Eggplant & Beef Ragu

When coming up with meal ideas, I look to my fridge for inspiration.  Last week I saw 2 eggplants that were desperate to be used (from our CSA) and 1/2 pound of 96% lean ground beef (leftover from my beef tacos).  Since I always keep canned tomatoes and pasta in our pantry, I immediate thought eggplant and beef ragu would be perfect.  The flavor combination was fantastic!

Eggplant & Beef RaguEggplant & Beef Ragu: Serves 4

  • 8 oz extra lean (95-96%) ground beef
  • 2 medium eggplants, ~5 cups cubed
  • 1 vidalia onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz can tomatoes (I recommend San Marzano)
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Fresh Basil & Fresh Parmesan – for topping at end

Method

  • Peel and cube eggplant.  Place in colander, and sprinkle with salt.  Let sit for approximately 20-30 minutes, then rinse very well, drain, and pat dry.   This removes any bitterness.

Eggplant

  • Place dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 TB olive oil.
  • Add in cubed eggplant and onion to dutch oven.  Cook approximately 20 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the eggplant is very soft.
  • Add in minced garlic, stir for 1 minute.
  • Add in ground beef to vegetables, allow meat to brown completely.
  • Add in can of tomatoes to to vegetable and beef mixture.
  • Add in dried herbs.
  • Cook on simmer for at least 30 minutes.  If you want to serve it at this time you can, however, it tastes better if you allow it to cook for at least 1 hour – the eggplant ‘melts’ into the sauce and the flavors in the tomato sauce develop with time.
  • Remove bay leaves.  Add in salt & pepper to taste.

Ragu

  • Boil a pot of water, add pasta.
  • Place 1/4 of the pasta on each plate and top with 1 cup of sauce.
  • Garnish with fresh basil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Cooks Note: If you have an open bottle of red wine, add ~1/2 cup to the tomatoes.  This adds a richness to the sauce.

Nutrition Breakdown: 2 ounces pasta (dry) with 1 cup sauce

  • 422 calories, 11 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 63 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams fiber, 24 grams protein.

Nutrition Tidbit: Dry Pasta

  • 1 box of dry pasta has 16 ounces (1 pound), this is 8 servings of approximately 200 calories each.
  • It’s very easy to eat 6-8 ounces of pasta without realizing, and gulping down 600-800 calories without sauce.
  • Next time, measure out your pasta before cooking.
  • Depending on your calorie needs you may need more than 1 serving.
  • For one person, who is watching his/her calories – weigh out an individual portion of 2 ounces.
  • If you bulk up the meal with vegetables and lean meat you will feel satisfied.
  • You will need a food scale, to weigh your pasta.  Put an empty container on the scale and zero it out.  Then add the pasta.  As you can see 2 ounces of this whole wheat rotini is about 1 cup.

Dry Pasta

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Chicken Salad with Grapes & Cranberries

The same salad or sandwich can get quite boring for lunch.  Therefore, I’m always trying to think of new ideas for myself and my clients to keep things interesting while remaining healthy.  This chicken salad pita is great because you get in whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lean protein all at once.

You can make this with leftover rotisserie chicken, which is a great staple to keep in the fridge, since it can be used in so many different ways!

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad with Grapes & Cranberries:  Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 3 oz chopped chicken breast (no skin)
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 8 grapes, quartered
  • 1 Tablespoon dried cranberries
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon low fat mayonnaise
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 whole wheat pita

Method

  • Combine chicken, celery, grapes, cranberries, chives with low fay mayonnaise.
  • Add to whole wheat pita and stuff with fresh spinach leaves.
  • If you are packing lunch in the morning you may want to keep the chicken separate from the pita, to prevent the pita from getting soggy.

