Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Whole grain

Whole Wheat Pasta

Transitioning to a healthier lifestyle can be hard, especially when it comes to food. You have to look out for bad fats, funky chemicals added for ‘flavor’, like THBQ, and harmful hormones and antibiotics sneaking their way into our food supply. With misleading food labels like “all natural,” “made with whole grains,” “0g Trans fats” and “rich in fiber” — just to name a few — it’s no wonder people struggle to find a healthier diet.

So, you love pasta!. You’d never make it on a low-carb diet, but there are certainly other ways to lighten and make your meals more healthy. Believe it or not, given the right ingredients, pasta can be healthy, too. It’s all about limiting the fattening and high sodium sauces in favor of healthier alternatives.

Pasta won’t make you fat, eating too many calories will. And since one 2 oz serving weighs in at only 210 calories, you can enjoy a pasta dinner without worrying about your waistline.

To keep it healthy, you’ll need to keep it whole wheat or whole grain. When you choose whole-wheat pasta instead of regular to make the pasta recipes below, you’ll get more than twice as much fiber per serving. Almost every major brand of pasta at the supermarket offers a whole-wheat or whole-grain option. Plus, whole-wheat and whole-grain pasta have a nutty flavor and a pleasant chewy texture that I have grown to prefer over white flour pasta. Whole grains also tend to have a lower glycemic index, which means they don’t spike insulin levels. Also, the longer you cook pasta, the higher the glycemic index, so only cook pasta to the al dente stage.

Whole-grain pastas-from whole wheat to spelt-are increasingly easy to find on grocery shelves and in restaurants. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 48 more new whole-grain pastas are now on store shelves since 2005. And because many product labels boast “wheat” or “grain” content, it’s helpful that the Whole Grains Council in Boston, Massachusetts, has introduced a food packaging stamp, easing buyers’ confusion about which foods have whole grains. The stamp indicates whether the product is a Good Source (which offers a half-serving of whole grain per portion), an Excellent Source (a full serving of whole grain), or 100% Whole Grain/Excellent Source (a full serving with no refined grains). Still, the stamp system is voluntary, so as an alternative, look for whole grain to be first on the product’s ingredient list.

Whole grain pasta is recommended for diabetics and those who are at risk for heart disease. Brown rice pasta is recommended for people with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Quinoa corn pasta is also good for people suffering from celiac disease and those who have wheat allergies, heart disease or diabetes, since it is higher in minerals, B vitamins and easier to digest. Doctors say people with wheat allergies, heart disease or diabetes could also benefit from eating buckwheat pasta since it contains no wheat or gluten. In tests results reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, buckwheat groats products significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin responses.

Next, look at what type of sauce you typically put on your pasta. This is usually what makes a normal pasta dish totally unhealthy, especially if you use sauces that are loaded with fat and calories. Stick to sauces that are low in sodium and sugar.

After you decide on the the type of pasta and sauce, take a look at what protein you put into your pasta dish. If you’re adding pork sausage and ground beef with a high fat content, you’re adding hundreds of calories to your dish. Try lean chicken breast or lean ground turkey. If you really miss the beef flavor, add a small amount of beef with a low percentage of fat to your sauce.

Add some healthy veggies to your dish and some fresh herbs to give it the kick you miss from the lowered salt content. Some fresh basil is always great, but choose what you like and sprinkle a bit on top.

Seafood and pasta are a great match and healthy seafood pasta recipes offer plenty of choices.

201112-r-pappardelle-with-clams

Fettuccine with Clams, Turmeric and Hot Pepper

Servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups packed whole basil leaves plus 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup bottled clam juice
  • 4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 pound whole wheat fettuccine
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Loosely wrap the garlic cloves in foil and bake for about 25 minutes, until very soft. Peel the garlic.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the roasted garlic, turmeric and crushed red pepper; cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the basil leaves, black pepper, wine and clam juice, cover and cook over low heat until the liquid has reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain the reduction into a large pot, pressing on the solids.

