Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ode to the Canned Tomato

Although it is true that fresh over canned veggies is often the better choice, sometimes there is just no time. You’re in luck because canned tomatoes are just as good as fresh! Plus, after a long day of work and maybe a workout at the gym, coming home and cooking dinner is a daunting task! So, if some canned tomatoes will help to make your cooking a little easier and healthier, I say go for it!

Why Have You Done A Good Thing?

Tomatoes (canned or fresh) are filled with powerful antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and lycopene. These nutrients help our cells fight off enemies and keep us strong. These red delights are low-calorie, with fiber to boot, making them a great BANG for your BITE. Finally, they are a Your Secret Ingredient pick because of their important role in so many different recipes, making you more likely to make a quick weeknight dinner with these cans on hand. Go you!

Quick Tip: sometimes, canned foods (including tomatoes) can be high in sodium. It is important to read the label and choose the brand with the least amount of sodium (the lower the better). You can also rinse the contents to lower the sodium by about half. Look at the ingredients; they should only be tomatoes and/or juice of tomato.

Your Secret Ingredient Brand Picks: Pomi Canned Tomato Varietites, San Marzano Canned Tomato Varieties, Hunt’s No Salt Added Plum/Diced Tomatoes, and Shoprite No Salt Added Peeled Tomatoes

10 quick weeknight meals to make with canned tomatoes: you will be doing your waistline & body good!

1. Want to make homemade tomato sauce, but don’t have the energy to go to the grocery store? Grab a can of tomatoes from your pantry and follow along: Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil, add any chopped veggies you have on hand, add any combination of fresh, cherry or canned tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, basil or oregano- simmer. For extra protein, try adding a couple of lean burger patties or low-sodium canned beans in to the sauce. Or top sauce on store-bought veggie-filled ravioli or tortellini. For a fancy fake-out, bake your new tomato sauce with the ravioli or tortellini and a sprinkle of cheese for a lasagna fake-out!

2. Roasted veggies with pasta and tomatoes.

Chop any vegetables (I like mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, and onion), coat with a little olive oil and salt, and roast in oven on 400F for 25-30 minutes. Do this step on a day when you have extra time (maybe Sunday) and then just keep in the fridge. *Those veggies will be good to snack on, too. Cook whole-wheat pasta according to instructions. Place ¼- ½ cup of pasta in a bowl, along with 1 cup of roasted veggies. Add ½ cup chopped canned tomatoes. Heat up and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top for a complete meal.

3. Turkey or Bean Chili.

Everyone has their favorite recipes but simply, sauté some veggies, season, add some ground lean turkey meat, beans, low-sodium broth, and canned tomatoes. Let simmer.

4. Soup

For a super-easy soup, sauté some veggies (including onion, celery, and carrots). Add meat and/or beans or lentils, 1-2 quarts of low-sodium broth, canned tomatoes, and anything else you have lying around such as left-over rotisserie chicken! Let simmer.

5. Fish with onion, tomato & olive

Season and cook fish in a bit of olive oil. Set aside on a plate and cover with tin foil. In same pan, use a little olive oil to sauté onions, then de-glaze pan by adding some white wine. Add in canned tomatoes and chopped, seeded kalmata olives. Let reduce for a few minutes and then top sauce on fish and serve.

6. Breakfast anyone? Don’t count canned tomatoes out. Look at this Israeli breakfast/lunch/dinner recipe we found, called Shukshuka:

7. Hungarian Lecso (vegetarian)

Check out this quick and easy vegetarian meal, starring canned tomatoes.

8. Use as a filling and/or sauce for stuffed peppers or stuffed cabbage. These are simple things to make. Mix some cooked brown rice with some lean ground meat (raw), seasoning, canned tomatoes & chopped veggies, stuff into pepper (halved and de-seeded) or cabbage leaf, cover with chopped, canned tomatoes, and bake in a pan, with fresh tomato sauce, at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is done.