Nutritional Information (including a 160 calorie whole wheat pita)

  • 400 calories, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber and 33 grams protein

For those that need more than 400 calories at lunch time add another component to the lunch.  Some examples include:

  • low fat cheese stick
  • carrots with hummus
  • yogurt with granola
  • small handful of nuts

Nutrition Tidbit: Chicken Salad

  • If you enjoy chicken salad, I recommend you make your own to prevent consuming much more calories and fat than you might expect.
  • 1 cup regular chicken salad provides: 416 calories, 28 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 15 grams carbohydrate and 24 grams protein.

Just Salad Review

NYC has salad bars located on just about every corner.  Salads tend to be a big hit for a nutritious lunch.  I decided to get a salad from one of the chains and break it down for you to see how much really went into the salad!

Just Salad is a lunch hot spot with five locations offering salads and salad wraps.  Chef Laura designed the menu, and as a Registered Dietitian, she added some more unusual, healthy toppings that are not available at your other salad bars.  Some of these toppings include: barley, butternut squash, edamame, eggplant, lentils, multigrain croutons, wheat berries, turkey bacon, hummus, and salmon.  They also offer a wide variety of dressings that are labeled as: no cholesterol, no sugar, no carbs, low carb, gluten free, low sodium, no dairy, and vegan.

InteriorIt was evident that the ingredients are very fresh, and the restaurant is spotless.  What sets this place apart from others is that the toppings all have proper portioned serving pieces so that the server uses the “right” amount.  Then you can go to the Just Salad website to figure out the nutrition information of your salad.

ToppingsFor purpose of experimentation and future comparison with other salad bars, I did not choose their exotic ingredients.  Instead, I went with one of my favorite combinations:

  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • chickpeas
  • dried cranberries
  • goat cheese
  • grilled chicken
  • low fat balsamic vinaigrette

Just SaladAccording to their website my salad (not including the bread) contains:

  • 532 calories, 18 grams fat, 8 grams sat fat, 54 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, and 40 grams protein

According to my calculations (I took it apart & weighed each component) the salad contains:

  • 656 calories, 17 grams fat, 7 grams sat fat, 100 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fiber, and 48 grams protein

Hmmm…why do you think the calories are so off?  Well, when my server did use the proper portion cups he piled it over the top.  And for a few ingredients he used his hands (dried cranberries & chickpeas).  You can also tell in the photo that the cheese was wrapped for proper portion control, but it turns out that this was a smaller piece than accounted for in their nutrition count, weighing in at 0.8 oz instead of a full ounce.

It turns out that they added 1/2 cup or 190 calories worth of dried cranberries to my salad!!  No wonder the nutritional stats are higher.  Most of these salad ingredients are not particularly nutrient dense, so if they use a little more or less it will not affect the calories that much.

The other thing to note is that the small container of salad dressing that I got on the side contains 4 Tablespoons!  That is too much for a salad, and if it was filled with regular salad dressing it would probably contain upwards of 300 calories.  So even if you get it on the side, choose low fat (not fat free since they are usually loaded with sugar), and use no more than half!  If you need more moisture ask for vinegar on the salad.

After weighing my salad, I placed it on a plate for me to eat.  I only used 2 TB of the dried cranberries, and about 1/3 of the dressing container.   Including the 0.4 oz piece of bread my meal clocked in at a reasonable:

  • 505 calories, 13 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 59 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber and 48 grams protein

Salad

Just Salad Pros

  • Very fresh ingredients
  • Clean restaurant
  • Great variety of toppings
  • Portion controlled serving pieces
  • Nutritional Information on website
  • Perfectly blanched broccoli

Just Salad Cons

  • Servers did not pay attention to portion size serving pieces
  • Beets were canned
  • Very expensive (this salad was over $11)!
  • Chicken was salty

Nutrition Tidbit: Salad Bars

  • When choosing calorie dense toppings: cheese, nuts, dried fruits, tortilla strings and croutons tell the server to only use a little.  Otherwise they can be very heavy handed and you may be getting more than you bargained for.
  • Ask for the dressing on the side, but that doesn’t give you free reign to use it all!

