Thursday, January 12, 2012

Black Bean Brownies?





I heard about these brownies from my sister a few years ago, but I was a little skeptical.  I love beans in my chili, but in my brownies?  
Today I decided to give this recipe a try.  I have all the ingredients in my pantry so I figure why not?  Plus I am looking for flourless desserts for my gluten free and non-starch eating families.


Like most of my fellow Personal Chefs I read cookbooks, cooking magazines, and food blogs  as though they are novels.  I make copies of recipes or cut out recipes from magazines and newspapers and add to my "must test" pile.  I decided on this recipe because it looks too simple to be true.  As you know, I don't enjoy baking, but this recipe is a no brainer.  Gather your ingredients, dump into the blender or food processor and bake...Ta da...you have brownies.
I used canned black bean, but be sure to use the unseasoned ones.  Or if you have dried black beans feel to cook them and use for this recipe.


Black Bean Brownies
serves 12
1 15.5 can black beans
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup coco powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)


Method:
Pre-heat oven to 350.  Lightly spray an 8x8 pan with butter cooking spray or butter.












Combine black beans through salt in a blender; blend until smooth;  pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and then bake in the oven until the edges pull away from pan and the center is set (about 25-30 minutes).  Allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to cutting and removing from pan.


Only 5 grams of fat per serving now that's a fantastic low fat dessert, high in protein and fiber - what's not to love?  As for taste?  I'm not sure as I am waiting for the brownies to cool.  Will keep you posted.




The verdict:  They are moist and chocolaty.  Next time I will be sure to puree the mixture until completely smooth.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tips for Healthy Living

It's January and most people I know have started a new diet to lose weight for the new year.  This year, I have decided to adopt healthy life style changes that will ultimately help improve my overall health.  I came across this great article that I wanted to share with you.  Fortunately, I think we all know what we need to do its just difficult to implement.


Healthy eating tip 1: Set yourself up for success

To set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. If you approach the changes gradually and with commitment, you will have a healthy diet sooner than you think.
  • Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. This way it should be easier to make healthy choices. Focus on finding foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. Gradually, your diet will become healthier and more delicious.
  • Start slow and make changes to your eating habits over time. Trying to make your diet healthy overnight isn’t realistic or smart. Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a salad (full of different color vegetables) to your diet once a day or switching from butter to olive oil when cooking.  As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.
  • Every change you make to improve your diet matters. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet. The long term goal is to feel good, have more energy, and reduce the risk of cancer and disease. Don’t let your missteps derail you—every healthy food choice you make counts.

Think of water and exercise as food groups in your diet.

Water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
Exercise. Find something active that you like to do and add it to your day, just like you would add healthy greens, blueberries, or salmon. The benefits of lifelong exercise are abundant and regular exercise may even motivate you to make healthy food choices a habit.

Healthy eating tip 2: Moderation is key 

People often think of healthy eating as an all or nothing proposition, but a key foundation for any healthy diet is moderation.  Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body.
  • Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty, or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. Later you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
  • Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently, particularly in restaurants. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, use smaller plates, think about serving sizes in realistic terms, and start small.  Visual cues can help with portion sizes—your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards. A teaspoon of oil or salad dressing is about the size of a matchbook and your slice of bread should be the size of a CD case.

Healthy eating tip 3: It's not just what you eat, it's how you eat

Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is about more than the food on your plate—it is also about how you think about food. Healthy eating habits can be learned and it is important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids.
  • Eat with others whenever possible. Eating with other people has numerous social and emotional benefits—particularly for children—and allows you to model healthy eating habits. Eating in front of the TV or computer often leads to mindless overeating.
  • Take time to chew your food and enjoy mealtimes. Chew your food slowly, savoring every bite. We tend to rush though our meals, forgetting to actually taste the flavors and feel the textures of our food. Reconnect with the joy of eating.
  • Listen to your body. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, or have a glass of water to see if you are thirsty instead of hungry. During a meal, stop eating before you feel full. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly.
  • Eat breakfast, and eat smaller meals throughout the day. A healthy breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, and eating small, healthy meals throughout the day (rather than the standard three large meals) keeps your energy up and your metabolism going.

Healthy eating tip 4: Fill up on colorful fruits and vegetables 

Shop the perimeter of the grocery storeFruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. They are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day and with every meal—the brighter the better. Colorful, deeply colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits, so eat a variety. Aim for a minimum of five portions each day.
Some great choices include:
  • Greens. Branch out beyond bright and dark green lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are just a few of the options—all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
  • Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, and squash—add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets.
  • Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.

The importance of getting vitamins from food—not pills

The antioxidants and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. And while advertisements abound for supplements promising to deliver the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables in pill or powder form, research suggests that it’s just not the same.
A daily regimen of nutritional supplements is not going to have the same impact of eating right. That’s because the benefits of fruits and vegetables don’t come from a single vitamin or an isolated antioxidant.
Learn more about the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
Read Article by Harvard Health Publications
The health benefits of fruits and vegetables come from numerous vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals working together synergistically. They can’t be broken down into the sum of their parts or replicated in pill form.

