Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meatless Monday

In attempt to save money, as well as expand our culinary horizons and focus on really healthy meals, I've been implementing "Meatless Monday." It's not always on Monday, but I have been trying to make one meal a week that uses beans or quinoa or some other protein instead of meat. It's been surprisingly successful so far. I've found that as long as it is packed with flavor and has plenty of hearty substance to it, the meat isn't really missed that much. Last night we had these Butternut Squash and Bean Enchiladas. 

I can take absolutely no credit for them. The concept would never have even crossed my mind. They were unbelievably delicious. I was a bit nervous about the nutmeg, but I went for it, and I was so glad I did. I did use basil instead of sage (I have this weird prejudice against sage, and I honestly haven't given it a fair chance...that's something I need to do, but I never have it on hand, so I haven't yet), and a mixture of mozzarella, parmesan, white cheddar, and cream cheese instead of fontina. I think the fontina would have been great, but it's not really a cheese I keep on hand. And it kind of defeats the purpose of a cheaper, meatless meal if you go buy a more expensive cheese for the occasion. :) The filling was scrumptious- hearty, sweet, savory, creamy but not mushy. Perfect. The cheese sauce was to die for. So flavorful, gooey, decadent, creamy and tasty. It all melded together perfectly. I will definitely be adding this to our regular rotation of meals! I used chickpeas for this, but I think cannelloni or great northern beans would be better. Check out the recipe at the How Sweet It Is blog! I tell you, that lady is a culinary genius.

Hearty and Healthy:

Beans (legumes)- a fantastic source of protein, the saponins and soluble fiber in beans also may help with the reduction of bad cholesterol. They also contain folate, which lowers homocysteine, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Lignans, also found in beans, are thought to be cardioprotective.

Cheese- While dairy isn't specifically targeted as a heart healthy food, poor dental health is thought to be linked to heart disease. The high calcium and phosphorus contents of dairy foods are helpful in the forming of strong bones and teeth. Dairy also has numerous other health benefits, which may have some bearing on heart health. Potassium may help lower blood pressure and stroke risk, riboflavin maintains healthy red blood cells, and vitamin B12  is important for red blood cell production. Probiotics, specifically found in yogurts (although only those with "live and active cultures") are especially beneficial for the immune system.

Winter Squash- The bright orange color of these squash is a dead giveaway of its biggest nutrient- beta carotene. One cup of cooked squash alone provides 107% of the recommended daily intake. Beta carotene is thought to help prevent cancer, as well as maintaining eye health. The great amount of soluble fiber is helpful in lowering bad cholesterol, and the magnesium helps with heart health and preventing high blood pressure. They also contain vitamin B6, linked to a reduction in heart disease risk, and vitamin C, an antioxidant. 

Source: Fight Back with Food: Use Nutrition to Heal What Ails You,  The Reader's Digest Association

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Coconut Curry Tilapia Pie

First of all, this is my newest favorite food blog. You should really go check it out: How Sweet It Is. It has the most delectable, creative, and mouthwatering recipes. My pinterest folders are bursting now, as I've been going through her entire recipe box for the past few days. I've only made it to page 43...of 145. I'm positively swooning over the browned butter and the awesome ways she uses squash. And my menu plans for the next few months are going to be great!
  I don't know if you heard, but my little family and I got stuck in Boston during Hurricane Sandy. We had flown out to visit some old college friends and were only supposed to be there three days. We were there for a week. It wasn't the best situation (you know, jobs and sick leave and all that jazz), but we did enjoy the time with our friends and getting to tour the big city of Boston! While we were there we ate lunch at this market place...kind of just a bunch of quick food places all stuffed into one building. Anyway, I got a Haddock Pot Pie that was just amazing. It was chock full of meaty chunks of fish, had this delightful, mild, creamy sauce, and was topped with a buttery, seasoned crumb topping. So tasty. I decided right then that I would try to recreate it when we went home. I came across a great deal on tilapia this week, so last night I set out to make said fish pie. Somewhere along the way, it morphed into something that was not even remotely similar to the pie we had in Boston. Well, it has fish in it. And a crumb topping. But other than that, it's pretty wildly different. But it's SO good. To die for delicious. 