Beef Tacos

Tacos are a quick & simple dinner that will likely please the whole family.  You want to buy the leanest ground meat that your supermarket carries.   For the taco shells, make sure to buy hard or soft corn tortillas that are made without trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil).  I like this kit:

TacosThe ingredients for the shells are: organic stone ground yellow corn masa flour, expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil.

Such a short ingredient list!  That’s what you want to look for when choosing products. The kit also contains taco seasoning and taco sauce.  The caloric breakdown including 3 TB of the sauce and seasoning plus 2 shells clocks in at 150 calories, 6 grams fat (0.5 g sat fat), 600 mg sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, and 2 grams protein.

Since the sodium is high, I usually use less of the seasoning packet than they recommend.   Since fiber is missing, I like to add something full of fiber to the meal (side of brown rice, black beans and/or vegetables)

For each person: use 3-4 ounces ground beef and 2-3 taco shells.  Prepare toppings for the tacos, such as: lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, low fat shredded cheese and/or low fat sour cream.   Be aware of adding too much fat – it’s easy if you have a heavy hand with the guac, cheese & sour cream.

All you have to do is brown the beef in a skillet, add water and seasoning packet (box tells you how much).  Simultaneously, heat shells in oven or toaster oven.  Serve and add toppings — voila dinner is served!

You may also want to beef up the meal with a side of rice and black beans.

Here’s a photo of my dinner plate:

TacosI stuffed 2 tortilla shells with about 4 ounces of ground beef and had home-made guacamole & tomatoes for toppings (we were out of cheese!).   On the side I had some steamed broccoli.  A side of black beans would have been a nice addition.

Nutrition Tidbit: Ground Beef

  • Ground Beef ranges in calories and fat drastically; always choose the leanest one you can find.
  • Here’s the nutritional breakdown for 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of each type of ground beef
  • 95% Lean: 137 calories, 21 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat
  • 90% Lean: 176 calories, 20 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat
  • 85% Lean: 215 calories, 19 grams protein, 15 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat
  • 80% Lean: 254 calories, 17 grams protein, 20 grams fat, 8 gram saturated fat
  • 70% Lean: 332 calories, 14 grams protein, 30 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat
  • Sometimes supermarkets label it by the cut — to help you make sense of that here are the general rules:
  • Ground Sirloin: 90-92%
  • Ground Round: 85-90%
  • Ground Chuck: 80-85%
  • Ground Hamburger Meat: 70%

Trader Joe’s sells 96% Lean Ground Beef!  That’s what I used to make this, here’s a photo of the package:

Ground Beef

Gobo: A Vegetarian Restaurant

As you can see from my previous posts I eat EVERYTHING!  I love fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy.  When it comes to protein sources I enjoy a wide variety, from legumes to eggs to fish to poultry to soy protein and red meat on occasion.   Eating a variety of foods is extremely important for a healthy diet.  Which makes it fun to try all different types of restaurants, and living in NYC makes that possible!

Last week, I visited a vegetarian restaurant on the Upper East Side called Gobo. The restaurant claims:

“Welcome to Gobo, where spirited vegetarian dining awakens the five senses for each guest. Rooted in Zen compassion, Gobo is founded on the belief that delicious food & beverages using wholesome, non-meat ingredients will nourish both your body & mind. Our food for the five senses include unique vegetarian creations using: konnyaku, nori, seitan, soy and tofu.”

As usual, my friend and I decided to share two dishes.  I’ve mentioned before that I love sharing, and I’m always happy when my friends want to do the same!  It’s nice to try a few things on a menu, in particular things I may not cook at home (i.e. seitan).

After perusing the lunch menu and getting suggestions from the waitress we chose:

Tender sliced seitan in ginger marinade on a bed of asian kale, squash, brown rice

Seitan

Vietnamese spicy stir-fry rice noodle with five spice tofu roll

Noodles

We ended up finishing just about everything you see (except for the tofu roll which was deep fried, and tasteless!).    Overall, I really enjoyed both dishes; my only qualms were the small portion of vegetables and the heavy use of oils.  The seitan description sounded like there would be a plethora of veggies, but in reality there was ~1/2 cup steamed kale and 2 small hunks of squash.  The noodle dish had some small pieces of broccoli throughout, but not much to speak of.

