Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Eve Party Recipes for the Healthy Foodie

New Year's Eve doesn't have to be the final over-indulgent blowout of the holiday season: you can have a great time, feel completely festive, and make a nod toward cleaning up your act before New Year's Day rears its head.
Healthy, delicious NYE canape

"Whether you're hosting a full house with all of your friends or watching the ball drop with your sweetheart, tasty appetizers and fun—maybe fizzy—drinks are in order." Try some of the recipes in Eating Well Magazine's "Easy Cocktail Party," or go for their Italian style simple New Year's Eve dinner. 
Don't want to do a lot of work while your guests are with you? Then check out EW's  "Make-Ahead Cocktail Party" menu. 

Click on this link to see all these recipes and more.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Adventures in (Vacation) Eating

We just returned from six days on the road -- in North Carolina to visit family and friends. The itinerary included two nights in Asheville NC, one in Chapel Hill, and the other three near my brother's home north of Raleigh.
My brother's Christmas dinner

As usual when we travel, my eating, exercise and sleep routines are shot to hell. Bad weather created additional setbacks in trying to keep my usual exercise pace of 45-60 minutes of walking (on the treadmill or outdoors) per day. I definitely felt the effects of over-indulgence in foods that are usually not on the menu, and wouldn't have been surprised if our bathroom scales had shown a 4-5 pounds gain this morning. But to my amazement, I didn't gain any weight. (Still trying to figure that out....)
Food highlights include dinner at Laughing Seed Cafe in Asheville -- one of our faves in that way-cool restaurant town. It's what I'd call gourmet vegetarian, and my husband and I were both happy to start vacation with a virtuous (healthy) dinner.
Next day, we drove to Chapel Hill where we stayed at the Franklin Hotel, right in the center of town. I went to graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and still have friends there. My brother Don and his wife Jo drove over from the Raleigh area and got a room in the same, very nice, hotel. We only had to walk across the street to a great cocktail bar, then about 2 blocks to dinner,back to the cocktail bar, and then just an elevator ride to bed.
That definitely was the highest alcohol consumption of the, too, of course.
Sunday night George & I met an old friend of mine for dinner at a French brasserie in Raleigh called Coquette, which we all enjoyed.
Christmas dinner dishes

The next couple of nights we ate at Don's; he's a fabulous and meticulous cook, and his meals were no comedown at all from the dinners out. He made shrimp and grits (I ate way too much of that) on Christmas Eve, then an elaborate Christmas Day meal of brined, bourbon molasses roasted turkey with several yummy side dishes and a freshly made pumpkin pie.
On the way home we spent another night in Asheville -- a town that we love -- where we had dinner at a downtown spot called Table. Very interesting menu.
Stuffed pasta, Table (Asheville)

One of my favorite dishes of the trip, though, happened on the morning of our departure for home. The bartender at Table told us to try a downtown breakfast place called Over Easy, so we did. My breakfast tacos were so marvelous, I'm sure that next time we're in Asheville we'll go back to Over Easy and I'll order those tacos again.
In addition to all of the above, I ate fried chicken strips and biscuits at Bojangle's (a chicken chain based in NC that I adore) TWICE, as well as a bison filet steak for dinner in Lexington KY on our drive home.
Breakfast tacos, Over Easy (Asheville)

And yet, no weight gain.
It seems impossible, so maybe something is wrong with that scale. . . . . . . .

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas -- safe travels and happy holidays

I'm on the road, visiting family and friends in North Carolina -- where it's warmer and sunnier than in my hometown of Cincinnati.
I'll be back soon. Meanwhile, stay healthy and ENJOY your time with each other.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't slack off!

Exercise is more important than ever during the holiday season.
Our routines are disrupted by extraordinary social obligations, shopping, fixing up the house for company, and maybe also year-end personal business and work demands -- all of which conspires to take the wind out of our sails in the realm of exercise.
But in fact we need to make exercise a real priority right now. Otherwise the pounds will pack on, our sleep will be disrupted and our stress levels can get into the danger zone.

There are a couple of built-in "positives" about the season 
that can make exercising easier. The weather, for one: in most areas, winter has not set in and in fact the temperatures and dryer conditions are perfect for long walks, hikes or jogs--whatever your fitness level permits. That's changing now, alas, but you can still find reasons to exercise outdoors.
If you have a yard, raking leftover leaves can be great exercise, or if you live where winter is already rearing its head, then snow removal (done carefully) really burns calories, too.