Bring the strained liquid to a boil. Add the clams, cover and cook, shaking the pot a few times, until they start to open, 3 minutes; as the clams open, transfer them to a bowl and keep covered. When all of the clams have opened, boil the broth over high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime zest and lime juice.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.

Add the pasta to the pot with the reduced clam broth and toss to coat. Add the butter, tossing well over moderate heat, until melted. Transfer the pasta to bowls. Top with the clams and chopped basil. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

Spaghettini with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Chili Crumbs

Servings: 4

 Ingredients:

  • 2-3 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored and scored on the bottoms with an X
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup coarse, dried sourdough bread crumbs (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces whole wheat spaghettini (thin spaghetti)
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded basil
  • 1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved

 Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put the plum tomatoes in a small baking dish and drizzle with the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, just until the skins loosen and the tomatoes are barely softened. Let cool slightly, then peel and chop the tomatoes. Put them back into the baking dish and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and a pinch of crushed red pepper and season with salt. Remove to a separate bowl.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until barely al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. 

In the same skillet used for the breadcrumbs, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Season the shrimp with salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper and cook over high heat, tossing once or twice, until barely cooked, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the basil, roasted plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and pasta along with the reserved pasta cooking water and cook, tossing, until the shrimp are pink throughout and the pasta is coated in a light sauce, about 1 minute. Transfer the pasta to bowls, top with the bread crumbs.

 

Pasta with Fish, Lemon and Capers

Yield: 6 generous portions

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds swordfish steaks or scallops or fish of choice
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thickly
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Zest of one lemon, grated
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, linguine or spaghettini.
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces

 Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Trim and discard the skin and any very dark red meat from the swordfish. Cut the fish into ½” dice. Toss the swordfish with the flour, salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles. Cook half of the coated swordfish pieces until golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes. Remove the browned fish with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, if needed, and the remaining fish.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. In the same pan cook the garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, capers, parsley and lemon zest slowly in the remaining olive oil until the onions are golden and tender, about 5-6 minutes. Pour on the white wine and stir gently to dislodge any of the brown bits remaining in the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by one half.

Add the clam juice, tomato sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes until slightly thickened. Add the swordfish, any accumulated juices and the lemon juice to the sauce and warm through, 2 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, drain and return to the pot. Pour the sauce over the pasta and simmer over low heat stirring constantly until the pasta is well coated, about 2 minutes.

Turn the pasta out onto a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the basil.

Italian Style Pasta with Tuna

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta, shape of choice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 12 sun-dried tomato-halves packed in oil, drained and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 can (15 oz.) rinsed and drained Cannellini beans
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tuna, well drained and broken into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup sliced olives, such as Kalamata and green Cerignola
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Minced flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Reserve a 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion, stirring often, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to small bowl and mix the tomatoes, oregano and pepper flakes to taste. Set aside.

Add remaining oil to skillet and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add beans, tuna, olives and capers and cook until mixture is completely heated through. Mix in the tomato/ onion/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring often, until heated. Add cooked pasta and pasta water and heat through, tossing to mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with parsley.

Seafood Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup flour (Wondra dissolves instantly)
  • 3 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 lb. medium. shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into thirds
  • 3/4 lb. scallops, cut into thirds
  • 1-6 oz. can crabmeat, drained or use ½ pound of fresh crab meat
  • 3 large eggs
  • 15 oz. carton low fat ricotta
  • 12 whole wheat lasagna noodles, pre-cooked according to package directions

Directions:

Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray.

White Sauce:

Place flour in large saucepan. Gradually add milk. Cook, whisking constantly until smooth, about 1 minute. Stir in butter, thyme, salt and pepper; bring to boil. Cook 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups Parmesan and nutmeg. Set aside.

Filling:

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic; saute 4 minutes. Add cream cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Stir in half-and-half; 1/4 cup chopped parsley, shrimp, scallops and crab. (The fish will continue to cook in the oven.) Remove from heat.

In a food processor combine eggs and ricotta. Process until smooth and stir into seafood mixture.

Spoon 1 cup the white sauce into the baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles on top. Spread the noodles with 1/2 of the ricotta seafood mixture.

