apple smothered pork chops.

The simplest pork chop begins with a couple of apples, a dash of cinnamon, a bit of brown sugar, and one onion.

Cooked, cooked, cooked.

Until you spot that fine balance, where the apples are forced into a decision of either holding together or falling delicately apart.  All smokey and steamy and oozing with spicy-sweet aroma.

Meanwhile.

In another pan.

The pork chops are browning.

Just as they are.  With just a drizzle of oil to prevent any unwanted sticking.

And before you know it...voila!

You just scoop the apples on top and pretend that you slaved away all day.

When really?

All you did was stand in the kitchen, watching a few apples and pork chops cook.

And that, my friends, is the simplest pork chop.

Apple Smothered Pork Chops
(Serves 4) 

  • 4 bone-in, center-cut pork loin chops
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 large tart apples, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced onion
  • sprinkle of cinnamon
  1. In a large skillet, brown pork chops in oil.  Cover and cook for 7-8 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 145°.
  2. Meanwhile, in small non-stick skillet, cook the apples, onion, cinnamon and brown sugar over medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until apples are softened. Smother pork chops with apples and serve. 
QUESTION: What is your “simplest” tried and true, no-fail recipe?  Baked beans!  Aside from the waiting time, they’re ridiculously easy to whip together.  A sure crowd pleaser. 😀

Dining Out At Panera Bread.

I decided to add a new page to the blog’s headline.

Introducing: “Dining Out”

I love eating out and trying new foods.  I also love that it’s completely possible to eat well at many restaurants, with new menu items popping up all.of.the.time.  From chain restaurants to the small ma and pa cafe’s, I thought it would be fun to include some of the healthy options/requests/orders that are available out there.

Today, I stopped in at Panera Bread, which is one of my favorite places to eat when I’m out and about.

U-Pick-2 Option:  Black Bean Soup.  Classic Salad.  Whole Grain Baguette (that’s a special request, as the order will automatically deliver a white baguette unless you ask.)

It’s delicious.  Filling.  Soul satisfying.

I only wish I knew what the secret was to their black bean soup (there’s cumin, red onions and black beans in there, and that is all I know!)

When I’m dining out, I like to include some protein (i.e., black bean soup), vegetables (i.e., salad) and a whole grain if possible (i.e., whole grain baguette.)  These three combined, along with a little fat (i.e., fat used in making soup and/or salad dressing) keeps me deliciously full for hours.

It also gives me plenty of energy to shop, shop, shop.  Which is exactly what I did all day. 😀

QUESTION: What is your favorite “chain restaurant”?  I’m a big fan of Panera and the Cheesecake Factory.

dressed up pollock.

I went for a nice long walk around the nearby lake today, and I experienced this vivid flashback of when I used to go fishing with my dad.

Floating on trusty ol’ Rita–our big green canoe–we would paddle our way to the middle of some lake and then we’d just sit there.  We’d sit there for hours and hours with our fishing rods, waiting patiently until we felt the gentle tug of a fish.

(or a floating piece of seaweedoops!)

We’d spend the day swatting at pesky mosquitoes and talking about nothing and everything all at once.  We’d watch dragon flies skim above the mirrored sheets of water, the sun reflecting colorful sparkles off of their shimmery wings.

As a 10 year old girl hanging out with her dad, I was convinced that each delicious moment was just a tiny speck of what heaven would someday feel like.  The perfect time of day.  Feeling nothing but happiness.  And, probably, spending time talking to God about nothing and everything all at once.

Heaven.

And really, at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter if dad and I went home with trout or without.  

It was the experience.

It was delicious.

And it had (absolutely) nothing to do with the fish.

Fast forward 14 years.  I became a dietitian, promoting fish and all of its health benefits and how delicious it can be and so on and so forth.

But, well, here’s the clinker…

I don’t really like fish very much.

Wild caught salmon, yes.  I could eat that every single day of my life and never grow tired of it.*

*this is not at all an exaggeration

But all the other fish, like halibut and haddock and cod and pollock?

Meh…

(unless it’s fried, but what *doesn’t* taste good when it’s been batter dipped and deep fried?  Honestly?)

Maybe you’re like me.  You could take fish or leave it, but you’d still like to make it a bigger part of your diet.