Even shopping can provide exercise opportunities. Get to the mall early and do a couple of (or a few) loops around the shops before you slow down to hit the stores. Instead of trying to find a parking place near a store entrance, go to the farthest outer corner of the lot and walk. Walk back to the car with purchases and return again. Take the stairs rather than escalators or elevators within the mall or department stores.

Because of all the social outings we're getting into, I have been ramping up my exercise time by small increments. In addition to a morning walk of 45 minutes, I try to take a 15-minute walk at lunch. On weekends, I bump that 45 minutes up to 60 minutes and also hit the gym. I try to jog part of the way and/or add more hills into my route.

Holiday travel is another potential saboteur of exercise. Depending on the location and circumstances of your travel, look for a gym or at the very least try to walk a lot, and at an aerobic pace for at least 30 minutes a day.

Bottom line: be vigilant about looking for exercise opportunities wherever you can find them. Five or ten minutes here and there add up over the course of a day, and your body will thank you come New Year's Day!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Holiday Survival Ideas

Going to parties? Eating at restaurants? Family feasts to attend (and/or host)? Candy turning up from Santa? Too busy to exercise, too stressed to sleep enough? The list of challenges to our health during the holidays is very long indeed. What's a healthy foodie to do?

Let's start with the parties. If it's potluck (or even if it's not and you know the hosts well enough to bring a dish to add), my strategy is to bring something that is going to improve the health profile of the buffet table. Truth be told, I almost always bring a veggie dish because so many parties would have nothing vegetable if it weren't for my contribution. The idea here is not to forego all holiday treats -- there'll be plenty of that -- but to make sure you can balance some of the high-calorie goodies with more nutritious dishes.

My veggie dishes are always appreciated and get eaten as fast as anything else on the table. I'm not saying bring cut up celery and carrots (not that there's anything wrong with that), but instead, use your imagination with winter veggies such as Brussels sprouts, acorn or butternut squash, or year-round favorites like broccoli or green beans. Just don't add cream of mushroom soup or other fat-laden ingredients.

While you're attending the family gatherings or parties with friends, here's a list of appetizers that are the ones to go for -- and a few to avoid.
The good ones:
1. Crudites--Yes, the cut-up raw veggies, but without unhealthy dips. Hummus and yogurt based concoctions are good-for-you dips for veggies.
2. Mixed nuts -- Nuts are filling and very tasty; be careful not to go overboard though, since they are full of calories. Go for unsalted nuts if at all possible. You won't get as thirsty for more caloric beverages (why do you think bars put out bowls of salty snacks but to make you drink more?), and too much salt is not beneficial to your health.
3. Smoked salmon -- because of its high Omega-3 fatty acid content. It's tasty too, but of course also expensive. You won't be tempted to overeat this because there's probably not going to be a whole lot of it!
4. Grilled figs and blue cheese -- kind of an odd choice (who has access to fresh figs this deep into cold weather?), but Andrew Weil recommends figs for their vitamins and fiber along with "a little bit" of the cheese for calcium and protein. Sounds good to me!

Those to avoid? Dips, cocktail franks and mini-meatballs, anything fried, and foie gras or other liver-based pates and dips.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday survival, Part 1

Here we are in the middle of prime shopping/decorating/socializing/travel time. We may be running on overload, trying to get everything done in time, and hoping to make this the best holiday (or Christmas) ever. How to avoid letting it overwhelm us? Here are a few ideas.

1. Give yourself a spending budget and stick to it. You don't have to get anal about it and make a list of how much you'll spend on each gift, decoration, party, etc. But do have an overall idea of what you can afford to spend this season so that the January bills don't land you in the dumps, emotionally as well as financially.

2. Don't expect too much from the holidays. Your family will probably not solve all its issues; peace on earth (or even in your household) probably won't come to pass. The TV ads showing blissful family reunions are just marketing--not what our real lives are or need to be.

3. Practice patience, kindness and understanding. You can become a little bit of Christmas cheer by cutting the other guys some slack. Slow down by just 5 mph on the road, and let that car coming out of the parking lot get in front of you. Be generous in little ways -- for instance, carry dollar bills or $5 bills (whatever you can afford) in your coat pocket for panhandlers. You'll make the fellow (or lady) happy, and reap your own emotional rewards.

