Archive for January, 2010

I think most people would agree that Macaroni and Cheese tops many a list of definitive comfort foods.  But if you’re over the age of 20 you might be looking to make one that doesn’t have the label “Kraft” on it.  Here is a great adult version from an original California Pizza Kitchen recipe that can be made ahead and served to a large crowd.   (That way you can serve the kids too!)

Curly Mac & Cheese

1½ – 2 tsp kosher salt

1½  lbs. Fusilli pasta

1 qt. heavy cream or ½ and ½

2 pounds Velveeta, cubed

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook the fusilli until al dente about 8 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a large pot. Add the Velveeta and salt, and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the Velveeta begins to melt. Add the drained pasta and stir well. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until the Velveeta is completely melted and the sauce begins to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. (If you want to serve later, put in covered baking dish and refrigerate.  Bring back to room temperature and then bake, covered, 30 minutes or until bubbling in a 375 degree oven.)


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Benefits of Chocolate

I know it, I admit it, and I take full responsibility for it.  My name is Renee, and I’m addicted to chocolate.

Any kind of chocolate will call to me—dark, white, milk, creamy, crunchy, with almonds or without—any kind.  But is this really so bad?  It may sound like I’m simply justifying my weakness for chocolate, but I’m happy to report that researchers are finding that chocolate may just be good for you.  That is, if it’s dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao content).

Chocolate that’s chewy, cream-covered, caramel-filled, or in the class of “sugary candy bar” is not going to make it into the “good for you” category.  Solid dark chocolate is healthy because of its high percentage of cocoa.  Cacao beans contain antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, which, as part of a healthy lifestyle, are good for your heart.

Feeling stressed out?  Eat a little bit of dark chocolate.  Researchers found that dark chocolate may lower the stress hormone cortisol and the hormones that control people’s “fight or flight” responses.

In addition, studies found that dark chocolate may reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and even increase blood flow to the brain.  Researchers are also looking into a connection between dark chocolate and elevated mood and improved insulin sensitivity.

The big disclaimer here is portion size.  You can’t eat a king-sized Kit Kat or Snickers bar and think that you’re doing your heart a favor.  One ounce should give you the health benefits without giving your body too much fat, sugar, and calories—those pesky “down sides” to eating chocolate.  (That would be my problem—portion control.)

But the next time you’re fighting a chocolate craving, know that it’s OK to give in.  Grab a small piece of high-quality dark chocolate of and enjoy.  You’ll satisfy your craving and may help improve your health at the same time.  That’s a sweet and tasty win-win.


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When I come in from snowshoeing or building a snow fort with my kids, nothing’s better than a big mug of hot chocolate.  Top it with some whipped cream and crushed candy cane pieces and my taste buds do their happy dance!

There are many delicious, warm drinks to enjoy, from hot tea to hot chocolate, from hot toddies to mint mochas.  Let the chilly weather outside be your excuse for indulging in your favorite warm drink or trying a new one.

Hot chocolate: My husband and I were in Chicago one winter’s day when we wandered into the Ghirardelli ™ Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop off of Madison Avenue. We decided to try their “Drinking Chocolate” and were immediately sold on its creamy texture and sweetness.  It’s like drinking your favorite candy bar. I spied a recipe in the Star Tribune for a “Dark Chocolate Drink.”  You bring 1 ¾ cup of whole milk to a simmer.  Pour it into a deep heatproof bowl, add 2 ounces of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract.  Blend until smooth and pour into two mugs or cappuccino cups.  Delicious!

You can always make your favorite hot chocolate or cocoa and add some pizzazz by topping it with marshmallows, whipped topping, crushed peppermints, or pieces of toffee or mint.

Tea or Coffee:  For the health conscious, a warm cup of tea has zero calories and a plethora of health benefits.  Visit last week’s blog titled “Battle of the Teas” for more information on why tea is a good drink choice.  Need I explain the appeal of coffee?  Whether you need your morning caffeine kick or are trying out a new flavored creamer, coffee is a popular choice.  Just try to avoid caffeine later in the day if it may disrupt your sleep.
Apple Cider: Although I tend to drink more apple cider in the fall, it’s a delicious choice year-round.  Add cinnamon if you’re a fan, or just warm it up and enjoy.

Drinks with a Kick: Rough day at work?  Sometimes you want to add a little extra kick to your warm drink.  Baileys in your coffee, peppermint schnapps in your hot chocolate, a hot toddy, mulled wine, hot buttered rum … you can add a splash of alcohol to your drink or look up a more complicated recipe.  If you go to epicurious.com, click on “Recipes and Menus,” select “Drinks,” and then choose “Hot Beverages,” you’ll surely find something that appeals.
Next time the thermometer drops, warm up with a warm drink and let your taste buds do their happy dance.

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I used to be famous for saving bananas in the hopes that I’d get around to using them for banana bread or muffins. (My kids’ favorite)  But inevitably, I would end up tossing them out because they were rotten and I didn’t get to the baking, or my kitchen was infested with fruit flies!

To avoid that, and still be ready to make banana bread at a moment’s notice, freeze your ripe bananas. Either leave them in the peel and toss them in the freezer, or take the contents out of the peel and put enough bananas for your favorite recipe in a Ziploc bag.  Then you will always have them on hand, minus the fruit flies.  Defrost 15-30 minutes before using.  Note: they don’t look terribly pretty, but your bread will taste perfectly normal!

