Prunes. The word alone can still make me smile.
As kids, Mom would fix stewed prunes for my sister, brother and me whenever we had trouble, well….going! For years, I actually thought prunes were medicine…like aspirin or cough syrup!
By junior high, I knew better, but still laughed hysterically with my friends while singing,
“Prunes, prunes, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So let’s have prunes at every meal.” (rolling on the floor laughing!)
What else could you expect from a bunch of pre-adolescent goof balls who believed bodily functions were the source of all humor?!
The poor prune’s reputation as a laxative may be unfortunate because it overshadows the fact that prunes are not only sweet and tasty…they’re also a rich source of nutrients!
Did you know just one prune contains up to five percent of the recommended daily intake of many essential minerals and vitamins…in addition to its legendary dietary fiber?
Not a fan of prunes? You’re not alone. In fact, women ages 25 to 54 react so negatively to the idea of prunes, the California Prune Board pressured the FDA to change their name to the more appealing “dried plums” (which they technically are!)
And it worked! Sales of the super-healthy purple fruit have hit new heights! But prunes (or shall we call them dried plums?) are proving to be far more than a digestion remedy.
Because they contain high levels of phytonutrients called phenols, prunes can protect the brain from free radical damage and can help prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Prunes and plums help prevent Type 2 diabetes and obesity. They’re high in the soluble fiber that help keep blood sugar levels stable.
The soluble fiber in prunes also helps lower cholesterol, improves bone health and are a good source of vitamin K and beta carotene…nutrients that can actually make you happier! So you see, my childhood song is true!...the “more you eat, the better you feel!”
Still, when it comes to constipation, the prune is a rock star…more effective than psyllium, according to recent studies. Only 30 calories, the soluble fiber in prunes also makes you fill up faster.
So for a whole bunch of reasons, I snack on prunes, chop them up in salads and oatmeal and include them in recipes…like this de-LISH dish from my friend, Susan Haber. This one’s SO good, I make it for company!
Susan’s Chicken Marbella
(adapted from the “Silver Palate” Cookbook)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup pitted prunes
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
½ cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
¼ cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 chickens (2 1/2 pounds each), quartered
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dry, white wine
¼ cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1. Combine olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4. Bake, basting frequently with pan juices, until thigh pieces yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice when pricked with a fork, 50 min. to 1 hour.
5.With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass the remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.
Soooooo good! Enjoy!
Throughout my TV news career, covering elections was by far the most stressful and difficult. Hours of live reporting with no script...my head exploding trying to recall details about the candidates, campaigns and issues.
What got me through those chaotic election nights? Weeks of study, detailed notes (cheat sheets!) and a three-egg omelet with cheese and veggies for before work.
Seriously, eggs are my go-to food whenever I need to be sharp, calm and focused for the long haul.
It may be a cute marketing slogan, but I can give you a half dozen reasons for replacing your usual breakfast with the “incredible, edible egg” when you need to be at your best.
If you start your day with cereal or toast instead of eggs, here’s a wake-up call. Eggs have six grams of high quality protein. A protein-packed breakfast helps sustain mental and physical energy throughout the day (or night of election coverage!)
Eggs are rich in choline, which promotes normal cell activity, liver function and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body. (It’s like a commuter train for vitamins and minerals!)
ZERO CARBS—NO SUGAR
With no carbs or sugar, you get eat a well-balanced breakfast without widening your waistline!
AMINO ACIDS and VITAMINS
Eggs have all nine essential amino acids…leucine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, histidine, valine, threonine and isoleucine. And while they may be hard to pronounce, these amino acids really ARE essential.
Eggs also packed with Vitamins B2, B12, A and E.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Unlike most cereals and yogurt, eggs don’t come with a complicated, lengthy ingredient list because they contain only one ingredient. Eggs. Period. And at fifteen cents a serving, eggs are the least expensive source of high-quality protein.
NO GLUTEN? NO PROBLEM.
Of course, eggs are naturally gluten-free. Always have been. Always will be. That’s good news because there are relatively few gluten-free breakfast options.
But, what about cholesterol, you ask? Well, recent studies have exonerated the misunderstood egg as a contributor to coronary heart disease. In fact, a University of Connecticut study found eggs actually improved good cholesterol in adults with metabolic syndrome.
So, give yourself permission to crack open a couple of eggs! It’s a great way to get a health boost (and power through the toughest day.)