4. Take care of yourself--eat right, exercise, minimize caffeine, don't drink too much  alcohol, and find at least a half hour per day to do nothing.


Friday, December 14, 2012

A Neighborhood Gem (and in MY neighborhood)

Long-time readers know that I love this restaurant: La Poste, on Telford Street right here in my neighborhood of Clifton. It's around the corner from the six-screen Esquire Theater and is by far the best choice for dining -- and a peerless wine list -- before or after a movie.
Baked Pear & Prosciutto Salad

My husband and I are well known by all the staff, no surprise since we drop in for drinks and/or a meal at least a couple of times a month, and often more frequently than that.
This week we had a pre-holiday dinner--soup and a fish special entree for him, pear salad and appetizer-portion scallops for me. He doesn't drink liquor, but I had the restaurant's sommelier select two half-glasses of different white wines (which is what went best with my light dishes) to go with each of my courses. I think all four wines were French -- always good by me -- and my favorite was a white Cotes-du-Rhone, a Roussane/Marsanne/Viognier blend that went beautifully with the salad's ingredients of pear, prosciutto and goat cheese.

Scallops appetizer -- plenty of food!

If you live in the Cincinnati metro area and you haven't tried La Poste yet, you need to get on down there. They serve lunch Tuesday - Friday, and dinner Monday - Saturday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cheesecake of the gods: make in a slow-cooker!

This is pretty doggone irresistible, even though we can't exactly claim that cheesecake is a healthy dish.
Well, it's the holidays...
I'm not usually much of a cheesecake fan, but this one is uniquely delicious because of its cooking method. Yes, you do it in a slow-cooker, which makes an amazingly creamy and moist dessert.


3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup sour cream


1. In a medium bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter,cinnamon, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and a pinch of salt. Press the crumbs over the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a 6-inch spring form pan that's 3 inches deep.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, combine the cream cheese with the flour, the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Beat at medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs and the almond extract. Beat at medium speed until blended. Add the sour cream and beat until smooth. Pour the batter into the spring form pan.
3. Fill a 6- to 7-quart round or oval slow cooker with 1/2 inch of water and position a rack in the bottom. Set the cheesecake on the rack. Cover the slow cooker with a triple layer of paper towels and the lid. Turn the cooker to high and cook for 2 hours without peeking. Turn off the heat and let stand until the slow cooker has cooled, 1 hour.
4. Remove the lid and the paper towels and transfer the cheesecake to a rack to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.
5. Heat a sharp, thin-bladed knife under hot water; dry the knife. Carefully run the knife around the edge of the cheesecake. Release the spring and lift the cheesecake out of the mold. Cut into wedges and serve.

SOURCE: Food & Wine

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Savory and sweet side

This makes a great side dish to go with a Christmas ham, and it's hearty enough to serve as a main course for vegetarians. I've also made this dish (or one like it) to take to a potluck dinner.
You may substitute peeled chunks of sweet potato for the butternut squash, if you prefer.

Butternut Squash, Fruit and Nut Dressing
(Serves 6-8)

2 1/2 cups butternut squash cut into one to 1 ½- inch cubes Note: many supermarkets carry peeled and seeded butternut squash, refrigerated, in the produce section
5 cups whole-grain bread cubes (from 4 large slices of bread). Note: Bread should either be toasted before you cut into cubes or left out overnight so that it’s “stale.” If you have stale whole-grain bread, use that.
2 T canola oil
½ cup chopped celery and/or carrots
½ cup diced onion, leeks or shallots
2 eggs, lightly beaten, or equivalent amount of egg whites or egg substitute
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme
½ cup golden raisins, dried cranberries or a mix of both
½ cup chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the squash in a steamer insert inside a 2-quart saucepan. Add ½ cup water, sprinkle with salt, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until squash is still al dente, about 3-4 minutes depending on thickness of the cubes. Remove from heat and rinse squash under cold running water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables (celery, onions, etc.) to pan and sauté, stirring, until veggies are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.
3. Combine remaining ingredients (eggs through salt and pepper) with cooled veggies in a large mixing bowl. Add bread and squash; stir well.
4. Turn into an oiled baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 60 minutes in a preheated, 350- degree oven.
5. Let cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You'll love this salad

Martha writes: "Farro is a sturdy grain that stands up well to such lusty ingredients as beet greens. The flavor is sweet and nutty, and it contrasts nicely with salty feta or goat cheese. The farro will absorb the color from red beets, giving this salad a pinkish tint. Be sure to cook the farro until tender, or else the salad will be chewy."

