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve is filled with many things. Excitement to wear that new sparkly dress; anticipation over who will be the lucky winner of your midnight kiss; and last but definitely not least: alcohol. Most every New Year’s Eve party comes with a toast of champagne, not to mention an open bar. A typical dietitian’s advice would be to avoid the extra calories and stick to 1 or 2 drinks. But, since this night is usually celebrated for many hours, 1-2 drinks just may not cut it. The next best thing: choose the right type of drink.

Vodka: 68 calories per oz; typical serving size= 1.5 oz; 102 calories per shot
Wine: 20 calories per oz; typical serving size=5 oz; 100 calories per glass
Beer: 12 calories per oz (light beer= 9 calories per oz); typical serving size= 12 oz; 144 calories per bottle (108 for light beer)

Now how about those chasers??
Soda water= no calories
Tomato juice= a few calories
Juice/sweetened mixers/soda/tonic water= lots of calories
*If you’re gunna go for this last category, try to stick to 100% juice. That way, you will at least be getting a great Bang for your Bite (AKA lots of nutrients as opposed to none for the calories you are drinking)

Check out Food and Wine’s guide to champagne. This tells you which bottles to choose, how to get a great bargain, and how to make delicious champagne cocktails, including Champagne Mojitos- yum!

So lets say you end up having more than 1 or 2 drinks tonight, who’s counting? Maybe no one, but tomorrow morning, those achy, nauseous, I-am-never-drinking-again symptoms we like to call the Hangover will definitely know your count. And while there is truly no “hangover cure” except time, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain of the dreaded “morning after.”

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?

Well….you really haven’t, but no worries because being proactive against your hangover is definitely doing your body a good thing. The main culprits for those miserable side effects are dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This is especially what fuels that massive headache. In addition, our bodies break down alcohol about 4 times as quickly as it breaks down glucose (carbohydrates) so drinking actually slows down the metabolism of carbohydrates and electrolytes, leaving you feeling weak and nauseous. The solution therefore is simple, re-hydrate, re-claim your electrolytes, get some carbs in your stomach.

1. Drink water before going to bed and when you wake up.
2. Drink a sports drink like Gatorade, which will replenish your carbs and electrolytes.
3. Settle your stomach with some bland foods (think dry toast, ½ a whole wheat bagel, crackers).
4. Eat a banana: bananas are filled with potassium, a major electrolyte lost during a night of drinking.
5. Take an ibuprofen (rather than aspirin or acetaminophen like Tylenol) to ease your headache. When your body breaks down alcohol, it produces some unfavorable byproducts that lead to inflammation; therefore, a small dose of an over-the-counter pain killer will help fight the inflammation along with easing your head’s pain.
6. And the true cure…Go Back To Bed! Time heals all, from a broken heart to a killer hangover…

Although you are now well-equipped to fight the morning after, it is still a good idea to drink in moderation-(ish). Oh, and drop-it-like-its-hot! Dancing the night away is a great way to get rid of some extra calories. And if you party like a rockstar tonight, there is definitely no judgment!

Happy New Year!!!

--Samantha Jacobs, RD

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Have a little nosh with that toast

New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year. From festive pomegranate cosmos to champagne toasts, I never feel too great the next morning. Aside from drinking lots of water, did you know that eating a good meal before and healthy snacks while drinking can help curb that hangover?

Why have you done a good thing?

Having food in your stomach slows the entrance of alcohol into your bloodstream by preventing it from entering your small intestine, which absorbs alcohol faster than the stomach. Foods that contain high amounts of protein and healthy fats are best at slowing down the effects of alcohol. Although the traditional party fav mini hotdogs are delicious, preparing your own appetizers can help keep calories in control.

Here are some Healthy New Year’s Eve Snack Ideas to keep your New Year’s Eve party going:

Green Apple Slices with hummus and pistachio nuts

Artichoke Hearts (find in freezer section) topped with chopped cooked spinach, salt, pepper and brie. Pop under the broiler until browned

Roasted Beet Dip – roast beets until tender and puree with goat cheese, salt and pepper. Spread on toasted bread

Proscuitto Wrapped Dates

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella skewers drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Stuffed Tomatoes with low-fat chicken or egg salad

Spiced Pecans

1 lb pecans

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp fresh chopped thyme

1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine spices and sugar in a bowl. Bake pecans until fragrant, about 12 minutes. Let cool slightly and add olive oil. Toss in spice mixture and serve!!

Have a great New Year’s Eve everyone!!

--Amy Santo, MS RD

Monday, December 27, 2010

Canadian Bacon, EH??

