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Tuesday
Jan052010

Holiday Pounds: Be Gone!

As you may have noticed, it's hard to not gain weight over the holidays. Even to just maintain is quite a feat! There are a lot of useful weight loss tips out there but here are a few of my favorites for the new year.

Eat a handful of nuts a day.  It may seem counterintuitive to eat fat to lose fat but nuts may become your best diet ally, especially if you eat them in place of high calorie, high saturated fat snacks. Nuts are a nutritious plant protein packed with minerals (iron, potassium), B vitamins, fiber, and healthful fats. Recent studies have looked at the type of fat in certain nuts—unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids—that can help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body (that may lead to diseases like cancer). Studies have also shown that dieters who eat nuts daily are more satisfied and able to keep weight off. Try these when you need that last snack before bed to keep your stomach happy through the night. All nuts are high in calories so keep the portion to a small handful a day. A mixture of a few almonds, walnuts, and peanuts is your most nutritious bet.

Keep a food journal.  If you think you're eating all the right foods and still not losing weight, you must try this. Study after study shows that people underestimate the amount of food they eat, specifically portion sizes. I don't advocate living a life of counting calories, but if you're in a weight gain rut, do this for a week (or at least three days, including one weekend day). Becoming more aware of what goes in your mouth and the true amount of calories you're taking in might be quite a shocker!

Move it.  The main benefit of exercise isn't really to burn calories because studies have shown that people may think of exercise as a ticket to a free-for-all eating binge afterwards, negating the benefit of those calories burned. The perks of exercise are that it gives you energy, increases your self-esteem, and helps you stay motivated to follow a well-rounded healthy lifestyle plan. Here's a simple but effective prescription to work up to: Do a favorite one-hour cardio exercise class three times a week (step, rebounding, kickboxing, spinning, dance) and at least 30 minutes of strength training (muscle toning, Pilates) 2-3 times a week. And switch it up! Participating in a variety of classes ensures you are training a wide range of muscles. It also helps prevent boredom, a big reason why people stop exercising.

Tuesday
Dec292009

It’s Greek to Me!

Soon after tasting a most delicious Greek red pepper and feta spread at Sugar, a new Greek food market opened near me aptly named Greek International Food Market, on the corner of Grove and Washington Streets in West Roxbury. The owners also run the longstanding restaurant Farm Grill & Rotisseria in Newton, serving traditional Greek fare. When you first enter the market, you may be struck by the scent of food that seemingly has been simmering all day. There is actually a kitchen below the store where they cook fresh food items daily to be sold in the deli. Then you may notice the bright and cheerful interior with neatly stocked shelves: long rows of olive oil in various tints of green, bags of bulgur, jars of mysterious spreads and pickled vegetables, frozen phyllo dough, and endless goat and feta cheeses. There were so many products I'd never seen, and it didn't help that at least half of the food labels were written in Greek. I’ve been to Greece so I guess I’ve eaten authentic Greek food. Unfortunately I don’t recall much about it, except that everything was served at room temperature including drinks (even if it was 98 degrees out!). Surprising since the red pepper spread and other items I tasted from this market are rich with memorable flavor. I tried a freshly made cream-colored Two delicious eggplant spreadseggplant spread from the deli and then a sweet and sour jarred eggplant salad with a tomato base called caponata. Both were low in calories and fat and very delicious on fresh pita or mini-toasts. They can also be used as a topping in sandwiches or wraps or served over chicken or fish. Greek food typically brings to mind meat gyros and kabobs marinated with a mélange of spices. But there are many vegetarian options at Greek International Food Market as seen with the bags of couscous and bulgar, imported pastas, dried legumes, a beautiful olive bar, and seasoned vegetables not found at traditional markets. Even the sweets of Turkish delight, baklava, and light biscuits are out of the ordinary. The staff is friendly; don't be shy in asking for advice on how to use their food products. Greek International Food Market is open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm with plenty of parking. 

Tuesday
Dec222009

Holiday Baking in Progress

Tis the season, thought I'd test some Christmas recipes to share with you. An Eating Well recipe for low fat Fudge Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies sounded like a yummy adult alternative to gingerbread cookies. I changed a few ingredients (the type and ratio of chocolate based on what was left on the supermarket shelves during this busy baking season, and using ground ginger instead of crystallized ginger—didn’t want to pay $10 for a little jar!), and then thought the amount of flour listed was a typo—the 1/4 cup it called for produced a batter with the consistency of thin ganache so I added another cup of flour. Oh, and I omitted the chocolate chips thinking it might become too sweet! Yikes, with so many changes it turned out more like a biscuit than a cookie, with a slightly bitter flavor reminiscent of French chocolate truffles (should have added those chocolate chips!). These would be fine with tea or cocoa but overall not a keeper recipe.

Thankfully the next one was a keeper! Almond and Tart Cherry Bark, modified from a Delish recipe originally using pistachios, was almost too easy. With just four ingredients, this no-bake fast recipe is fool-proof even for a novice. There's a lot of room for variation. I changed the amounts of the ingredients only to fit what was available in the store. I used presliced almonds but you can use any favorite nut. The fun part is breaking the bark into pieces; no clean cuts with a knife required here! The end result was pretty enough to pack in festive boxes and give as gifts. 

Almond and Tart Cherry Bark

Ingredients

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (or bittersweet chocolate if you prefer less sweet)

7 oz white chocolate

8 oz roasted sliced almonds

6 oz Craisins, cherry flavored

Directions

  1. Place semisweet chocolate and white chocolate in two separate microwave-safe bowls or measuring cups. Heat semisweet chocolate on high for a minute and stir; heat another minute and stir again. Heat additional 30 seconds if not completely melted and then stir well. Repeat melting process with white chocolate.
  2. Stir 1 cup of almonds and 1 cup of Craisins into semisweet chocolate. On large cookie sheet, spread chocolate mixture to about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon dollops of white chocolate onto semisweet chocolate mixture and, with a tip of a knife, swirl chocolates together for a marbled look. Sprinkle with remanining almonds and Craisins.
  3. Refrigerate bark 1 hour or until firm. Break bark into pieces. Refrigerate in tightly sealed container up to 1 month.