Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Your Secret Ingredient Style!

Ah yes, it’s that time of the year again. As the flowers start to bloom and the warm weather approaches, so does that urge to be free. Free of clutter in your closet, free of papers on your desk, and definitely free from a cluttered fridge and a piled up pantry.

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?

Cleaning out the kitchen every now and then is important for proper food safety, which protects us from potentially harmful food-borne disease. Plus, starting a new diet or continuing healthy habits requires a properly stocked and organized kitchen.

How to perform a "Your Secret Ingredient" Kitchen Makeover:

Open the Fridge

  1. Take everything out
  2. Look at expiration dates (don’t forget the condiments!)
  3. Check for mold, mildew, discoloration
  4. Throw out any take-out containers
  5. Examine the produce drawer for old fruits/veggies/herbs
  6. Give everything a good spritz. Disinfect your fridge and clean out any crumbs orspills.
  7. Put the goods back (animal protein on the lowest level as to not contaminate the other foods)
Stock your fridge with some great healthy snacks for the Spring, like fresh fruits, veggies, low-fat cheeses, yogurts, and nuts. Make them easy to find for when you get hungry!

Open the Freezer

Things in the freezer do NOT last forever, despite what your grandma may say. SO, throw out anything that…

  • You have had for more than 3 months
  • Has clear freezer burn with icicles surrounding it
  • You think, “oh wow, I forgot I had that”
  • Is found squashed in the back corner

From this point on, start a labeling system. Whenever you put something into the freezer, use a permanent marker to label what the food is and the date you are putting it in there. Foods only last 1-3 months so keep track of what is in there and plan meals around your supply.

Open the Pantry

Throw out…

  • Any opened bags/boxes (i.e. pasta, rice, chips, cereals, cookies, cakes, etc.) that are not sealed closed (clipped firmly is ok, but only for a few weeks)
  • Any mis-shaped, enlarged, or bumpy cans
  • Any expired products (Be especially weary of oils: regardless of what we may believe, they do not last forever, and actually have a relatively short shelf-life)
  • Anything suspicious in the spice draw (i.e. discolored, dried out, missing proper smell). Spices don't last forever, so after a year it’s time to get some new gigs!

Start fresh. Keep things from wasting and keep everything organized by buying re-sealable containers for cereal, grains, chips, cookies, etc. The Container Store has a great selection! Or for great portion control, put your snacks in individual plastic baggies for convenient snacking!

Look Through the Cabinets

  1. Check out your pots and pans, if the bottoms are discolored or scraping off, it may be time to get some new equipment
  2. Look at your Tupperware. Somehow those tops can develop the “socks in the laundry” disappearance act. They don’t come back. So throw out any bottoms with no tops or tops with no bottoms and start fresh with a new batch.
  3. Give your knives a good sharpening! You can either bring it in to a kitchen supply store (many havethat service available for a fee) or you can purchase a sharpening stoneand do it yourself. Make sure to hoan your knife after sharpening to get a good edge. Watch this video to learn more

I hope this has convinced you to add the kitchen into your spring cleaning regimen- I know I will be down on the floor scrubbing! Think of all that productive cardio…

--Samantha Jacobs, RD CDN

Friday, April 22, 2011

Saving up for the Easter Bunny…

Growing up in a Jewish household, I have always been fascinated by Easter candy. Candy was something I was never allowed to eat unless I was in a movie theater, it was Halloween, or the day after Easter when Cadbury eggs went on sale. As a chocoholic since the womb, I always look forward to those crunchy little eggs for my once-a-year treat. Now as a dietitian working with clients, I realize that Easter is a holiday filled with special treats…

Why have you done a good thing?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having special treats for holidays. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to look forward to your favorite dish or giving in to temptation a little. It’s about portion controlling, sticking to your favorites, and finding ways to make extremely caloric recipes a little healthier. Here are some tips to get you through the day while still enjoying yourself:

1) Start the day off right with a workout or nice walk. Get some exercise in before the celebration. Burning off some extra calories will not only off-set the damage but also make you feel better and encourage you to make smarter choices throughout the day. Go for family walks and participate in the Easter egg hunt!

2) Have a good breakfast or snack before you go. Start the day off right with a healthy breakfast full of protein and fiber. If you are going to Easter brunch, have a snack beforehand so you don’t overdo it, like yogurt or a ¼ cup of nuts.

3) Stick to your favorites and have 1 plate full. At each of the celebratory meals, stick to one plate full of food and make your calories count by only having your favorites. Make ½ your plate full of veggies and fruit for better portion control.

4) Prep treat baskets for your guests. Instead of having bowls of candy around everywhere, package up little treat packs for each person individually. This way each person has his or her own portion and no one over-does it.

