Southwestern Stew, Just for You (Corny!)

Yesterday, I enjoyed dinner at my friend’s house. She’s trying to learn to how to cook healthier and I rummaged through her cabinets, getting excited as I saw black beans, kidney beans, and even sweet potatoes. She asked me how to cook the sweet potatoes and I started telling her about one of my favorite dishes that’s so versatile! It’s a Southwestern Stew which can be vegetarian or not. For my friend, I’m not making it vegetarian or that spicy, but feel free to omit the chicken or add jalapeños (I do!)

Southwestern StyleP.S. I know there’s no photo to drool over – I didn’t have a picture available – so I’m hoping my friend makes it and shares the picture with all of us!

Southwestern Style Stew

3 chicken cutlets cut into bite size pieces

1 red onion

2 large sweet potatoes cut into bite size pieces

1 can black beans (rinsed)

1 cup corn (frozen or can)

1/2 cup diced celery stalks

2 cloves garlic (finely diced)

1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 lime (zest and juice)

1 jalapeno (if you want it spicy)

Grated jack cheese

Cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

  • Put some olive oil in a hot deep cast iron or dutch oven. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the pieces of chicken and then remove from the pan.
  • Place the chopped onion into the pan with the sweet potatoes, celery, garlic, cayenne pepper, cumin, lime zest, and jalapeno (if you are looking for a spicy stew!) Add in salt and pepper to taste. Let the sweet potatoes brown, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Once brown, add the beans, corn, tomatoes, chicken broth, and the chicken pieces. You can add some water if it’s too thick. Taste and make sure the seasoning is right. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • Turn the heat down to a slow simmer, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
  • Garnish with a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, shredded jack cheese, and crispy tortilla strips.

* Note: If you don’t have one or two of these ingredients, substitute it for something else! The beauty of soups is that you stay with a theme and just add the right flavors.This soup is a great way to spice up the beginning of Spring even if it’s still cold outside!

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Soda Ban Regulating – Is This the Right Way?

The other day I read an article on the New York Times website written by the former vice president of global affairs at the food giant, Kraft Foods, who retired in 2004. His article entitled How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry started by pointing out the New York City court’s recent overturning of the “NYC soda ban” which was upheld 6 months ago by the New York Board of Health.

For those of you that don’t remember, in September 2012 Mayor Bloomberg proposed the “soda ban” law in NYC and it would have been put into effect starting this week. If this ban had been upheld, diners in NYC would only be served drinks in 16 ounce cups or smaller. Immediate critics of the ban included McDonalds and Coca-cola (while hospitals and nutritionists applauded).

Justice Milton A. Tingling of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan called the limits “arbitrary and capricious.” He noted that the rules were unworkable, unenforceable, and confusing. (Read the full NY Times article here)

I don’t know about you, but when I first read that Bloomberg was proposing this ban I thought two things:

1) It’s never going to stick and

2) At least it will bring the problem of obesity and large portion sizes to the spotlight.

obesity-statisticsWell, I was right with both of my predictions. I don’t drink soda, I really never have, how could you after seeing a tooth rot away after a couple of days in a cup of soda? I can’t imagine why people constantly put it in their bodies, but that’s part of the glory of America, the right to choose. However, this right to choose foods that have no nutritional value is actually hurting America.

New York City spends an estimated $4 billion a year on healthcare costs for overweight people.  58% of New York City residents are considered overweight or obese.

Blame the Food Industry?

In his article, Michael Mudd, states that the only way to start taming obesity is by controlling the food industry. Unlike cancer and tobacco, there is no “direct link” so food companies can constantly point fingers at all of the other factors including lack of physical activity, lack of time for home cooked meals, etc. I have to agree that the problem stems from a combination of factors – however – the food industry has now resorted to lying on their packaging. They say things like “All Natural,” “The Nutritious Way to Start Your Day.” Honey Combs even has itself listed as an “Excellent Source of Vitamin D.” Really? The only reason there’s any Vitamin D in that cereal is because they have scientists adding it to all the sugar and corn! It’s out of control!

Food Industry SpendingMy problem with this is the same problem that happens when people sue McDonalds for the coffee being too hot or the burgers getting them fat… really? Are we as Americans that neglectful of our own bodies that we leave it in the hands of people we have never met and who only want our money? I find that to be ridiculous. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and we should read the nutrition labels, stay away from the interior of food markets, and cook dishes at home using real ingredients. Yes, it’s ok to “cheat” and use a pre-made meal once in a while, but we have to remember that every time we “cheat” we are not cheating the system, but really our health. Take the extra 10-20 minutes and cook something that will actually feed your body with the nutrients that it needs.

Helping the Youth

I realized that this was a problem when I graduated with my Masters. I wrote my thesis on Childhood Obesity (in 2008 the numbers were startling high and they showed no signs of leveling off – 18% of children were obese in 2008). After all of the number crunching, the analysis of school programs, the average income, and educational status, I concluded that children need to be taught how to eat healthy. Parents need to be involved and learn how to eat healthy. It’s not that hard – just eat foods that have one or two ingredients listed on the label (sugar doesn’t count!)

