Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snacking smart

The #1 question I always get from people when I tell them I'm into nutrition and healthy eating is, 'What should I be snacking on?'. I feel like people know more or less what they should be eating during mealtime (a mix of protein and carbs, heavy on vegetables, stay away from fried foods etc.), but snacks seem to be a big issue. 

Either people eat too much during their snacks and then aren't hungry for their next meal or they eat too little and aren't satisfied. I used to have the same problem, in fact. 

There are a couple simple rules of snacking that will help you make better choices. 
1. A snack should be about 150-250 calories depending on your daily caloric intake. If you work out and eat around 2000 calories and aren't looking to lose weight, a 200 calorie snack is fine. This applies to men as well. If you are looking to lose weight or don't move much, then 150 calories is plenty. 
2. A snack should be a mix of protein and carbs. This is one of the more important rules. If you have only fruit (carbs + sugar)  as a snack, your blood sugar will spike, and you'll end up hungrier than if you hadn't had anything. However, fruit and a small piece of cheese will tide you over till your next meal. Remember, carbs are quick energy while protein is what keeps you full. 
3. Consume a snack 3-4 hours after each meal. After 3 hours is when your blood sugar levels will begin dropping again, so it's the perfect time for a quick pick me up. If you wait too long to have a snack, you'll run the risk of overeating. 
4. Try to have your snack balance with the rest of your day. So if you've had a day heavy on carbs, then maybe have a snack with protein and fewer carbs (like sliced veggies and some hummus). Or if you've had a lot of protein, forgo the protein completely and have a slice of whole grain toast with avocado and tomatoes. 

Some of my favorite snacks include: 
My perfect snack: 1/2 slice of rye bread with PB and 1/2 banana. 
- A Wasa cracker with a thin spread of peanut butter or homemade hummus (recipe to come), with some fruit on the side. 
- Half a whole-wheat wrap with greens and olive paste (I know, weird). 
- A small bowl of salad with some beans. 
- Sliced red bell peppers and a small piece of cheese. 
- A handful of nuts (no more!). 

The most important thing is to listen to your hunger cues before they're screaming at you. The worst thing you can do is go too long without eating and overeat. Snack smart! 

Stuffed Shells

The ricotta filling. 
Last night I had a dinner party for 5 of my close friends. I love throwing dinner parties for two reasons: 1. I get to catch up with friends who I might usually only see out and about. 2. I get to try out new recipes

I went with a recipe for Stuffed Shells from 101cookbooks. Unfortunately, because the local gourmet market here doesn't sell shells, I had to use tubes instead. However, it didn't make much of a difference. 
The stuffed tubes. 

                                                                                   I served it with a side salad of mixed greens, shredded carrots and red cabbage (my favorite), followed by a dessert of yogurt gelato and fresh honeydew melon. All in all, it was a delicious meal if I must say so myself. 

These tubes are a little difficult to fill, and it's a little time consuming, but I'd say it's worth it. This is definitely a dish to serve to guests- not sure if it's worth going through the trouble for a simple dinner for two at home. 
The final product; apologizes for the low photo quality. 

                                                                                    What really elevates this dish is the lemon zest in the ricotta filling. It adds a nice bright punch of flavor. I think next time I might add some spinach to the ricotta filling as I like everything more when it has greens in it, but that's just me. 

Note: While it may be tempting to finish the dish with a layer of shredded cheese, don't. The ricotta filling is more than enough and it's lighter without. 

Blueberry Crumb Bars (sugar-free)

The other day my rockstar friend Can Bonomo had a concert at Galatasaray Highschool so I decided to make something for the gang to munch on backstage. 
Layering the blueberries.

I wanted something easy to handle like cookies, but needed to make it sugar-free, and since sugar-free chocolate doesn't behave well when baked, I decided on a fruit dessert. 

Hence, these blueberry crumb bars. Again, the recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. I have been baking almost exclusively from this website recently and I have a sneaking suspicion it's because the photos are stunning. Every time I visit the website I find something I must make immediately

As always, I made a few changes to the recipe
1. Instead of 1 cup sugar, I used 1/2 cup sugar replacement. 
2. I used 1/2 cup butter instead of 1 cup. 
3. I also used potato starch instead of cornstarch, as the former is found more easily here in Istanbul. 

The finished product. 
They turned out well. My sister said the butter taste was a little too strong, but that might be because I reduced the amount of sugar. I thought they were delicious as did the band. One thing to keep in mind though, is that they were not easy to handle, at all! The blueberries stain your hands, so keep that in mind if you plan on making them. 

Other than that, it was a super easy recipe to make and they looked cute too. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sugar-free Carrot Cake Muffins

Today I made a batch of sugar-free, half whole-wheat carrot cake muffins. I modified this recipe from The New York Times.com. 'Recipes for Health' is the name of Martha Rose Shulman's cooking section on The NYT website. I also purchased her cookbook a while back and was pleasantly surprised with it. Shulman provides loads of recipes from breakfast to desserts, but everything is mostly all-natural and lower in fat. She is all about cooking what's in season and highlighting the natural flavors in the ingredients she uses. 

My changes to the recipe:
1. I used a sugar replacement instead of the brown sugar called for. Unfortunately, fake sugar doesn't caramelize and brown like brown sugar does, so my muffins are a lot lighter colored than I was expecting. Because I used the super sweet sugar replacement, I used only 1/4 cup instead of the 1/3 called for. With the addition of raisins, the muffins turned out just sweet enough. 
Don't forget to flour the raisins. 
2. The recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour. For those who don't know, whole wheat pastry flour is whole wheat flour that is light like normal flour. Most whole wheat flours are super heavy and can result in a dense product. Since they don't sell WWPF here I used half white flour and half whole wheat. Next time, I think I will use mostly whole wheat as the muffins weren't as nutty as I would have liked. 
3. You can't find buttermilk in Turkey, so I made my own using organic milk mixed with a tablespoon of vinegar. Do this first, stir it up and let it set to curdle a bit. 
4. I reduced the amount of oil from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup. I almost always do this. I find that you almost never need as much fat as is called for. The muffins were quite moist and you don't notice the reduction. 
5. I used 2 cups shredded carrots instead of 1.5. I always find that I like more of the star ingredient (in this case, the carrots) when baking. 