RECIPE: Grain Salad with Beets and Goat Cheese

2 medium, roasted; with greens, stemmed and washed in two changes of water
1 cup farro, soaked for one hour in water to cover and drained (other grains may be substituted)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (somewhat less than the original recipe)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, crumbled (plus more to pass at the table)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, chives, mint
1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Fill a bowl with ice water. When the water comes to a boil, add salt to taste and the greens. Blanch for two minutes, and transfer to the ice water. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.
2. Bring the water back to a boil, and add the farro. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, stirring from time to time, or until the farro is tender. Remove from the heat and allow the grains to swell in the cooking water for 10 minutes, then drain.
3. While the farro is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegars, salt, garlic and mustard. Whisk in the oil(s). Add to the farro. Peel and dice the beets and add, along with the beet greens, feta or goat cheese, herbs and walnuts. Toss together, and serve warm or room temperature with a little more cheese sprinkled over the top if you wish.
Yield: Serves eight
Advance preparation: The roasted beets and cooked beet greens will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator, and the cooked farro for five days. You can assemble this salad hours or even a day ahead; it will redden with time.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday drinks: mocktails or cocktails.It's up to you

A reader sent in a link to her blog post called "7 Holiday Inspired Mocktails." Cutting back on alcohol -- or for many, not using it at all -- is a good way to help keep the pounds off at this challenging time of year. Not only do alcoholic drinks add empty calories to your daily total, one effect of the booze is to lower your ability to resist the other fat-and-sugar-laden treats that are all around us this time of year.
On the other hand, if you're more of the "eat, drink and be merry" philosophy -- at least until January -- you might spike these drinks for those who prefer to indulge.
Click on the link above to read about all the non-alcoholic suggestions. Here are a few, with my ideas in parentheses about what alcohol you might consider adding to some of them.

  1. Cranberry Splash – Fill a tall glass with ice cubes and fill the glass half full with tea (any flavor) and top off with sparkling cranberry juice, such as Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash, or a little plain cranberry juice and ginger ale.  Garnish with a wedge of lime and a few floating cranberries for a pretty and festive drink. [Instead of ginger ale, add Prosecco or other sparkling wine]
  2. Cherry Bomb – Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, remove from the heat and add 1 cup of grenadine, stirring to combine. Cool slightly and then pour into ice cube trays. Freeze for at least 2 hours.  To make the drink, fill a tall glass with the ice cubes and top with a lemon lime soda.  Garnish with several bottled cherries on a toothpick laid across the top of the drink. [Cherry flavored vodka, or just a shot of plain vodka, would spike this one nicely.]
  3. Grape cider sparkler – Combine ¼ cup of grape juice with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Split this mixture between 2 glasses, then fill up the glass with sparkling cider.  Garnish with a twist of lemon.
  4. Apple pie spiced cider – You can create this warm and soothing drink in place of a hot toddy.  In a medium pan, whisk together 1 ¼ quarts of apple cider, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of allspice, ½ teaspoon of ground ginger and ¼ teaspoon of cloves.  Add a pinch of salt (optional) and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Grate some fresh nutmeg over the pot.  Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve in mugs and garnish with a whole cinnamon stick. [I've always liked rum in hot cider, but others swear by bourbon.]

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wine Guy Bistro (Hyde Park)

Tuna entree at Wine Guy
Just a quick note: we had our best meal yet the other night at this restaurant in Rookwood Plaza, Hyde Park. Wine Guy Bistro is part of a small chain, based in Columbus OH. It's a restaurant, wine bar and retail store. Mostly, I've gone there for lunch. This week we had dinner and both ordered a seafood entree. My tuna (foreground in the photo) was an excellent dish, and healthy, too. My husband's salmon was a bit richer -- it sits atop a slab of potato au gratin and is topped by a buttery corn relish -- but he can handle the extra calories. I also had a couple of glasses of an interesting Austrian white wine, a blend of Riesling, chardonnay and Gruner Vetliner.