Monthly Archives: November, 2015

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Raisins

Raisins are occasionally written off as “junk food” that’s high in sugar and low in nutritional value.  However, these tiny dried grapes are anything but – they’re a good source of fiber and potassium and contain iron, most B vitamins, and several antioxidant vitamins and minerals.  Most commercially-available raisins are unsweetened, meaning all of the sugar they contain is naturally-occurring.  However, like all dried fruit, this sugar is super-concentrated, so it’s best to limit yourself to a quarter-cup serving at a time.  Raisins are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth and sneak in a serving of fruit; they’re an especially good snack for endurance athletes, as studies show that raisins are just as effective in providing a quick burst of energy as energy gels and chews.  Who wouldn’t want a natural (and inexpensive!) way to stay energized during a long run or bike ride?  Whether you choose to consume raisins as an energy supply, a snack, or an add-in to your favorite sweet or savory dish, consider them a healthy addition to your diet.

Chilaquiles with Raisins and Chicken Chorizo

6 dried New Mexican red chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
Water, as needed
1 cup raisins, ground into a paste with a food processor
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons corn oil, divided
3 fresh ripe Roma tomatoes, roasted and seeded
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound ground chicken
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
1 envelope Sazon Goya
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup raisins
1 cup cooked low-sodium pinto beans
12, 6-inch corn tortillas
Pepper, to taste


  1. Arrange chiles in large bowl and add hot water to cover; let stand 15 minutes or until softened. Turn chiles into blender along with 1 cup of the liquid; add raisin paste and purée until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in large, heavy skillet. Add chicken, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and seasonings; sauté over low heat until chicken is cooked, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the puréed chile sauce, chicken broth, raisins and beans; simmer 10 minutes or until heated through.
  4. 4.  Meanwhile, brush tortillas with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and cut into strips. Spread in single layer on baking sheet and bake at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes or just until chewy and almost crisp. Then, season chicken mixture to taste with pepper and stir in tortilla chips or divide and spoon sauce over tortilla chips for individual servings; garnish with low-fat shredded cheese, green onions, and cilantro.

Recipe adapted from the California Raisin Marketing Board


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Acorn Squash

Acorn squash, like its more famous cousin, butternut squash, is in season this time of year and worth giving a try.  It’s an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, and a good source of Vitamin A and several B vitamins.  Acorn squash can be prepared similarly to other winter squashes; here, it’s roasted alongside several other seasonal ingredients for a flavorful side dish.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Pumpkin Seeds and Pomegranate

3 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), raw or roasted
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
⅓ cup pomegranate seeds (arils; from ½ pomegranate)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rub the cut sides of the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then with the honey. Place the squash halves cut side up in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cinnamon; roast for 1 hour, until tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and thyme; cook, stirring, until the seeds are aromatic and toasted. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  4. Once the squash is done and cool enough to touch, transfer the liquid that accumulated in each half to a medium bowl.
  5. Cut each roasted squash half into 4 slices, and arrange them on a platter.
  6. Whisk the pomegranate molasses into the reserved juices in the bowl to form a dressing; drizzle it over the squash wedges. Sprinkle with the herbed pumpkin seeds and the pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 8.

Recipe from the Washington Post

Maintain – Don’t Gain – This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving’s a week away, which marks the start of what I like to call “holiday eating season.”  If you’re like me, your days, nights, and weekends during the next six weeks will be filled with festivities that center around food.  While there are plenty of ways to take the focus off of food this holiday season, we all know that sometimes food-centric events are inevitable.  However, these events don’t have to mean the end of your healthy eating habits – nor should they be the beginning of a self-imposed regimen of deprivation.

A healthy way to look at all of the parties at work, home, or friends’ houses is as an opportunity to enjoy the season while challenging yourself to maintain your current weight.  This means you have room for regular indulgences, as long as you also incorporate time for regular exercise and balance out those indulgences with healthier options.  When you embrace the holiday season for all that it is – a time for socialization, good will, happiness, and all sorts of other positive emotions – you’re less likely to get hung up on the occasional “cheat day” and more likely to stick with healthy eating and activity patterns the rest of the time.

