Advisor, Advise Thyself

February 10, 2011 at 4:21 am Leave a comment

Last week, after days of being enveloped in blankets of gray above and white below, my e-messages to friends in southern states must have started sounding pretty pitiful, from the tone of the responses I got. “I almost hate to tell you about our weather. Yesterday was an almost perfect day with a high of 73 and a cerulean sky,” wrote a longtime family friend in Tucson. And from my BFF in Mount Dora, Florida, “I hate to rub it in, especially when blizzards are blowing across the country, but it’s flat-out gorgeous here!” 

And then, a blessedly cloudless Minnesota sky mercifully releases huge doses of sunshine to we seasonally affected types here below, and my mood leaps within me. Suddenly, I am inspired to do things I have been vowing to do, like unshelving major writing projects set aside for the holidays, introducing metabolism-revving activity breaks into my desk-sitting stints, and limiting myself to more reasonable serving sizes. 

It is so darned easy to let that morning bowl of cinnamon-laced, raisin-studded oatmeal morph into two+ servings and the weekly sugary treat bloat its way into a cake and ice cream lollapalooza. Dessert splurges aside, lumberjack-size portions of even the most healthful of foods can still bring on sluggishness, adding to the winter lethargy syndrome, and can push that scale needle up incrementally but significantly over the long, cold span of winter. Let’s not even talk about where the excess poundage will – and won’t – end up settling, come ski parka-shedding time. 

I recently reminded my slim but cholesterol-challenged brother-in-law that what he does eat is just as important as what he doesn’t eat. Cutting out deep-fried foods is a good move, I instructed, but adding in lots of fresh fruits, leafy greens, and fiber-rich good stuff – like legumes and whole grains and pears, oh my – is equally essential. The bottom line? Substituting a bowlful of Good and Plenty candies for his usual three-Hershey-Bar bedtime snack isn’t exactly the kind of swap that’s going to contribute to a goal of good health. Cliff Notes version: “Fat-free” isn’t necessarily “okay.” 

Well, I may be preachy but I also have a conscience, and my loving lecture to my brother-in-law really did intensify my focus on my own errant habits. I vowed to stop fooling myself into calling that mound of peanut butter into which I am dipping my sliced apple “two tablespoons” when the application of measuring utensils belies it to be more like four, and I committed to revamping our favorite winter comfort food menus to fit everyone’s needs for both taste satisfaction and a nice result on their next lab reports. 

A good start on that promise was a very simple menu of Boneless Roast Pork Loin, Steamed Sugar Snap Peas with Roasted Red Peppers, Second-Thought Twice-Baked Potatoes, and Pear, Apricot, Pineapple Bake. And for that slender but misguided brother-in-law who dines with us once a week, I pulled out a whole hatful of tricks for amping up the nutrition in a batch of Trail Mix Cookies for the road. The how-tos follow. 

I had a nice, lean 2.25# loin pork roast thawing in my refrigerator and not a lot of time for fancy prep work, so I did this – to serve four, with leftovers for hot sandwiches: 

I trimmed any remaining visible fat, sprayed a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil with canola oil cooking spray, sliced six large shallots into ½ inch pieces, sprinkled the pork with a little dried, flaked marjoram, sealed the pork and shallots in the foil, set it in a small roasting pan, and baked it at 350° for approximately 90 minutes. The recommended time is 20 minutes per pound, so test with a thermometer if you’re not sure about doneness, or over-doneness. 

Because this was wrapped in foil, it stayed moist, juicy, and flavorful, and was redolent with semi-caramelized shallots upon carving. Nutrition note: The shallots, as members of the onion family, are a heart-healthy way to add flavor as well as antioxidants, vitamins C, A, B6, and Manganese, folate, and potassium. And the trimmed pork contributes more potassium and B6, plus riboflavin, zinc, thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium as part of its concentrated protein package. 

Sugar snap peas have become a staple in our house this winter, and the prep work required is minimal: 

Place 1-1/2# sugar snap peas in a deep skillet with a cover and add 1” of water and a pinch of sea salt. Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 6-7 minutes. Drain and serve with chunks of hot-from-the-oven roasted red pepper for added color, vitamins (A, C, E, B6, folate, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, manganese), and fiber. 

