It's pretty obvious how excited I get for the Annual Farm Crawl, and I get equally excited for the aftermath too. I spend weeks using my farm fresh apples in a variety of recipes, some new some old. One sweet treat I always make is applesauce in the slow cooker. It's easy, delicious and quite nutritious for a snack or a side.
The slow cooker is a staple in my kitchen simply because of its simplicity. For most of us our days are extremely busy running around from one place to the next. A slow cooker allows you to minimally prep for a meal and leave it to cook while you're taking care of business, only to return for ready to be deliciousness. I literally took ten minutes, threw all of the ingredients in the pot, pressed the on button, went to bed, and woke up to chunky applesauce. Okay, so maybe I didn't sleep enough this night but rising to smell of sweet apples, cinnamon and ginger drifting through the house made getting up earlier much easier. ;)
I'll write my 'recipe' below, but the truth is I just sort of winged it this year. First, I chopped up my apples (mixed variety from Riamede Farms) into big chunks. And yes, I left the skin on. You'll quickly learn, I don't peel much of anything. Why? Not only do fruit and vegetable peels contain fiber, which is lacking in most Americans' diets (and needed for more reasons than you want to read right now), but also a large percentage of a food's vitamins and minerals lie right under the skin. So when you peel a fruit or vegetable, you're discarding all of these other beneficial nutrients too. For an apple, that means you could be getting at least 1/3 less of vitamins A and C than you thought!
The next step was to add the seasonings. This part is up for interpretation because we all have different taste preferences. I like my applesauce with a little kick, so if you don't particularly like spicy applesauce, I recommend lessening the measurements of the cloves and ginger.
I mixed in the rest of the ingredients, set the pot to cook and ta-da!!
Despite the picture making the apples look like chili, I guarantee the applesauce looks prettier in person and also smells heavenly! :D
Since I knew my applesauce would eventually be part of an apple cake recipe, I used an immersion blender to get a smoother texture. You can use a blender or any other item to puree the apples, but if you use the immersion blender, go slowly because it may splash! And can be hot!
Now you're ready to have your homemade applesauce! See?! An incredibly nutritious and delicious sweet treat with minimal effort. My favorite eats include topping with some nonfat plain greek yogurt or spreading on some toast. Enjoy! :)
Seasonal Spicy Slow Cooker Applesauce
Yields ~4 cups
Chop the apples (with the peel!) into large chunks and place them into the pot. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apples. Mix in the maple syrup. Add the seasonings and water, and stir until the apples are evenly coated. Cover the pot with the lid.
Cook the apples on low heat for 4-6 hours. I leave this decision up to you and your preferences. The applesauce will be a bit thicker if you cook it longer.
Let the applesauce partially cool and puree until desired consistency. Serve immediately or store in containers in the fridge for later.
and Apple Quinoa Porridge
The one thing that makes the end of summer acceptable for me is the Annual Farm Crawl my friends and I do each fall. This tradition warms my heart because not only do I get to escape the city for a day and play in nature but one of my best friends (who's also my go to eating buddy) flies in from Los Angeles and we girls spend the whole day catching up. Plus, I know I'll be spending a lot of time in my favorite room, the kitchen, baking amazing apple treats and cooking delectable dinners while fueling my body in the most healthful, nourishing way. I mean, just look at the loot I brought home!!
We always get our apples from Riamede Farms in Chester, New Jersey. Last year with the excessive rain the selections were limited but this year, there was an abundance of variety: Macoun, Cortland, Liberty, Jonagold, Gala, Macintosh, and Golden Delicious Smoothie. Oh they were so crispy and juicy! I tried to be conservative but somehow walked away with 13 pounds of apples!! :/
On the way out of the orchards I usually pick up some teeny pumpkins and gourds. However, for the first time, we went to the tomato patch and plucked fresh red and orange cherry tomatoes. Seriously nature's candy!!
In addition to Riamede Farms, we like to stop at a new (to us) farm too. This year, we drove up to Miller's Hill Farm in Mendham, New Jersey (just a bit away from Riamede). We were blown away! There was a rainbow display of tomatoes and bell peppers, and loads of fresh squash, eggplant, sweet corn, onions, garlic and hot peppers. My selection to your right:
We actually went to Miller's Hill Farm before Riamede Farms, but many of us had regrets about the farm fresh items we didn't get, so we returned when we finished apple picking. My regret?? The fresh eggs. I met the chickens and am always amazed by the beautiful variety in size and color of the eggs.