To get you started…here’s my favorite egg casserole recipe. It’s easy, yummy and a gift from my friend and awesome cook, Carol Morrison!
Carol’s Green Chile Frittata
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup butter, melted and cooled
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 pound Jack cheese, grated
3 (4-oz) cans diced green chiles
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13-inch baking dish. Mix flour and baking powder. Add eggs and butter. Blend well. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture in prepared dish and bake 35 to 45 minutes until set.
Great for brunch! Thanks, Carol!
Have I told you about my amazing nephews? I’ve been blessed to be “Aunt Carol” to three of the finest young men you’ll ever meet.
A gifted massage therapist, Colin is the oldest at 27. Handsome and bright, Colin also has a heart as big as all outdoors!
Nineteen year-old Devin, a sophomore at (his auntie’s alma mater!) the University of Northern Iowa is tall, blonde, adorably mischievous and can run like the wind.
Sadly, I don’t get to see them as often as I like because, along with their Dad (my little bro, Carter) and Mom, Dana, Iowa is home.
So imagine my delight when my middle nephew, Ian, announced he was moving to California’s Central Coast. Now that he’s just a five-hour road trip away, Aunt Carol and Uncle Tom get to connect with him a lot more often.
Good-looking, athletic and creative, Ian is also brilliant…with a great job at a large, computer software company in San Luis Obispo (SLO). What I didn’t know about the multi-talented “E-Man,” (as he’s affectionately known by friends and family) is he’s apparently also skilled in the kitchen.
With a little help from his Mom’s recipe (and a couple of “secret weapons,” Ian recently won a chili cook-off in SLO…hands down! Now that I’ve tried E’s chili, I’ve got to hand it to him. It’s absolutely delicious (and hot as a witch’s broom handle!!)
Ian agreed to let me share it with you…as long as his Mom gets proper credit. (I told you my nephews are amazing!)
Note the “secret weapons…”Mr. and Mrs. T’s Original Bloody Mary Mix and Baker’s chocolate.
LeBeau's Chili aka "Mom's Chili"
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. hamburger
1 onion diced
3 celery stalks w/ leaves
1 t. salt & pepper (or to taste)
3-4 T. chili powder
3 T. Cajun seasoning
1/4 C. brown sugar
16 oz. pork n' beans
16 oz. dark kidney beans
16 oz. navy beans
16 oz. black beans
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can beef consume
2 squares of semi-sweet bakers chocolate
1 bottle Bloody Mary Mix (Mr. & Mrs. T's Original)
Brown the hamburger/sausage and use the grease to sauté your celery and onion. Add everything else! Simmer for one hour.
Make it the day before! And enjoy!
Thanks “E” and Dana!!
On our recent tour of western Canada and the majestic Canadian Rockies, my husband Tom and I learned many “fun facts” about our neighbor to the north. I can actually sing the lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem, “Oh, Canada!”
While Canada may not have an official national bird…because of the loon pictured on one side, Canucks refer to their one-dollar coins as “loonies.” (BTW…the two-dollar coin is called a “twonie!”)
There’s also an unofficial sweet treat unique (almost!) to Canada known as the Nanaimo (nuh-NYE-mo) Bar. If you’re into sugar highs, you simply must try this melt-in-your-mouth confection. And I’ve got the recipe!
But first, a little history.
According to local legend, about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo (city on Vancouver Island) housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry “Nanaimo Bars.” Her entry won a prize…promoting the town, as much as her baking.
Some American tourists may claim sovereignty over the dessert, referred to as “New York Slice,” which is sold in other places in the world. But Nanaimo residents refuse to accept this theory, believing that once you set foot on Vancouver Island, there are no other places in the world. The official Nanaimo Bar recipe became available as a handout, as well as on tea towel and apron souvenirs.
In 1986, Nanaimo Mayor Graeme Roberts held a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe. During the four-week long contest, nearly 100 different variations of the famous treat were submitted. The winner? Joyce Hardcastle.
Here’s her recipe:
½ cup unsalted butter (European-style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 Tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8” x 8” pan.
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar (confectioners)
Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.
Trust me; you don’t even want to know the calorie count. It is decidedly decadent. But this no-bake bar with an international flair may just wow your friends and family this holiday season.
In recent months, I’ve shared with you about the wonderful birthday group of gals I’m blessed to be part of. We’ve been meeting to celebrate our respective birthdays for more than 30 years. I’m grateful for all seven of these fabulous women. We’ve been through a lot together…most of it fun!