Repeat layers with 4 noodles, the remaining ricotta seafood mixture and remaining 4 noodles.

Pour remaining white sauce over the top layer of noodles and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

 


Whole Grains

Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and nutrients of the entire seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.  

LIST OF WHOLE GRAINS

The following are examples of generally accepted whole grain foods and flours.

WHOLE WHEAT VS. WHOLE GRAIN

A question that gets asked regularly is, “What is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain?” The answer is in another question: “What is the difference between a carrot and a vegetable?”
We all know that carrots are vegetables but not all vegetables are carrots. It’s similar with whole wheat and whole grain: Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat.
If you’re reading this in Canada, be aware that Canada has a different regulation for whole wheat flour. Canada allows wheat flour to be called “whole wheat” even when up to 5% of the original kernel is missing. So in Canada you’ll hear two terms used:

  • Whole Wheat Flour in Canada — contains at least 95% of the original kernel
  • Whole Grain Whole Wheat Flour in Canada — contains 100% of the original kernel

“Whole grain whole wheat flour” would be redundant in the U.S.A. — whole wheat flour is always whole grain in the United States. 

Source of Essential Nutrients

The charts below list some of the nutrients that whole grains contribute to a healthy diet, and the proportion of the Daily Value for each.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers a food to be a “good source” of a nutrient if a standard-size serving provides 10% of the recommended daily value; an “excellent source” provides 20% or more than the recommended daily value. We’ve noted when some nutrients in whole grains go even farther above these levels.  Note that a blank, white block does not mean that a particular grain contains none of that nutrient. Very often levels fall just short of reaching the “good source” level – but these foods can still make important contributions to your nutrient needs, in combination with other healthy foods. Whole Grains Council May 2004

A SERVING OF 100% WHOLE GRAIN FOODS

If you enjoy foods made entirely with whole grain, you can follow the suggestions in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, where a serving of whole grain is defined as any of the following:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
  • 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

The Whole Grains Council has created an official packaging symbol called the Whole Grain Stamp that helps consumers find real whole grain products. The Stamp started to appear on store shelves in mid-2005 and is becoming more widespread every day.The 100% Stamp assures you that a food contains a full serving or more of whole grain in each labeled serving and that ALL the grain is whole grain.

You can easily add whole grains to your meals, often using favorite recipes you’ve always enjoyed. Try some of the following:

MAKE EASY SUBSTITUTIONS

  • Substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes. Or be bold and add up to 20% of another whole grain flour such as sorghum.
  • Replace one third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
  • Add half a cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
  • Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or homemade soup.
  • Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
  • Add three-quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
  • Stir a handful of rolled oats in your yogurt, for quick crunch with no cooking necessary.

TRY NEW FOODS

  • Make risottos, pilafs and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet, quinoa or farro.
  • Enjoy whole grain salads like tabbouleh.
  • Buy whole grain pasta, or one of the blends that’s part whole-grain, part white.
  • Try whole grain breads. Kids especially like whole grain pita bread.
  • Look for cereals made with grains like kamut, kasha (buckwheat) or spelt.

Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Peppers, Turkey Sausage, and Cheese

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

12 ounces whole wheat or dark spelt* spaghetti (available at some supermarkets and natural food stores)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sweet Italian turkey sausage link, (about 4 to 5 oz.) casing removed
1/2 red onion, sliced
4 bell peppers (one each red, green, orange, and yellow), cored and sliced
1/2 crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons balsamic or red wine vinegar, or to taste
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, finely diced
Black pepper

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. Cook per package instructions until al dente, then drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and saute, crumbling it with a spatula, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.
3. Pour off any fat, then heat the remaining olive oil in the pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the bell peppers and crushed red pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft and beginning to brown, 15 minutes. Stir in the vinegar.
4. Add the drained pasta and reserved cooking water to the pan and toss over medium heat for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and toss the pasta with the cheese. Season with black pepper and serve.

Notes * Spelt is related to wheat, but it’s higher in protein and vitamins. Its deep, nutty flavor gives pasta and breads a rich taste.

3-Grain Salad with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Parmesan

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 cup hulled barley*
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup farro**
1/4 cup bulgur
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 smashed garlic clove
1 cup drained, rinsed cannellini beans
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the barley and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt; boil for 30 minutes. Add the farro; boil for an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until both grains are tender. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, bring 6 tablespoons of water to a boil in a small saucepan; add the bulgur. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 25 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the vinegar, onion, garlic, and remaining salt.
4. Add the grains to the vinegar mixture while still warm; toss well. Remove the garlic and stir in the beans, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil; season with black pepper to taste. Fold in the Parmesan and serve.

Notes:* With its chewy, pasta-like texture, barley is a great addition to soups and stews. It’s loaded with satisfying protein and fiber.
** A hearty grain with plenty of protein, farro is used in soups and salads. It has a distinct nutty taste.

Spicy Salmon with Olives and Lemon Quinoa

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped scallions
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Nonstick cooking spray
1 pound skin-on salmon fillet
1 cup quinoa*, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons pitted, chopped black olives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the scallions and red pepper with the salt and 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil.
2. Spray a small roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray and lay the salmon in it skin side down. Cover the fish with the scallion and red pepper mixture. Roast the salmon in the top third of the oven until it is opaque at the center of the thickest part, about 15-20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa; cover and cook over low heat until the water is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining olive oil and the pine nuts, olives, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Serve the salmon over the quinoa.

Notes * Technically a seed, quinoa is packed with protein and magnesium, a nutrient that lowers blood pressure. Light and fluffy, quinoa is perfect for salads and side dishes.

Tabbouleh with Feta and Shrimp

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup bulgur*
1 packed cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch salt
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
8 ounces medium cleaned, shelled, tail-on shrimp, thawed if frozen
1 large pickling cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup chopped scallion
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Directions:

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the bulgur. Bring the liquid back to a boil and then cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon of the parsley with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, oregano, and mint.
3. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and simmer for 1 1/2 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cool water.
4. Place the bulgur in a serving bowl and toss with the shrimp, cucumber, tomato, scallion, feta, the remaining parsley, and the dressing. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Note:* Bulgur cooks quickly and has a subtle, nutty flavor. Try it in soups, salads, and stuffings or as a substitute for rice.

Creamy Cannellini Bean and Amaranth Soup


Cannellini beans, fresh herbs, and amaranth, a wonderful whole grain thickener,  makes this hearty soup filling enough to be a main dish. For a thick and creamy soup, puree all of the soup rather than leaving half of the beans whole.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons. extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, white parts only, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup amaranth
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup tomato paste
2 cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon. sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, then add the amaranth grains, stock, bay leaf, and tomato paste and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaf from the amaranth mixture, add 1 cup of the beans, and use a handheld immersion blender to puree in the pot until smooth. (Alternatively, puree the beans in a food processor, add the amaranth mixture – working in batches if necessary – and puree again until smooth, then return to the pot.)

4. Stir in the remaining beans, the herbs, and the salt. Warm gently just to heat through. If desired, thin the soup with additional stock. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Robin Asbell’s The New Whole Grains Cookbook, published by Chronicle Books, has more than 75 recipes that take advantage of the abundance of grains now available in both supermarkets and specialty stores.


A common question today is : “What should I eat to be healthy?”

Here are some “tried-and-true” meal planning tips:

  • Entree. Here’s where you can put the dietary guidelines to work for you. Plan on fish twice a week and at least one meatless meal. You’re almost half-way done. For the remaining meals, plan one that’s fast and easy to cook, one big family-type meal and one meal based on leftovers. Remember that a serving of meat is only about the size of a deck of cards. The rest of the plate will be filled with other good things.
  • Vegetables. Begin to fill in vegetables according to the entree. Look for colorful ones and plan some variety throughout the week. Get out of the rut of the too familiar rotation of cooked peas, corn and green beans. How about sugar snap peas, broccoli or beets? Instead of the same old iceberg lettuce, how about spinach, tomato slices or shredded carrots?
  • Whole grains. Think of all the options: brown rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread or rolls, couscous, barley, and kasha You can cook whole grains ahead and use leftovers the next day — especially in soups and salads.
  • Fruit. It’s not just for dessert anymore. Fruit can be a topping, a salad, a sauce, stuffed into chicken, and grilled or broiled on skewers. Think frozen bananas, grapes or berries for those hot nights.
  • Beverage. Water is perfect. Other good choices include low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice and a glass of wine or beer.
The following menus are formed around stuffed chicken breasts because chicken is a good dinner choice due to its versatility and popularity. The menus show you how to build a meal around this delicious entree.  I would, however, encourage you, if at all possible, to buy organic chickenChicken is one of the best places to spend your organic dollars, according to a 2006 “Consumer Reports” study. If you’re resolved to eat a healthier diet, consider the benefits of organic chicken and add it to your shopping list.
Yesterday’s health news is another reason to look for organic chicken in your supermarket. A growing number of medical researchers say more than 8 million women are at risk of difficult-to-treat bladder infections because superbugs – resistant to antibiotics and growing in chickens – are being transmitted to humans in the form of E. coli.  The Food and Drug Administration says 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are fed to livestock and even healthy chicken to protect them from disease in cramped quarters. It also helps the chickens grow bigger and faster. http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/superbug-dangers-chicken-linked-8-million-risk-women-122809803–abc-news-health.html.
While health news recommendations can be confusing from report to report, it is standard industry practice to regularly use antibiotics in livestock production.  It is important for consumers to be aware of what goes into the production of their foods, so they can make wise purchase decisions.
Look for this label to be certain you are purchasing organic chicken:

Menu 1

Two-Cheese Stuffed Chicken

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup diced plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 cup part-skim, shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 4 boneless, skinless medium chicken breast halves (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning 
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Directions:
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a nonstick skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes and garlic. Add spinach, cover, and cook for about 3 minutes until spinach is soft. Remove from heat.
3. Let mixture cool slightly; stir in Mozzarella and Parmesan.
4. Heat oven to 375°F.
5. Beginning in the center of the thicker end of the breast, insert a small knife horizontally, stopping about 1 inch from the opposite end. Open incision to create a wide pocket and pack 1/4 of the filling mixture into each breast.
6. Season chicken with Italian seasoning blend and place in 13″x 9″x 2″ baking dish.
7. Pour broth over chicken. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
8. Keep warm until served.

Brown Rice Pilaf With Hazelnuts                                                                                                                               

4 Servings

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 large mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 3 tablespoons (2 ounces) coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Alternate: Replace the hazelnuts with walnuts, pine nuts, or pecans.

Directions:

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom liquid evaporates, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the rice and nuts and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, thyme, and lemon peel. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender, about 45 minutes. For best results, avoid stirring the rice while it cooks. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Radicchio Salad

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 pounds radicchio, cut in 1-inch shreds
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Put the fruit in a small bowl and pour the vinegar over them. Let soak for 15 minutes. Pour the fruit and vinegar over the shredded radicchio in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with the salt. Toss well to coat the salad with the dressing.

Menu 2

Chicken Breasts With Lemon and Basil Couscous

Stuffed Chicken Breast:

Ingredients:

  • 4  (about 1 1/4 pounds) medium skinless, boneless chicken-breast halves
  • 1/4 cup (about half 4.4-ounce package) light garlic-and-herb spreadable cheese
  • 1/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • 8  whole fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, extra-virgin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Lemon and Basil Couscous:                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, extra-virgin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, coarse

Directions:

  1. Prepare Stuffed Breasts: With tip of knife, cut each chicken breast from a long side, keeping knife parallel to surface of breast, to form a deep pocket with as small an opening as possible.
  2. In small bowl, combine cheese, peppers, and basil. Spread 1/4 cheese mixture in each chicken pocket. Rub outside of chicken with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Prepare Lemon & Basil Couscous: In 2-quart saucepan, add oil, salt, pepper, and 1 1/3 cups water and bring to boiling over high heat; stir in couscous. Cover saucepan; remove from heat and let stand at least 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, place chicken on grill over medium heat and cook 12 to 15 minutes or until juices run clear when thickest part of the breast is pierced with tip of knife, turning over once.
  5. To serve, add basil and lemon juice to couscous, and fluff with fork to mix well. Spoon couscous onto 4 dinner plates and arrange chicken on top.

Cherry Tomato Cucumber Salad


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 cup of chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded 
  • 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped oregano
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or green onions
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Gently toss the tomatoes, cucumber, onions and oregano together. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and drizzle over vegetables.
Serves 4.

Menu 3

Chicken Roll-Ups

   

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 11/4 lb chicken cutlets
  • 4 slices lean ham
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup of Progresso Italian Panko crumbs  

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lay cutlets on plastic wrap, pound until thin. Fold ham and cheese and half and lay over the chicken. You can add basil, rosemary  or any herb of choice.

Start at the narrowest end of cutlet and the roll up. Secure with a toothpick or be sure to lay them seam side down once breaded.

Dip pastry brush in extra virgin olive oil and brush on chicken rolls. Quickly put the entire chicken roll into bowl of Panko crumbs and use your hand or a spoon to press crumbs firmly onto chicken roll.

Transfer the rolled cutlets to a  greased baking dish. Then, using a teaspoon, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over each chicken roll.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes in the middle of the oven. In the last few minutes switch your oven to “broil” and move your baking dish to the rack closest to heating element. In 1-2 minutes, the high heat will brown up the crumbs.

Broccoli with Orecchiette                                                                                                                                                                         

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) or small shells, whole grain
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch (about 1 1/2 pounds) broccoli stalks, peeled and trimmed, stalks and florets, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon each coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a colander to drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Set pasta aside.
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saute until golden, stirring to avoid burning, about 2 minutes. Add broccoli and reserved cooking liquid; cook, stirring, until broccoli is tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Add reserved pasta to pan, and toss well to coat. Transfer to four serving bowls; drizzle each with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, and garnish each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Menu 4

Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
  • 6 oz low fat softened cream cheese
  • 12 sliced mushrooms
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 slices Proscuitto

Directions:

In a skillet, saute mushrooms in oil until browned on medium heat stirring often to avoid burning. Add shallots and cook for an additional minute. Mix with cream cheese.

Divide the filling so that you have enough for 4 breasts. Put filling in the middle and roll tucking in the side ends so that you will not have the filling spill out later.

Do the same with the rest of the chicken pieces.

At this point wrap with prosciutto ham to encase the roll. Place in a greased baking dish and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Spaghetti with Roasted Zucchini

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz spaghetti, whole grain
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 4 small zucchini (about 1 lb total), sliced 1/4 in. thick
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Directions:

Heat oven to 425°F.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Toss the pasta with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

In a large bowl toss the zucchini, garlic, red pepper, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the Parmesan cheese toss to combine. Spread the zucchini mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the zucchini is tender and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the zucchini mixture, parsley and lemon zest.

Menu 5

Chicken Roulade with Olives and Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons


Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Preserved Lemon or lemon zest
  • 12 pitted Kalamata ripe olives, drained and divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (about 1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
Directions:

1. Combine breadcrumbs, 4 tablespoons capers, 1 tablespoon Preserved Lemons, 6 olives, and garlic in a food processor or blender, and pulse 10 times or until the mixture is coarsely chopped.

2. Place each breast half between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Divide breadcrumb mixture into 4 equal portions; spread 1 portion on each breast half, leaving a 1/4-inch border around the outside edges. Roll up each breast half, jelly-roll fashion, starting with short side. Secure with wooden picks or twine.

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Add onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until browned. Add wine; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 1 minute), stirring often. Add remaining 2 tablespoons capers, 1 cup water, broth, juice, raisins, and turmeric. Quarter the remaining 6 olives. Add to pan; bring to a boil. Add chicken to pan; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes, turning chicken after 10 minutes. Serve chicken with sauce.

Roasted Red Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 12 small red potatoes cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Mrs. Dash® Garlic and Herb Blend, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

Toss potatoes with olive oil and 1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Blend in a bowl. Turn into a greased baking dish.

Roast in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for 30 minutes.

Increase heat to 450°F. Sprinkle with remaining Mrs. Dash Blend and continue to roast for 5 – 10 minutes or until tender and browned. Sprinkle with cheese just before serving.


Sauteed Fresh Green Beans 

In skillet with cover, add 1 small shallot sliced, 1 small garlic clove, minced, 1 cup low sodium chicken broth and 1 lb. trimmed fresh green beans.  Sprinkle with a little salt & pepper. Bring to boiling, lower heat to simmer, cover pan and cook until beans are tender.

I remember very well my grandmother and my mother standing at their kitchen tables, first forming the pasta dough on a board with their hands and then rolling the dough with a long broom handle.
At the time, I thought this was too much work for pasta. After I was married, mixers and processors and pasta machines became very popular, so I was then willing to try my hand at this age-old tradition.

With modern equipment, making homemade noodles is not difficult and I have shortened the process as much as I can without losing taste or quality. Certainly this is not something you would do everyday, but it is fun to make your own pasta once in a while.

When you want something special for dinner, homemade lasagna is a really good choice and making your own lasagna noodles will take it a step further.

Lasagna made with homemade whole wheat spinach noodles tastes so much better than using the dried variety. Whole Wheat pasta made from scratch tastes entirely different from anything you can buy.

If you normally do not like store-bought whole wheat pasta, this recipe may change your mind. Homemade lasagna noodles do not need to be boiled before assembling the lasagna, thus another step is eliminated.

Homemade Spinach Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles

Makes 16 lasagna noodles

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed very dry
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup King Arthur semolina flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour
  • flour for board and rolling

Directions:

Place spinach, eggs, olive oil and salt in processor bowl. Cover and blend until pureed.

Add flours to spinach mixture and process until smooth and the dough forms a ball.

Place on a floured board, cover and let rest 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, divide into 4 even pieces.

Set aside and cover 3 pieces while you work with the 4th. piece

Lightly dredge the working space and dough with whole wheat flour.

Flatten the dough with your hand so it will  feed through the smooth thinning rollers.

Roll the piece of dough through the largest setting on your machine.

Remove the dough, fold in thirds, so it is as wide as the machine roller.

Repeat the roll.

Cut the sheet in half.

Dial the machine down to the next smallest setting and roll each pasta strip through.

Continue to dial to the next setting.

Cut each strip in half again. Roll each strip making sure to dust with flour if the strips become sticky.

Dial to the 2nd to the last smallest setting and roll each strip.  You should have four strips each about 12-13 inches long and 3 inches wide.

Do not use the last setting because it will make the noodles too thin for lasagna.

Lay out three kitchen towels and sprinkle them with semolina flour.

Arrange the rolled out pasta strips on the towels and dust each with semolina flour.

Repeat the entire process with the other three pieces of  dough. You will have 16 strips.

If you are not ready to make the lasagna or you want to make the noodles the day before, you can place them in a container between sheets of waxed paper dusted with semolina flour, 2 noodle strips per layer, and refrigerate the container until you are ready to assemble the dish.

When it comes time to make the lasagna, you will place 4 pasta strips in a 13×9 inch baking dish and add  three more layers of 4 noodles in between layers of sauce and cheese.

Putting the Lasagna Together

Ingredients:

Filling:

Mix together all the ingredients, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to make the lasagna.

  • 3 cups skim milk ricotta
  • ½ lb mozzarella cheese chopped or shredded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 2 large eggs, beaten or ½ cup egg substitute
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with olive oil spray.
Spread 1 cup Bolognese sauce over bottom of prepared dish. Arrange 4 lasagna noodles in dish. Arrange 1/3 of the cheese filling on top.  Spoon 1 cup Bolognese sauce over cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times. Top with 4 lasagna noodles. Spread 1 to 1 1/2 cups sauce over the top.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Cover lasagna with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until noodles are tender and top is golden, about 15 -20 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Lasagna Ready To Be Baked.

If you would like to make whole wheat lasagna noodles without spinach, here is a recipe you can use:

Homemade Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur semolina flour
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Follow the directions above for making spinach whole wheat lasagna noodles.


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