Lebanese-themed dinner party a hit!

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Okay, so I have a recipe for a Lamb and Bean Stew I really want to share with you all, but I don’t have the time to type it up yet. But I wanted to whet your appetites. 🙂

This past weekend I hosted a Lebanese-themed dinner party. Believe it or not, the entire meal was low glycemic (except the wine, of course)!

Mezze

For Mezze, I made hummus and tzatziki, served with a vegetable assortment and whole wheat pita that one of my guests brought. Another friend made tabbouleh salad that we served with lettuce leaves to eat almost like a taco during Mezze. I also had out a Greek olive assortment.

We then moved on to a beautiful, guest-created salad with a bed of mixed greens and spinach topped with oven-roasted veggies, including bell peppers and zucchini, and feta cheese. I topped my salad with some of the tzatziki rather than the lite balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!

Main Course

Now for the main course: Lamb and Bean Stew. It was absolutely amazing–I really think it’s the best lamb I’ve ever tasted! The lamb melted in my mouth and had so much flavor. The beans and tomatoes had an intense yet satisfying flavor, resulting from the slow stove top cooking of the stew. A Lebanese “mixed-spice” blend added richness, complexity, and the “wow!” factor, all from spices I normally keep in my spice cupboard. Overall, the flavors, perfectly melded, surprised and excited the palate because they were not a standard American combination. Everyone loved it!

Wine pairings

During Mezze, we opened wine that people had brought, including a Zinfandel, a light white blend, a Chardonnay, and a Moscato D’Asti (I had to put some strawberries out to pair with that!). After I finished kitchen prep, I had time to find some excellent pairings.

Still during Mezze, I opened a 2008 Pinnacle Ridge Cabernet Franc from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. I’ve found that Cabernet Franc tends to pair perfectly with vegetables. This particular Cab Franc is my favorite Pennsylvania wine right now and the primary reason I visited Pinnacle Ridge on a recent trip to PA. We also opened a gorgeous 2000 Spanish wine, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet, which a wine-loving friend brought. Complex yet smooth, this wine paired beautifully with Mezze and the main course.

To pair with the lamb stew, I opened a 2005 Holdridge Syrah from Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. I purchased this wine in 2006 and have cellared it since. The rich flavors of the Syrah held up to the intense, meaty flavors of the stew.

Dessert

For dessert, a guest brought low-fat, plain Cabot Creamery yogurt, which we topped with honey and toasted walnuts. I used agave nectar instead of honey due to its low glycemic index. Delicious!

Photos are courtesy of Emil Chuck.

Progress!

Since I started my low-glycemic diet with The Energy Club 2.5 weeks ago, I can tell that I’m losing weight and inches. My work pants fit just a bit looser. Just last Friday I fit into the jeans I bought last summer but couldn’t reasonably fit into after Christmas. As of last Wednesday, I’ve even lost five lbs according to the “official” gym weigh-ins. That’s a really good feeling.

The low-glycemic diet is working better for me than I ever would have thought. I really don’t get the same types of hunger pangs or blood sugar lows that make me feel like I’m about to scream. I haven’t experienced my typical morning and afternoon low points that I had attributed to Circadian Rhythms. I’ve been waking up more refreshed and ready to accomplish something during the day.

I’ve started to figure out what kind of schedule I need to have to eat healthy, yummy food all week.

Sunday I need to do my wholesale club shopping to buy my fruits and veggies for the week. Sunday night and Monday night I make my healthy high protein, high veggie content entrée for the week. So far it’s been the Turkey Bean Chili and then another soup last week, Black Bean, Sweet Potato, & Italian Turkey Sausage. I made the “Italian Turkey Sausage” on Sunday night and the soup that used it on Monday night after the gym. Unfortunately, the soup this week wasn’t as stellar as the chili experiment, though I know how I’d tweak it if I made it again. I’d ditch the Italian sausage and replace it with either a chorizo style sausage (preferably turkey based for lower fat content) or more beans, like kidney beans. The Italian seasonings in the turkey completely conflicted with the other spices and the sweet potatoes.

I make hummus once or twice a week and that helps with the protein and veggie categories because I eat hummus with veggies. Keeping my food processor clean is essential!