9. Chicken A La Mexicana

In this dish, you simply brown the chicken in a deep sauté pan with olive oil on both sides- about 8-10 minutes total. Take out and set aside. Saute onions in a little olive oil until brown, then add chopped bell peppers, jalapenos (optional) and canned tomatoes. Add the chicken back in and let simmer until done, about 15 minutes.

10. Salsa

Finely chop onion, jalapenos and canned tomatoes, season with salt to taste- mix. Use as a condiment for a turkey or chicken sandwich to form an easy weeknight meal.

Next time you go grocery shopping, be sure to stock up on some canned tomatoes and then use these simple recipes to start cooking!

--Samantha Jaocbs, MS RD CDN

Monday, February 13, 2012

Time for a Round-Up: Chocolate by Number…

There is nothing sweeter than a chocolate valentine. As a chocoholic myself, I love a holiday that worships the cocoa bean. But not all chocolates are created equal. To give your sweetie a chocolately and healthy valentine, know your chocolate by number…

Why have you done a good thing?

The higher the chocolate percentage on your bar of chocolate, the more cocoa and health benefits the chocolate contains. Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants called flavanols. Flavanols have been shown to reduce risk of cancer due to decreased free radical damage in your cells. Flavanoids also have heart healthy benefits including reduced LDL oxidation and production of nitric oxide, helping to reduce blood pressure and subsequently the risk of heart disease. Dark chocolate has also been shown to improve mood by increasing serotonin levels and increasing endorphin levels, stimulating feelings of pleasure.

And what about white chocolate? Technically white chocolate isn’t chocolate because it does not contain any cocoa solids which are the primary ingredients in chocolate. But it is still delicious and a great special treat as it is high in sugar and saturated fat!

For the best health benefits of chocolate eating, here are some tips:

1) The darker the better. Choose the darkest chocolate that you enjoy eating. In general, here are the FDA guidelines to understand chocolate labeling:

  • Unsweetened, brute or bitter chocolate = 85-99% cocoa
  • Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate = 35-84% cocoa
  • Milk chocolate = 15-34% cocoa, more sugar and milk

2) Watch the portions. Although all these health benefits must be music to your chocolate loving ears, remember it is still a high calorie food so limit portions to 100 calorie servings or about 1-2 oz. The darker the chocolate, the richer the taste, making just a small piece more satisfying.

3) Avoid too many fillings. Choose the most natural chocolate possible. Things like nougat, caramel type fillings take the place from good quality flavanoids. Choose plain chocolate or chocolate bars with more natural additives like dried fruit and nuts.

4) Savor it. To truly enjoy chocolate, really taste it. Eat it slowly and enjoy the deep, rich flavor!

For you foodies out there, after a round-up taste test of the best dark chocolates out there, here is a list of the most delicious chocolate brands with the highest cocoa percentages (most fun round-up yet):

Ghiradelli Intense Dark 72% Cocoa

Endangered Species Supreme Dark (70% cocoa)

Dove Silky Smooth 71% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Green and Black’s Organic 70% dark

Lindt Swiss Bittersweet Chocolate – 60% cocoa

Lindt Excellence – 70% cocoa

Michael Cluizel Grand Noir 85% cocoa

Godiva 72% Dark Chocolate

Valrona 65% cocoa

Perugina Signature Dark Chocolate - 60% cocoa

Scharffen Berger Bittersweet 70% cocoa

Trader Joes 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Trader Joes Swiss Dark Chocolate – 71% cocoa

365 Organic Swiss Dark Chocolate – 52% cocoa

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!


Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

Monday, February 6, 2012

Taking on Take-out Night!

On a cold winter night, snuggled up on your couch, it can feel impossible to make it to the grocery store or even to get up and cook. Enter delivery. Although cooking your own food is great, sometimes we just need to order in. We lead busy lives and once in a while, convenience is key- no problem. Here is a Your Secret Ingredient guide to ordering in, so you can sit back and relax, knowing a healthy meal is just a bike or car ride away.

General Guidelines:

1. Always curb your appetite with a snack about 1-1.5 hours before your meal, that way you won’t be ravenous when the food comes. Plus a snack makes the wait for delivery a little easier.