Hello Secret Ingredient fans! Due to wonderful feedback and high demand, from now on rather than waiting all week to hear from us, we will post TWOGs. What’s that you may ask? Well, for those of you following us on Twitter (@SecretIngred411), Twogs are postings that will be bigger than a tweet, but smaller than a blog: hence, twog! We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for topics. Much thanks for your support!

The holiday season, among other things, means days off from work and a lot of days where restaurants are closed. For me, this has equaled many home-made brunches! I love egg dishes such as frittatas and eggs benedict, especially with a side of bacon. Although delicious, bacon has beyond its share of saturated fat, which does not do our hearts well. But, did you know that Canadian bacon has all of the same great taste with much less of the fat? That’s right, Canadian Bacon is a lean meat!

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?
A lean meat, such as Canadian bacon is 45 calories and 0-3g fat per oz VS. a high-fat meat, such as traditional bacon which is 100 calories and >8g fat per oz. SO, in 1, 3 oz serving of Canadian bacon (about 3 slices) you could save ~165 calories and >21g fat (mostly saturated “bad” fat).

Find Canadian bacon at most grocery stores or at the meat butcher.
Slice it extra thin if you want it to crisp up like the real thing.
Bake it in the oven on baking cooling racks, placed inside of baking sheets so the fat drips off, keeping it extra lean, and crispy. (You can also cook it on the stove, simply add non-stick spray)
Use Canadian bacon in:
-Any egg dish or egg sandwich (try using half eggs and half egg whites for added protein minus saturated fat)
-Pasta dishes that call for pancetta (use whole wheat pasta and load up on the veggies)
-Make a Canadian-BLT or turkey club sandwich (skip the mayo and try some avocado as a spread)

--Samantha Jacobs, RD

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Even a lonely Jew on Christmas can still have a homemade cookie…

I have always been a Jew with Christmas envy. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching my beautiful menorah all lit up. But 8 days of twinkling lights is not enough for me. I can’t help it; part of me has always wanted an excuse to fully decorate my apartment and for Hanukkah Harry to come put presents under a beautifully lit up tree. This year is no exception. I’ve spent the past month marveling at the light exhibits all over the city, ranging from the Under the Stars exhibit at Columbus Circle to the department store holiday windows.

Although I always feel left out on Christmas, there is one part of this holiday in which I could always participate. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, at this time of year, you are bound to have a Christmas cookie. But how many of those cookies are homemade? I grew up in a household where if you didn’t bake it, you didn’t eat it. A slice-and-bake cookie never graced my mom’s oven. Now as a dietitian, I know why.

Why have you done a good thing?

From bleached flour to mono-sodium what’s-that-you-say?, slice and bake cookies contain a whole host of unnatural chemicals, including a dietitian’s biggest enemy: trans fat. Commonly found in store bought cookie dough, frozen pizzas and dinners, hot chocolate and drink mixes, peanut butters, fried foods, prepared baked goods, puddings, pastries, margarines, candies, breads, and cereals, trans fat is a man-made fat that has been created through an industrial process of extreme heat and pressure, which makes an oil smooth like butter. Result: trans fat raises your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) AND lowers your HDL (good cholesterol), making it the unhealthiest fat and completely unnecessary to the diet. Trans fats are linked with heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes.

**Note: you may have heard that there are naturally occurring trans fats in animal products. Studies have shown that these trans fats do not have the negative health effects like the unnatural sources.

Food manufacturers love trans fat because it preserves the shelf-life of foods (making them last forever) and they are cheap. But advocacy work and public outrage from the health effects of trans fats has forced food manufacturers to change their ways. Trans fats are now banned in NYC chain restaurants, which is a great step forward. But food manufacturers have found their way around this: the law states that labels can claim to have 0g trans fat in their product if it contains less than 0.5g per serving for packaged foods. What’s the problem with this? Well firstly, you have to actually be eating what they deem to be one serving, and we all know the truth about portion sizes… Secondly, even as little as 1g of trans fat per day can increase your risk of heart disease significantly. One study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (published in the American Journal of Epidemiology) found that trans fat intake increased risk of heart disease by 33%. (to view study:

So make sure you are reading the nutrition label, specifically the ingredients list, for trans fat. Look for partially hydrogenated oil, fully hydrogenated oil, shortening, and margarine. Also try to avoid palm oil, as studies have shown that although this is technically a saturated fat, it acts in your body similarly to a trans fat, which is also why food manufacturers are switching to it.

Start a new tradition this holiday season to bake your own cookies; that way you control what goes into them. A baked good is culinary love, making baking a great way to show someone you care during the holiday season.

So get motivated and try these recipes on for size. You won’t regret it and your guests, friends and family won’t forget it!!

3-in-1 Sugar Cookies (From the Food Network Kitchens) (makes 4 dozen 2 inch cookies)

2 ½ cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup confectioner’s sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp finely grated orange zest

Coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Beat the butter and both sugars in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and orange zest missing until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and continue beating.