Here is my favorite recipe:
Banana Chocolate Chip muffins


1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 ½ -2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3-4 medium)
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Beat sugar, oil and eggs until light colored and foamy with whisk or mixer.  Add mashed bananas and beat well.  In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and powder, cinnamon and salt.  Add banana mixture and stir just until moistened. (Do not overmix) Add chocolate chips.  Spoon into greased muffin tins.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Cool for 5 mins in tins before turning out onto rack.

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Green tea, white tea, black tea—I keep stumbling across articles touting the benefits of drinking tea. I’m a coffee fan but am wondering if I should drink more tea because of the potential improvements to my health. But should I? If so, which types of tea offer which benefits? What have studies found out about various teas?

From what I’ve read, researchers have identified a lot of exciting possibilities about the benefits of tea, but they need to conduct more in-depth clinical trials with larger groups of people in order to confirm their hypotheses. New evidence is coming to light as studies are completed and published. But so far, what they’re looking at is pretty amazing.

Green Tea One of the top stars in the tea world, green tea has a lot of possibility. Scientific studies have found that green tea may potentially help prevent cold and flu symptoms, prevent dental cavities, reduce the risk of heart attacks and clogged arteries, reduce inflammation, slow cartilage breakdown, and reduce the risk of cancer. However, note that cautionary word, “may.” In an article posted on mayoclinic.com, all of these exciting “maybes” are followed by a tempering statement along the lines of “further research is needed before a recommendation can be made.”

White Tea comes from the same plant as green tea (camellia sinensis) but is picked earlier and is fast-dried rather than roasted. It has many of the same potential benefits as green tea, including possibly reducing cholesterol levels, fighting cancer, and preventing sun damage to the skin.

Black Tea like green and white, is packed full of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. Early research has found that regular tea drinkers have less heart disease, fewer strokes, lower cholesterol levels, and quicker recoveries from heart attacks. It seems to me that although the research on tea is evolving, it’d be in my best interest to up my intake. Tea has zero calories and an abundance of antioxidants. Besides, on these cold winter days, snuggling up with a book and a cup of tea sounds perfect to me!

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Use the Crock Pot During Long Winter Months

Winters in Minnesota can be hard for both the body and the mind. As we’re finding ourselves in the throngs of cold, ice and snow, I’ve been searching for quick and easy recipes to keep my bones warm and my taste buds happy.

I made this recipe in my crock pot the other night, and for once my family didn’t mind leftovers the following day.


2 ½ pounds beef stew meet, diced into 1” pieces or use meat for stroganoff

1 – 28 oz can of stewed tomatoes (include the juice)

1 c. chopped celery

4 carrots

3 potatoes, cubed

3 onions, chopped

3 ½ T tapioca

2 cubes beef bouillon

½ t dried thyme

½ t dried rosemary

½ t dried marjoram

salt and pepper

¼ c. red wine

2 c. water

1 (10 0z) package of thawed green peas

Secret ingredient: 3 T of lingonberry jam (or chutney if you like that better)


Put all ingredients into the crock pot and cook on low for 7 hours. Add thawed green peas during last half hour of cooking.

Bon Appetit – and stay warm!

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With the start of a new year, we are inundated with advice from television shows on how to live longer, healthier and better. I waver between annoyance and fascination as I hear about the newest food that will prevent cancer, wrinkles and/or depression. But curiosity finally got the best of me so I made a list of my favorite foods and then researched their benefits (Brigham and Women’s Hospitals).

Vitamin A (retinol) is found in tuna, eggs, cheese and milk are rich in that benefits your skin, immunity and vision.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) is found in lean pork and ham, peas, rice, black and pinto beans, pecans, peanuts and soybeans and benefits nerve function, energy production and helps convert excess carbohydrates to fat for storage.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is found in low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, dark leafy greens (Arugula, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, Swiss Chard, broccoli), asparagus and Brussels sprouts and protects against anemia and cancer.

Vitamin B3 (niacin) lowers cholesterol and protects against cardiovascular disease. Foods rich in vitamin B3 are found in low-fat meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter and potatoes.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) can help decrease heart disease and improve glucose tolerance. It can also help improve carpal tunnel syndrome, mood and sleep disorders. Foods such as banana, avocado, brown rice, soybeans and broccoli are all rich in vitamin B6.

Beta Carotene is an antioxidant that improves cancer-protective properties and is found in dark leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots and pumpkin.

Vitamin C protects against cancer, improves your immune system and help ward off allergies and heart disease. This vitamin is found in green and red peppers, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, collards, strawberries, citrus and papaya.

Calcium is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, prevents some cancers and is useful in treatment of high blood pressure and food full of calcium include low-fat milk, yogurt, dairy, broccoli, salmon and sesame seeds.

Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption and helps maintain healthy nerves and muscles. Eat eggs, salmon and sardines along with low-fat milk.

These are just a few of the important vitamins we can find in food, and a picture quickly emerged for me as I was doing this research. It’s really quite simple to eat healthy! All the foods that are good for us- fish, lean meat, dark green vegetables, eggs, dairy products, fruit, the whole lot are easily found at our local grocer. These are the foods that contain the array of vitamins that help us stay healthy. And if the added bonus is smoother skin and thicker hair, I’ll take that too.

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