2. Ask questions: What exactly does “crispy” mean? Perhaps you can substitute some healthier items in, such as grilled chicken for fried or fruit for home fries as some examples.

3. Order sauces and dressings on the side, to use at your discretion.

4. Look to cut portions. Ask for half orders or appetizer-sized portions if possible. If you don’t see it on the menu, ask if it can be done! Save half your entrée for your next meal or order 2 appetizers instead of entrees.

Guidelines by Cuisine:

1. Chinese food

-Eat with your chopsticks. You’ll eat slower and therefore fill up faster.-

-Skip the fried foods (noodles, egg roles, dumplings) and start with some soup.

-Veg it up. Look for vegetable-based dishes or meat, chicken or fish dishes that come with lots of vegetables.

-Order dishes steamed not fried (such as orange or sesame chicken) with your favorite sauces on the side. Dress it up yourself with 1 to 2 spoonfuls of sauce to save extra calories.

-Watch the ribs. Spareribs can cost you up to 200 calories per rib so keep them for a special treat.

-Limit the extra oil. Dishes like fried rice, lo mein, chow fun, and sesame noodles are loaded with oil and extra calories. Order steamed brown rice instead. If you really have a craving for fried rice, mix a couple of spoonfuls of fried rice with your steamed rice for just a taste.

-Make Chinese a special treat. No matter how hard you try to save on calories, Chinese food is loaded with sodium, which is not good for your heart. Make ordering in Chinese food a "sometimes" choice and try making it at home sometimes! Look to or for healthy recipes.

2. Japanese food

-Start with edamame- the fiber filled beans will take the hunger edge off.

-Go for the salads (ginger dressing on the side and use sparingly), steamed shrimp dumplings, tar-tar, ceviche, fish, and skewers (meat and/or veggie). Stay clear of anything “tempura” or “crispy” as that means deep-fried.

-Think sashimi (raw fish) or a mixture of sashimi and sushi (raw fish over rice), including some fatty fishes like salmon or tuna, brown rice rolls (whole grains) with fillings of fish, avocado, and vegetables, “teriyaki dinners” with chicken or fish with sauce on the side to save on sugar and sodium! Avoid the roll fillings “crunch” or “tempura flakes” (fried) and cream cheese like in Philadelphia rolls to save on saturated fats. Know that when you see “spicy” it means mayonnaise!

-Stick to low-sodium soy sauce, pour in about 1 tablespoon and make it last!

3. Italian food

-Start with a salad with lite vinaigrette or a hearty bean soup, such as minestrone.

-Limit the starches. Italian cuisine can be very high in grains so pick and choose which ones you want most. Do you want a piece of bread from the basket, a side or appetizer order of pasta or potatoes with your meat/fish dish?

-Limit the cheese and cream based dishes. Avoid excessive saturated fat and calories by avoiding garlic bread and cream sauces such as Alfredo or butter sauce. Ask about sauces if you are not sure if they are creamy or cheesy.

-Limit portion sizes of tomato and mozzarella salads, parmigiana, beef lasagna, vodka sauces, cheese sauce or cheese filled pasta, carbonara, and sausage dishes.

-Choose appetizer sizes, side orders, or half orders of pasta and risotto. If you don't see it as an option on the menu, ask your server if it can be done.

-Eat lean protein and vegetables first. It makes eating less pasta easier. Try the grilled chicken, fish, or seafood dishes with marinara, garlic and oil, or marsala sauce.

-Load up on the fish. Italian cuisine has delicious fish entrees including a Your Secret Ingredient fav: branzino ( aka. Mediterranean seabass).

-Stack the veggies on your pizza. Go for thin crust and have up to 1-2 slices. Bulk it up with a salad or lean protein like chicken or fish. Limit portions of rolls or calzones (split them a few ways)

-Watch the wine. Limit yourself to 1-2 glasses of wine and choose between wine and a few bites of dessert.

4. Asian Varieties

-Start with some soup or salad

-Take advantage of all the vegetarian options, such as tofu with vegetables. Although the sauces (especially panang curry) are delicious, they can pack on the pounds so order it on the side and dip at your own discretion.