Due to my complete ineptness in the kitchen, the “girls” surprised me on my last birthday with copies of their favorite, easy, crowd-pleasing and idiot-proof recipes.
My last entry, in August, was Marlena Brown’s all-in-one-bowl chicken pesto pasta. If you haven’t given it a try, it’s a winner.
Today, I want to highlight one of Kendra Dawson’s signature recipes. We call her the soup queen…for good reason. Beef barley to chicken vegetable, Kendra’s homemade soups can’t be beat. And that goes for her famous Latin American specialty, pozole.
Pozole is especially popular in Mexico and the American Southwest, but my Gringo friend Kendra morphs into “Kendrita” when pozole’s on the menu.
Kendra’s made this recipe simple for all us Gringos. Add a salad and thick slices of bread and you’re sure to get a big !Que Bueno! from your family and friends.
3 cups cooked chicken (chopped)
32 oz. chicken broth
1 15-oz. can hominy (drain and wash)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1-2 cups of your favorite salsa
2-3 celery stalks, chopped (leafy tops ok)
1 small-medium white or yellow onion
1 lg. or 2 or 3 small red, green or yellow bell peppers, chopped
(optional) parsley or cilantro sprigs to garnish
1. Chop chicken and place in bowl
2.Chop celery, onions and peppers and place in bowl
3. In a large soup pot, place chicken broth, sliced tomatoes, salsa. Use the tomato can and fill twice with water and add to pot.
4. Bring to a boil. Add chopped onion, celery and peppers. Lower heat to medium. Stir frequently. Cook 10 minutes.
5. Add hominy and chicken. Cook about 10 minutes
Serve in soup bowls.
Garnish with parsley or cilantro, if desired.
Is it me or is this season’s watermelon the best ever? Seriously, I can’t get enough of the tasty treat. Juicy and super-sweet…it’s like candy! Tom and I can devour an entire mini seedless melon in one sitting!
But when it comes to watermelon, apparently, I’m not very creative. At my house, watermelon is served one of two ways…in wedges or trimmed from the rind and cut into cubes. Period.
My friend, Sara, has completely changed that notion. On a hot, muggy day recently, Sara served a salad I’ll never forget…featuring—you got it—watermelon! In a large bowl, she whisked two tablespoons each olive oil and red wine vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt. To that she added three cups each cubed, seedless watermelon, sliced peaches and baby arugula; one-half cup packed basil leaves and ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped.
Meant to serve four, I think I gobbled down three servings myself! It was like a cool breeze for the palette! Sara’s salad is now in the recipe rotation at our house and now I’m on the lookout for other fun ways to enjoy watermelon.
Here are a few of the “wacky watermelon” recipes I’ve found. From now on, when it comes to watermelon, I’m thinking outside the rind!!
Grilled Chicken-Watermelon Tacos
Toss 2 c. chopped seedless watermelon; 1 jalapeno, minced; ½ sm. Red onion, minced; ¼ c. each lime juice and chopped cilantro; and ¼ tsp. salt. Serve on 8 (6-in.) warmed corn tortillas with 1lb. sliced grilled chicken and ½ c. crumbled Cotija cheese.
Feta-Watermelon Stacks (great for appetizers!)
Cut 1 sm. Seedless watermelon into 1-in. cubes (about 40) Top with 1 (1 –lb) block of feta cheese, cut into 1-in. squares (1/4 in. thick), and 1 c. basil leaves; secure with toothpicks. Transfer to platter; sprinkle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and ¼ tsp. each salt and pepper.
Frozen Watermelon Coolers
In lg. blender, puree (stopping often to tamp down solid ingredients with wooden spoon) 4 c. cubed seedless watermelon, frozen; 5 c. ice; 1 c. each raspberry sorbet and lime juice; and ½ c. confectioners’ sugar until thick and smooth. SO yummy!
No-Cook Watermelon “Cake” (a truly “wacky” watermelon recipe…but looks so cool!)
Slice 2 short ends off 1 lg. seedless watermelon so it sits flat; cut away rink to make cylinder (tricky part!) Transfer to cake stand. Frost with 2 (8-oz.) containers whipped topping. Top with berries and mint.
One more thing. Despite the popular notion that watermelon is made up of only water and sugar…watermelon is actually considered a nutrient-dense food, a food that provides a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for very few, guilt-free calories.