While these dishes are vegetarian, they are not super low calorie.  It’s hard to estimate exactly how many calories are in each dish.  The food was not drenched in oil, like typical Chinese dishes, but they did contain their fair share. Additionally, the seitan claimed a “ginger marinade” but this was more of a thick teriyaki type of sauce and while it was delicious, I could taste the sugar.  Next time I would order one vegetable heavy dish that was light on sauce or dressing in lieu of another to balance out the meal.

Nutrition Tidbit:  Seitan

  • Seitan is a processed wheat gluten that resembles meat and is high in protein.
  • “Mock” meats are typically made out of seitan.
  • Wheat gluten is naturally low in sodium and fat.  One ounce of raw wheat gluten provides 10 mg sodium, 0 grams fat, and 7.5 grams protein.  The extra fat, sodium and calories come from the preparation — and it’s not uncommon to find it fried!
  • In the supermarket you may find seitan produced by White Wave and Lightlife Foods.
  • A 3-oz portion of traditional White Wave Seitan (which is seasoned and salted) has 90 calories, 1 gram fat, 380 mg sodium, 3 grams carbohydrate, and 18 grams protein
  • Try experimenting with seitan at home, it’s inexpensive, a good source of protein, and you can control the added fat and sodium.   You can use it in stir-fry dishes, burritos/tacos, skewers, casseroles or any other place you may use meat or chiken, get creative!

Fettuccine Carbonara

I know what you’re thinking — “Fettuccine Carbonara on a Nutrition Blog?!”  Well it’s true, and this is not a diet version.  I’m a firm believer in eating what you love in moderate portions.  This recipe is not light by any means, but it has a lot less fat than if you ordered it out in a restaurant, especially if you keep your portion size small.

Growing up fettuccine carbonara was one of my favorite dishes that my dad cooked…I know I can’t believe it either!  Of course it turns out that it is now one of my husband’s favorite foods as well.  When he’s craving it, I would much prefer to cook it myself than get it out since I know I can lighten it up while maintaining all of the flavor.  The traditional Italian way to make it is without heavy cream, it is still super creamy and in my opinion more flavorful. The main ingredients are pancetta, egg, parmesan cheese and pasta — simple right?

CarbonaraIngredients:

  • 1 cup sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 ounces pancetta, cubed*
  • 1.5 oz shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces fresh fettuccine
  • salt to taste

Method:

  • Bring a large pot of water to boil on stove.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 TB olive oil in large skillet.
  • In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs with parmesan cheese and set aside.
  • Add pancetta to oil in hot skillet, let cook approximately 3 minutes until edges start to brown.
  • Add onion to skillet; cook until translucent.
  • Add garlic to onion & pancetta; cook approximately 1 minute.
  • Turn skillet to lowest temperature.
  • Add pasta to boiling water and cook for appropriate time.
  • Drain pasta, reserving ~1/4 cup cooking liquid.
  • Increase heat to medium for onion, garlic and pancetta mixture and add in drained pasta.  Toss to coat in oil.
  • Slowly add in egg mixture.  It is very important to do this in small batches and stir quickly to prevent “scrambling” of eggs.  You also want to do this while the pasta is very hot so it cooks the egg appropriately.
  • Continue mixing pasta with egg mixture until it is all mixed.
  • Thin with pasta water to desired consistency.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Enjoy!

*Vegetarians can leave the pancetta out, by using a little more oil and salt.  It is not the same, but does result in a delicious vegetarian alternative.

Carbonara Meal

This is a photo of my dinner plate: one serving of fettuccine carbonara with a side of sauteed swiss chard.   While it does not look like a huge portion, if you eat slowly, savor all the wonderful flavors, I promise it will leave you extremely satisfied!

Nutritional Information: Serves 4 (calculated without added sodium)

495 calories, 15 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 290 mg sodium, 69 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams protein

Nutrition Tidbit: Heavy Cream

  • American style restaurants use heavy cream in carbonara and alfredo sauces, resulting in extremely high fat and saturated fat contents.
  • Cheesecake Factory’s pasta carbonara contains 2,134 calories, 81 grams saturated fat, 1246 mg sodium, and 144 grams carbohydrates!
  • Olive Garden’s lunch portion of fettucine alfredo contains 800 calories, 48 grams fat, 30 grams saturated fat, 69 grams carbohydrate, 23 grams protein (this is probably the same size portion as the one I made since carbohydrates and protein are about the same – but check out the difference in fat!)
  • For every 1/2 cup of heavy cream used, expect to add 207 calories, 22 grams fat and 14 grams saturated fat.
  • It is recommended to keep saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total daily calories (20 grams for those on a 2,000 calorie diet).  As you can see, these heavy cream laden dishes at restaurants will put you over your limit just for the one meal!
  • Try choosing marinara or garlic & oil sauce the next time you are eating Italian food out.  If you want a creamy pasta, try this recipe in your own home where you can control the ingredients.

Swiss Chard Pesto

This summer I’ve been motivated to experiment with new recipes thanks to my CSA delivery and an abundance of vegetables.  A beautiful bunch of swiss chard had been sitting in my fridge for almost a week, and was desperate to be made into a delicious creation.  Swiss chard pesto sounded like the perfect summer night meal.

Swiss Chard

I knew I wouldn’t be home from work until late that evening, so I took a few minutes in the morning to prep the vegetables.  I washed the leaves, removed the stems, chopped the leaves, and placed them in a tupperware with a paper towel (to maintain freshness), and put the container in the fridge.

When I got home from work, I placed a pot of water to boil on the stove, and got working on my pesto.  This recipe was totally free hand, but I absolutely LOVED the end results and will be making this many times in the future!

I first lightly steamed the swiss chard in the microwave, and used my magic bullet to combine the ingredients.  This would be much easier in a food processor as I had to do it in batches.  I served the swiss chard pesto over Trader Joe’s pesto tortellini, which was fabulous and surprisingly nutritious (all pronounceable ingredients and low in fat & sodium).  Delish!

Pesto Tortellini

Recipe

  • 3/4 bunch swiss chard, cleaned, steamed, and chopped
  • 1 ounce fresh parmesan
  • 1 ounce pistachio nuts
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 cup basil
  • 2 – 4 TB water
  • salt to taste

Method

  • Lightly steam chopped swiss chard.  1-2 minutes in the microwave is perfect.
  • In food processor combine swiss chard, parmesan, pistachio nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and basil.
  • Stream in olive oil.
  • Add water for desired consistency.
  • Season with salt.

Nutrition Information: Serves 4

114 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 236 mg sodium

*This serving size is large, and as you can see I used a lot of pesto on my pasta (it was approximately 1/4 of the recipe).  I was able to make the portion size larger with using more greens and less fat.  Normal pesto is much higher in calories due to the copious amounts of olive oil, so you may want to watch your portion size more carefully with traditional or store bought pesto.

Nutrition Tidbit: Swiss Chard

  • Swiss Chard is a nutritional powerhouse!
  • It is loaded with vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E and fiber.
  • The combination of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients have been associated with decreased risk of cancers (particularly colon) and improved overall health due to the myriad of nutrients.
  • Low in calories and high in nutrients, leafy green vegetables should be a part of our daily diets.
  • While swiss chard does contain calcium, the high levels of oxalates Asdecrease the risk of absorption.
  • With very high levels of vitamin K, those on blood thinners need to be aware of their leafy green vegetable intake, including swiss chard.  Speak with a nutrition professional for more guidelines on appropriate consumption.
  • Choose swiss chard with bright green leaves.  Avoid bunches that have leaves that are yellowing or browning.
  • Store unwashed in your refrigerator.
  • If you have too much on hand, blanch and freeze the swiss chard for later use.