Now that I'm done bragging over my farm fresh luscious loot, I'll share the first of my many apple creations: Apple Quinoa Porridge for breakfast today. Full of protein, fiber, healthy fats and the freshest of fruit, I feel grateful for good friends, hard working farmers and the marvels of nature, and am also properly fueled to get this day started. Hope you all have a great one too! :)
Apple Quinoa Porridge
Yields: 2 servings
In a pot, bring the quinoa and water to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes until quinoa is fully cooked. Add almond milk, apple and cinnamon and cook on low heat until apple starts to get slightly soft.
Pull porridge from stove and pour into bowls. Top with blueberries, almonds and cacao nibs, and drizzle with maple syrup. And yes, of course you can choose any toppings you like! Enjoy!
All last month I was swamped (but very happily swamped) with work for National Nutrition Month. On top of the full-time job at the hospital, I was creating and presenting lectures to students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors and teaching them about healthy eating habits and the importance of starting now.
I LOVE teaching! Opening minds to new ideas and getting people to really think about how ‘you are what you eat’ is very rewarding and also hopeful that the newer and current generations will start making smarter choices and rates of obesity and related health conditions will start to decline.
My favorite moment came at the end of discussing the sugar content in popular beverages. A teenage girl looked at the 20-ounce bottle of ice tea she was sipping throughout the presentation and declared: “I am never drinking this again.” She had no idea that it basically was liquid candy nor did she realize the consequences of drinking it everyday.
Sometimes we take for granted what we know in our specialties, but it is so important to remember that not everyone is privileged to the same knowledge. And sadly, nutrition is one of those subjects that is not a standard in curriculums, which is why I jump on any opportunity I can to spread the health and wellness lifestyle message.
One of the main themes in all of the presentations was choosing healthier snack options. These are kids and their seemingly endless growing requires lots of snacks on tops of meals. Simply put, a healthy snack should include fiber, protein and healthy fats while excluding excessive amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fats and definitely without ingredients you cannot even pronounce. A snack’s goal is to provide you with enough energy to keep you full until the next meal so you can get through your busy day while being properly nourished. Oh, and it should also taste good!
Below is a new snack I made the other day that is just the perfect healthy sweet treat for any day, especially a warm day, and can even be served as dessert! There’s a bit of preparation, which is totally worthwhile because it has all the nutrients I just listed, is made from only three ingredients and natural sugars, and is about 150 calories per serving (perfect amount for a snack). This will definitely satisfy a juice or soda craving but actually provide positive benefits to your body! ;)
Try it out but also stay tuned for a future post on my favorite and go-to snacks!!
Mango Coconut Chia Pudding
Combine the chia seeds and coconut water. Stir well, wait five minutes and stir well again. Let the pudding rest over night (or at least a few hours until it begins to become gel-like).
When you are ready to eat your pudding, puree the mango. If you would like some texture, take 1/3 of the mango and dice.
Pour the puree over the chia pudding and top with the diced mango. Add additional toppings if desired (I used 1 Tbsp. of hemp hearts to add some additional protein. This brings the calories up to about 200 per serving - still okay for a snack.).
Serve and enjoy!
Yields: 1 serving
February was National Heart Month and March is both National Nutrition Month AND National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so eeeeeverybody is talking about fiber fiber fiber! But why???
Because most of us are lacking it in our diets! It’s recommended that women get at least 25 gm per day and men at least 38 gm per day (a bit less for both if you’re over 50 years of age), however, the average American diet only includes about 15 gm of fiber per day (1).
You’ve probably heard that you need fiber to maintain regular bowel movements, preventing constipation and stimulating the muscles of the digestive tract to stay healthy and toned. Yes, toned. Yet there are so many more reasons it’s vital to our health.
First it’s important to know there are two types of fiber:
1) Soluble fiber – absorbs water, forming a gel-like substance, solidifying and adding bulk to stools.
2) Insoluble fiber – mainly remains intact and speeds up stool’s movement out of the body.
In particular, soluble fiber helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It binds with LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and takes it out with your digestive trash, and it slows down the absorption of sugar aiding in regulating blood sugar levels. Fiber also works to keep our waistlines from expanding. Most sources of fiber are low in fat, sugar and calories, and soluble fiber actually slows the movement of food in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract keeping you feeling full. Additionally, while studies are mixed, many of them have shown that fiber helps reduce the risk of colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA with about five percent of the population being diagnosed with it (2).
So where does one get all this fiber? Plant based foods.
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plants. For example, it is found in the bran (outer shell) of grains, which is why eating whole grains is preferable to refined, processed ones that have stripped the grain of its outer fiber containing layer. Soluble fiber sources include oats, oat bran, cereal brans, barley, rye, fruits, vegetables, legumes (aka beans and peas), seeds and seaweeds. Insoluble fiber is found in whole-wheat flour, whole grain items, brown rice, wheat bran, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds (3).