The muffins turned out nice. Definitely not one of my favorite recipes. I like my muffins chewier and nuttier. Plus, I really like nuts in muffins but I left the walnuts out this time because one of my friends is allergic. All in all, a pretty good recipe, but I plan to play with it a little bit more. I think maybe even the addition of some bran or wheat germ would do the trick. 

* My sister enjoyed one with some cheese, which I think elevated the muffins to a whole 'nother level. 
* For those interested, there was a calorie count on the original recipe, which listed them at 239 calories per muffin. Considering I used a lot less oil, I would put them at 200 calories each maximum. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Banana Bread!

I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like banana bread. I think even my best friend Burcu, who doesn't like anything, likes banana bread. What's not to like? Bananas, cinnamon, vanilla, walnuts, nutmeg...it reminds me of my childhood, even though my mom didn't bake banana bread. Maybe I had a nanny who did or something? 

The ingredients.
So I made a loaf today. The smell of it baking alone was enough to make me jump off the balcony (kidding!) but someone had to watch it bake.

I used this recipe by Smitten Kitchen, but made some changes. 

1. I used 1/4 cup of melted butter, instead of 1/3. I've found that though smitten kitchen's recipes are fantastic, she tends to use more butter than I like. 
2. I had to unfortunately use powdered vanilla instead of liquid because it's all I have on hand right now. I much prefer really good quality liquid vanilla but they don't seem to sell it here in Istanbul. 
3. I didn't use the cloves. 
Notice the melted bananas on the right.
4. I used Diabetic sugar instead of brown sugar and used only 1/4 cup. I have found that Diabetic sugar is much sweeter than regular and thus less is needed. I must say the amount worked perfectly. 
5. Finally, I used half whole wheat flour instead of all white. I almost always do this because I prefer things that are nuttier and chewier and obviously, healthier. Plus, when you do half and half, I don't think you can tell the difference much. 
6. I added walnuts! I love walnuts in my banana bread. Gives just the right amount of crunch.

I think the loaf turned out fantastic, but so far, I'm the only one that has tried it and there are a few people in my life who I'd say are banana bread experts. I'll wait for their verdict! 

Remember to NOT overbeat the mixture. Whenever you are baking, overbeating results in a tough product, so as always, mix until just combined! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

I've been in a good mood these days and when I'm in a good mood, I want to cook. And bake. A LOT! 

Today, I made Mark Bittman's Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Red Pepper Vinaigrette. I wanted something satisfying but healthy and more summery. The salad is like a potato salad, except without the fattening mayo and sweet potatoes subbed in for normal ones. I adore sweet potatoes and find they are best prepared roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple but delicious. 

Did you know sweet potatoes are rich in many vitamins including A, C and B6? They also contain dietary fiber and are surprisingly good for diabetics as they help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance. 

I added both parsley and mint. 
This salad can be served warm or cold, but I'm looking forward to it cold later on this evening. I much prefer everything cold (pizza, pasta) and especially with summer finally having arrived in Istanbul, I can't bear the thought of anything hot and heavy!

I plan on serving this with an arugula salad (maybe some homemade croutons?) and a dollop of yogurt. I also picked up a bottle of Pinot Grigio Blush from the market today. All in all, the perfect summer dinner

Note: The dressing takes seconds to make and is really the icing on the cake, so to speak. So don't try to use anything else! All you have to do is puree a red bell pepper with olive oil, red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar), salt, pepper and cumin. Since you dress the potatoes while hot, the flavor gets absorbed and is absolutely delish

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Slow-roasted tomatoes

Anyone who reads my blog knows I'm obsessed with tomatoes. They are without a doubt my favorite fruit/vegetable, whatever. 

Pre roasting. 
However, tomatoes have become really bastardized over the past few years. They are everywhere, all the time! They feature year round, even though they are only really good for maybe 3-4 months a year (the summer in most places, depending on the climate). I think it's really annoying because those tomatoes you find in the winter? They taste nothing like a juicy ripe tomato you'll find in the summer, specifically in the south of Turkey. 

One way to make the most of bland tomatoes is to roast them. Roasting makes the flavor of anything more rich and deep. Slow-roasting involves roasting something at a very low degree for a number of hours

I used this recipe here, although you can't really mess these up. Depending on how large your tomatoes are, you want to cut them in half (if grape or cherry tomatoes) or quarters (if larger), drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and the spices of your choice. I used thyme cause that's what I had on hand, but I'm sure oregano or even a mix of Italian spices would work beautifully. Don't leave out the garlic cloves though! When you roast them with the skins on, the garlic remains protected, while developing a rich flavor. Once they've cooled, you can peel them and spread the soft insides on toasted bread. 

I ate these tomatoes over two days and kept the in fridge covered. They are really spectacular and elevate whatever you are eating. I placed a few on toasted bread with cheese,  tossed some in a mushroom omelet, and even ate them straight. They are sweet but a little tart as well. 
Not the best quality- still learning how to use my camera!

I recommend making extra as they go quickly! 

Note: Don't worry about peeling them. The skins don't separate as they roast, so those who tend to hate the skins of tomatoes won't be bothered. Trust

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