For more than thirty years, I’ve been blessed to be part of a great group of women… eight faithful, caring, fun-loving friends who also happen to take birthdays very seriously.
In fact, our “birthday group” boldly celebrates aging up with a lively luncheon for each lady - complete with fabulous food, crazy greeting cards, special gifts, lotsa laughs and gobs of gab!
I love those luncheons- until it’s my turn to host one.
You see, my friends are all highly skilled, domestic divas! Me? I would rather address a joint session of Congress than prepare lunch for eight. But with a sense of humor, a few short cuts, and encouraging friends, I somehow get through it.
This year, when my birthday rolled around, the “girls” surprised me with a gift that keeps on giving… a packet of recipes even I can’t screw up!
They gave me their easiest, tastiest, no-fail, favorite dishes and boy, has dinner taken a turn for the better around our house!
In the coming months, I’m going to share a few of these delicious dishes with you… starting with this incredible pasta recipe from Marlena Brown. Just toss all the ingredients in a big bowl. Then sit back and enjoy the oo’s and ah’s!!
Marlena’s Pesto Pasta
1 jar Classico Pesto (or any brand you choose. I like Buitoni. You’ll find it in the refrigerator section at Vons)
1 6-oz. jar of sundried tomatoes (no need to drain)
1 4-oz. jar of capers, drained
1 4-oz can sliced olives
1 ½ pounds chicken, cooked
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 lb. pasta, cooked (I love whole grain)
Toss ingredients together.
Take a bow!
Don’t I just have the best friends?! Stay tuned for Kendra Dawson’s awesome posole!!
Have you ever wondered what’s so super about “superfoods?”
Somehow, I managed to live more than 55 years without acai? I still can barely pronounce it. I think it’s (ah-sah-EE.) Oh, I’ve tried to incorporate the all-star berry into my diet, but like pomegranate, another fruit rock star, to me it tastes like dirt.
Kale may be the current king of the leafy greens, but hey, it’s an acquired taste.
Actually, I just read about another trendy green that might give kale some competition. It’s the “fiddlehead.” I’m serious! Fiddlehead is a curly fern that’s getting a lot of buzz as the next “fit food.”
Lately there’s been so much focus on these nutritional newcomers that less glamorous fruits and veggies are sometimes treated like second-class citizens.
Fortunately researchers are discovering new reasons to get excited about the old stand-bys! The best part? You probably already stock many of them in your kitchen.
The crunchy green is back on the must-eat list as a potential cancer fighter. It’s a top source of a flavonoid called apigenin. The substance activates a chemical reaction inside diseased cells, causing them to self-destruct. No one is suggesting celery can cure cancer, but scientists say over time a diet containing apigenin-rich foods may help prevent the disease.
The skins of these snackable bites are bursting with resveratrol…the same superstar antioxidant that helps make red wine good for your heart. A recent study has discovered that resveratrol may also aid in boosting immunity…by helping increase levels of a molecule that kills bacteria and viruses. In fact, adding grapes to your diet may even protect you from contracting infections in the first place.
For years, fungi have been thought to be heart healthy and immunity boosting. Now science shows that they may even help prevent breast cancer by lowering estrogen levels. Cancer researcher Dr. Shiuan Chen found that when postmenopausal women consumed 13 grams of mushroom powder (the equivalent of one and a third cups of white button mushrooms) per day for three months, their estrogen production dropped by 27%.
Researchers have long known that smokers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. And while no doctor would encourage lighting up, there may be another way to get the benefit: peppers. They’re a safe source of nicotine, which may protect dopamine-producing cells. The results of a study published in the “Annals of Neurology” found that eating bell peppers twice a week or more was associated with at least a 30 percent reduced risk of Parkinson’s.
Talk about super foods!
And there’s more. Remember the old rule, “eat the rainbow?” When nutrition experts first urged us to fill our plates with brightly hued produce, it made sense. They were just discovering the powerful benefits of a crayon box of antioxidants – from red (lycopene in tomatoes) to blue and purple (anthocyanins in berries and grapes) to orange (beta carotene in carrots).
Well, guess what? Nutrition experts now admit, “white is a color, too!” Cauliflower packs the powerful cancer-combating compounds also found in its flashy cousin, broccoli. Garlic and onions may be pale, but they protect against stomach and colorectal cancer. And Portobello and cremini mushrooms are just as rich in antioxidants as green beans, carrots and red peppers.