Next up on my “must-have list” is nonfat plain Greek yogurt from BJs. I’m loving it with Penzeys Baking Spice, a pinch of sea salt, Splenda, a sprinkle of flax-seed meal, and fresh fruit for breakfast or a snack anytime of the day. The Greek yogurt is super-high in protein, has no fat, and minimal sugars that are naturally occurring in milk products.

Each night I roast two ounces of almonds for the next day with whatever type of seasoning I’m in the mood for. This past week I tried Vietnamese Cinnamon, Mace, Cayenne, and kosher salt because I was craving the sweet spice smell of the cinnamon. A bonus: the house smells like I just baked! I snack on the almonds mainly in the afternoon and just before I head to the gym but occasionally I add a few to my yogurt and fruit for some crunch.

And I pack most of my lunch into sandwich bags the night before ready to throw in my huge Trader Joe’s insulated grocery bag. I pack the almonds in the morning so they don’t melt the baggie—yes, I learned the hard way!

And my new love as of last week? Red and Ruby Red Grapefruit! It’s part of my new breakfast routine on days I don’t feel like making or eating an omelet. I cut it in half and eat it at my desk at work topped with a little Splenda and flaxseed meal to add texture and healthy Omega-3s and to soak up the spraying juices so I can keep my work clothes clean. This is so simple it barely warrants a recipe, but it’s so delicious and healthy that I want to share it anyway!

Grapefruit for Breakfast


Special equipment to eat at work: Butter knife, grapefruit spoon, plate or bowl, plenty of napkins/paper towels
Prep time: 2 minutes Eat time: easily 10-15 minutes

Ingredients
1 red or ruby red grapefruit
1 packet Splenda
2 Tbsp. flaxseed meal (optional)

1. Using a knife, slice the grapefruit in half on a plate, making sure you have paper towels in your lap if at work. If using the butter knife at work, the slice will be messy. Use a Chef’s knife at home if you want it to look picture perfect.

2. Sprinkle half a packet of Splenda on each side of the grapefruit. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal on each side.

3. Using the grapefruit spoon, press the flaxseed meal into the grapefruit to absorb juices to flavor the flaxseed meal and to minimize spray.

4. Eat with the grapefruit spoon and enjoy the leisurely, instant gratification breakfast!

 

Takeout Menu for Low Glycemic Index Foods

Okay, so I know I haven’t posted much in the past week… But that’s because I’ve been working to create and refine a menu of healthy, low glycemic index foods broken down by categories: veggies, fruit, beans & grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. When Michelle, the nutritionist, first presented the multiple lists of low GI foods, it was overwhelming. She issued me a challenge: find a way to understand the information so that I could apply it.

And off I went to meet the challenge head-on. I synthesized data received directly from Michelle along with handouts from two books she used as reference. I placed the data in a “take-out menu” design so that it looked fun and it would be easy to take with me to the grocery store or out to eat.

Here’s the targets that Michelle gave us: 55% complex carbs, 27% protein, 18% fat by calories. By plate portion, shoot for 1/2 veggies, 1/6 lean protein, 1/6 fruit, 1/6 grain. As far as I can tell, it’s fine to substitute more fruits & veggies for the grain section. Also, I tend to eat a fair amount of beans and lentils, which qualify as both a lean protein and a complex carb, so I get to use 1/3 of the plate for the bean dish. 🙂 Think hummus & veggies or yogurt and berries w/ flax seed meal.

So here’s the low glycemic menu for all to enjoy! I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

Low Glycemic Takeout Menu

Click here for the .pdf file:

https://zindiva.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/low-glycemic-menu-zindiva_21feb20111.pdf

 

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt

Fresh from the toaster oven

Note: I originally wrote this post last Thursday but was unable to post due to Internet connectivity issues over the weekend.

 

I’m a little sad tonight. The reason why seems pretty pathetic but it feels like I’m telling a good friend and companion that I can’t spend much time with her anymore. And who is this good friend, you ask? My friend is exotic yet approachable, well-rounded yet has a gorgeous body. My friend has layers to her personality: sweet and charming, spicy and loud, mellow and smooth. My friend can be anything I want her to be. She’s from all over the world yet she still comes to see me at my home and sit at my dinner table with me.

