Monthly Archives:

January 2011

Minestrone Stew

Soup, stew, or if you’re a Rachel Ray fan, stewp…Nearly any variation of those sultry “S” words will seduce me on a cold winter’s day. Nothing warms me up like a hot, steamy bowl of soup when I’m feeling the winter chills. Like this minestrone soup—hearty, spicy, filled with that fiery heat I was looking for during this past week of freezing temps. The following recipe is for a minestrone-styled stew with a few small twists. Feel free to add rice or pasta to make your bowl even that much heartier.

Minestrone Stew

-2 Tbsp. olive oil
-1 large onion, diced
-4 stalks celery, diced
-2 carrots, sliced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-2 medium potatoes, chopped
-14.5 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes with green chillies, undrained
-5 cups water or vegetable broth or a combination
-15.5 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
-15.5 oz can chick peans, rinsed and drained
-1 tsp. basil
-1 tsp. oregano
-1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice
-1/2 pound kale, optional
-Salt, pinch
-Chives, chopped, optional

In large sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in potatoes and garlic, cover, and let sweat another 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, spices, and water/broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add beans and salt, to taste. Simmer 5 minutes. Add kale, if desired, and cook another 10 minutes, or until kale is tender. Remove from heat. Serve with a handful of chopped chives, if desired.

Walmart’s Healthy Moves For the Consumer or the Company?

Walmart, announced a new healthy foods-based initiative last week alongside First Lady Obama in Washington. The five-year plan calls for reducing levels of sugar and salt, as well as eliminating trans fats in packaged foods.

By 2015, Walmart wishes to reduce sodium levels by at least 25% and added sugars by 10%, helping to reduce some of the nutritional downsides of hundreds of packaged foods. The company intends to work directly with food suppliers to make these changes happen.

How satisfactorily these companies will comply with Walmart’s initiative still remains to be seen. The plan also begs the question of whether healthifying packaged foods should really be the main priority right now. As Marion Nestle puts it, “I’ll say it again: a better-for-you processed food is not necessarily a good choice.”

Walmart plans to drive down the prices of healthier processed foods, and also intends to place stores in areas considered food deserts in order to help low-income individuals. Thirty to forty smaller-format stores are being proposed for creation in urban areas by the beginning of next year. The world’s largest retail chain also intends to reduce the prices of fruits and veggies by creating its own produce supply chain, a goal that I find much more beneficial than decreasing prices on processed foods. (I don’t believe “healthy” and “processed” should hang out in the same sentence, again why I don’t think it should be the top priority.) Company officials say they intend to save consumers a total of $1 billion globally on fruits and veggies. However, there are negatives to consider even with this part of the initiative, such as how it will affect local and small-time farmers.

Walmart is also in the works of creating a self-designed nutritional seal of approval to be placed on what the company identifies as healthier products by the end of this year. It aims to have 25% of its product-line meet the created nutritional standards, which will include a focus on fat, sugar, salt, and whole grains.

But once again, there is criticism of this endeavor, with many believing the company-created nutritional seal is simply a ploy to avoid stricter, (more truthful), potential FDA-regulated seals.

Walmart’s healthy initiative proves to be a contentious issue. It has called for praise and criticism from all angles. Is the company really looking out for the health of its consumers? Or is it simply trying to raise its own status and drive up its shares? By how much will the changes actually help consumers make healthier choices? It’s hard for anyone to fully be against an initiative that has at least some aim towards promoting healthier eating. But many claim Walmart isn’t doing enough and that the changes are insignificant, intended only to improve the face of the company.

What are your thoughts on Walmart’s new healthy initiative?

Better Butter

Look out boyfriend, you’ve got some competition. His name’s Peanut Butter, and this childhood friend’s certainly not going anywhere.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anytime in between, you name it and I’ll be ready for some of that creamy, nut-filled butter. Peanut butter easily ranks among my top 5 foods. Pair it with a banana, and I’m in foodie heaven. Or, just hand me a spoon (even better, make it a chocolate spoon) and I’ll heedlessly serve myself straight up.

