Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maximizing money spent on organic foods

When I was a junior at Berry College, I had a friend tell me she was switching to "all organic" foods. If I'm honest with myself, I definitely scoffed and thought "how pretentious!" (Sorry if you read this ME!). But over the past few years, as I've learned about the U.S. agricultural system and generally how food is produced and shipped globally, I've become more and more interested in not only eating organically grown produce and organically raised animal products, but I'm also beginning to commit to eating locally produced items as well. I must admit that this is slightly easier to do in Upstate New York where we are surrounded with wonderful farms, and in addition to having a twice weekly Farmer's Market available year-round, we also have two grocery stores which have a wide selection of organic and locally produce products. A commitment to this type of eating is not as easy in other places of the country-- like Alabama and Georgia (sorry to the people I know there!).

So why is this so important? Recently, many food scientists have come out saying that even small doses of pesticides and chemicals used on mass market farms can/could cause lasting damage to human health, particularly during fetal development and early childhood. As Scott and I begin thinking and planning about a pregnancy in the not-so-distant future, I've started thinking even more about what type of foods I'm putting into my body. Washing and peeling vegetables and fruits will, of course, help cut down on the pesticides, but there are still penetrating pesticides AND most of the nutrients in many fruits and vegetables are found in the skin.

But it's SO EXPENSIVE!! This is SO true. While some prices are coming down, and aren't too much expensive (just 50 cents more for 2 lbs of organic carrots compared to the un-organic carrots), when you combine all the produce a couple or family consumes on a balanced diet, it will really add up. And this isn't even including the prices of organic meat. We haven't quite gotten to the point where we can afford organic meat and eggs, but we're working on it. The Environmental Working Group (found at has put together a "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides." This ranks the "dirty dozen" or the top 12 fruits and vegetables to always buy organic, and then the "Clean 15," which are 15 fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides. Now, as you plan your meals and snacks for the week, you can know where you money is best spent on organic produce.

The Dirty Dozen (buy these organic) in order of highest concentrations on pesticides:
1. peach
2. apple
3. bell pepper
4. celery
5. nectarine
6. strawberries
7. cherries
8. kale
9. lettuce
10. grapes (imported)
11. carrot
12. pear

the Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides):
1. onion
2. avocado
3. sweet corn
4. pineapple
5. mango
6. asparagus
7. sweet peas
8. kiwi
9. cabbage
10. eggplant
11. papaya
12. watermelon
13. broccoli
14. tomato
15. sweet potato

Notice that the dirty dozen items all have thin skins and traditionally are known to have bug and worm problems! Majority of the Clean 15 are much heartier plants.

Of course, we could all avoid this debate and cost if we just grew our own food in our backyard. As soon as I get a backyard... I'm already planning my garden!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Organic Carrot Soup

** just so you know, I apparently typed this all up on April 15 and then somehow didn't hit the "publish" button. My bad, yo. Enjoy!!**

As a few of you know, Scott and I hosted our first holiday dinner last weekend! We travel so much over Christmas and Thanksgiving, that we've decided to make Easter Dinner at our house an annual event. Last Sunday was the first ever! Our menu was: glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, minted peas, corn muffins, and this delicious carrot soup. The original recipe from Martha Stewart included garlic and parsnips, but I left those out because I wanted to really taste carrot! And I forgot parsnips at the store. They weren't very important, anyway. The parsnips were just chopped, sauteed and placed in the bottom of the bowl. I didn't have time to plate up everyone, so we had a buffet style, and this soup worked just great without parsnips and carrots in the bottom of the bowl!

This soup is delicious at room temperature for a refreshing spring vegetable. I suggest anyone make it with a lean ham or turkey. Just pick your favorite green vegetable and you're ready to go!

A side note about organic cooking. I've been doing a lot of reading about how to maximize money spent on organic foods, and which foods are worth spending money on organic versions because of the amount of pesticides and other contaminants used in mass production. Carrots were on the top 10 list of produce to always buy organically. I will post the entire list with more information later. I just wanted to inform people why I used organic soup. If eating organically is not something you are interested in, regular carrots will do fine.

Organic Carrot Soup
  • 3 Tbsp butter or butter substitute (olive oil, butter spread, etc)
  • 2 lbs organic carrots, cut in 1/2 inch thick slices on the diagonal
  • 1/4 c. diced onion
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, or 1/4 tsp dry ground ginger
  • pinch of sugar/Splenda
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth (can use vegetable broth if you want to go vegetarian)
  • 3/4 cups milk
1. melt butter (or substitute) in a medium saucepan. Add carrots, onion, ginger, sugar, 2 tsp salt and pepper. Stir. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until carrots are tender, 10-15 minutes. If you forget about them and, say, start wandering around your apartment picking up things before people come over for Easter dinner, and they cook for about 20 minutes, it's ok.
2. Add broth and milk. season with salt and pepper.
3. Blend until most of the carrots are smooth. Leave some chunks for texture. I used an immersion blender, and it was awesome. But if you don't have one, CAREFULLY pour soup in batches into a food processor or blender.