Healthy eating tip 5: Eat more healthy carbs and whole grains

Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole grains, for long lasting energy. In addition to being delicious and satisfying, whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart.

A quick definition of healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs

Healthy carbs (sometimes known as good carbs) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.

Tips for eating more healthy carbs

Whole Grain Stamp
  • Include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley. Experiment with different grains to find your favorites.
  • Make sure you're really getting whole grains. Be aware that the words stone-ground, multi-grain, 100% wheat, or bran can be deceptive. Look for the words “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” at the beginning of the ingredient list. In the U.S., check for the Whole Grain Stamps that distinguish between partial whole grain and 100% whole grain.
  • Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to 100%.
Avoid: Refined foods such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.

Healthy eating tip 6: Enjoy healthy fats & avoid unhealthy fats

Good sources of healthy fat are needed to nourish your brain, heart, and cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails.  Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA are particularly important and can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood, and help prevent dementia.

Add to your healthy diet:

  • Monounsaturated fats, from plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil, as well as avocados, nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans), and seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame).
  • Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats are unheated sunflower, corn, soybean, flaxseed oils, and walnuts.

Reduce or eliminate from your diet:

  • Saturated fats, found primarily in animal sources including red meat and whole milk dairy products.
  • Trans fats, found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Healthy eating tip 7: Put protein in perspective

Protein gives us the energy to get up and go—and keep going. Protein in food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy, and essential for maintaining cells, tissues, and organs. A lack of protein in our diet can slow growth, reduce muscle mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system. Protein is particularly important for children, whose bodies are growing and changing daily.

Here are some guidelines for including protein in your healthy diet:

Try different types of protein. Whether or not you are a vegetarian, trying different protein sources—such as beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, and soy products—will open up new options for healthy mealtimes.
  • Beans:  Black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, and lentils are good options.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans are great choices.
  • Soy products: Try tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and veggie burgers for a change.
  • Avoid salted or sugary nuts and refried beans.
Downsize your portions of protein. Many people in the West eat too much protein. Try to move away from protein being the center of your meal. Focus on equal servings of protein, whole grains, and vegetables.
Focus on quality sources of protein, like fresh fish, chicken or turkey, tofu, eggs, beans, or nuts. When you are having meat, chicken, or turkey, buy meat that is free of hormones and antibiotics.

Healthy eating tip 8: Add calcium for strong bones

Add Calcium for Strong BonesCalcium is one of the key nutrients that your body needs in order to stay strong and healthy. It is an essential building block for lifelong bone health in both men and women, as well as many other important functions.
You and your bones will benefit from eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, limiting foods that deplete your body’s calcium stores, and getting your daily dose of magnesium and vitamins D and K—nutrients that help calcium do its job.
Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Take a vitamin D and calcium supplement if you don’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet.

Good sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy: Dairy products are rich in calcium in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Sources include milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Vegetables and greens: Many vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are rich sources of calcium. Try turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms.
  • Beans: For another rich source of calcium, try black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, or baked beans.

Healthy eating tip 9: Limit sugar and salt

If you succeed in planning your diet around fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you may find yourself naturally cutting back on foods that can get in the way of your healthy diet—sugar and salt.

Sugar

Sugar causes energy ups and downs and can add to health and weight problems. Unfortunately, reducing the amount of candy, cakes, and desserts we eat is only part of the solution. Often you may not even be aware of the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day. Large amounts of added sugar can be hidden in foods such as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, soy sauce, and ketchup. Here are some tips:
  • Avoid sugary drinks. One 12-oz soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, more than the daily recommended limit! Try sparkling water with lemon or a splash of fruit juice.
  • Eat naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter to satisfy your sweet tooth.

How sugar is hidden on food labels

Check food labels carefully. Sugar is often disguised using terms such as:
  • cane sugar or maple syrup
  • corn sweetener or corn syrup
  • honey or molasses
  • brown rice syrup
  • crystallized or evaporated cane juice
  • fruit juice concentrates, such as apple or pear
  • maltodextrin (or dextrin)
  • Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Maltose, or Sucrose

Salt

Most of us consume too much salt in our diets. Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems. Try to limit sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day, the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt.
  • Avoid processed or pre-packaged foods. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen dinners contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.
  • Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food meals are loaded with sodium.
  • Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables.
  • Cut back on salty snacks such as potato chips, nuts, and pretzels.
  • Choose low-salt or reduced-sodium products.
  • Try slowly reducing the salt in your diet to give your taste buds time to adjust.