So don’t let so-called “superfoods” crowd out staples that are just as nutritious. When it comes to fresh produce, whatever the color, it’s all good!
I drive my coffee-loving friends crazy. Don’t get me wrong. I love coffee, but only if it’s masked with every accoutrement available. By the time I’m done with it, my morning dark roast is the color of my husband’s khakis!
For years, I’ve justified my breakfast treat –half and half, two teaspoons of sugar and a little coffee because, for the most part, I eat healthfully the rest of the day.
But recent news about the relationship between sugar and heart disease has got me thinking I may need to learn to drink my java black. A report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) comes with a stern warning: eating too much sugar can be deadly!
Now, I hate to be alarmist about food studies, but this research is compelling.
The problem isn’t with sugar found naturally in foods. But the largest study of its kind reveals consuming too much added sugar – found in regular soft drinks, cakes, cookies and candy dramatically increases your risk of death from heart disease.
According to one of the study’s authors, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of sugar.
Adults, on average, consume about 15 percent of their daily calories – about 300 calories a day from added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars – about six teaspoons. Men should keep it to about nine teaspoons. (BTW: One can of regular soda has about 140 calories of added sugar.)
But just as I began congratulating myself for not drinking sugary soda, there’s this:
Added sugars in the CDC report also include table sugar (the stuff I add to my breakfast brew) brown sugar (which I love atop an otherwise healthy bowl of hot oatmeal) high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey (Yikes! Last night I drizzled honey over a slice of cornbread!), molasses and other caloric sweeteners in prepared and processed foods and beverages (I guess that includes the handful of M&M’s I nibbled on while working at my computer.)
Busted! Clearly – without even realizing it, I can blow right through my 100-calorie sugar limit…even if I’m making otherwise healthy food choices. Bottom line, sugar is everywhere and we need to be intentional about keeping intake to a minimum.
And if the risk of heart attack isn’t enough incentive, other research has tied a high intake of added sugars to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for stroke. With all that’s at stake, it may just be worth keeping an eye on how much sugar you add to your diet each day.
As Rachel Johnson, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association points out, “Now we know that too much added sugar doesn’t just make us fat – it could cause a heart attack.”
Guess I’ll take my cuppa joe with a little half and half, thank you. Hold the sugar.
Following a devastating stroke, my husband’s sweet Dad, “Woody,” lived another five years – each day a challenge because the massive blood clot in his brain left his left side paralyzed. Woody handled his situation with grace and class but it wasn’t easy.
Because heart disease and stroke run in Tom’s family, he’s fighting back with a healthy lifestyle and frequent check-ups and I make sure the fridge is full of fresh veggies including tomatoes.
A new study shows that men who had the highest levels of lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, had fewer strokes than men who had the lowest level of lycopene in their blood.
And get this. Overall, the risk of strokes was reduced by a whopping 55 percent!
But here’s where the study, based in Finland, got my attention. Lycopene, it seems, is found in the highest concentrations in cooked tomato products such as prepared paste, puree and sauce.
As someone who likes to take short cuts in the kitchen, I was thrilled to learn a cup of ready-to-serve marinara sauce has 10 times more lycopene than a raw tomato. It’s not only okay to use the stuff in the jar it’s actually better than fresh when it comes to lycopene concentrations.
And that goes for the sauce found on fast food pizza and store-bought catsup, too (though high fat and sugar content in these products should also be considered.)
One doctor commenting on the lycopene study in the journal, “Neurology,” says the lycopene study shows “diet is very important” for cutting stroke risk along with exercising and not smoking. Dr. Rafael Ortiz says lycopene works by reducing inflammation and preventing blood clots from forming.
So, when I want a quick and easy meal that’s loaded with lycopene, here’s a simple, little recipe I came up with:
*Sauté a chopped onion, green pepper and 1 cup of mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil.
*Brown one pound of lean, ground turkey and combine with vegetables
*Add one large jar of marinara sauce (We’re hooked Costco’s 40-oz. Victoria All Natural Marinara Sauce)
*Simmer all ingredients together for one hour
Serve over whole-wheat penne (or pasta of your choice)
Double the recipe. It’s even better the next day! And it freezes beautifully.
One more thing…If you’re not a tomato lover, no worries. Lycopene is also found in watermelon, grapefruit, papaya and mango.