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Sunday
Oct182015

Protein-Packed Easy Vegan Chili

I know some people pride themselves on avoiding processed stuff and using only foods in their most natural and whole state. I wish I could be like that but I'm not, at least not yet. Maybe when I've retired, have my dream kitchen built and have a flourishing garden in the backyard. Sure there are some nutrients lost during food processing, but the benefits of having a still pretty nutritious meal ready in 20 minutes that tastes fantastic is just too convincing for me not to reach for canned, jarred and frozen items.

My version of a high protein vegan chili shown below is an example. It's far from fancy, more of an everyday after-a-long-exhausting-day kind of meal. Because everything is cooked and ready to eat, you can throw the ingredients into a pan and heat for 20 minutes (or longer if you like). The following recipe makes 3-6 servings, depending on how hungry you are!

  • 1 large can red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can whole sweet corn, drained
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies, undrained
  • 1 jar Newman's Own Mild Salsa (fyi this is low sodium)
  • Nasoya Organic Chipotle Baked Tofu, 2 squares chopped into smaller cubes
  • Gardein Meatless Meatballs, as many as you like
  • Cumin to taste
  • Trader Joe's dry whole wheat couscous
  • Fresh bagged chopped kale (in salad aisle)

Two brands that keep coming out with super tasty vegan options!

Add the first seven ingredients to a saucepan on high heat, bring to a boil, then lower to medium heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. As that is cooking, prepare the couscous in your desired amount. After the water boils, take the pan off the heat and add the couscous along with handfuls of kale. Stir and cover until couscous absorbs all the liquid.

For the chili, you can add more spices but because many of the ingredients are already seasoned, you don't need much more. There's loads of protein in this dish because of the beans, tofu and soy meatballs. There's plenty of fiber as just about every ingredient contains fiber. And most importantly, there's tons of flavor because of the combination of ingredients. Hubs, who usually runs from my vegan meal experiments (especially containing soy, which he's convinced will emasculate him), couldn't stop eating this. So make an extra large batch for hungry hubs like that, or just to have easy nutritious leftovers for the next few days.

Sunday
Oct112015

Treat: A Cupcakery Standing Strong

I'd never thought much about cupcakes until one day about five years ago when I walked past a bright, extremely cheerful new storefront in Needham Center. I had just finished a visit with former coworkers at a medical journal on Pickering Street that I'd worked at for several years, and was seeking an afternoon snack. The minute I stepped in, I knew I'd found something special. Treat Cupcake Bar opened its doors in July 2010, and I wrote a review in August Getting Tipsy at the Bar. At that time until now, I marvel how their vegan gluten-free cupcakes (made with flaxseed and chick pea flour) taste moister and more delicious than their regular cupcakes. Their build-your-own cupcake remains a popular choice for cupcake lovers of all ages.

So what's new? For one, it has survived the invasion of cupcakeriesmore than a dozen in the Boston area—to open a second location at The Street Chestnut Hill. In addition, the original Needham location has expanded by purchasing the adjacent space (previously Swizzles frozen yogurt), preserving the froyo concept but renaming it The Dessert Workshop.

When you first enter the expanded store in Needham, you have the choice to go right or left...

Left takes you to The Dessert Workshop where you can customize a frozen dessert with dozens of flavor options

Right takes you to cupcake heavenLast week I chatted with Sarah Waters, the marketing and events manager at Treat. She shared an update on this successful community-centered business. 

Q: Since you opened in July 2010, how is business?

A: Business is an adventure. Running three storefronts is an interesting way to connect with the community and to learn the pulse of a neighborhood. What makes it fun is meeting the families and being a very sweet part of their milestones. We have had the honor of having first dates and proposals, as well as creating custom wedding cupcakes and then baby shower cupcakes for the same families!

Q: It seems that so many cupcakeries have opened in the Boston area...do you feel this is a very competitive business? What makes Treat unique from other cupcake stores?

A: Having a cupcakery is a competitive business to be in for sure. What makes us unique is we care deeply about our community so we listen closely to what our customers want from us. This is what helps us evolve and stay present. 

Q: What is your top selling cupcake flavor?

A: Love this question but sometimes it is hard to answer! If I had to really choose I have to choose the Sprinkle Me Silly cupcake, which is a confetti cake with our classic buttercream and sprinkles. But, my cupcake of choice is the Chocolate Surprise...a gold cupcake filled with fudge and swirled with cream cheese frosting.

