March is National Nutrition Month®. So it's the perfect time for me to get back on track with blogging for you all and also share something that is very important to me.
Long before I knew I wanted to become a dietitian, I volunteered at food pantries because at least I knew I wanted to help address the widespread issue of food insecurity and hunger in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 49 million Americans (about 16 million of those are children) live in food insecure households. About 62% of these households use one of these three federal assistance programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (1). However, that still leaves a lot of people without assistance in securing food!
Back in November, once I finally felt settled in my new position at work and able to start volunteering once more, I joined a project co-run by New York Cares and Citymeals-on-Wheels. Citymeals-on-Wheels provides meals seven days a week for homebound older adults, and this particular project delivers meals to participants belonging to three senior centers in Brooklyn, New York (my home for the past seven years).
When I went to sign up again in January, I jumped on the opportunity to lead this project for the year, because I had such a good experience in November and believe this is a vital resource for members of the community. On the first Saturday of each month, my team of New York Cares volunteers meets at Borinquen Plaza Senior Center to package lunches that get distributed later in the week. Depending on how many volunteers we have, we make about 800-1500 packages each time!
Volunteering has so many benefits. Aside from the core purpose of helping to provide nourishment to those in need, you get to meet the most incredible people from all over the country with all sorts of interests and personalities. Even though you are all strangers, you unite and create a hard working team fully focused on the same goal. It's pretty amazing.
If any of you are interested in volunteering, especially for this cause, check out both of these resources as each of them offers numerous opportunities to get involved. And if preparing meals doesn't catch your interest, New York Cares has an array of volunteer opportunities ranging from tutoring children, cleaning up and landscaping local parks, teaching computer skills, leading arts and crafts projects, assisting people with resumes and job applications, and much more.
If you don't have any extra time at this moment and still want to contribute to the cause, here is a link for making a donation to Citymeals-on-Wheels: https://www.citymeals.org/support-us.
Thanks for reading about one of my passions! I would love to hear about yours!
to Whenever I have poached pears, I think about Rémy Fünfrock, the pastry chef who changed my life forever. He took a just graduated girl (who was trying to figure out how to combine her passions with a job) under his wings, forbid her from applying to culinary school and jump started her career in the food industry. Rémy is also the first person to introduce me to poached pears.
Around this time ten years ago, on the Le Voyage section of the Café Boulud Palm Beach dessert menu, we featured a Frozen Hazelnut Parfait with Warm Poundcake and a Poached Pear.
Ridiculously delicious! Not to mention that all of Rémy's dessert looked like pieces of art.
Rémy taught me so many kitchen techniques and introduced me to new desserts from which I realized for the first time in my life I preferred fruit desserts over chocolate (gasp). I am forever grateful for the care and time he put into sharing the beauty of this fabulous trade, training me and answering all of many many MANY questions I had (even if he had to ask me to shut it once in awhile!).
When I was at the store the other day there was a great deal on organic Bartlett pears, so naturally I jumped on it and went straight home to poach. There are numerous ways to poach fruit, but I swoon over red wine poached pears likely because of the great memories from Café Boulud. Also, poached pears can be used for both sweet and savory dishes and look so elegant while being so easy to prepare. For this recipe, I added some citrus flavors and seasonal spices to go along with the fall mood.
In addition to the pears, I tried something new this time since I knew I was going to have the pears with my almond milk oats and sweetened up the red wine reduction by adding maple syrup. DELISH!
You can use the pears and sauce for a variety of dishes: serve with some yogurt or ice cream, slice and add to a sandwich or top off a salad. I fanned a pear and drizzled the sauce over my morning oats (see first pic) and had one of the best breakfasts ever!! Check out the recipes below!
Red Wine Poached Pears
& Maple Syrup Red Wine Reduction
Yields: 4 servings
In a small pot, bring all the ingredients (except the pears) to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
Place the pears on their sides (yes, only half the pear will be covered). Let simmer for 5 minutes and then flip the pears so the opposite side is covered. Repeat for about 20-30 minutes until the pears are a rich red cover and cooked yet firm.
Remove the pears from the heat and cool. Transfer the pears and red wine broth to a storage container and chill overnight (or at least 3 hours).
