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Quick and Easy Peanut Udon Noodle Salad

Udon is a satisfyingly chewy Asian wheat noodle with a neutral flavor that pairs nicely with any sauce, and tastes great hot or cold. I adore the thick chewy udon that you find in Japanese soups, but the kind of udon I made below were thinner so they cooked in just 4 minutes. I had extra packages of udon sitting in the back of my food pantry from when I'd stocked up at Ocean State Job Lot (who knew this place had so many fancy but cheap food finds?).

I came up with a super easy recipe of udon noodle salad by adding a shaved carrot and diced English cucumber to the cooked udon. For a sauce, I melted 1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stirred in 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey and a tablespoon of sesame oil. It's topped with hemp seeds, which lately I've been sprinkling on everything from yogurt to cottage cheese to vegetables. 

A side note on hemp seeds if you're not familiar: They're higher in protein than chia and flax seeds and contain all nine essential amino acids, but they're lower in fiber and beneficial anti-inflammatory omega-3s. However they're still a great source of omega-3s and have a more interesting nutty flavor than the neutral-tasting chia or flax. I sprinkle different seeds on different dishes to get all of their unique health benefits! 


Orange Glazed Tempeh with Veetee Rice 

I love how whole grains like rice, quinoa and steel cuts oats are now available fully cooked and frozen, so you can microwave for a few minutes and eat. I also cook grains the old-fashioned way on the stove, but on chaotic days I appreciate having these packages in the freezer.

Veetee, a company originally from the U.K., has created a line of precooked rices that are shelf-stable without artificial additives. You either microwave for two minutes or add the rice directly to a cooked dish like a stir-fry. Veetee sent me a case of various flavors to try out. They offer plain versions of jasmine, basmati, and brown as well as low fat savory flavors of Chicken, Golden Vegetable, and Thai Lime & Herb. All the varieties of Veetee tasted fluffy and soft after heating up. The only downside is that they're high in sodium, a common trait in packaged flavored rices. At least Uncle Ben's Ready Rice offers a sodium-free whole grain brown rice. Even Veetee's "plain" brown rice has 290 mg per 3/4 cup serving (each package provides two servings). The Golden Vegetable version has 780 mg per serving, though keep in mind it's not hard to eat the whole package of 1 1/2 cups of rice so the sodium doubles.

Still, I find flavored rices useful because I don't have to add extra seasonings. To lower the sodium content I'll blend half flavored rice with half plain brown rice. This was the case when I cooked up the tempeh recipe below.

I've been meaning to tackle tempeh now that I'm pretty comfortable with tofu. Per serving, tempeh is higher in protein and fiber than tofu. However it's got an odd, offputting flavor out of the package that definitely needs enhancement! I found a simple yet very flavorful recipe by KathEats for tempeh with an orange marmalade glaze. You sear tempeh in some oil for a few minutes until browned, then pour on a mixture of orange marmalade, olive oil, soy sauce and crushed garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until the glaze thickens. I added a half cup of Veetee Golden Vegetable Rice blended with a cup of my plain brown rice, carrot, chopped kale and sesame seeds. 

I don't know what magical thing happened when I poured that orange mixture onto the tempeh but the savory aroma was amazing. My son Jake asked if I'd gotten Chinese takeout. The tempeh tasted like a rich Chinese meat dish. The recipe was fast, made even quicker and tastier with the precooked Veetee rice. Super filling, super nutritious!

Check out Veetee rice soon! They're now available at Hannaford supermarkets and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received free samples of Veetee Rices to help facilitate this post. The recipe, thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.


Inspiration from a Meta Memphian

Fabiola has made activities like cycling a priority in her daily routineStarting last October, Wellness Brand Meta sponsored four “Meta Memphians” as part of its partnership with the City of Memphis, Tennessee. They served as inspiration in the city as they made small changes in their lives to create a lifetime of healthy habits. The Meta Memphians received support from local nutritionists and personal trainers, took part in health screenings, and integrated Meta products into their healthier lifestyles.

I asked Fabiola, one of the Meta Memphians, to share her story. Fabiola grew up in a culture where family gatherings centered around food and eating rich meals. She later opened her own catering company, but found that years of heavy eating negatively affected her health, sparking her to prioritize her health and wellness. Since then, she has made an effort to incorporate physical activities like Zumba or bike riding and health-conscious eating into a daily routine. Fabiola’s ultimate goal is to keep her cholesterol and overall health in check!

Q: What kind of food did you grow up eating (you mentioned family gatherings)?

A: We ate very healthy homemade food, not processed. It was a Middle Eastern diet with olive oil, parsley, bulgur, homemade yogurt, seeds and nuts. Also there were Guatemalan foods like black beans, homemade tortillas, fresh squeezed orange juice and lots of tropical fruits (mango, papaya, bananas).

Q: What inspired you to open a catering company and what kind of food do you specialize in cooking?

A: I felt that if I was working long hard hours for someone else and giving them ideas and food recipes, I could do it for me. But what inspired me the most was a good friend who saw my cooking talent and dedication, and believed in me. It only takes one person to believe in you!

Q: What types of health problems did you eventually develop? 

A: My cholesterol was high but I controlled it by exercising. It has been low for over 10 years now. In fact my good cholesterol improved once I started incorporating physical activity.

Q: What types of lifestyle changes and small healthy habits have you been able to incorporate that are realistic for you? 

A: I think just being aware of what are my triggers. Taking the time to eat and not feel so rushed. Slowing down and thinking about what I really want to put in my body versus, "Hey I'm hungry, move out of my way or else!"

Q: As a cook and former "heavy" eater, is it a challenge to eat smaller portions and cook lighter meals?

A: Haha! That is a good one—"former heavy eater." I’m still working on it. Cooking healthy, lighter meals is not a challenge, but eating too much is. The challenge is that I wait too long to eat and am starving once I sit down, so I end up eating too much. The hunger is greater than common sense. To avoid this from happening, I try and snack wisely throughout the day. For example instead of going for the cookies I'll grab a Meta Health Bar in between meals, which helps satisfy my hunger as a healthy snack. 

Q: What is one healthy cooking tip you use? 

A: Keep it simple but with lots of fresh colors from different fruits and vegetables: reds, greens, yellows. It is easy to add color to any meal. This makes the food taste better and at the same time my family and I get important nutrients.

Q: What are your current challenges with maintaining this lifestyle, and how are you overcoming them?

A: The fact that I realized I needed help was huge. Information regarding nutrition and healthy eating can be in our heads, but that does not mean we will use it wisely. Being aware has made me realize that although I love my job and what I do, it gets a bit stressful and hectic, and I forget to please ME. I please everyone all around me to the best of my ability. I have over 200 bosses in any given day, and I try to please them all. The biggest challenge has been taking time to give to myself.

Q: How would you encourage people who are trying to be healthier to stay on track if they become discouraged along the way? 

A: I would talk to them as they were my best friend going through some tough times. I would say, “Girl/Dude take a deep breath, let’s analyze this situation. It may seem like the end of the world but it is not. We can do this, I am listening. By talking about it, you have found the answer yourself. Take baby steps and if you need to start again, then do so. Every day is different, and today you are talking to me. You are okay and I am here to see you shine and reach your goal.” And one more thing: remember to laugh and have fun in the process!

Fabiola is a great inspiration for everyone to take small steps on their health and wellness journey! To learn more about Meta, head to MetaWellness.com.

Disclosure: I've partnered with P&G on this sponsored post but the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. You can find more information at MetaWellness.com.