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Sunday
Jan192014

Testing the 1-Minute Microwave Cake

It not only seemed too good to be true but not technically possible. How could something that takes 45 minutes in a hot dry oven cook for 1 minute in a microwave? Those are the recipes I'd pinned, and that I finally wanted to put to rest...or add to my recipe collection, depending on the results! So I tested a 1-minute blueberry muffin and 1-minute cake recipe.

The cake version called for combining one boxed mix of angel food cake with one box of any flavor of regular cake mix you like. The mixes are combined in a sealed container and used as desired. You place 3 tablespoons of the cake mix into a mug and mix well with 2 tablespoons of water, then microwave for exactly 1 minute. The result is a single-serving 100-calorie cake that you can top with fruit, whipped topping, yogurt, etc.

Even my budding 7-year-old chef didn't believe it. He said, "That's silly! How can anything cook that short?" He stood on a chair and stared at the microwave the whole time. When it was done, we both peeked into the mug and were impressed that the batter had indeed turned into cake. It didn't look appetizing as you can see from the photo but at least it cooked through. I topped it with a heaping tablespoon of light Cool Whip and fresh berries. It was sweet and not dry. But it wasn't pleasingly savory and tender like regular cake. It needed the Cool Whip. I think this recipe is handy for people who don't want to keep cake in the house but get that occasional urge for something cake-like. The cake mix will store for a long time and you can garnish with items you likely already have, such as pudding, yogurt and fruit. I love the portion control but the downside is that, at least for me, it didn't satisfy. It offered a few fleeting sweet bites that left me wishing for a handful of cookies, which I did give in to and eat!

The blueberry muffin fared worse, a recipe by Cassey Ho, popular YouTube Pilates instructor. I guess I should have paid attention to a reader's comment left two months ago: "I tried to make this but it ended up very mushy and never browned." That's exactly the result I had—overall mushiness even though I microwaved it for an extra 30 seconds. Parts of the muffin held raw oats and egg. Still, I took a nibble and it tasted eggy and as uncooked as it looked.

Oh well. Guess I'll be returning to my overnight oats, which are just as easy but guaranteed to satisfy!

Sunday
Jan122014

Crock-Pot Chicken Sausage, Kale and White Bean Stew

Just over a week ago, Caroline from the fun and sassy blog Not Enough Wine In The World tweeted me to share my favorite crock-pot recipe. She was looking to tempt her picky eater, junk-food addicted 17-year-old daughter with a healthy meal...who surprisingly likes kale (there's hope!). I tried to imagine the mind of a picky teenager who is used to a lot of salt and sweet from her processed snack foods. I decided that the simpler the better, but still to include as many different vegetables as possible to bump up the nutrition.

The great thing about crock-pot meals is that almost anything you simmer will end up tasting great, given that you choose ingredients you know you enjoy. You don't need a recipe, you don't have to chop things perfectly, you can use produce that's just past freshness, and you don't have to babysit the pot. I decided to use a large bunch of kale (stems removed and the leaves shredded into bite-size pieces), one diced onion, one large sweet potato chopped, three carrots chopped, a 16 oz. can of drained white cannellini beans, and 6 oz. chicken sausage (you can also use turkey sausage or omit entirely). I then added a cup of vegetable broth, curry powder and cumin and stirred everything together. You can use as much or little of the herbs and spices that you like.

I chose this chicken sausage because it was seasoned and contained cheese, which would add saltiness and more heartiness to the stew.

I let everything simmer for about 6 hours on low heat, or until the carrots softened, which took the longest to cook. You may want to cut the carrots and sweet potato into smaller chunks or thinner slices so they'll cook quicker.

The result was a simple, hearty, delicious stew with mild flavors. With all those vegetables and proteins, I felt instantly healthier after eating a bowl! This is everyday food, the kind that I can reheat in the microwave after a workday and feel nourished and regenerated. 

Another option since Caroline's daughter enjoys kale chips is to not cook the kale in the crock-pot, but instead make seasoned kale chips. Then you can sprinkle the kale chips over the finished stew to give it some crunch. Good luck Caroline!

Thursday
Jan022014

Reflavoring Low Sodium Soups

Low sodium soups are a work in progress. The food industry has bounced around with lowering and then adding back salt to their products (such as the Campbell's soup line) as health experts and researchers remain divided on the longterm benefit of eating a low sodium diet. That said, I know that I feel instant bloat after eating a high salt meal, so I try to limit foods like canned soups. The problem is that I love soup! Especially now when temperatures drop and it's dark by 4:30pm so that I don't feel much like cooking after work. We all know that low sodium soups (less than 140 mg sodium per serving) are pretty much lumpy, colored water—bleh.

One tip I've given to patients on sodium-restricted diets who love soup is to add extra water when heating the soup and to not drink all the broth. Thankfully I've discovered better-tasting soups such as Trader Joe's Low Sodium Butternut Squash and Creamy Tomato. Two Guys in Vermont, a company started by Jeff Weinstein and Doug Barg, has also been added to my approved lower sodium soup list!

Two Guys in Vermont soups come in three flavors, prepared in small batches using fresh ingredients. The Hearty Curried Apple and Butternut Squash soup is low sodium and the other two flavors are "reduced sodium" with 280 mg per serving. They're low in calories, ranging from 60-130 calories per 8 oz. serving, with 5 grams or less of fat. Each jar contains two servings, but even if you polished off the whole jar you'd be fine. The website says there are three servings of fruits/veggies in each jar, and you can taste it! There is so much natural fresh flavor of tomatoes, apples, curry, and more. This is the secret to making reduced sodium soups taste good: focus on tart, tangy and sweet to distract your taste buds from realizing the lack of salt.

I enjoyed these soups two different ways. Pairing a cup of the Apple Butternut Squash soup with grilled cheese; below is Ezekiel bread with Trader Joe's Light Mozzarella (this is the best-tasting light cheese out there and melts beautifully) heated in a George Foreman Grill.

Or my favorite way to use reduced sodium soups—doctored up with extra ingredients and liquid to make a large batch that will last a few days. Below I heated one whole jar of the Chunky Garden Tomato with a cup of skim milk, frozen broccoli and edamame, and whole wheat couscous. I combined all the ingredients in a pan and let it simmer until the couscous and vegetables softened.

Two easy flavorful super healthful meals for a cold winter night! You can find Two Guys in Vermont soups at the Whole Foods Markets in Cambridge or online.

Disclosure: I received soup samples for my honest review of the product.