Roll about a tbsp of dough by hand into a ball. Dip 1 side of balls into some coarse sugar and place them sugar side up on an un-greased baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake cookies until bottoms are golden, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool and decorate as desired.

Here is my personal butter-cream frosting recipe to use instead of frosting in a tube:

1 cup butter, softened

8 cups confectioner’s sugar

½ cup half and half

2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter with 1 cup of sugar and vanilla using an electric mixture. Gradually add the rest of sugar, slowly so not to make a mess. Mix well until thick and creamy. If desired, add food colorings.

Vanilla Crescents (makes around 20 cookies)

This recipe was passed down to me from my Viennese grandmother, who truly appreciates the art of pastry. Originally from a cookbook entitled Viennese Cooking, my Omy used to make these cookies for Hanukkah celebrations. My mother kept this recipe alive, baking these delicate sugar cookies for my family and teaching me to continue the tradition.

1 ¼ cup flour

¾ cup butter, softened

1 ½ cup grated almonds

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar (or vanilla sugar if you can find it)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine flour and granulated sugar. Do not use a blender or electric mixture for the next steps.

With a pastry blender (or fork) or food processor, using softened butter, cut the butter into flour mixture, combining gently (or pulsing gently if using a food processor). Mixture should not have come together yet; it will appear to be a crumble-like consistency. Gently add grated almonds. Add 2 egg yolks to form the dough. Do not overwork.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using your hands, scoop out a ¾” diameter piece of dough. Take the ball and roll in your hands until it is 1/2” in diameter and 2” long (should look like a snake). On the parchment paper, form into a C shape. Continue this process until all cookies are formed.

Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool slightly on baking sheets. Do not touch or cookies will fall apart. While still warm, dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve cool.

**As an alternative, try dipping in melted chocolate as well.

For more holiday cookie ideas, check out the Food Networks 12 Days of Cookies at:

Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating! To all you other Jews out there, we hope you enjoy your Chinese and movie!! We know we will…

--Amy Santo, MS RD

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grainularity: Get Your Freak On, I Mean, FREEKEH

After the indulgences of holiday meals, perhaps you will be thinking about re-vamping your diet? Adding more fruits and vegetables is definitely one way to do it. But maybe you don't want the same old salad for lunch everyday? Here’s a way to spruce it up: try a grain salad! One of my new favorite grains is Freekeh (pronounced Free-ka).

Freekeh is a roasted green (whole) grain, similar to a wheat berry. Since it is harvested when it is soft and young, it is a “green” grain that retains tremendous amounts of nutrients and flavor. After harvesting, the grain is roasted and dried, (without additives or preservatives) to stop the ripening process and protect the nutrients from destructive enzymes.

Why have you done a good thing?

Compared to other grains, Freekeh is:

-Higher in fiber (6 grams/serving)à helps fight heart disease, protective against colon cancer, keeps you regular

-Higher in protein (5 grams/serving)à important for energy, bone, muscles, and many bodily functions!

-Lower glycemic index foodà blood sugar control

In general, whole grains contain many B vitamins, which are VIPs for our metabolism and nervous system. B vitamins help the body get energy from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Whole grains also contain important minerals, such as magnesium and selenium. These key players are involved in building bones, releasing energy from muscles, protecting cells from oxidation, and support a healthy immune system.

OK, I’m ready to get my Freekeh, where should I go?

No, not to the clubs...

Get it raw: or the Union Square Farmer’s Market

Get it Cooked: Try Trader Joe’s cooked Greenwheat Freekeh

So, like most of you out there, I had no idea what this grain was when I came across it at the Farmer’s market a few months ago. But luckily for you, I finished the experimental phase and after some (unsuccessful) attempts, I am finally ready to share my secrets for success!

Cooking this grain is quite simple: soak, boil, salt lightly, simmer! Once you figure out how to cook the freekeh (which is easy- or you can buy it cooked) you can mix it with just about anything you have in the house (fruits and veggies) and top it off with some vinaigrette.

I mixed mine with some dried apricots, dries cranberries, toasted pistachios, and scallions, and then added a homemade balsamic vinaigrette (i.e. olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper)- easy!

Winter Freekeh (serves 4-6)

1 cup dried freekeh

2 cups water or low-sodium chicken stock

¼ cup dried apricots, chopped

¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped

¼ cup toasted pistachios, chopped

¼ cup scallions, sliced


2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

-Soak freekeh in cold water for about 30 minutes, then rinse and drain.

-Bring water or stock to a boil. Add freekeh, salt lightly if using water, cover and reduce to a simmer.

-Cook until the water is absorbed, about 30 min.

