#238 One-Dish Wonders

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My mother's menu consisted of two choices:
take it or leave it.

Buddy Hackett

4 Down and Dirty One-Pot Meals

By Joe Wilkes

For a lot of us, an elegant sit-down family dinner means serving the chicken without the bucket. Having to work until 5:00 or 6:00 at night and then having to come home and whip up something that your children will eat and won't get you reported to Protective Services can be a challenge for anyone. Then after the cooking, the serving, and potentially, the force-feeding, you get to spend the rest of the evening doing the dishes and cleaning your kitchen so you can do it all again tomorrow. They never show that part on Martha Stewart. No wonder the pizza place is on speed-dial. But it is possible to eat both healthy and fast. Here are a few ideas for getting something nutritious on the table in a hurry, and the best part—only one pot to clean!

(And for single people, invest in some airtight containers, freeze your leftovers, and be a slave to Lean Cuisine no more!)

  1. Get to wok. Instead of summoning the deliverymen with the greasy white boxes, try making your own stir-fry feast. You can cut out most of the extra fat, corn syrup, and sodium your takeout place so kindly provides, and if you can enlist some prep help with the chopping, it only takes minutes to cook, and less time to clean!

    • Heat enough olive, peanut, or sesame oil to keep food from sticking to the wok.

    • When the oil's hot, add sliced meat or tofu with some crushed ginger and/or garlic.

    • When the meat is cooked through, add your favorite chopped veggies like carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, snow peas, or scallions (you can chop the veggies while the meat's cooking).

    • Add a dash of low-sodium soy sauce or tamari or a little orange juice to make a sauce and serve!

    If you're not watching your carbs, there are a lot of microwavable rice products available if you don't want to get another pot dirty. Just try and pick brown or wild rice, so you get some fiber with your starch. You can also make extra rice which can be stir-fried the next day with any leftover meat and vegetables. Scramble an egg into the mix and you've got healthy fried rice—doubling your meal output for your efforts.

    Shortcut: Many grocery stores sell mixes of stir-fry vegetables already chopped and combined in their produce section or frozen. They won't be quite as delicious as freshly chopped, but as long as they don't have any extra ingredients (frozen mixes especially might add some sauce or salt you don't want), they're just as healthy.

  2. Loafing after work. The humble meatloaf. Most of us remember this classic treat from our childhood. It usually was an alchemic combination of ground beef, bread crumbs, ketchup, and whole eggs. Delicious? Yes. Nutritious? Not so much. Much of the deliciousness came from the beef fat soaking the bread crumbs and combining with the egg yolks to give us a couple of days' worth of saturated fat in one serving. And, there's all the extra salt and corn syrup the ketchup brings to the party. But it doesn't have to be this way—a healthy loaf can be made, still be flavorful without the fat, and still maintain enough structural integrity to be repurposed as a sandwich filling the next day.

    • Use extra-lean ground beef, or better yet, extra-lean ground turkey, although be sure to get extra-lean ground turkey or ground turkey breast. (Check the label—sometimes the "lean" ground turkey has as much fat as the beef—so what's the point?)

    • Next add some vegetables to the meatloaf. You can add carrots, celery, onions, parsnips—whatever you like, just watch the amounts of juicier veggies like tomatoes which can turn your loaf into less appetizing soup. The amount of vegetables should be proportional to the meat. (This is also a great way of slipping veggies to picky eaters in your family.)

    • Instead of bread crumbs, add a handful of rolled oats. You'll get more fiber and they won't absorb fat (not that there's much to absorb anymore) as much as bread crumbs will.

    • Add a few egg whites, which, along with the oats' gluten, will provide enough glue to hold the loaf together and any fresh herbs, garlic, or other seasonings you enjoy.

    • Bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour or so and let it sit for at least 15 minutes and cool so the ingredients have time to cohere.