Carb Options
This soup would be delicious with some corn muffins on the side. Jiffy corn mix is completely delicious, and there is no reason to spent all the time and money making them from scratch!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala

I've just returned from a 5 day trip to New York City! What a place to be. There's an unmatchable energy there, and you can't help but lose a few pounds walking around just taking in the sights, sounds and people who are there.

One of the greatest things, in my opinion, about the City is the food! Any thing at all you can imagine can be delivered right to your door almost any hour of the day. There's delivery sushi, ice cream, bar-b-que, and the topic of the night-- Indian food. As most of you have (hopefully) learned while being on a diet, cutting out carbs and fat does NOT mean cutting out flavor! Some of the greatest spices in the world have no calories at all, but create such a flavor in food, I can't imagine not using them. Tikka Masala is one of my most favorite Indian dishes. In restaurants, it will be made with heavy cream and lots of butter; however, here is a lightened version for anyone who wants to close their eyes and imagine being in New York City or Mumbai.

Of course, most people would eat this on top of rice and with a thick peice of white flour naan bread. I actually REALLY enjoy my tikka on a bed of fresh baby spinach! It gives a crisp texture to your bite that rice can't fulfill. Unfortunately, we're all out of luck for the naan right now! There's just nothing that can replace it!

Chicken Tikka Masala
  • 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cayenne (or less, according to taste)
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced (or grated) fresh ginger
  • few pinches of salt, to taste
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • salt, to taste (about 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 8oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup lite cream or 1% or 2% milk (I don't recommend skim because it would take a long time to thicken up)
1. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and few pinches of salt. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but can do overnight or while at work.

2. Cook chicken until done. This can be done on a grill after skewering meat on a bamboo skewer OR by sauteing in a large skillet. I usually saute after draining most of the marinade off the chicken bits. No need to rinse chicken before cooking

3. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute. Season with 2 teaspoons cumin, paprika, and 3 teaspoons salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream or milk. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes (more if using milk), stirring occassionally and making sure to scrape the bottom of the skillet. Add cooked chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.

Carb options

As mentioned before, most Indian food is served with rice and naan. Plus, if you can find real Indian chutney, and can handle the high sugar content, it is a delicious appetizer with naan or papadam.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole is a staple in Southern cooking. Not only is it creamy and delicious, but it just makes you dream of a time when life was much simpler and easy. The traditional version of this casserole is VERY un-good for you. With full fat mayo, creamy mushroom soup, loads of cheese and breadcrumbs and butter on top you can feel the hips getting larger with every bite (not that it doesn't feel worth it sometimes!) I have developed this version recently by blending together elements from many different recipes, including the one my mom has always used to make her Chicken Divine. I use the 98% fat free version of the cream of mushroom soup, because it is easier. However, because of this, I must include a disclaimer that this dish isn't PERFECTLY on Dr. Malone's diet. The soup has 10 grams of carbs, which comes from flour used as a thickening agent in the soup. There IS an alternative to using the soup. Instead of the soup, use a can of evaporated milk and a thickening agent of your choice (there are a variety of non-wheat flours available to those on Stage 3 of the diet, plus anything you have found that works for you. If you have a good non-flour, non-starch thickening agent, PLEASE SHARE!). You will need to thicken this up in a saucepan before adding it to the rest of the sauce ingredients.

This recipe also makes a big change in the cheese typically used in the chicken and broccoli casserole. Usually, there is full fat cheddar all through and on top of the casserole. I have replaced the cheddar within the white sauce with low-fat Parmesan cheese, and have retained a little orangey cheddar for the top to make it still seem like home.

As far as what to serve with this delicious casserole, a good green salad full of spinach and dark greens is perfect!

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 12oz package of broccoli florets (you can buy the cheaper broccoli crowns and chop yourself)
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup fat free mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1 10.75oz can of 98% fat free, low sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup low fat cheddar cheese, grated
1. Preheat oven to 400°
2. Bring water to boil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium high heat. Add broccoli. Cook 5 minutes, or until crisp tender. Transfer broccoli to colander with a slotted spoon. Leave water in the pot. Return water to a boil. Add bite sized chicken pieces to water. Cook until done, about 6 minutes. Remove chicken into same colander with broccoli with slotted spoon.
3. In another bowl, mix mayo, sour cream, mushroom soup,1/2 cup of Parmesan, salt, pepper and curry (if using) and lemon juice (if using).
4. Add broccoli and chicken to the mayo mixture, stirring until well coated.
5. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheddar.
6. Bake at 400° degrees until casserole bubbles around the edges and cheese begins to brown, about 45 minutes.

Carb options
Many people like to serve this over rice, or if you're in the Gilliland family, over a baked potato. Delicious.

Scotty and I are headed to Manhattan to celebrate his birthday and do a few other things. I won't be back until Tuesday. Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully I'll come back with some delicious new recipe ideas!!