5) Limit the alcohol. Stick to 1 glass if you are a woman and 2 if you are a man. Drink your drinks slowly and spread it out with seltzer or water.

6) Serve healthy snacks too! If you are making the party, provide healthy snacks to munch on all day. Suggestions: veggies with yogurt dip or fresh fruit. In between meals, aim to keep your snacks healthy so you can enjoy that Easter basket!

There are always ways to make desserts a little healthier but still delicious to enjoy at the holidays. Here’s a great recipe from At only 300 calories per slice, I think it’s totally worth it for a holiday special treat…

Carrot Cake (adapted from (click here to print a copy of this recipe and grocery list!)

Serves 16


1 20 oz can crushed pineapple

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 large eggs

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

¾ cup nonfat buttermilk

½ cup canola oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups grated carrots

2 cups grated carrots (finely grated) or 4-6 carrots

¼ cup unsweetened flaked coconut

½ cup chopped toasted walnuts


12 oz reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 by 13” baking pan with cooking spray.

Drain the pineapple over a bowl, reserving a ¼ cup of juice.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Beat eggs and sugar together well. Add buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and reserved pineapple juice together until well blended. Stir in pineapple, carrots, and ¼ cup of coconut. Add flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the nuts. Scrape the batter into the baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes or until center comes out clean.

To prepare frosting, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. When cake has cooled, frost and serve!

Check out these other recipes from that would make a great addition to your holiday meal!

Happy Easter!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

GRAINularity: Passover style…

Passover certainly can be a shock to your digestive system. Matzo starts to take a toll on you after a while…if you know what I mean. Finding fiber can be difficult especially if you are used to eating whole grains. Did you know that there actually is a grain you can eat on Passover? It’s called quinoa and it’s delicious!

Why have you done a good thing?

Quinoa is a protein-rich, vitamin/mineral and fiber filled grain, well technically a seed, which is why it is kosher for Passover (no matter what the NY Times says). With 5 g of fiber per ½ cup, quinoa is sure to help you out this week… Quinoa is also a great source of magnesium, which has been shown to protect against heart disease and reduce frequency of migraine headaches as it helps relax blood vessels. Quinoa contains iron, which is important for development of healthy red blood cells. Quinoa pureed is great for infants past the age of 6 months as this is when iron stores from pregnancy are depleted. Quinoa also has a healthy dose of manganese and copper, both antioxidants that prevent against oxidative damage. Quinoa also has phosphorus, which is important for bone health. Best of all, quinoa is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids needed for the human body, making quinoa great for vegans and vegetarians. This grain is also naturally gluten-free making quinoa a nice addition for celiac patients and those who are gluten intolerant.

Where can you find quinoa?

Quinoa is now sold in most major grocery stores, possibly in the natural or organic food section. It comes in a variety of colors including white, red, purple, or green. You can also find quinoa flours, quinoa based pastas and cereals!

Here’s a great side dish to serve up at your sedar or to help get you through the week:

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers (Serves 6) (Click here for a downloadable version of the recipe, plus a grocery list!)

3 peppers (red, orange or yellow)

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup quinoa

2 cups of low-sodium chicken stock

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Halve peppers lengthwise keeping the stems intact and seed. Steam pepper halves over boiling water until softened (about 8-10 minutes). Set aside.

Heat stock in a saucepan until simmering. In the meantime, in a separate pan, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. When stock is ready add quinoa and cover. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until soft and fluffy. When quinoa is done, mix in onion and garlic mixture, chopped walnuts, salt and pepper, and parsley. Spoon into peppers and serve!

**Taking to work? Instead chop and sauté peppers with onions and garlic and mix into quinoa! When it’s not Passover, add in some chickpeas for a great dose of protein!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

Monday, April 18, 2011

Side Dishes Not to Pass Over...

As Passover gets closer, I continue to find myself brainstorming that perfect side dish. I mean, after all, you sit through all of those prayers (often starving) and expect some good food in return! I worry though; because you cant have any bread. However, don’t fret; there are plenty of things to make, sans the leavening effect. And although some holidays may encourage you to eat a bit unhealthy, (i.e. latkas and chocolate gelt) this holiday can be very figure-friendly!

Why Have You Done a Good Thing with these Passover Side Dishes?

1. Charoset

  • Apples= antioxidant vitamin C
  • Red wine= antioxidant resveratrol
  • Nuts=healthy fats & fiber, omega 3’s

2. Gefilte fish

  • Great lean protein

3. Stuffed acorn squash

  • This is a dish made with sweet potato and squash, which puts a spin on the traditional potato dish by diluting the already healthy starch with healthy vegetables. Both have rich color (which means rich nutrients!) especially vitamin A. Check out Whole Food’s recipe here: (sans the rice or barley)

4. Oven roasted asparagus

  • Filled with phytochemicals, antioxidants. Simply roast with EVOO and salt.