    Shortcut: Not good at separating eggs? Most grocery stores sell cartons of egg whites on their own. Or you can use egg substitutes, like Egg Beaters. In addition to being a lot healthier, they're also more convenient. No cracking, scrambling, or getting hands and bowls dirty. It may only save a couple of minutes, but those are minutes better devoted to serious loafing!

  3. Stew in your own juices. Stew. Or as I like to call it, my vegetables' last stop before Garbagetown. You're cooking and cleaning out your refrigerator—now that's multitasking! You can call it stew, goulash, gumbo, cassoulet, ratatouille, cioppino, or ragout; but most importantly, you can call it dinner.

    • Put a big pot on the stove. Brown some raw meat, poultry, fish, or tofu. (If you're using leftover or precooked meat, just throw it in with the vegetables, and ignore this and the next step.)

    • Put the cooked meat aside, drain the fat, and then deglaze the pot with a little red or white wine.

    • Next pay a visit to the vegetable morgue, also known as the crisper drawer, and add to the pot whatever looks like it won't make it through the night (some garlic and onions are always good, too—even if they're not at death's door).

    • Once the veggies have softened and relinquished their juices, add the meat back in, add some low-sodium chicken, vegetable, or beef broth and/or some no-salt tomato sauce, and cook on low heat until it reaches the desired consistency (about 15 to 20 minutes).

    • If you're short on time after work, this could be thrown together in a Crock-Pot or slow cooker in the morning, and when you return home, dinner's ready!

    Shortcut: Most meat departments sell stew pieces of beef or fish, all cut up and ready to go. Also, it's always good to have a couple of favorite staple vegetables in the freezer or a can or two of beans on hand to throw into the pot.

  4. The casserole—a pan and a plan. How would the cream-of-anything soup industry stay in business without casseroles? Not to mention the french-fried onion companies. Casseroles, in and of themselves, don't have to be bad for you. They start out with meat and vegetables, which are usually pretty healthy. It's the improvisations that usually get diets in trouble.

    • To begin with, choose lean meats. Sausage-and-whatever casseroles are usually yummy because the other ingredients soak up all the artery-clogging fat from the sausage. Using lean meat or poultry will help keep it healthy from the beginning.

    • Also, keep the vegetable-to-meat ratio fairly high. Imagine what a serving of a casserole would look like spread out on a plate in its component parts. You probably wouldn't consider a pound of meat and a brussels sprout a well-balanced meal. Try and keep the meat to about 4 ounces per serving and fill the rest of the pan with fiber-rich, filling, healthy vegetables (not just potatoes, either).

    • For sauces, try to avoid cheese and anything that begins with "cream of" as well as cream itself. Canned soups, a casserole staple, usually rely heavily on sodium for flavor. You can do much better by using a low-sodium broth, which can be combined with some nonfat powdered milk and corn starch to make a faux cream sauce.

    • If you like pasta in your casserole, try using a whole-grain variety.

    • And instead of adding french-fried onions, how about thinly sliced almonds to provide a little crunch?

    Shortcut: Most casseroles can be assembled a day ahead of time, so if you're anticipating a late day at the office, you can make the casserole the night before, and just pop it into the oven the next day. That overnight bonding time you give your ingredients will make the casserole that much tastier.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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4 Hearty and Healthy Dips

By Joe Wilkes

When aren't we going on and on about how you need to eat more vegetables? They're full of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and low in calories and fat. And one of the best ways to eat them? Raw. So you're trying to be a good camper, with your bowl of broccoli and cauliflower florets, baby carrots, and celery sticks, crunching your way to a leaner (and probably gassier) you. You know what would really make these veggies sing? Some dip! French onion dip
. . . or guacamole . . . or hummus . . . or nacho cheese. Ha! Guess again! Nothing can make your healthy vegetable snack descend the rungs of Michi's Ladder faster than a few dunks in a bowl of fatty, salty, delicious dip. But we're not completely heartless. Here are some variations on some old favorites that are actually pretty good for you!