Q: Some of my friends especially love Treat because they serve allergen-free cupcakes. Are these a big seller for you? 

A: Our Gluten Free / Dairy Free / Egg Free / Vegan options are absolutely flying! They are the fastest growing part of our business. And we have expanded our Gluten Free options to include muffins, loaves and meringue cookies!

Q: It was a bold move to add a frozen yogurt shop to the mix (especially when the previous owners were struggling). But it looks fantastic! Has it enhanced the cupcake store?

A: Thanks for asking about The Dessert Workshop. The addition of the shop gives our customers the option to have soft-serve ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt or even vegan sorbets in a cup or added to a cupcake. It's a way to increase the creativity at Treat and we are enjoying the new addition. 

Q: How about offering a frequent cupcake buyer card (say, buy 12 get 1 free) for cupcake fanatics like me? 

A: Great idea! We'll have to give this some thought!

Ice Cream Sundae Cupcake

Hazel-nutty CupcakeTreat Cupcake Bar is located at 1450 Highland Avenue, Needham, and at 40 Boylston Street, THE STREET, Chestnut Hill, MA.

Sunday
Sep272015

Product Review: Extend Nutrition

Everyone has a favorite bar, and I don't mean candy bar (at least for this post!). Meal bars, protein bars and snack bars are it. Most of them have protein and added vitamins; some have fiber. Whether used as an on-the-go light breakfast, to satisfy a craving between meals, or as a pre/post-workout snack, bars are popular and here to stay.

I received a sampling of products from Extend Nutrition. I'd never heard of the company though it's been around for more than 10 years. I'm wary of health claims on the front of packaging but couldn't help being intrigued by their big claim of controlling blood sugar for up to 9 hours. Even for diabetics? Or for the average Joe who drinks coffee all day and eats one mega meal at night? Their website answered that by clearly stating the products are intended for sports fitness, weight control and diabetes management. The area of diabetes fascinates me so much that I'm working towards becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), so I'm aware that a certain diet can absolutely improve blood sugar control. But I'm skeptical that a bar alone can do this...and for up to 9 hours.

Yet as I explored the website further, I learned that Extend Nutrition was originally invented for people with type 1 and 2 diabetes, prediabetes, gestational diabetes and low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. There is published research using Extend Bars to show their effectiveness. It even gets high customer reviews on Amazon.com.

Depending on flavor, the bars contain 130-150 calories, 3-5 grams of fat, 10-12 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. There's little to no sugar but they contain maltitol, a sugar alcohol that is not digestible. Its magic ingredient for keeping blood sugars steady is a low glycemic, slow-digesting corn starch. Each bar is equivalent to 1 1/2 carb choices. The crisps have similar nutrition, with slightly less protein (8 grams) and fiber (3 grams). Note that the main protein in the bars is soy protein isolate in case this ingredient concerns you. All products are gluten-free.

So how did they taste? Fine. All of the bar flavors were mildly tasty and not sweet. Chewy but not crumbly dry. Actually a good thing that they weren't so delicious that you'd be tempted to eat two at a time. The White Cheddar and Cinnamon Crisps tasted similarly to their rice cake counterparts. Again, decent flavor but not so great you'd lose control and overeat. 

I replaced my usual afternoon KIND Bar snack with an Extend Bar for a few days. Generally I snack on something every few hours between meals and I can't say I noticed a big difference after eating the Extend Bar...was ready as always for my next snack two hours later. 

As an additional experiment I gave these products to two patients I follow, both with type 2 diabetes requiring insulin. One is noncompliant with her diabetes medications and eats inconsistent meals (so frequently has very high blood sugar); the other is strict with his meals and insulin because he is motivated to become healthier after a recent heart attack (so usually very good numbers). Neither noted a big change in their blood sugar levels after trying the bars but I guess neither were the best test patients. I wouldn't expect a bar to solve hyperglycemia in someone eating a poor diet, nor would I have expected these bars to worsen blood sugar control or show even better numbers in the compliant patient.

The bottom line is that the nutritional profile of these products is very good and can be useful if you're looking to lose weight or need a small workout snack. They're just enough to give you that little boost or to quiet a craving. I'm not sure yet if the products truly help control blood sugar better than other low-sugar high-protein/fiber bars (e.g., Quest) or a traditional diabetic snack of peanut butter on whole grain crackers, but they are a perfectly acceptable option.

Extend products are available at Walgreens and on the Extend website and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received product samples from Extend Nutrition in kind, which helped facilitate my review.