To make the reduction, remove the cinnamon sticks and pour the broth into another small pot. Simmer the broth for about 20 minutes until it starts to thicken to a desired consistency (note the maple syrup will thin it out a tiny bit). Stir in the maple syrup. Drizzle on top of your dish or let cool to use later.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies (Repost from Nutrish and Delish)
As a former pastry cook at fine dining restaurants, I created and tasted numerous desserts primarily made with refined sugar, butter and heavy full fat cream. I won’t lie, most of them tasted pretty great, but day after day of taste testing (which a cook has to do to ensure dishes are made correctly for the guests) got to me both physically and mentally. I remember one day when my co-worker Maggie and I looked at each other while we were preparing the evening’s desserts and we both had the look of dread on our faces. Did we really have to taste the freshly made raspberry coulis on the warm and fluffy beignets one more time?!
I know, I know…poor us. Trust me, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I did and learn about traditional baking and dessert making from world-renowned experts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But overtime, my body learned the power of over indulging in not-so-good-for-you foods.
Despite getting sick of buttery and sugary treats, I still crave and love baked goods and dessert. Baking will always be one of my main passions. It’s just nowadays, I really try to cut back on the refined ingredients and add as much nourishment as I can to whatever I’m creating without compromising its taste or texture. Some of my trials are major errors and others are just simply delicious while being quite nutritious!
Here’s one of my most recent examples: Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies.
Oatmeal cookies are usually thought to be healthy because they contain whole grains (aka fiber) and typically fruit, but a lot of times these cookies are also loaded with butter and refined flour and sugar. If you haven’t noticed by now, the first thing I usually do is try to see how much whole wheat flour I can use in a recipe without it becoming too dense or tough to chew. Why choose whole wheat flour? It is closer to its original grain form and contains more protein and fiber than its nemesis: unnecessarily overly processed white flour.
Check out the list below of the remaining key ingredients in this recipe and the reasons I chose them:
Coconut oil: Yes this is a saturated fat but unlike butter, coconut oil may help the body’s immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) instead of just raising bad cholesterol (LDL), which high levels of can lead to heart disease.
Honey: Yes this is a sugar and yes it is nutrient dense with a decent amount of calories per serving, but the reason honey makes the cut into my cookies is because it is naturally made as opposed to fully stripped and refined like white sugar. Honey also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which can help protect against inflammation, cell damage and chronic illness such as heart disease, while sugar only offers calories. That said, honey should still be used in moderation because of its sugar content, and you'll see I often use pure maple syrup too since it has about 25% less sugar content.
Cranberries (dried): Any dried fruit is calorically dense because each piece of fruit keeps it’s calorie content despite shrinking in volume. It is especially important to exercise portion control here and choose dried fruit that is 100% natural with no added sugar, which is often found with dried fruits. Fruit itself contains enough natural sugar that it does not need anymore to taste sweet.
Cacao nibs: This is chocolate in its purest form – literally just cacao beans crumbled into teeny tiny fully flavorful pieces. And as I’ve stated before, chocolate (without a lot of added sugar and fat) has many health benefits, including antioxidant and fiber filling powers.
Hemp hearts: These little seeds are not only adorable with a delightful nutty taste to them, but they also have over 3 grams of protein per Tablespoon. Additionally, they have both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential fats (i.e. our body cannot make them and we must get them from foods) needed for our brains and nervous system to function.
These cookies are just as easy to make as a traditional oatmeal cookie recipe, but instead of just being a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth, they also exclude a lot of typical processed ingredients and include more protein, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants. A much healthier (and just as tasty) dessert! I hope this post helped you guys get a better feel for how I think and what my goals are for my recipes and this blog.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies
(with vegan sub suggestions)
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Preheat the oven to 350*F.
Combine the coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a bowl (if it doesn't fully mix it is okay and will become more cohesive in the next step).
Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix well.
Stir in the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until combined.
Mix in the cranberries, cacao nibs and hemp hearts.
Drop the dough by 2 Tbsp placed about 2 inches apart on a nonstick baking pan (I typically use a Silpat or parchment paper).
Place the sheet tray in the oven and bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool and devour! :D
How yummy does these cookies look?! Nom nom nom... They were fluffy yet chewy with a nice nutty flavor from the hemp hearts, chocolate crunch from the cacao nibs and pure sweetness from the cranberries. So I packed some up for my future snack attacks so I wouldn't eat them all right away! Thank you mason jars - the kitchen accessory with a million joyful uses. ;) Enjoy!!