Bean Salad al la Somer


Believe it or not even a chef struggles with what to make for an easy and portable lunch.  Since I spend most of my days on the go- a simple protein packed lunch is a must.  One of my go to salads is inspired by The Hopkins Eatery's Black Bean and Chicken Salad.  Love that combination of creamy feta, kidney beans and balsamic vinegar- YUM.  This salad holds up well in the fridg for a few days which makes it even better.

Marinated Bean Salad

Ingredients:

1 can or 1 1/2 cups kidney beans (or black beans, navy beans, pinto, etc.)  rinse and drain
10 oz or 1 1/4 cup edamame, defrosted
1 cup green beans (fresh or frozen), defrost if frozen
1/4 cup good quality feta cheese or your favorite stinky cheese
1/4 cup marinated red onions
1/4 cup tomatoes - chopped (optional)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove minced
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste 

Method:

In a large bowl, combine mustard, vinegar then slowly whisk in olive oil, add seasonings/garlic and whisk to combine.   Toss in beans through tomatoes and combine thoroughly.  Refrigerate one hour before serving.  











Light Berry Crisp



If you have been following this blog for a while then you know that I don't enjoy baking.  However, my chef friend Julie Dell Townsend has been posting some delicious looking desserts and actually inspiring me to try my hand at a few.  Of course, I stick to simple desserts that aren't overly complex.  It is my policy that desserts shouldn't take longer to prepare than the actual meal.  


I found a great recipe for a berry crisp and made a few modifications to use up some items I already had in my pantry and freezer.  Feel free to use whatever frozen berries your family enjoys.  I had a few bags of frozen blueberries from this summers Farmers Market.


Light and Delicious Berry Crisp
Ingredients
6 cups frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)
1/2 cup sugar 
1/4 cup flour 
2 cups granola

1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons melted butter 
Vanilla yogurt or ice cream (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, gently toss together berries, sugar and flour then transfer to an ungreased (8-inch) baking dish; set aside. 

In a medium bowl, toss together granola, vanilla and butter then scatter over berries in dish. Bake until top is golden brown and berries and their juices are bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool then spoon into dishes and serve with yogurt or ice cream on top. 
I don't think this dessert could be any simpler!!  I like to warm a small serving in the microwave for 30-45 seconds and then top with vanilla yogurt.

Pretzel Day

Recently, I've had the privilege of spending time with some sweet kids that have really taught me to enjoy the little things in life.  The excitement and joy of learning new simple tasks like folding clothes, building towers with blocks or even cooking in the kitchen.  A few weeks ago my little buddy A was telling me about his school setting up Italy and Germany day this year.   In November,  they had Italy day where they made pizza, had pretend gondola rides, and even met the Pope.  What a fun idea to introduce new cultures and traditions to preschool age children.    Back to Germany day, when I asked A what he did all he could really remember was that they ate potato pancakes, apple sauce and pretzels.  Then without skipping a beat he said, "Khala (auntie) do you know how to make pretzels?"  Of course, I said would you like to make pretzels one day?   Shurre that would be good, he said.  


That is exactly what we did a few days ago.   I planned a pretzel making day with A, M and L.   On the day of our cooking lesson we printed out our recipe, gathered all the ingredients, measuring cups, spoons, bowls, and then finally we got the oven pre-heated.  I have to admit, I was more excited than they were - first, I love being in the kitchen, secondly, some of my favorite memories with my mom and grandmother were spend in the kitchen.  Cooking is a great way to develop coordination and dexterity skills.   Filling cups with flour, baking soda, honey, rolling out dough, and brushing butter on pretzels.   We used a non-yeast based recipe for simplicity.







We made two types of pretzels: Cinnamon Sugar and Parmesan.  Can you guess their favorite?

I hope you will take time to try this recipe with your kids, grandkids or students.  If you have questions on how to set up a cooking lesson would like to schedule a class for your little ones please give me a call at 678-744-9001 or email somer@stovetopsolutions.com 

Easy Pretzel Recipe

Ingredients:
  
         1/3 cup baking soda
         5 cups water
          
         1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups if you don't have wheat flour
         1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, or oat flour
         1 teaspoon baking soda
         1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice)
         1/4 cup honey
         1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
         1/4 cup cinnamon sugar
         1/4 cup melted butter

**Allow the children to measure out each of the ingredients.

Method

In a non-aluminum stock pot, dissolve 1/3 cup baking soda in 5 cups water.


Bring water to a boil, and then remove from heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and baking soda. Stir in buttermilk and honey until dough pulls together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead briefly to form a firm dough.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a cylinder approximately 12 inches long (hand each kid a piece of the dough and allow them to roll them out into cylinders). Then once all pieces are rolled out, allow kids to form into classic pretzel shape. Pinch ends to seal. Dip pretzels in baking soda solution and then place on lightly greased cookie sheets.

Brush pretzels with butter, sprinkle pretzels sugar or parmesan cheese, and then bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

I served the cheese pretzels with marinara sauce for lunch and then cinnamon sugar pretzels for dessert.