My friend is extra virgin olive oil—from Spain, Italy, California, Greece—I adore it and use it nearly every time I cook. Olive oil adorns my green beans, carrots, salads, bread (when I have it), hummus, and on and on as you can imagine. So what’s the problem then? Well, I’m finally realizing that my quantities of olive oil are outrageously large compared to what I need for healthy living. So I need to reduce my dousing of olive oil to a sprinkle of olive oil, that is, cut my copious ¼ cup, give or take, of olive oil for sautéing to 1 tsp. or maybe 1 Tbsp. if I’m feeling generous.

But I know that olive oil is good for me. It has heart-healthy fats and promotes good cholesterol. The downside though is that is still has 120 calories in 1 Tbsp. So if I use my nominal ¼ cup quantity and my food absorbs all the olive oil, I’m looking at an extra 480 calories per food. Hmm… Does using a ¼ cup olive oil instead of, say, 1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. make the taste so much better that it’s worth the extra 360 to 440 calories per dish?

So I’ve been trying out this smaller quantity of olive oil this week and had good results. In fact, I just made a snack of roasted almonds for tomorrow’s train ride using 1 tsp. olive oil for two servings. Normally I would just pour the olive oil on haphazardly with no regard for quantity. The 1 tsp. of olive oil coated the nuts beautifully—I just had to massage the olive oil onto the nuts with my hands instead of tossing the nuts and oil with a wooden spoon. Now I’d really like to use the same mindfulness toward my olive oil use as I do in a yoga class. Measuring spoons here I come—I mean 1 tsp. measuring spoon here I come!

Here’s how to make roasted almonds yourself.

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt


Time: 5-10 minutes
Special equipment: Toaster oven, baking pan for toaster oven (e.g., Pampered Chef Mini Bar Pan)

2 oz. raw almonds
1 tsp. olive oil
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt

1. Place almonds on baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, coat the almonds with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt.

2. Place baking pan in toaster oven and turn the toast function to high. Toast until almonds turn just a bit browner but not black. If not done at the end of one toast cycle, stir the almonds and repeat until almonds are at desired roasting level.

3. Serve. Makes 2 servings.

Sweet potatoes for dinner

“Yum, yum, yum,” I think to myself as I eat my baked sweet potatoes, seasoned two ways.

I needed a quick, healthy dinner before heading to my friend’s birthday party. So I baked up 2 sweet potatoes at 425 degrees for 45 min to an hour. I decided just to eat one for now and save the other for later.

I wanted to see if I could enjoy sweet potatoes without the added olive oil, butter or sugar of my traditional toppings. So I topped each half with red Hawaiian sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. On the first half I sprinkled Penzeys Baking Spice. On the second half I sprinkled Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon. No added fat except the 1/2 tsp. olive oil I rubbed on the outside of each potato prior to cooking and wrapping in aluminum foil.

The verdict for which version I liked better–Baking Spice or Cinnamon: Baking Spice wins by just a hair. I love them both, and I don’t miss the butter and brown sugar or the extra olive oil. Hurray!

Here’s how to make such healthy yumminess at home:

Baked Sweet Potatoes


Special equipment: Aluminum foil, baking sheet (any size)
Time: 1 hr; Prep Time: 5 min; Baking time: 45 to 60 min

Ingredients for each Sweet Potato
1 Sweet Potato
1/2 tsp. olive oil
Dash of Kosher Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Red Hawaiian Sea Salt, to taste
Penzeys Baking Spice, to taste
Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon, to taste

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425 °F.
2. Wash each potato and dry. Do not prick. Place potato on sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. olive oil on potato, rubbing with hands to completely coat. Sprinkle a dash of kosher salt on both top and bottom of potato. Wrap in aluminum foil.
3. Place potato on baking sheet (this prevents the leaking sweet juices from burning on the bottom of the oven and setting off the smoke alarm). Bake in oven for 45 to 60 min until potato is soft when squeezed with gentle pressure with pot holder.
4. Serve potato with last four ingredients, choosing Baking Spice for one side and Cinnamon for the other. Enjoy!

 

Hummus

I decided to try making hummus after seeing a hummus recipe hanging up at The Energy Club. The only problem is I kept forgetting to pick it up. So I improvised off a couple of recipes at allrecipes.com, what I could remember from the gym version, and my own tastes.