Or maybe you love all fish.  Any fish.

Whatever the case may be, let’s all admit that salsa makes everything better. 😉

You could just douse your fish in butter and breadcrumbs, but that sort of negates the whole “heart healthy” point of eating more fish.  Better saved for those special occasions, “once in a whiles,” or eating out.

Salsa and avocado, however, add flavor AND health benefits.  An easy way to sneak in that extra dose of veggies and some heart healthy fats.

I really do find most white fish to be lacking in flavor, which is just one of the reasons why I lean more towards cooking with salmon.

Add a zing of fresh salsa and avocado (and maybe a splash of lime!), however, and tada! 

Dinner becomes delicious.

Most grocery stores carry the fresh salsas like this one in the refrigerated cases of the produce department.  Nestled deep somewhere between the tofu and the alfalfa sprouts, and sometimes near the refrigerated salad dressings.

And since you can recreate almost any meal with nothing but a scoop of fresh salsa, I’d say it’s worth seeking out.

Salsa and Avocado 
(Serves 2) 

Pollock fillets were on sale this past week, and it just so happens that I had a tub of salsa to use up.  Perfecto!

This super simple salsa, however, also goes well on marinated tofu steaks, grilled chicken breasts and thin slices of lean steak.  Or, you could just serve it with some black beans and tortilla chips for a tasty afternoon snack.  Enjoy!

  • 1/3 cup fresh salsa
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • fresh lemon juice
  • black pepper
  • cilantro (optional)
  1. Combine ingredients together.  Serve immediately.
QUESTION: Do you eat much fish on a regular basis?  What are you favorite kinds/recipes?  I’m not a big fish person, but I do love fish tacos, wild caught salmon and manhattan styled fish chowders. 😀

fighting the common cold.

It’s that time of year again…

I’m not actualy sick.  Yet.  But it’s happening.  I can feel it.

My eyes are starting to burn.  My throat feels like pea soup.  A 3-mile run left me beat.

Tonight, I didn’t even cook.

I just threw some Dr. Praegger’s veggie burgers on the pan along with some whole wheat hamburger buns.

Nothing pretty.  Nothing fancy.

Just simple and tasty.

With a little last-minute help from the broiler. 😉

With all these colds and flu’s floating around, I wanted to share some tips on how to stay healthy through the cold and flu season.

Of course, there’s no guarentee that these things will keep you from getting sick (cough, cough…obviously!…cough, cough,) but they sure do help.

Did you know that having just one mild vitamin deficiency can make all the difference in having a great versus a poor immune system?

While many people turn to supplements (or gallons and gallons of orange juice,) there’s no prescription quite like an overall healthy diet filled with plenty of whole grains, dark green veggies, legumes, fish, yellow fruits and veggies, etc.  Getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, and getting a daily dose of exercise are also key in keeping your body healthy and protected.  It won’t prevent you from ever getting sick, but it will provide defense and it will help you get better quicker.

In other words, don’t want until you get sick (or start popping those vitamin C pills!) to fight back.  Feed your body what it needs with real, nutrient dense foods and it will reward you with good health.

When you do get sick, continue eating well.  Take light walks as you’re able.  And forget those vitamin C pills!  Although this is an important vitamin in keeping a healthy immunity, there has been no proven benefit to overdosing on this vitamin; one orange will provide almost your entire day’s intake of vitamin C.

Feed your body well.  It knows how to take care of itself. 😉

QUESTION: How do you “fight back” when you get the cold/flu?  I try to stay well hydrated and well nourished.  I also absolutely crave oranges, tea and veggies when I’m sick.  And, unless I’m really sick, I find that small walks throughout the day make me feel eons better.  😀

chocolate truffles.

You guys sure know your coconut!!!!

Coconut pancakes.

Coconut macaroons.

Coconut bread.

Coconut rice.

I’m going to be cooking with a lot of coconut this month. 😉

Many people wonder if coconut is okay to eat or not, so here’s my gist of it all…

More and more studies are showing that not all saturated fats are created equal, and when it comes to coconut, the fats appear to be on the good side.

Although the studies are still in their infancy stages, and although I would still recommend moderation when it comes to eating coconut, coconut is made up mostly of what’s called “medium chain fatty acids.”  That is, the fat is small enough that it can be absorbed directly into our body and it can be used as energy, without the need to be further broken down or carried through the lymphatic system in our bodies.

The theory, then, is that coconut is good for us in moderation, just like all fats.  Some studies have even shown a rise in women’s good cholesterol when they used coconut oil over sunflower oil.

That’s good news for us coconut lovers. 😉

When I asked what I should do with the big bag of coconut that’s fallen into my lap, someone mentioned that I should make coconut macaroons.

And.  Well.

That’s how this recipe started out.

But then the melted chocolate didn’t really melt all the way, and after my initial gruff reaction, this kind of left me excited.

Because there were big chunks of chocolate and I thought it might be good to just put the coconut on the outside as a garnish and leave the chocolaty chunks well enough alone.

This left me with two chocolate bites for after dinner tonight…

…a couple more frozen ones for tomorrow night…

…and lots (lots, lots, lots!!) of coconut left to play with for next week’s breakfasts and dinners and everything else in between.

Sigh.  Here’s to coconut and all its possibilities. 

Chocolate Truffles–idea from Cinch Diet Plan by Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD

These taste even better chilled/frozen!

I used salted almond butter, but if you have an unsalted variety, just add a pinch of sea salt if desired.  These are so rich that one or two will satisfy.  Save the leftovers for the next night (provided you manage to keep other family members away!) 😉

  • 1/4 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp almond butter
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon + pinch of ginger if desired
  • shredded, unsweetened coconut
  1. Rinse a glass bowl with water and place on table without wiping dry.  Add chocolate chips and place in microwave for 15 seconds.  Stir and return for another 5-10 seconds if needed.
  2. Add oil, almond butter and spices, stirring well until smooth and it begins to form a ball.  Dough will be very soft!
  3. Scoop onto waxed paper, sprinkle with coconut and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.  Store on waxed paper in sealed container, in fridge or freezer.  Enjoy!

QUESTION: When it comes to chocolate, are you more attracted to dark and rich or milky and sweet?  I tend to mostly go for the dark, but occasionally I like a bit of something milky!

A Day of Good Eats.

The dietitian side of me is always curious to see what other people are eating on a daily basis, so I figured that it might be fun to have a day of showing what I’m eating from morning till night.

Some days are different (i.e., I like ice cream and french fries too!) but for the most part, this is a pretty typical pattern.

Especially the night time chocolate snack, which is an absolute MUST.  Chocolate has heart health benefits and it keeps my cravings at bay.  So yes.  That makes chocolate a must, must, must in my life. 😉

7:00am Breakfast

Breakfast this morning was 1/4 cup oatmeal cooked with 1 cup water and lots of spice, in the form of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.   I cooked the oats for about 3 minutes in the microwave, with 1/2 a banana.  The other half was served on top, along with 2 Tbsp. almond butter.

Plus a glass of vanilla soy milk on the side for some extra protein and a calcium boost.

8:00am Break
Gotta get my daily coffee fix!
I used to only drink sweetened coffee until discovering that the sweetness of soy milk was enough to satisfy me.  And now I’m turned on to unsweetened almond milk, which gives the coffee a nice nutty flavor (without any added sweeteners.)
10:30am Break
A cup of apple spiced tea after a brisk 45 minute morning walk.
11:00am Lunch
Grocery shopping came later in the afternoon, which meant I had to (literally) scrounge around the fridge to make today’s lunch.
Thankfully, there were plenty of mixed greens left, so I had a large plate of that with a diced carrot, about 1/4 cup salsa, 1/2 cup beans, 2 Tbsp walnut pieces and 2 Wasa Sourdough crackers crumbled on top.  Lemon juice and fresh black pepper completed the deal for a surprisingly satisfying (and filling!) lunch.
3:00pm Snack
There’s something about a parfait that makes everything seem so special.  Something about spooning crunchy sweet bits of berries, granola and yogurt out of a large jar that is just so irresistibly fun!
Today’s parfait included layers of about 1 cup plain, fat free yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon, 1 cup of strawberries and 1/4 cup homemade granola.  
Layers of goodness.
5:30pm Break
Drinking licorice tea while making dinner!
6:15pm Dinner
Thursdays can be a bit insane around here, so I made dinner simple tonight.
In a 400 degree oven, I roasted 1 chopped kabocha squash, 10 brusses sprouts (halved,) 1 large fennel bulb (sliced thin), 5 cloves garlic (peeled and sliced,) 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 pinches of crushed red pepper in the oven for 40 minutes, flipping half way through the cooking time.
Once that was ready, I simply scooped about 2 cups worth of veggies on top of about 1/2 cup cooked rice.  The finishing touch was 1/4 cup 50% reduced fat cheddar cheese and 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds.
You can’t go wrong with any combination of roasted veggies, healthy fats, protein and a whole grain underneath.
Sometimes simple really is best!
8:00pm Snack
Daily chocolate fix = handful of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate covered almonds.
Yummy finish.
QUESTION: Do your days seem to follow a pretty “set” pattern as far as your eating habits go?  I don’t follow any hard and fast rules but I will almost always (1) have some form of produce with each snack/meal, (2) have a piece of some form of dark chocolate and (3) eat every 3-4 hours to keep my metabolism humming and to keep feelings of starvation away.  These simple three guidelines keep me happy. 😀