- Order the skewers: chicken, fish, shrimp- all a good choice!

-As for the pad thai- this is a hard one- it’s so good but not so good for you. Have it once in a while and eat 1/8th of the ridiculously oversized container.

-Order steamed rice. Often times there are a lot of varieties to chose from that are not fried.

5. Greek

-Start with a salad. Greek salad is a great choice, just be sure to take out some of the feta because often times it can be about 10 servings of cheese in there.

-Share some spreads: Hummus, babaganoush, tziki, all good and mostly good for you. Just remember the portion size for dips is about 2 Tablespoons, so take it on your plate first rather than dipping from the container. Use vegetables to dip, rather than chips.

-Go for the lean meats such as fish or chicken or stick to the vegetarian options such as eggplant, hummus, or baked falafels (as your server if they are baked or fried).Again take the opportunity to bulk up on great fish choices like branzino or red snapper.

-Choose whole-wheat pitas, if available. Stack them with lots of veggies, a little protein, and 1 Tablespoon of dip for a hearty meal. Limit your pita servings

-Try gigandes (Greek baked beans) or briam (roasted vegetables) for extra fiber and healthy side dishes

-Limit baklava, spinach pie, and other filo dough options as they are high in calories

6. American and Diner Food

-Take a pass on the fried appetizers, and take advantage of some likely delicious soup, such as matzoh ball soup or vegetable soup. Still watch the portion since it is a high-sodium food.

-Egg-white omelets are a great choice. Load it with veggies and even a little cheese, if you want. If you have good self-control and get the homefries and just eat a few if you can portion control. If you’re like me, skip it and order some fruit or sliced tomatoes instead. Whole-wheat toast is a go.

-Diner portions are notoriously large, so think about sharing or definitely plan to have lunch for the next day- bonus!

-If you’re craving a burger… order sliders and have 1-2, a kid's portions, or share 1 burger and a salad with someone. Or try a grilled chicken burger, turkey burger, or even a veggie burger. Often times these will hit the spot, too once loaded with lettuce, tomato, and onion.

-Craving pancakes, French toast, muffin or other breakfast cake? Do what I do and order an egg white omelet with fruit for yourself and a short-stack order of pancakes for the table. That way everyone can have just a bite and satisfy a craving!

-Try a sandwich or salad. Often times diners have a variety of sandwiches and salads to choose from. Look for ones with lean meats like turkey or grilled chicken, no bacon, very little cheese, and try to get low-fat condiments/dressings, if possible. Mustard has no fat but a lot of sodium, so have just a tsp. Add other lean proteins to salads like egg whites or beans for a vegetarian protein source.

-The best thing about a diner is you can usually get whatever you want. So be creative with your requests and substitutions to make some traditional orders a little more Your Secret Ingredient-esq.

--Samantha Jacobs, MS RD CDN

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Just a Bite…

I love making meals out of appetizers. I love variety and having just a bite of each of my favorite treats. What better way to eat on Superbowl Sunday as well! Keep the calories down while still enjoying delicious treats…tapas style!

Why have you done a good thing?

Eating making meals out of appetizers, also known as tapas style, can be a great way to control portions. It can also be a fun way to serve up meals in front of the big game or at a dinner party. Plus, small foods are very appealing to kids as they fit right in their hands! So give tapas style a try. To keep portions under control, especially at the Superbowl, remember Your Secret Ingredient tips:

1) Start with a big salad, crudite, or a piece of fruit before you chow down on any Superbowl Treats to curb your appetite. If you don’t think these options will be there, either bring it with you as your contribution or eat a fiber filled snack before you go

2) Keep track of your bites. Fill your plate with all the bites you are interested in. Have one plate full and pair it or finish it off with lots of crudite (with low fat dip if you want!)

Top 10 Your Secret Ingredient Just a Bite Superbowl Recipes

1) Mexican Bites – Tostitos scoop chips filled with 1 tbsp of guacamole or your favorite chili recipe. Try Your Secret Ingredient Turkey Chili from our January 17th edition.