I loved this dip so much that I have shared it at the Superbowl playoffs and a girls’ road trip. Everyone who has tried it has given it rave reviews. So now I’m making it for my diet. Here I have reduced the amount of grapeseed and olive oil used and thinned the hummus with water instead of grapeseed oil. (If you want the more decadent version, add 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil to the hummus and top with ¼ cup olive oil.)

To keep with the healthy theme, try pairing the hummus with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers instead of white pita bread. You’ll get your veggies and lean protein in while delivering lots of flavor and a full mouth feel.

Hummus

Time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: Food processor

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
¼ cup tahini paste
¼ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp Penzeys Aleppo Red Pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
Dash cayenne
Pinch Penzey’s Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add first 7 ingredients to the food processor. Process until smooth.
2. With the food processor running, add up to ¼ to ½ cup water to the food processor feed tube to produce a better dipping consistency.
3. With the food processor running, add 1 tsp. grapeseed oil to feed tube.
4. Remove bowl from food processor and empty hummus into serving container.
5. Sprinkle hummus with cayenne and Spanish paprika to taste. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil over the top.
6. Serve with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers for a healthy snack or meal.

Healthy Spinach Omelet

Add the goat cheese and parmesan at this step if using.

 

From here, slide the omelet onto the plate using the spatula to assist

 

 

Check out my new breakfast dish inspired by the Energy Club nutritionist’s recommendations. She says to make an omelet using 4 egg whites plus 1 whole egg for color. I jazzed it up a bit by adding some spinach that I wilted in the same pan and some spices. To keep it healthier/lighter, I left out the cheese I’d normally add. If you want to add cheese, I highly recommend goat cheese inside the omelet with fresh Parmesan cheese grated on top.

Healthy Spinach Omelet

Time: 10 min
Special equipment: Nonstick small to medium skillet

1 large egg
Egg whites equivalent to that from 4 large eggs
2 large handfuls spinach
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. olive oil
Spices (e.g., garlic & shallots, Penzey’s Bouquet Garni, Penzey’s Sunny Paris, Basil & Oregano, etc.)

1. Preheat the nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the 1 tsp. olive oil when hot.
2. Add the spinach and a dash of salt to the pan. Stir the spinach until all is wilted. Remove to a paper towel and gently remove excess moisture.
3. Add egg white and whole egg to pan. Break apart the yolk with a spatula and stir to combine with egg whites. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Stir egg mixture as it cooks until several sections start to stiffen but top is still very runny. Let the eggs sit for about 30 seconds or so to set. Then gently lift up sides and tilt the pan so that the runny egg mixture can run under the omelet. Repeat until the top of the omelet is moist and glistening but not runny.
5. Return the spinach to the pan on top of the omelet. Sprinkle desired spices as well.
6. Using a spatula, lift up one half of the omelet and fold onto the other half. Let cook about 30 seconds more or until done to allow eggs to set.
7. Serve and enjoy!

Variation #1: In step #5, add 1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled. In step #7, top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Delicious & Nutritious Dessert: Parfaits

So on my quest to eat low-glycemic index fruit, I purchased strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries from BJs. I also picked up non-fat, plain Greek yogurt for a lean protein, intending to use the yogurt like sour cream and mix it with Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning to make a veggie dip. But alas, the yogurt didn’t quite make it to veggie dip because it got diverted to… Parfaits!

This parfait recipe makes a great dessert or snack with no added sugar or fat but with plenty of flavor from the fruit and spices.

Easy Berry Parfait

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Special tools: Sundae dish or old-fashioned style glass

Ingredients
1/4 cup Blackberries
1/4 cup Blueberries
1/4 cup Strawberries
2/3 cup Non-fat, plain Greek yogurt
Penzey’s Baking Spice or Cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Flaxseed meal (optional)
1 packet Splenda (optional)

1. In the dish or glass, scoop a large spoonful of yogurt into class. Top with sprinkle of Baking Spice, 1 tsp. flaxseed meal (opt.), and 1/4 packet Splenda (opt.).
2. Add a small handful of fruit. Sprinkle with baking spice.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 two times to create a three-layer parfait.
4. Serve.

New Year, New You Resolution Challenge: Turkey Bean Chili

Okay. So I signed up for the “New Year, New You” Resolution Challenge at The Energy Club in Arlington to help me lose weight and improve my fitness. Michelle, the nutritionist with the gym, has provided suggested menus both for the “detox week” and to follow. She recommends we add 4-6 oz of lean protein per meal for the detox week that otherwise has low-glycemic index fruits and vegetables, herbal tea, and warm lemon water. Of course, the first thing out of her mouth for the protein was cooking a tray of chicken breasts for the week and then she’s good to go.