Fitness Friday

I always tell people that I’m not competitive.

At all.

In fact, if someone is racing me up a hill (even in an actual race,) I simply let them pass.  There is absolutely no rise in my inner, deep-down, somewhere-hiding competitive spirit.

But then again.

This isn’t entirely true.

I am  competitive.

Just not with other people.

I’m competitive with me.  I want my fitness to continuously grow stronger each year.  I want to increase my strength.  Increase my endurance.

Last year, I ran my first half marathon.

I was practicing yoga twice a week, running on average 20 miles a week.

I was on.top.of.the.world.

Now?

Now I’m just getting back into the groove after a lay off due to injuries.

And honestly, it’s not easy seeing a weaker version of myself out on the roads.  My speed has dropped.  I’m heaving on hills.  During yoga, I enter child’s pose more often than I care to admit.

(I imagine this must be what the competitive person feels when their arch nemesis beats them by a mile. 😉 )

Fast forward to this morning.

I was out for a testy 6-mile run, something I haven’t done before achilles tendonitis flared its ugly head.

I started to warm up.

I felt slow but I felt good.  And mile after mile, none of that other seemingly silly self-competitive stuff seemed to matter.

My shoulders relaxed.

Tension escaped with one strong, windy breeze.

The sand crunched like glass beneath my feet.

I could almost taste the fragrant smells of pine and dirt and rainy day puddles.

The world appeared to be asleep.

But I wasn’t.  Not today.

It was one step.  One step at a time.

I was becoming the very best of me.

Polenta Casserole with Winter Squash and Greens–modified from a Moosewood Restaurant’s Cooking For Health Cookbook

After a run or a tough workout, it’s nice to fill up with something warm, satisfying, and deeply nutritious.

I have been completely sold on the casserole bandwagon lately.  I like that once all the prep work is done, I have time to clean up, do dishes and set the table while dinner just cooks itself.  The prep work takes some time, but the recipe is worth the effort now and then.

I used kabocha squash for this recipe, but feel free to use butternut, acorn or another form of winter squash.  Also feel free to use whatever green you have on hand in place of the kale and/or another favorite type of cheese in place of cheddar.  Enjoy!

Polenta Layer

  • 2-1/3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup whole grain cornmeal (not instant polenta)
  • 2 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Greens Layer
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium/large bunches of stemmed and chopped kale
  • 1/4 cup water
Squash Layer
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed winter squash (about 6 cups of cubed squash that has been steamed will create this)
  • 1 egg
  • pepper
  • 2/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  1. For the polenta layer: Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan and whisk in cornmeal.  Add tomatoes, thyme, basil and salt to taste.  Cook on low heat, stirring frequently until the polenta is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cheese.  Pour into an 8-inch square baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. For the greens layer: In a medium pot, cook garlic in oil over medium heat for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add greens and water.  Cover, cook, stirring occasionally until greens are tender, about 10 minutes.  Salt to taste.  Spread greens over polenta.
  3. For the squash layer: In a bowl, stir together the squash, egg, pepper and half the cheese.  Spread the squash mixture over the greens and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
  4. In a preheated 350 oven, bake covered for 35 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes.  Enjoy!!

QUESTION: Are you a competitive person?  In what ways?