5. More than a simple salad

  • Add sautéed onions and mushrooms, roasted sweet potato, cranberries, almonds, carrots and cucumbers with homemade lemon vinaigrette. (mix together minced garlic & shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper)

And for all of you who will be attending, and not hosting seders, I’m sure you are searching for the perfect thing to bring. Look No Further, check out this guide to the best kosher for Passover (some more kosher than others) desserts in NYC from Grubstreet

Don’t get bored with the same old plain matzah. Try…

  • Matzah Pizza
  • Matzah Brie (scrambled or omlette)
  • Matzah with cream cheese and lox
  • Matzah with tuna salad
  • Matzah almond butter and jelly
  • Matzah grilled cheese with tomato
  • Dark chocolate covered matzah

Enjoy and Happy Passover!

--Samantha Jacobs, RD CDN

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let's Get Together...

As you walk down the produce isle at the market, you may pass by broccoli, thinking you’re not in the mood for green. And then you may breeze by cauliflower, considering the white veggie a little dull. But then, you see something yellowish-green, that looks like the love-child of those 2 vegetables you just passed. And guess what…it IS, enter Broccoflower!

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?

Ever year around this time, before the spring/summer vegetables are in full swing, I start getting bored with the same old squash and broccoli. Hence, my appreciation for this unique hybrid vegetable. Not only is it interesting looking and tasting; it is good for you, too! Broccoflower is filled with folate, vitamin C, and some fabulous fiber! Folate is essential during pregnancy, and antioxidant benefits are numerous! Fiber will help you stay full while on a calorie-controlled diet, charging you only minimal calories and no fat, making this a great bang for your bite! Plus, being a mild green veggie, it just may go down smoothly with the little ones.

What to do with it?

  • Eat it raw or blanched as a snack and as part of a crudité, with some low-fat dip. Hint- you can mix in ranch seasoning to fat-free Greek yogurt for a great and healthy dip. (Just go easy on it, since using too much can overload you with unneeded sodium.)
  • Steam it and eat it with a salad, protein, and some whole grains for a complete meal and a quick weeknight dinner.
  • Toss it with a little EVOO, salt, and pepper and roast in the oven at 400F for 10-15 minutes.
  • Make it into a soup
  • Sautee it with garlic and EVOO or include it as part of a stir-fry meal.
--Samantha Jacobs, RD CDN

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It’s Time for a Round-Up: What’s going on in that freezer?

Here at Your Secret Ingredient we always push the freshest of ingredients and unprocessed whole foods. However, time gets in the way. Sometimes turning to a frozen meal is the most convenient of choices.

Rules of Thumb (To do a good thing):

1) Pay attention to how many servings you are eating. Not all frozen meals are created equal. Some have more than one serving per container. Figure out how many servings you are eating and multiply the nutrition facts accordingly. Example: If a serving is 450 calories, but there are 2 servings per box and you eat the whole thing, you are really eating 900 calories, not 450.

2) Choose meals that are 500 calories or less per serving

3) Choose meals that are less than 20% fat calories in Daily Value (DV) column

4) Choose meals that are less than 600 mg of sodium per serving, ideally less than 500 mg per serving.

5) Choose meals with greater than 3g of fiber per serving and that has vegetables!

6) Choose meals with ingredients that you understand what they are.

Here is a Round-Up of the healthiest frozen dinner choices out there. These brands offer organic frozen foods that are lower in sodium, lower in calories, and are 20% or less calories from fat. Although the sodium still does run high (usually in 500-600 mg range), there is usually also a lot of fiber due to using whole wheat flours and vegetables. Good choices include:

Best Frozen Entrees:

-Amy’s Brand: No, I’m not just saying this because this brand is my name-sake...Great choices and lots of ethnic dishes to choose from.

  • Black Bean Burrito (280 calories, 12% DV fat, 4 g fiber, 580 mg sodium, 9 g protein)
  • Bowl of Black Peas and Brown Rice (290 calories, 17% DV fat, 580 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 11 g protein)
  • Light and Lean Spinach Lasagna (250 calories, 9% DV fat, 540 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 11 g protein)

-Kashi Brand: By far the easiest to find with great variety.