2) Mozzarella Stick Bites – Using 2 packs of low-fat string cheese, cut each string cheese stick in 3 parts. In 2 bowls, set up one bowl with 2 beaten eggs and one bowl with ½ cup trans-fat free bread crumbs, a pinch of salt, ½ cup of flour, and 1 tsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp of paprika, 1 tsp of diced fresh parsley. Dip the string cheese in egg, then the flour mixture until well-coated. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with low-sodium marinara sauce on the side.

3) Pita Bites – Try whole-wheat pitas (recommend Trader Joes mini pitas) topped with hummus and diced cucumbers or roasted peppers or bruschetta. Can’t find mini pitas? Try Melba toast.

4) Grilled Cheese and Soup Shots – Use Trader Joes low-sodium/low-fat tomato soup or another low-sodium soup or homemade low-fat tomato soup. Heat and fill into shot glasses. Make 6 grilled cheese sandwiches (sans butter) on whole-wheat bread and with 2 slices of low-fat cheese. Cut the sandwiches into 4 triangles. Make a small slit in the sandwiches to attach to the edge of the shot glass and serve warm.

5) Meatball Bites – Heat 1 jar of low-sodium tomato sauce in a large pot. Mix 1 lbs of 99% lean ground turkey with ¼ cup of ketchup, 1 egg, 2 tsp of garlic powder, ½ tsp of salt, ½ cup of bread crumbs. Mix together and roll with your hands into 2 inch balls. Place gently in the tomato sauce and simmer for 1 hr. Serve on a toothpick with the sauce on the side for extra dipping!

6) Mini Pizzas Bites– Baby bello mushrooms baked with your favorite low sodium tomato sauce (recommend Two Guys Jersey Tomato Sauce) or pesto sauce with a sprinkle of low-fat mozzarella baked on top. Bake for 20 minutes and broil for 5 minutes.

7) Mini Foot Long Sandwiches - Sushi roll-ups (whole-wheat tortilla, 3 slices of turkey and/or 3 slices of roastbeef, 2 slices of low fat cheese, spicy mustard, and lettuce rolled up and sliced to look like sushi!)

8) Macaroni and Cheesy Bites – Using your mini muffin pan, bake low-fat macaroni and cheese in each muffin bite! Try Annie’s Low Sodium Mac and Cheese or Your Secret Ingredient low-fat macaroni and cheese recipe:

1 lb of whole wheat elbows

2 tbsp of butter

4 tbsp of flour

3 cups of skim milk or 1% milk

6 oz of low-fat cheddar cheese, diced or shredded

6 oz of low-fat monteray jack cheese, diced or shredded

¼ cup bread crumbs (trans fat free)

Heat a pot of water and boil pasta until slightly undercooked. In a separate pot, melt butter with flour together and whisk for 1 minute (creating a roux). Add milk and stir. Allow milk to slightly bubble and thicken. Add cheese and constantly stir. When thick and a cheese sauce has formed, mix with noodles until well combined. Spray muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray and add 2 tbsp of macaroni and cheese into each muffin. Top with bread crumbs. Bake for 20 minutes.

9) Dip Shots – Using your shot glasses, fill 1 inch deep of your favorite low-fat dip. Top with sliced crudite. Try Ellie Krieger’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip.

10) Cake Pops - All the rage; just a bite of cake is enough. Bake your favorite chocolate or vanilla cake mix (pick one that is trans fat free!). Bake per the package instructions. After the cake cools, break it up until it crumbles. Mix with frosting and roll in your hands like meatballs. Put on a long toothpick. Then, over a double boil (water in a pot under a bowl with the chocolate), melt 10 oz dark or white chocolate. Dip each bake ball in warm chocolate and place on wax paper. Dip in blue and red sprinkles for the Giants! Put in the fridge over night and serve the next day!

Don’t want to bake? Cheat and use Two Bite Brownies (sold at Whole Foods) and top with frosting and blue/white sprinkles on a toothpick!

Go Big Blue!!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN