Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pomegranate Fig Chicken and Rice

Pomegranate as a super fruit isn't new news. It's been promoted vigorously as a good source of many nutrients for the past several years. Of course, it's also good for the heart. This tart super fruit is full of powerful, heart protecting ingredients. Anthocyanins are antioxidant pigments which may fortify capillaries, prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and help protect against heart disease. Catechins may defend the heart against free radicals. The fiber, soluble and insoluble, helps lower cholesterol. Potassium is linked to lower blood pressure, and may reduce heart disease risk as well.
 I've never really had much of a taste for it. Mostly because it's so tart and it's most often used in sweet, fruity types of things. I've always had trouble with tart fruits. When I was a kid I used to stir sugar into my orange juice when my mom wasn't looking. And I still didn't like it. I also once piled so much sugar onto a grapefruit, in an attempt to make it edible, that I actually managed to make it so sugary that I couldn't stomach it. Considering the sweet tooth of a six year old, that's a lot of sugar. Anyway, let's just say, I like my fruit sweet. But, pomegranate is on my heart list, and when I ran across a recipe for pomegranate molasses (essentially pomegranate juice sweetened just a bit and cooked down into a syrup), I finally thought I might have found a way to enjoy it. 


I thought it would be tasty with chicken and rice, so that's what I set out to do. I cooked up my molasses, made a quick marinade/sauce, marinated and broiled my chicken (broiling makes for such tender chicken, and it's quick!), and even added some sauce to the rice cooker. Success! The result was a fruity, tangy, and slightly sweet sauce over tender chicken and faintly purple rice. I paired it with a simply spinach salad, and it was delightful. Simple, tasty, healthy, and budget friendly. Definitely going into the monthly dinner rotation!

Pomegranate Fig Chicken and Rice

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1-2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbs fig jam
2 Tbs dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Honey, as needed

First, make your pomegranate molassas by gently simmering the pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice over medium heat. Simmer until the juice thickens into a nicely reduced syrup.  Remove from heat, then add the fig jam, dijon mustard, salt, and balsamic vinegar. Whisk to combine. Taste, and add honey or more fig jam if needed for added sweetness.

For the Chicken and Rice:

4-5 chicken tenders, cubed
2 cups cooked rice 

Marinate the chicken with half the sauce, for at least three to four hours. Cook the rice as desired (I use a rice cooker and mix in a few tablespoons of sauce. You could also stir this in after it's cooked.) Put the chicken in a cast iron skillet (or other broiling pan), making sure there is room to spread out. Broil for around seven or ten minutes, watching carefully, or until the chicken is cooked through and sauce is slightly caramelized. Serve over rice and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Oats, and a New Jam

My fig jam finally came in the mail. : ) Hooray! 

I'd been quite excited about this jam for awhile. I ordered it from Vitacost, using a free $10 coupon I had.  (Side note: if you want to give vitacost.com a try, you can sign up for their rewards program through this link and get an automatic $10 coupon! By using this link as a reference, I get $10 too. : ) http://www.vitacost.com/Referee?wlsrc=rsReferral&ReferralCode=90176349 )

We already talked about how good figs are for you and your heart, and I was excited about this jam in particular because it's only sweetened with grape juice. So, 100% fruit, and no extra sugar to worry about. Anyways, as soon as I got it I started trying it on things. 

The Little Miss was a huge fan. Every time she sees me get the jar out, she starts signing "more" like there's no tomorrow.

My favorite so far has been a nice spoonful mixed in with some steel-cut oats. Oatmeal is a wholesome food for your heart, and very hearty, and I have been into eating the steel-cut variety for breakfast most mornings. Steel-cut oats aren't any better for your than rolled oats, they just have a bit of a different texture. They're a bit chewier; less mushy and gooey, and they hold up on their own a bit more. It gives a nice, nutty munch to your breakfast. You should give it a try sometime. 

Oats- Oats are a wonderful source of saponins, which bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract. They also contain soluble beta-glucan fiber which is helpful for reducing cholesterol.
Figs-They are packed with fiber, plant sterols, polyphenols, potassium, and vitamin B6.  Figs have both insoluble and soluble fiber, but it's the soluble pectin fiber that may be instrumental in lowering blood cholesterol. Plant sterols may also help lower LDL cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart disease. Polyphenols help neutralize dangerous free radicals and prevent chronic disease- and dried figs have up to fifty times more than most fruits and vegetables! A potassium rich diet may lower the risk for heart attacks and strokes, and your blood pressure. Vitamin B6 is linked to improving heart health by lowering levels of homocysteine. Because of the lower water content, dried figs are actually more nutrient-dense than fresh. And, figs have the highest mineral content of any common fruit, helping to nourish blood, build bones, and protect the heart!

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

Here's a nice, simple recipe for breakfast. I like to make the oatmeal ahead of time, then just keep it in the fridge and warm and doctor up each portion as I eat it. Makes for a quick breakfast as well. I even eat it cold sometimes, and it's surprisingly good. I also like mine creamy, so I make it with milk. You could definitely make it with water and be just fine. 

Oats with Fig Jam

1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups milk
1/8 tsp of salt
Greek Yogurt
Fig Jam

Cook your oats. Bring milk and salt to a light boil, then add oats. Be careful to stir your milk, and watch it constantly, to avoid scorching and boiling over. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, depending on how chewy you like your oats (I like mine nice and cooked, so I do a full 20 minutes. If these directions differ from the ones on your oats package, follow their directions.)
Portion up your oatmeal in bowls, and add as much yogurt and jam as desired. I usually do 1/2 cup of oatmeal, 1/4 cup of yogurt, 1-2 Tbs jam.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

I don't know if you recall, but I'm actually allergic to bananas. I went through a period during my pregnancy when I was just craaaaving banana cream pie. I substituted sour cream pie instead (which ended up being a pretty wonderful invention!) But, while I am technically allergic to them, I haven't ever had a horrible reaction. Usually just itchy lips, and perhaps a slight amount of swelling. So, every once in a great while, I allow myself just the smallest bit. And it's so good. It stinks developing an allergy to something you've always loved. But anyway, my point is this- just because I can't eat them very often, doesn't mean I can't post about yummy banana smoothies. So there. ; )

This smoothie is so very tasty. I love my smoothies creamy and delicious, and the greek yogurt achieves this perfectly. It's mild and smooth. The banana and peanut butter give you a kick of protein and sweetness, while the surprise ingredients (flaxmeal and oatmeal!) add a bit of heartiness. I like to add a bit of coconut oil as well. This adds great nutrient value, and a very slight coconut hint. All in all, a great breakfast, snack, or dessert!
The Heart of it:
Peanut Butter- Nuts are rich in Vitamin E. This antioxidant vitamin is thought to help prevent heart disease. They also contain amino acids and B vitamins, which are cardio-protective.
Flax meal- Flax seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, which helps the body reduce hormone-like substances that can lead to blood clotting.  It's also a good source of insoluble fiber and soluble fibers. Soluble fiber specifically helps the body get rid of LDL cholesterol. Flax seed is also rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which are essential to the body and are thought to improve cardiovascular heart.  Note: unless flax seeds are ground, your body cannot digest them and gain the benefits.
 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)
 Bananas-These lovelies are packed with pectin, which is a soluble fiber that helps lower LDL cholesterol. It also has potassium, which may help lower blood pressure.
Oats are a wonderful source of saponins, which bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract. They also contain soluble beta-glucan fiber which is helpful for reducing cholesterol. 
Source: Fight Back with Food: Use Nutrition to Heal What Ails You,  The Reader's Digest Association

Tip: I like to peel and chunk up my banana, and then freeze it. That way it's all ready to pop into the blender. It also helps make it frosty and thick. I've been wanting to try freezing yogurt in ice trays so that will add to the frostiness too, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
Serves Two

 2 Tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbs honey, or to taste
2 Tbs flax meal
1/4 cup cooked (and refrigerated!) oatmeal 
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
One whole frozen banana, sliced 
 Milk as needed

First, you must blend your coconut oil with the peanut butter, vanilla, honey, flaxmeal, and oatmeal. If you add the coconut oil straight to the cold stuff, it will just chunk up on you. Ew. We want things creamy! Once it's all blended well together, add the yogurt, then the banana. Add milk as needed to make it smooth. Taste, and add more honey if desired.