Friday, January 25, 2008

Glorious Crowns: Broccoli

I've never had qualms with broccoli; as a child, it was one of my favorites and a relief in the face of mystery vegetables like turnips and collard greens. Not only does its mild flavor go with everything from pasta to Thanksgiving dinner, but it has recently been shown to fight heart disease:

Researchers "gave broccoli extract to lab rats for one month and measured its effects on the rats' heart muscle. Compared to a control group that ate a regular diet, the broccoli-fed animals had improved heart function and less heart muscle damage when deprived of oxygen. Broccoli's heart-healthy effects are likely due to its high concentrations of certain substances that seem to boost levels of a heart-protective protein called thioredoxin, the researchers note." (Science Daily, Jan. 24 2008)

For a half cup serving of steamed broccoli, you're only doing in 27 calories for 3g, or 10% DV of fiber. It's also a significant source of vitamin A (24%), vitamin C (84%), and iron (3%). However, many people want more flavor in their food than plain steamed broccoli can provide, so here's a quick and easy way to integrate it into an old favorite; this is one of my staple weight loss foods in the summer, when squash is in season.

Baked Veggie Penne (serves 6)

8 oz package penne pasta, whole grain
3 small yellow squashes, cubed
1 cubed zuchinni
2c chopped raw broccoli
16 oz. jar marinara sauce
pinch of chili powder
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 tsp oregano
a pinch of basil & thyme
1c grated hard cheese (fontina, asiago, manchego, parmesan, romano, etc

1. put water on to boil in a large pot.
2. preheat oven to 4oo F.
3. once water begins to boil, add pasta and squash, broccoli, and zuchinni.
4. allow to cook until pasta and veggies are both tender, around 6-8 minutes.
5. in a separate saucepan, combine marinara, chili powder, garlic, and herbs over medium heat, reduce to low when the sauce simmers.
6. strain pasta and veggies, transfer to a medium-large sized baking pan. follow with marinara, top with grated cheese. bake for 10 minutes, or until slightly brown and bubbling.
7. allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, serve hot.

Nutrition Info:
16g protein, 8.6g fat, 55g carbs, 10g fiber, 356 calories overall.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Spinach Artichoke Dip Rediscovered

As of late, my taste for spinach has been showing itself. Aside from being delicious and bright green, this little leafy vegetable packs a real protein punch. Per 1c serving, it brings 5g of fiber (18% DV), 6g of protein, and a whopping 366% DV of Vitamin A. There's also 14% DV of Vitamin C, 20% DV of calcium, and 16% DV of iron to be reckoned with. Talk about a power vegetable!

Dr. Praeger's Spinach Pancakes got my mind going in this direction. If you can make pancakes out of it, what else can you do? I decided to start with a favorite -- Spinach Artichoke Dip. In restaurants, this dish is served literally brimming with fat; it's not unusual to see oil surrounding the sides of the serving dish. A 2 oz. serving of Don Pablo's Spinach Dip generously gives 14% DV of fat, and a mind-boggling 25% saturated fat.

One night that I was between getting prepackaged TGI Friday's spinach dip and ordering some from a restaurant, an epiphany hit me: I could either purchase the frozen stuff, brimming with preservatives and chemicals, pick it up from a restaurant soaked in grease, or avoid both pitfalls by making it myself. I Googled a few recipes to get the idea, and wound up creating my own significantly lighter version. Enjoy!

Spinach Artichoke Dip (serves 6)

1 package frozen chopped spinach
8 oz neufchatel cheese or fat-free cream cheese
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts (canned works as well, marinated is just better)
1/3-1/2 c grated Asiago
2 tbsp fat free sour cream
salt to taste

1. boil a saucepan of water; add block of spinach and garlic.
2. while spinach thaws and boils, drain artichoke hearts and chop into smaller pieces.
3. strain spinach and garlic, add neufchatel and artichokes. stir over medium heat until cheese starts to soften.
4. add remaining ingredients; let the dip heat to a bubble while stirring.
5. serve hot, garnish with a lemon wedge.

Nutritional Info per Serving:
8g protein, 9.6g fat, 2g fiber, 3.3g carbs, 136 calories overall.

Traditional Spinach Dip:
17g fat, 3g fiber, 12g carbs, 282 calories overall.