While all natural peanut butter definitely isn’t the worst food obsession to have, downing the nutty stuff can err on the side of dangerous, especially when those portion sizes aren’t kept in check. Sending even just a single spoonful of peanut butter into your mouth can mean a quick 100-200 calories and a dense load of fat plopped into your tummy.

That’s why I was excited when I got wind of Better Butter, a Philadelphia-based peanut butter company that adds extra flavor and nutrients to their peanut butter in order to lower the cal/fat content. Better Butter’s products utilize pumpkin or banana to stretch that peanutty goodness, naturally lowering the calorie and fat count to about half that of other nut butters.

Better Butter offers three flavors: Nutty Chocolate Chip, Maple Pumpkin, and Honey Nut Banana. The Nutty Chocolate Chip tastes similar to slightly-less-sweet brownie batter with an abundance of mini chocolate chips swimming around. Better Butter’s best seller, the Maple Pumpkin, resembles a thicker version of pumpkin pie filling with a faint nutty aftertaste. I have yet to try the Honey Nut Banana, but considering it contains my favorite combo. ever, I’m definitely curious to check it out.

Better Butter takes a wholesome approach, adding only natural ingredients to their products. Any sweeteners used come from either agave or maple syrup, and absolutely no GMOs, preservatives, or artificial colors or flavors are added. Another pro, Better Butter tries to source all of their ingredients locally, purchasing their nuts from the Philadelphia area, jars from Lancaster, and shipping boxes from Ambler. But yes, they do ship nationwide, so check out their online store for more details.

My only complaint with Better Butter is the loss of that intense peanutty flavor. I’m afraid that for me, I can’t say Better Butter stands up to a banana quite the same way that a simple peanut butter does. However, it’s definitely spoon-out-of-the-jar worthy, which so far is probably my favorite way to eat Better Butter. I like to consider it a healthy dessert alternative. What’s 27-year-old founder and owner Marina Levtov’s favorite way to eat it?  “When I have leisurely time in the morning, I make a breakfast pizza with the Nutty Choc Chip. The combo of chocolate peanut butter, bananas, yogurt, and agave is the best.”
Now that’s a recipe I’m looking to give a try.
*Better Butter is also giving Food-Fitness-FreshAir readers a 20% discount off of all items. Simply enter foodfitnessfreshair in the coupon code box.

Vegan “Beef” Stew with Quinoa

Not wanting to venture out of my apartment this past bitter-cold, cloudy Saturday, I decided to get in the kitchen and whip up something toasty. I was craving something warm, something fragrant, something hearty. I wanted a meal whose aromas and flavors would fill my little Philly apartment with extra cozy comfort.I settled on making a vegan rendition of beef stew, bringing back memories of cloudy afternoons spent in London pubs, with robust meals lining the menus. I replaced the standard meat in this recipe with seitan, braising it with vegetable broth, which allows the veggie alternative to really soak up all of the flavors melding next to it in the pot. I also added one of my favorite, protein-rich grains, quinoa, to give the stew a little extra special bulk. I hope this vegan stew brings as much comfort to your home as mine.

Vegan “Beef” Stew with Quinoa

-1 Tbsp. olive oil
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 carrot, sliced
-1/3 green bell pepper, finely chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 bay leaf
-8 oz. seitan beef strips
-1 cup vegetable stock
-2 Tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
-2 tsp. thyme
-1/2 tsp. sage
-2 Tbsp. ketchup, optional
-1 dried red chili pepper (You can substitute red pepper flakes, to taste)
-2 cups cooked quinoa
In large sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers, and carrot. Saute 2 minutes. Add garlic, chili pepper, and bay leaf, and saute another 3-5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Stir in spices, ketchup and Worcestershire. Add seitan, and saute 2 minutes. Add vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until carrots are tender and stock is evaporated, stirring as needed (30-45 minutes). Remove bay leaf. Toss in quinoa. Serve with a drizzle of tobassco, if desired.

Pan-Seared Tofu with Fennel Garbanzo Blend

Ever time I go to Horizons, I’m in awe at how the restaurant creates tofu-centered entrees that taste like heaven. Growing up on the white stuff, I definitely eat my fair share of tofu. From the simple sandwich to Tofu Edamame Wraps, tofu isn’t really a foreign ingredient in my kitchen. However, I don’t think I ever considered utilizing tofu as if it were a meat, cooking it like a steak and plating up a thick slice for dinner. The thought of doing that prior to Horizons would scare me beyond all belief. However, the restaurant quickly opened my eyes to the multifaceted depths of tofu. I’m convinced that that place can seriously turn even the most meat lovin’, skeptical-of-tofu diners into tofu lovers. And the texture…who knew a squishy block of uncooked tofu could turn into what almost resembles something comparable to a Chilean sea bass…a golden, slightly crispy outside giving way to a perfectly juicy interior.

This Christmas, my sister bought my mom the Horizons cookbook. Finally, all my questions were answered. Inside the book lay instructions of how they get their tofu so darn delicious. Yes!

The following recipe requires a couple steps, which include making a special Horizons-designed tofu rub and creating a sauce to pair with the tofu. I decided on a hummus-like blend utilizing some fennel I had in the fridge. However, when you make the Tofu Spice, double or even triple the recipe, and you’ll have it around to use whenever. Also, the garbanzo blend I created provides leftovers worthy of other uses. You’ll also find that the actual cooking method of the tofu is surprisingly simple. Feel free to whip up the first few steps 1-2 days ahead of time, and then you’ll be able to create this meal in under 5 minutes.

All in all, I can’t say I’ve quite mastered pan-seared tofu quite as good as the tofu masters at Horizons, but their instructions will get you pretty close. The results are sure to satisfy both your meaty and vegan friends. I’ve got tons of extra tofu spice on hand, so expect some more tofu-centered dishes in the future!

Pan-Seared Tofu

(Serves 3)

-1-14 oz. block of firm tofu, drained
-Horizons’ Tofu Spice mix (recipe to follow)
-Olive oil
-1 cup Fennel Garbanzo Blend (recipe below)

Divide block of tofu lengthwise into thirds. Liberally coat one side of each slice with Tofu Spice Mix.

Place a shallow layer of olive oil in a saute pan. Heat until very hot (you’ll see slight ripples, but don’t let it smoke.) Turn off heat and gently lay in the tofu, spice side down. Return to heat, spice the other side, and cook until the bottom side looks golden. Turn off heat and carefully flip tofu slices with a spatula. Turn the heat back on and cook the other side until golden brown.

Heat 1 cup of Fennel Garbanzo Blend until warm. Serve each slice of tofu atop 1/3 cup Fennel Garbanzo Blend.

Horizons’ Tofu Spice

-2 Tbsp. coarse salt (do not grind)
-2 Tbsp. peppercorns
-1 tsp. coriander seeds
-1 tsp. caraway seeds
-1 tsp. fennel seeds
-1 tsp. cumin seeds
-1 tsp. celery seeds (do not grind)

Individually grind the above spices in a coffee mill. Mix all ingredients together. Store in an air-tight container.

Fennel Garbanzo Blend

-2 large cloves garlic
-1 fennel bulb, plus stalks and leaves, ends removed
-1 15.5 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
-1 lemon, hand-squeezed
-1 1/2 tsp. cumin
-1 tsp. paprika
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. pepper
-2 Tbsp. tahini
-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

-Parsley and paprika, garnish, optional

Pulse garlic in food processor. Add fennel, and pulse until it turns into a coarse paste. Add remaining ingredients, excluding olive oil. Blend, drizzling in olive oil through top of processor. Remove from food processor, and garnish with a sprig of parsley and a dash of paprika, if desired.


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