And how does one get enough fiber in his or her diet?
To start, get your recommended 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Choose whole fruit and vegetables, not the juice forms, and eat the skin or peels, such as on apples, carrots and potatoes, because that’s where a lot of the fiber is in additional to a multitude of vitamins and minerals. Make a fruit and nonfat plain yogurt parfait for breakfast, add it to your whole grain cereals or eat fruit for dessert. Throw vegetables into everything from salads, soups, sandwiches, sauces, etc.
Choose whole grains, especially in bread and pasta products. Look for labels that say ‘100% whole wheat’ or ‘whole grain,’ and that include whole wheat, oats or barley as the first listed ingredient. Add oat bran, flaxseed meal or chia seeds to yogurt or cereal. When baking or cooking, substitute at least half of the flour with whole wheat flour.
Try substituting plant-based protein (ex. nuts, beans) for meats and cheese. Add nuts, beans or peas to soups, salads and pasta dishes, or even mash them up to make a fresh homemade dip for some cut up broccoli, carrot sticks or whole grain crackers.
ALWAYS read food labels. Look for at least 4 gm of fiber per serving. And be creative!
What else do you need to know? If you start to increase the amount of fiber you’re eating, do it slowly because adding fiber to your diet may cause you to feel bloated. Make sure to drink enough water for the fiber to absorb and to help it function properly in your system. Lastly, be careful not to just eat fiber filled products because too much of anything, even good for you foods, can be harmful, and too much fiber may lead to mineral deficiencies.
Below I’ve included a winter appropriate 'fiberful' sweet treat recipe. It's also suitable for vegans. Enjoy for breakfast, a snack or even dessert! :)
Zucchini Carrot Flaxseed Meal Whole Wheat Mini Loaves
Sift together the flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in a bowl. Set aside.
Mix the coconut milk, applesauce, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla in a bowl. Add the zucchini and carrots. Add the nuts if desired.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
Lightly grease the baking pans and spread the mixture evenly into each one.
Bake @350*F for about 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick/knife comes out clean.
Yields: 4 mini loaves
February is American Heart Month, raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and woman: 1 out of 4 deaths (1)! Heart disease includes conditions such as atherosclerosis (when arteries become clogged due to plaque build-up) that can result in coronary artery disease and ultimately cause heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the rest of your body (1,2).
What causes plaque build up? It’s mainly low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) mixed with fat, calcium and other miscellaneous materials found in your blood (1,3,4). LDL cholesterol is found in animal food sources such as meat and whole milk dairy. Many processed foods, especially commercially produced baked goods, that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils or shortening are also high in LDL cholesterol.
The good news is that maintaining healthy nutrition habits can help prevent heart disease.
A heart healthy diet includes:
Limiting: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt/sodium, alcohol
Incorporating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (i.e. eat your fiber!)
Unfortunately, many traditional baking recipes use butter, which is no doubt a fantastic tool in adding texture and flavor to baked goods but alas a major dietary source of ‘bad’ cholesterol and saturated fat. Simply put each Tablespoon of butter is loaded with fat (11g), saturated fat (7g), cholesterol (30mg), salt (95mg) and very high in calories (100 kcals) (5).
I remember at my first post-college restaurant job we had THE best granola on the breakfast menu and we employees definitely took advantage of our endless access to it. But when I started working in the kitchen and had to make it for the first time, I nearly fainted learning that the recipe called for 4 pounds of butter. Granted we were mass-producing this tasty treat, but still!! Granola is one of those tricky food items because us dietitians keep telling you to eat more whole grains (which oats surely are) because fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, but typical granola is usually coated in butter and sugar (negating oats' benefits) and mixed with other nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and nuts. Not heart healthy!
That said, I do love granola for it’s delightful taste and texture from oats, fruits and nuts but since it is very high in calories per serving, it should only be used in small amounts, such as a topping to some nonfat Greek yogurt or low-fat ice cream, and not eaten like regular cold cereal. Granola is also easy to make at home where you can control the ingredients and lower the fat, sugar and calorie content per serving, making it a healthier food in your diet and for your body. Recently, I was reading my Real Simple magazine (love Martha!) and saw a recipe for Applesauce Granola. I didn’t make her recipe (it includes butter), but I did steal her applesauce addition (think: natural sweetener) to create this Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola. It’s delicious granola but with much less fat, no added refined sugar, and packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Now that is heart healthy!
Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola
(adapted from Real Simple)
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, coconut and ginger together in a bowl. Add applesauce and maple syrup and toss until fully coated.
Spread oat mix evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat).
Bake ~60-80 minutes @ 275*F, stirring the oats every 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yields: 2 pints