Thursday, February 21, 2013

Healthy Kitchen Makeover Top 10 Ingredients

Linguini With Kale and Mushrooms
Cooking, it's an art, craft, and a necessity, but unlike painting and ceramics, the more you engage in this hobby, the more chance you have of packing on the pounds and overindulging on samples. This year, I vowed to cut down on eating out and animal products and to add more vegetables and fiber to my diet. Today, I am going to talk about my top 10 favorite ingredients that I have been stocking my kitchen with. Realistically, I could probably list an entire grocery cart full of my favorites, but I decided to whittle it down to ten that are indispensable.

1) Kale

A friend of mine once said, "This is what spinach always wanted to be". More true words were never spoken. Kale is a leafy green good for adding to soups, casseroles, pasta, rice dishes, salads, and even green smoothies. It can be eaten cooked or raw and retains a firm texture with little bitterness. Kale is full of fiber and it is also inexpensive.

2) Quinoa

This South American grain was a staple of the Incas and can be used in place of rice in soups and as a side dish. It is bland in flavor, but readily absorbs seasoning. Quinoa has more fiber and protein than rice, too. My favorite dish I have been making with this grain is quinoa and poblano pepper soup with corn- high in fiber and low in calories!

3) Coconut Oil

A plant oil that is solid at room temperature, coconut oil is a great vegan replacement for butter. It makes flaky pastries and can be used in all your baked goods, as well as for sauteed foods. Like butter, it also has saturated fat and as many calories as other oils. You might be hearing plenty of hype about this being a miracle food, but you want to use it sparingly if you are watching your calories. It does not taste like coconut and imparts a mild, nutty flavor to your dishes. Look for the Lou Anna brand in a 32 oz plastic tub in the baking isle.

4) Crushed Red Pepper Sauce

This kitchen staple of mine is handmade and canned in mason jars at the International Grocery in Murfreesboro, TN. Last month, I blogged about their awesome Pad Thai. The owner, a master of spicy cooking, infused the hot peppers in oil for her special homemade sauce. It is 7.00 dollars for a huge mason jar and you only need a little big to pack a huge punch. I find that when I add red pepper sauce to my food, I slow down and eat less and drink more water. It also makes my food more enjoyable and exciting. Try mixing a little with lite ranch and hummus for amazing dips and spreads or toss in with vegetables.

5) Plain Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a new and popular addition to the grocery store. It is the same as regular yogurt, but with a thicker, more viscous consistency and more protein. The plain type can be used in place of sour cream to top chili and baked potatoes or as a base for ranch dressing and cucumber sauce. I puree the plain yogurt with cucumber slices, sea salt, and garlic in the blender for a tasty topping for pita sandwiches.

6) Sweet Potatoes/Yams

I admit that I hadn't really experimented much with yams outside the traditional Thanksgiving dish; however, once they showed up at my local grocery store this winter for 39 cents a pound, I bought a bundle to take home and play with. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A and potassium and they impart a sweet, savory flavor to your dishes. I am using them in vegetarian chili, curry vegetable stews, and I even made a mashed sweet potato and apricot smoothie in my blender.

7) No Sugar Applesauce

I stock up on this staple to use in baked goods and as a low calorie snack. It is a great filler for smoothies and can also be used to make thick and savory sauces. My husband, Tim, worked at a supper club and used to make an applesauce and maple syrup dipping sauce for pork tenderloins. I like to simmer my applesauce with a pinch of red pepper and lemon juice for a low sugar sweet and sour sauce. At only 50 calories a serving and plenty of pectin, a fruit fiber, applesauce is a great choice for breakfast or a low cal snack.

8) Egg Beaters

I chose to switch to pasteurized egg substitutes because my eggs were always going bad and I wasn't consuming them before they got too old. Egg beaters have a 2-3 month shelf life and they are also treated so that you can use them in recipes that you can eat raw. This rates as one of my top 10 products because eggs are necessary as a binder in many dishes, like meatloaf, and integral to the texture and rising of many baked goods. I use my egg beaters to coat vegetables before I bread them and to make a type of cornbread pancake from scratch. Zucchini slices dipped in egg beaters, coated with Cajun breading, and fried in a lightly oiled pan are delicious.

9) Cabbage

This traditional vegetable has a potent amount of vitamin c and fiber. It is versatile in soups, stir fry dishes, and shredded in salads. My favorite thing about cabbage is that it is cheap and lasts forever. I can always get a huge cabbage for less than a dollar. I love to add shredded cabbage to ramen noodles and Asian dishes and mix it with my more expensive salad greens to stretch them further. If you are trying to eat healthier, price is often an obstacle, but cabbage is the queen of economy.

10) Vitamin C Powder

Available in the supplement section, this is the "chef's secret" to add zip and zest to your cooking. Use it wherever you would use lemon juice. I find it gives more depth to my berry smoothies and fresh fruit salads. It is also good to sprinkle in sugar free beverages and teas for a little excitement. If you are really feeling adventurous, you can use it to add a sour component to savory dishes. I add this to noodle soup with green onions for my version of "Tom Yum Soup".

Honorable Mentions:

Liquid sugar substitute:
 I use sucralose, liquid Splenda, but if you prefer something more natural, you can get liquid stevia, monk fruit, or agave sweeteners. I use this in coffee, tea, flavored beverages and more.

A Well Stocked Spice Rack:
I am trying to be more adventurous with spices to liven up my cooking, and there are many I haven't tried. To shake things up, I like to browse ethnic groceries for new spices. My essentials are garlic, cayenne, Italian seasoning, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, curry, lemongrass, black pepper, sage, turmeric, cumin, celery, and minced onion, and, of course, sea salt.

1 comment:

  1. I love your cooking! Kale has become of favorite of mine too. You'll be writing a cooking column soon!