  1. Hummus. It's a perfect dip. Made primarily of creamed chickpeas, it's like dipping your vegetable in another vegetable! But not all hummuses (or is it hummi?) are created equal. Many are loaded up with tahini (the sesame paste that gives hummus it's nutty flavor) and olive oil, which are almost pure fat. Granted, they're both healthy fats, so a little is OK, but too much will pack on the pounds. Try making your own from scratch. Just puree a can of chickpeas in a food processor or blender with lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper to taste. You can add as much tahini or olive oil as you think your diet can handle, or none at all. If the hummus is too thick, you could thin it with a little vegetable broth or water instead of oil.

  2. Guacamole. Avocados? They're in the Pious Tier of Michi's Ladder. And guacamole is just mashed avocados, right? Right, but as with olive oil and tahini, avocados are full of calories. One avocado has 227 calories, and 21 grams of fat. Instead, how about an easy-to-make avocado dip? In a food processor, combine one avocado, one cup of nonfat yogurt, and one cup of nonfat cottage cheese (all top-tier ingredients from Michi's Ladder). Blend until creamy and no lumps from the cottage cheese remain. Add cayenne pepper and ground cumin to taste. For extra flavor and texture, mix in some chopped fresh cilantro and onion before serving.

  3. French onion dip. OK, nothing made of instant soup (essentially flavored salt) and full-fat sour cream is going to pass Michi muster. But onions are in the top tier, so that's a start. Instead of sour cream, how about tofu? It's not just that white brick that sits in the back of your fridge after a well-intentioned impulse buy. Puree 2 cups of extra-soft tofu in a food processor with a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, and garlic cloves to taste. Meanwhile sauté some chopped onions in a little bit of olive oil until caramelized. Mix the onions into the tofu mixture and deglaze the pan with a little white wine and add that to the dip as well.

  4. Spinach dip. Nothing's a bigger hit at a party than that hollowed-out sourdough boule full of mayonnaise-y goodness. Instead of mayo though, try pureeing some nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese. Thaw out some frozen chopped spinach and mix that in and add some chopped water chestnuts and scallions for crunch and flavor. For extra zip and color, try mixing in some curry powder. With all that going on, you'll forget the mayo's gone! And don't forget to use whole grain bread.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Veggie IQ

By Joe Wilkes
  1. FALSE: Yam is another word for sweet potato.
    The yam (Dioscorea Species) is a tuber, or underground stem, completely unrelated to the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Yams are starchier and grow mostly in tropical climates (some up to seven feet!). They aren't grown commercially in the U.S. and what are often labeled "yams" are in fact sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are sweeter and moister. Neither yams nor sweet potatoes are related to the common potato, either. Both are high in potassium and fiber, although the sweet potato is higher in calories.

  2. FALSE: The first eggplant in America was grown by Benjamin Franklin.
    The first eggplant was actually grown by Thomas Jefferson. He is believed to have brought the plant from France, where eggplant was popular. Jefferson, a horticulture enthusiast, began growing it in his own extensive garden. He also was known for developing many strains of tomatoes that would ensure a longer harvest period and is often credited with introducing the french fry to American cuisine.

  3. TRUE: Elephant garlic is not really garlic at all.
    Not really garlic on steroids, elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is actually part of the leek family. The flavor of its cloves is similar to garlic and it is often grown in gardens to discourage pests.

  4. FALSE: Boiled veggies contain more water than fresh.
    While they may seem more waterlogged, boiled vegetables contain less water. The heat releases much of the water retained in their cells in their raw state.

  5. TRUE: Egyptians replaced the eyes of mummies with onions.
    The ancient Egyptians believed that onions warded off evil spirits, so the eyes of the dead were often replaced with onions to protect them against demons in the afterlife. The Egyptians would also have people place their hand on an onion when swearing to something. The walls of the pyramids are filled with paintings of onions, as they also believed the concentric circles of the onion symbolized eternity.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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