I believe that we are inherently craving nutritious food, but all of the marketing around us is telling us differently. We have become addicted to sugar (that’s a whole other article but here’s some information if you’re interested), fat, and salt. Yes, our body does need these things, but we’re not consuming the right types of sugar, fat and salt. We’re ingesting fake fat and low nutrients calories. I could go on and on… so I’ll just get to the point.

Capitalistic Society

We live in a society run by capitalism, right? So if consumers start demanding better foods with better labeling, shouldn’t food companies listen to the market and start to listen to the demand? I think so, which is why the organic movement has actually become profitable! Parents and schools should work with their children and students in understanding the value of nutritional food. There should be free cooking classes that provide parents with quick and cheap meals that are nutritious. We have to invest in our youth because they are our future. A huge plus is that if the kids are eating healthy, most likely the parents will be too. It’s a win win situation.

Food Subsidies in "My Plate"

Michael Mudd stated in his article that regulators need to control marketing for children. Part of me agrees and part of me doesn’t. When I was a kid I was brought to McDonalds once a week for a “Happy Meal” (that’s genius marketing) where I could get a toy. It would be new every week and I would collect them. I think I was more interested in the toy at the time than the food. The point is that there was no way I was getting a “Happy Meal” unless I was driven there by an adult who also paid for it. Kids can be marketed to, but parents are the ones making the decisions in the end. So even though I did have a Happy Meal, it was a treat that I didn’t get often, and it was only with an adult. I was never obese or overweight, neither were the adults in my life (probably a combination of genetics and healthy living), but I learned from the adults about food and then I continued to make my own healthy choices as I got older because my body continued to crave them. To this day I would still rather have a plate of broccoli than a box of fries – it tastes so much better and my body feels so much better.
One area in which I do believe the government can help is in their food subsidies, their promotion of what crops are being planted, the FDA’s accountability with farmers and food companies, and regulating package labels. The food system is so vast and overreaching, but each of us has to do their part. Consumers can start consuming healthier options, parents and schools can educate, and the government should start protecting its citizens against a system that is ruining the health of America.

Meatless Meals: Veggie Burgers with Chickpeas

Vegetarian BurgersI have a love/hate relationship with veggie burgers. Most of the time when I order them, they are tasteless and I tend to long for the juicy “meatiness” in regular burgers. However, the other day I was perusing through Martha Stewart’s latest cookbook “Meatless”  and I found a recipe for a chickpea vegetarian burger. I quickly glanced at it and then left (I read recipes, but never follow them). The wheels in my head kept turning, thinking of how I could take chickpeas and make them into a delicious burger for dinner – one that even my husband would enjoy (a very difficult task).

Now I am a huge fan of spicy black bean burgers. I enjoy making them, but sometimes you want something different, something even heartier than black beans and more like a classic burger. I decided I would go ahead with the chickpeas and add a side salad. The result? A vegetarian delight!

Food for Thought: For those of you who just buy veggie burgers from the frozen food aisle, I would be cautionary. Please always read the ingredients of your food. If you don’t understand what an ingredient is, it’s probably not that great for you! I find that Morningstar’s spicy black bean burger is the best, with not that many ingredients. 

Chickpea Veggie Burgers with Avocado Cream 

1 can chickpeas (or 8 ounces dried chickpeas prepared in water overnight)Chickpeas and Ginger Veggie Burger

16 ounces brown rice (cooked)

1 small red onion

1 carrot, peeled and shredded or finely diced

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

2 tablespoons cumin

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon grated ginger

zest and juice of 1 lemon

zest and juice of 1 lime

1 avocado

4 ounces sour cream

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

salt and pepper

Multi-grain bread (toasted) or rolls

  • Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the finally diced onion until translucent then toss in the ginger, lemon zest, cumin, 1 tablespoon of the cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper. Once you smell the spices, take them off the heat and combine them with the rice, chopped parsley, and flaxseed.
  • Smash the chickpeas until lumpy (there should still be some whole chickpeas) then combine with the rice mixture. Zest and juice the lemon into the mixture. Mix together and form into patties. 
  • Heat a skillet with olive oil (enough so that the oil comes up 1/4 way of the patties). Place the patties into the skillet and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, then flip.
  • Meanwhile, put the avocado, the sour cream, salt, pepper, cayenne, lime zest and lime juice in a small blender and blend until smooth.
  • To make the sandwich, put some of the avocado cream sauce on the patty and the roll. You can add some shredded lettuce and tomato and serve with a salad.

A meal both vegetarians and meat lovers will feel satisfied with! And if you were wondering, my husband said it was both delicious and filling – A+!

Side Note: This post is also an ode to my vegetarian sister whose birthday is today!