Some snap pea recipes call for adding sugar (whaaa??!!) and butter , a totally unnecessary padding of empty calories to an already succulent natural food. In my opinion. 

Twice-baked potatoes was a term I hadn’t heard until I moved to Minnesota from Michigan eons ago, but it was an apt description right up until the microwave generation took over the kitchen. We love the once-a-year indulgence of the stuffed version my aunt sends from Omaha steaks every Christmas (bless her), but this is my skinnified remake of that luscious dish: 

4 medium baking potatoes                                          4 tsp butter

½ C ft-free half-and-half                                               ½ C fat-free sour cream

salt and pepper to taste                                                 ½ C shredded sharp cheddar

¼ C chopped fresh chives                                             paprika 

Bake scrubbed and dried potatoes at 350° for 45-50 minutes, or until a testing poke with a fork proves them tender throughout. (In a pinch, you can microwave them all on a rotating platform on high for about 8 minutes, but I found the skins lost their shape when I did this.) 

Slice a 2” portion of peel lengthwise off each potato, carefully scoop out the fully cooked innards, and rice or rough-mash them. To the mashed pulp add the butter, half-and-half, sour cream, salt and pepper, cheddar, and chives; blend until creamy then stuff this mixture back into the potato skin shells. Bake another 15-20 minutes at 425°, or until cheese bits have melted into the filling. At the risk of sounding repetitious, we have now added even more vitamin C, B6, potassium, and manganese to the evening’s table. 

The fruit component is a cinch to toss together: 

3 large fresh pears, quartered                                     16 dried apricots

1-20 oz can pineapple cubes                                        1/3 C brandy

1/3 C juice from pineapple                                            nutmeg 

Cut each pear quarter into four smaller chunks and toss with apricots, drained juice-packed pineapple, brandy, and juice. Pour mixture into a glass or ceramic baking pan, sprinkle with nutmeg, and bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes, or until golden edges start to appear, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with more nutmeg before serving. 

A recent study suggests that full-fat dairy contains a special breed of trans (gasp) fat that is actually helpful in staving off Type II diabetes, so throw a dollop of fruit-juice-sweetened full-fat yogurt on each serving of fruit compote for good measure. Trouble is,once you’ve had full-fat, especially the Greek style, you may never want to go back to the fat-free stuff. Of course, everything in moderation – including how much stock we put in all these conflicting studies that keep coming at us. 

And for the brother-in-law cookies, throw in a dash of good will along with: 

¾ C all purpose flour                                             ½ C white whole wheat flour

1 tsp salt                                                                       1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder                                              1-1/2 tsp cinnamon

½ C canola oil                                                            ¾ C brown sugar

2 large eggs                                                                  2 tsp vanilla

2 C mixed oat cereal*                                              2-1/2 C homemade trail mix** 

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly spray with cooking oil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, soda, powder, and cinnamon. In mixer bowl, beat together the oil and sugar; beat in eggs and vanilla. On low, blend in flour mixture. Finally, fold in the oats and the trail mix. 

Use a 2” ice cream scoop to drop batter, 2” apart, onto prepared cookie sheet and bake at 350°for 13 minutes.  

*I use Bob’s Red Mill Five grain Rolled Whole Grain Hot Cereal. You can use all oatmeal for a slightly different texture.  

**1 C raisins, ¾ C peanuts, and ¾ C dark chocolate chips. 

These were a big hit, and nobody felt like they were making a sacrifice of any kind, even though the original recipe called for over twice the sugar and a full cup of butter. To streamline things without loss of flavor, I dredged up some tried and true methods, such as doubling the cinnamon and vanilla. In other applications where you need the dry bulk, you can replace half of a recipe’s sugar with nonfat dry milk, and for more moisture when reducing the fat, try substituting applesauce for any reduction in butter.  

As my husband recently said, how’s that for digging something useful out of the crusty dungeon that my mind has become? Now, if that elusive sun, when it manages to show itself at all, would just stop dropping into the horizon at 5:12 p.m., those emails to distant friends would really start singing of a happy camper. Scout’s honor.


Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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