While freekeh is cooking, chop and slice dried fruits, nuts, and scallions, respectively. To prepare vinaigrette, whisk olive oil and balsamic vinegar together. Add salt and pepper. When freekeh is finished cooking, give vinaigrette a final whisk and combine with freekeh. Add dried fruits, nuts, and scallions. Serve hot or cold.

Other ideas: Make a vegetarian meal by mixing in other veggies and beans or tofu. Mix into soup instead of rice. Substitute freekeh in your next risotto recipe. Next time you make chicken, serve freekeh instead of rice with this New York Times recipe:

So now that you now it's out there...GO ahead and embrace your Freekeh!

--Samantha Jacobs, RD

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gimme the Gelt...

As a young child, I remember the days before Chanukah vividly. Searching the closets, attic, and basement, all in search for the gold (AKA presents!) And then the night before…all 16 gifts lined up by the fire place (1 for each of the 8 nights for my sister and I), wrapped to conceal their identity. You never knew which one to choose first, bigger looks better, but as your parents always told you “good things come in small packages”…blah blah I always liked to assure that mine was bigger (and better) than my sister’s. And as we got older, this tradition gave way to the more teenage approach- asking parents for that 1 great bag you NEED to have and oh yea, “its only November, but can this please just be my Chanukah gift?” So now as an adult, the whole present giving thing has basically subsided (minus 1 amazing gift-giver who shocked me this year with a blowout Chanukah gift!) and what is left are the party invitations: “Vodka and Latkes”. Sounds better than presents to you? Ok, so being an adult does have its perks but it also means that we need to be a little more cautious with our Chanukah food selections than when we had those unstoppable metabolisms in the younger years.

Chanukah foods are known for one key nutrient: fat. Deep fried potato latkes are as much Chanukah as the presents that accompany them. But don’t be saddened healthy Jews- Secret Ingredient always has the answer to balancing indulgences and food traditions with a healthy lifestyle. And the answer is: Sweet Potato Latkes (baked, rather than fried) and home-made (or home-made by a healthy brand) apple sauce. (And yes, a little vodka with your latke shouldn’t be a problem- moderation is the key).

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?

Sweet Potatoes definitely do NOT get the street credit they deserve. Fine, they may look a little dirty and be shaped weird, some even have some roots coming out, but remember the whole “don’t judge a book by the cover” thing. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene, which easily converts to the active form of vitamin A. Beta carotene is what makes our potato pal orange. And you can tell just how packed with vitamins it is by looking at the color. As we have mentioned before, the deeper the color, the more nutrient-dense the fruit or vegetable often is- this is the case with the sweet potato. Vitamin A helps our vision, especially at night as it helps our eyes adjust to the dark more efficiently. Without enough vitamin A in our system, risks include night blindness, drying of the corneas, and general decline in eyesight. And for some added credit, vitamin A has been studied for it its potentials in preventing cancer due to anti-oxidant properties. Vitamin A also helps our immune system function correctly and supports proper growth and development.

How much should we have?

RDA (Recommended daily allowance):
Men- 900 mcg or 3,000IU
Women- 700mcg or 2,310IU
Upper Limit- 10,000IU (since vitamin A is fat-soluble, the body can store it, as opposed to water-soluble vitamins like vitamins B and C that are excreted)
*BUT not to worry about over-doing it, the amount you get from foods is often well below safety levels!

Want to get some more vitamin A?

The beta-carotene as we have been discussing can also be found in carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, pumpkin, basically most deep orange or green colored fruits and vegetables, you get the picture… Another type of vitamin A, retinol, is extremely active in the body and is found in eggs, liver, milk (because it is fortified with vitamin A), and even cheddar cheese.

So now that we have explored all the great things about vitamin A- lets use it to celebrate Chanukah- Secret Ingredient style!

Sweet Potato Veggie Latkes (serves 8)

1 pound grated sweet potato
1/2 pound grated carrots
1/2 pound grated zucchini
1/2 cup matzah meal
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp canola oil

Squeeze out all liquid from grated veggies (as much as possible). Combine grated veggies with other ingredients. Using a fork, drop small amounts of mixture into hot oil. Lightly pan fry latkes in oil until they start to brown. Then bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Top with applesauce!!

Check out this video for a simple, home-made applesauce and serve it as a dipping sauce for the Sweet Potato Latkes!

Had enough cooking with the latkes? No problem- buy an applesauce that is made with natural ingredients and low in sugar. Try Trader Joe’s Chunky Spiced Apples. If you can’t find that exact type, stick to any Trader Joes or Whole Foods brand- they are usually pretty reliable!

Happy Chanukah and enjoy all of the holiday’s festivities!

--Samantha Jacobs, RD