I silently balked at the thought of dry, flavorless baked chicken breasts. I knew I could come up with just as healthy but more interesting “lean protein” than that. It’s definitely winter here in DC, so chili was a good candidate with beans and chicken or turkey. So I went to BJs to see what I could find. Ground turkey caught my eye. I looked at the nutrition facts–not exactly super lean at 93% lean, 7% fat, but it’s 1/3 fewer calories than the neighboring ground beef. So I grab the ground turkey.

Now ground meat can get pretty chewy in a pressure cooker if it’s just broken apart and lightly browned, so I took a different tack. I cut the tray of ground turkey into 1-inch cubes, so that I could add flavor and retain texture by browning the meat on at least 2 sides. Then the inside of the cubes would cook in the Pressure Cooker.

The other challenge: Michelle says to sauté in only 1 tsp. of olive oil rather than the, um, generous amount of olive oil I normally use. So the recipe that follows does just that. I use 1 tsp. olive oil for each browning or sautéing iteration. The onions suffered the most, I think, with this treatment, more steaming than sautéing; but they were going in the Pressure Cooker Pot not directly on a plate so I gave in for the sake of health.

I was incredibly pleased with the result: flavorful chili with tender turkey chunks and satisfying beans throughout. And I made enough for the entire week and then some. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Bon appétit!

ZinDiva’s Turkey Bean Chili


Total Time: 3 hours; Active: 2 hours; Passive: 1 hour (2-3 hr for Variation 2)
Equipment: Large sauté pan, Pressure cooker (or 5.5 quart French oven for Variation 2)

3 lbs ground turkey, cut into 1-inch cubes
6-9 Tbsp. Penzey’s Chili Con Carne seasoning, separated
1 can low sodium chicken broth
4 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, crushed between fingers, w/ juices reserved
2 16-oz cans tomato sauce
2 cans kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 yellow bell pepper, seeds & membranes removed, cut into 1-inch squares
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. Penzey’s Red Aleppo Pepper Flakes, to taste
Kosher Salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Garnishes: Green onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream/nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat large skillet over a medium-high heat (medium for Le Creuset enameled cast iron). When pan is hot, add 1 tsp. Olive Oil to pan, spreading oil with a paper towel to evenly coat.

2. Brown the turkey cubes in batches on at least two opposite sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. When turkey is browned, sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp. Penzy’s Chili Con Carne seasoning over the turkey. Toss the turkey lightly in the pan to coat the turkey. Remove turkey cubes and loose browned bits to the pressure cooker vessel (hereafter referred to as the pot).

3. Deglaze the pot with ¼ cup of chicken broth, working to remove browned bits and seasonings. Allow the chicken broth to boil down slightly to concentrate flavors. Add to the pot. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until turkey is gone. After browning and removing the last batch, add the reserved tomato juice to the pan instead of chicken broth, reducing to make a bit of a sauce. Add to the pot.

5. Repeat step 1. Then sauté the onions, sprinkling with salt to taste (about ¼ to ½ tsp), until onions are translucent. Add to pressure cooker vessel.

7. Repeat step 1. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute until lightly fragrant but not burnt. Add to pot.

8. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, bell pepper squares, red pepper flakes, ½ tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper to the pot.

9. Stir ingredients well with large spoon.

10. Place the pot in the pressure cooker and follow the manufacturer directions. (Some Pressure Cookers require 1 Tbsp. oil floating on top so that the beans do not foam and clog the valves.) Cook on High Pressure for 20 minutes and then use natural steam release to blend the flavors. It may take 45 min to 1 hour to heat, cook, and release steam.

11. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with garnishes as desired. Makes 16 cups, about 8 main dish servings.

Variation 1: Replace 1 can of tomato sauce with 1 can broth or beer.

Variation 2: If you do not own a pressure cooker, add ingredients to 5.5 qt French oven and bring to a boil on the stove top. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours until turkey is cooked and tender, bell pepper is tender but not soggy, and flavors are blended. More liquid may be needed due to evaporation. Add chicken broth or beer as needed.