What it in fact morphed into was a flavor packed coconut curry sauce, with chunks of stir fried potatoes, peas, and tilapia, all wrapped up with a bright squeeze of lime juice and a slightly spicy, crunchy cracker crumb topping. My kiddo couldn't stop eating the fish off of my plate, and my husband thinks anything with curry in it is perfect, so he loved it too. I've been  trying to get more creative with my use of spices to craft deep, flavorful dishes. This one definitely achieved that! You can use any kind of potato with this, but I prefer red, gold, or new potatoes so that the skin is tender and flavorful enough to be left on. That's where many of the nutrients and fiber are, plus it's less work that way. Also, I think russet potato skins taste like dirt. Just sayin'. You can also  use any kind of fish, and substitute cream for coconut milk and butter/olive oil for coconut oil.
   Moral of the story: when you know the recipe you're trying to make has mild seasonings, but you decide to add curry anyways, good things will happen. Good things always come from curry. As a side note, did you know curry isn't actually a spice, but instead a combination of spices? I had no idea until we were in Boston and my friend was making us chicken curry. It has lots of cool stuff in it, like cinnamon and turmeric and cumin and something called fenugreek. Who knew!

The Heart of the Matter

Fish- while tilapia is not one of the fatty fish that is so packed with heart healthy omega 3s, it is a good light meat that is helpful for managing cholesterol levels. 

Peas- These little green guys are chock full of folate, which is linked to a reduction in heart disease, chlorophyll, which may help prevent cell damage from chemicals, and saponins, which help lower bad cholesterol. As a plus, peas are also rich in tryptophan and vitamin B6, which may regulate mood and help prevent depression.

Potatoes- Often thought of as just another carb, this high fiber, low fat favorite is a wealth of more than just starch. If using red, blue, or purple potatoes, the anthocyanins in the skin are antioxidant and may help prevent cancer and heart disease. The caffeic and ferulic acids in all potato skins may destroy harmful carcinogens. The high level of potassium is thought to benefit cardiac health, and the saponins and vitamin B also help reduce heart disease. They are also a great source of vitamin C, which is thought to be a vital antioxidant for protecting against free radicals.

Onions- This tear jerker is a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps control bad cholesterol. The quercetin found in red onions is thought to  help prevent heart disease.

Garlic- Garlic has anticlotting properties, possibly due to the ajoenes present. Also, the sulfur phytochemicals may help protect against heart disease.

Curry- Several of the spices in curry (such as cumin, cloves, ginger, nutmeg,  and turmeric) are thought to be cardio protective and have antioxidant properties.  
Coconut oil- Although a saturated fat, it is composed mostly of medium chain fatty acids, which actually increase good cholesterol and help protect the heart. In some studies, coconut oil was also found to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as prevent the oxidation of cholesterol (which leads to atherosclerosis- the depositing of fats on the artery wall) (http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/latest-studies-on-coconut-oil  http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/article10132.htm)

Source: Fight Back with Food: Use Nutrition to Heal What Ails You,  The Reader's Digest Association

Coconut Curry Tilapia Pie
(This recipe makes enough for two pie plates, or one large 9x13)


4  Tbs Coconut oil  
3-5 Tbs of curry powder, plus more for sprinkling
Sea salt to taste
Lime juice
1 lb of Tilapia fillets
6-8 small sized potatoes, chopped into bite size chunks
1 lb package of frozen peas
Half an onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup of milk 
1/2 cup of heavy cream

Cracker Topping:
2 sleeves of Ritz type crackers
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbs butter, melted
3 Tbs coconut oil, melted

Start by frying the tilapia fillets in 2 Tbs coconut oil until they are white and flaky, about 6-7 minutes. While they are cooking, sprinkle with salt and liberally with curry on both sides, as well as a light squeeze of lime juice (about 1 Tbs.) Remove to a plate. Add the remaining two Tbs of coconut oil to the pan and add the potatoes. Allow to stir fry until they start to brown and soften. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, curry, and lime juice as well.  When the potatoes are almost tender, add in the onion. Cook for a few more minute until the onions are tender, then add the garlic and the peas. Cook for a few more minutes, until garlic is browned and peas are tender, then add the two Tbs of olive oil. Sprinkle the potato mixture with the flour, and stir until it absorbs the oil. This will combine with the coconut milk to create a creamy gravy. Add in the can of coconut milk, as well as the milk and cream. Allow the sauce to simmer for several minutes, until it thickens into a creamy gravy.  Add 3-5 tbs of curry powder. Note, curry powders vary in hotness, so start low and work your way up to taste. I used a full 4-5 Tbs and found the heat and flavor perfect. Adjust as desired. Also add lime juice and salt to taste. Make sure to taste the sauce to determine the perfect balance. Spread half of the filling into two 9" pie plates or one 9x13 dish. Flake the fish into chunks and layer over the filling, then top with the rest of the filling. This step is important, as it ensures that your delicate fish will not disintegrate from being stirred into the filling.

Crumb topping:
Crush the two packages of crackers in a food processor, or by hand, along with the spices and salt. Once crushed, drizzle in the melted butter and coconut oil and pulse a few time until the topping is well mixed and moistened. Sprinkle topping evenly over pie filling, then bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until topping is golden and filling is bubbly.If desired, serve with an extra squeeze of lime juice.