So how can you apply the concept of “maintain – don’t gain” during the next six weeks?  Here are some easy ways to enjoy the season without doing too much damage to all the healthy habits you follow the rest of the year:

  • Play favorites. When you first enter a party, scope out all of the food options available before filling your plate.  Once you have an idea of which foods you’d most like to eat, put them on your plate first, making sure to take large helpings of healthy options and smaller servings of less-healthy items.  Filling your plate with foods you know you’re going to enjoy helps prevent you from consuming excess calories from foods you threw on your plate “just because” that you feel you have to eat.
  • Health-ify it. Not-so-nutritious meals can be made healthier by adding healthy options alongside them.  Aim to include at least one (non-deep-fried) vegetable or fruit to every meal and snack.  Is pizza on the menu at your office party?  Make sure to accessorize your slices with a heaping helping of salad.  Tempted by your Grandmother’s famous pecan pie?  Have a small slice alongside a bowl of fresh fruit.  Not only will you get the beneficial vitamins and minerals your produce contains, you’ll also be adding a low-calorie, filling option to your plate, which will help prevent overindulging in higher-calorie foods.
  • Work it out. Use gatherings as an excuse to recruit other health-minded individuals to burn off those extra calories with you.  Go for a family walk before or after your meal or organize a friendly game of touch football.  If you’re having fun being active as part of a group, your calorie-burning activities won’t feel like a chore.  If group activity isn’t always an option, strike out on your own and incorporate brief walks whenever you can.  Take a lap around the office every few hours, get up and talk to your coworkers instead of calling or emailing them, or walk to errands close by instead of driving.  Little bouts of activity add up to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Try the pie.  Let’s face it – most of us look forward to indulging in dessert at the end of a holiday meal.  If you want a slice of pie, or a cookie, or whatever else on the dessert table tickles your fancy, go for it.  Depriving yourself of a sought-after treat will only make you lose the willpower to make other healthy choices the rest of the day.  Remember, however, that you don’t need to eat the whole pie or plate of cookies:  It only takes three bites of any particular to feel satisfied, so stick to small portions of your favorite treats.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Honey

Honey has been popular for thousands of years, renowned for both its taste and medicinal properties.  Even when used in small amounts, honey contains antioxidants and several vitamins and minerals, including iron.  It can also be a good substitute for sugar, due to the fact that it has a lower glycemic index, meaning honey will keep blood sugar levels stable longer than table sugar will.  While it’s clear that honey is useful as a sweetener, the jury is still out as to how effective it is as a medicine.  Research shows that honey has antibacterial properties, aids in wound healing, helps relieve allergies, and can ease symptoms of the common cold, although no definitive studies on any of these claims exist yet.  If you’re looking for a way to add some sweetness to your coffee, meals, or snacks without experiencing the blood sugar spike you would with sugar, then honey is a great choice.  Just make sure to limit your intake to about a tablespoon at a time, and never give honey to children younger than one, as their immature digestive tracts are more susceptible to developing botulism from bacteria that may naturally find its way into the honey (honey is, however, perfectly safe for healthy adults to consume).

Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks with Honey-Pomegranate Glaze

2-3 pounds lamb shanks, cut into roughly 1-pound pieces
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup carrots, chopped
½ cup onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, bruised
½ cup canned low-sodium diced tomatoes, with juice
½ cup white or red wine vinegar
¼ cup honey, plus 2 tablespoons for glaze
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses


  1. With the tip of a sharp knife, make deep slits in the meaty parts of the lamb shanks. Rub the surfaces with paprika and pepper.
  2. Spray the slow cooker insert with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the carrot, onion and celery in the slow cooker. Place the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables.
  3. In a small bowl, stir the garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, honey, and 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses until blended. Pour over the lamb shanks.
  4. Cover and cook on low 5 hours or until the meat is coming away from the bone. Transfer the shanks to a side dish. Strain the juices through a strainer set over a heat-proof bowl or into a fat separator with a strainer insert. Reserve the broth and vegetables separately.
  5. Return the shanks to the slow cooker. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and remaining pomegranate molasses until blended and brush over the lamb shanks. Adjust heat to high. Cook, covered, 30 minutes. Turn the shanks and cook 30 minutes longer.
  6. Meanwhile, place the reserved vegetables in a blender. Skim the fat from the strained broth. Add the broth to the vegetables. Cool. Puree the vegetables and broth and transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently until sauce is reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the lamb shanks from the slow cooker to a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out juices in the cooker and add to the reduced sauce. Spoon the sauce over the shanks.

Recipe adapted from the National Honey Board