  • Kashi Black Bean and Mango with Whole Grain Pilaf (340 calories, 12% DV fat, 380 mg sodium, 7g fiber, 8 g protein)
  • Kashi Chicken Florentine (290 calories, 14% DV fat, 550 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 22g protein)
  • Kashi Chicken Pasta Pomodoro (280 calories, 9% DV fat, 470 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 19 g protein)
  • Kashi Sweet and Sour Chicken (320 calories, 5% DV fat, 380 mg sodium, 6g fiber, 18 g protein)

-Organic Bistro Brand: Harder to find but definitely the comparatively lowest in sodium and least amount of unidentifiable ingredients that I’ve seen

  • Wild Alaskan Salmon (380 calories, 20% DV fat, 240 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 20 g protein)
  • Moroccan Chicken (290 calories, 14% DV fat, 390 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 19 g protein)

Best Frozen Pizza:

  • Amy’s Light in Sodium Single Serve Spinach Pizza (440 calories, 20% DV fat, 390 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 19 g protein)

Best Frozen Breakfast:

  • Van’s Lite Whole Grain Waffles: Dip in Greek yogurt, delicious! (2 waffles: 140 calories, 2% DV fat, 320 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 4 g protein)
  • Vitamuffins: Great as breakfast or dessert. (Varies with flavor: 100 calories, 0% DV fat, 140 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 4 g protein)
  • Amy’s Steel Cut Oatmeal Bowls (220 calories, 5% DV fat, 190 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 6g protein)

Really the best frozen dinners are ones you make yourself. They are lower in calories, sodium, and processed ingredients as well as being much better tasting and more economical. Try out these ideas to make on the weekend ahead of time and freeze in individual servings:

  • Make a whole lasagna using veggies and low-fat cheese, cut it up into 8 pieces
  • Freeze up soups and stews of all varieties.
  • Use seasonal veggies to be able to eat the freshest veggies all year long
  • Bake your own mini muffins with applesauce and yogurt instead of butter
  • Make your own pasta sauce using canned crushed tomatoes, fresh herbs, lots of veggies and ground turkey or chicken and serve up over whole wheat pasta or store-bought ravioli
  • Make your own veggies or turkey burgers and serve on a salad or on a whole wheat bun
  • Freeze up some Mexican style rice and beans. Have in a bowl on its own or mix into tacos or burritos
  • Make a big pot of meatballs and freeze in 2-3 ball servings. Make meatball sandwiches during the week!
  • Bake breaded chicken in the oven and freeze. Use for chicken finger dippers for the kids or make chicken parmesan!
  • Freeze quiches for breakfast, lunch or dinner meals

This blog entry was in response to a Your Secret Ingredient fan request. Want some answers? Send us your requests!!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

                                    • ·

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Darker the Orange?... the Sweeter the Juice

Outside the gates of Pompeii, Italy, I had the sweetest orange I have ever tasted. Blood oranges, arguably the most succulent of all the citrus fruits, won my heart that day as my orange of choice. I found out later that there is something even more special about these oranges in addition to their juicy taste…

Why have you done a good thing?

Native to Italy, this tart-yet-sweet almost raspberry tasting orange is quite unique with its deep red grapefruit-like flesh. Blood oranges are loaded with vitamin C that is important for wound healing and boosting your immune system. Blood oranges have an extra special dose of antioxidants due the presence of anthocyanins (also found in berries), which give them their deep red color. Anthocyanins are thought be protective against inflammatory damage, particularly to connective tissue in blood vessels helping to prevent heart disease, nervous system damage, eye diseases, and even reducing allergic reactions. Blood oranges are also a wonderful source of folate, which is particularly important for pregnant women for healthy fetal development and for everyone for protection against cardiovascular disease. Best of all, one of these tasty delights packs only 70 calories but 3g of fiber, making it a great snack!

How will I recognize them?

You will spot them by their red-blemished skin and small manageable size. After purchasing, store in the refrigerator as they last best at cold temperatures.

Cooking Ideas:

-Peel them up and eat as a snack

-Use blood orange juice in your next vinaigrette

-Blood Orange Bellini for Sunday brunch!

-Mix a salad with arugula, blood orange segments, and 1 oz of Chevrie (lower fat French goat cheese). Purchase an extra orange, juice it, and combine with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper for a vinaigrette!

-For a light fresh Spring/Summer dinner, try Blood Orange Salsa

3 blood oranges, sliced and chopped

1 avocado, chopped

¼ red onion, diced

Juice of half a lime

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl. Use to top grilled chicken or fish!

-In case (G-d forbid) it snows again and we need a warm meal, try glazing lean red meat with Sicilian Blood Orange Sauce

6 blood oranges, juiced

1 tbsp sugar

1 cup port or red wine

Combine orange juice, wine and sugar in a small saucepan and boil until reduced (about 30 minutes). Use as a glaze for Filet Mignon or another lean cut of meat.

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN