Toasted Corn & Spaghetti Squash Recipe

 

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Some time ago when my eldest child was still a preschooler, we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. Another couple brought in the vegetable dish they had made to contribute to the dinner. It was the first time I had tasted spaghetti squash and I was instantly hooked to its delicious taste and noodle-like texture. I decided to come home and try my hand at this dish. I found it extremely easy to whip up at dinnertime, so wanted to share it!

Toasted Corn & Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • A few garlic cloves (peeled & chopped)
  • 1-2 cups frozen (or fresh kernels) corn
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons unsalted vegan margarine and/or olive oil as desired
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • Shredded dairy-free cheese (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

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Directions:

  1. Boil the spaghetti squash (see how to do this from the post: Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Using Spaghetti Squash)
  2. While the squash is being cooked in the pot of water, use a separate saucepan to cook the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a separate large saucepan. Once hot, throw in the chopped garlic to fry. When the garlic pieces are browned, remove the toasted chopped garlic to set aside in a bowl.
  3. Using the same saucepan, add the remainder of the olive oil into the pan. Then put the frozen corn to cook on a low-medium fire stove setting. Cook the corn until it is toasted (takes approximately 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Then season if desired with a bit of salt and pepper, and remove the toasted corn into a separate bowl.
  4. Next, put the shredded cooked spaghetti squash into the saucepan and then add back in the toasted corn and garlic. Mix well together.
  5. Add additional salt and pepper if desired and raw or toasted pine nuts. Serve warm with some shredded dairy-free cheese on top (optional)!

If you like, you can use garlic salt or garlic powder instead to season the dish, and a bit of vegan margarine instead of olive oil, or in addition to the olive oil for a more buttery taste. An alternative is to add in a tablespoon of coconut oil at the end instead of vegan margarine for the same buttery feel and texture. Feel free to also add in some other protein sources like sunflower seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds, and/or sautéed black beans. You could also add some tomato pasta sauce with minced tomatoes and minced meat to form a gluten-free version of a pasta dish without noodles.

Serves 4-6 people as a side vegetable dish. It is surprisingly how filling this can be as a side to a meatless dinner! My eldest child loved this paired with mashed potatoes. I’m sure you could also just combine the strands of spaghetti squash into mashed potatoes as you are mixing it. However, it also works great separately as you can come up with all sorts of fun creations which are sure to appeal to little ones. My then nearly 4 year old loved having a monkey face on her plate using yellow spaghetti squash ‘hair’ and a white mashed potato ‘face’. If you don’t know what I mean, check out the image on my Instagram account dietitian_mom!

(Source: Mooth B. Spaghetti Squash with Corn and Roasted Garlic. Writes4food.com. http://writes4food.com/2012/09/24/spaghetti-squash-with-corn-and-toasted-garlic/. September 24, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2017.)

 

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Qn of the Month: Is there a Difference Between a Vegan Diet and a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet?

 

A Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet (image credit: forksoverknives.com)

A: I think there is! Others may disagree. Let me tell you why I think there could be potential differences, depending on the actual dietary practices of the individual. A person on a vegan diet subsists on plant-based foods and excludes all animal protein foods and products from the diet. However, it is entirely possible to be on a vegan diet and still not have a very nutritious overall diet. For example, such a person could eat no animal products but still have a substantial portion of his or her daily intake from processed commercial ‘animal product-free’ and refined ready-to-eat foods, filling up on foods such as biscuits, crackers, sugary cookies, chips, cakes, and different vegetarian alternative or dairy-free alternatives that provide many calories but are not nutrient dense. The same could apply to a vegetarian who excludes most animal-based products (but still include dairy, eggs, fish or a combination of these categories). Such a person could also still eat many commercially processed and refined foods that are not ‘animal-based products’ but essentially be on a ‘junk food’ vegetarian diet. I’m not saying that one should never eat such foods (I do at times!), but the real question is what proportion these foods make up in one’s diet.

What about a whole foods plant-based diet? There is a great infographic (see above) and definition given in a Forks Over Knives post written by Naomi Imatame-Yun (see source). The definition she gives is this: “A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.”

Hence, a person who is on a whole foods plant-based diet would tend to completely omit or minimize animal–based foods from the diet, while focusing on eating foods that are unprocessed and unrefined (in its natural form) that can be eaten raw or consumed after cooking. Such a dietary pattern would yield a more nutritionally rich overall diet, with many of the vitamin, mineral and nutrient benefits from eating whole foods.

This is not to say that a person on a vegetarian or vegan diet may not have the same focus on whole foods, but I think the emphasize on unprocessed and refined foods (in my mind) is stronger on a whole foods, plant-based diet. Why do I say that? Because in my experience transitioning over to a plant-based diet, I have found it relatively straightforward to gradually reduce the amount and kinds of animal-based foods from our family’s diet, while adding in more vegetables and pulses and finding commercially processed vegetarian alternatives to some of the products we have been used to having (like dairy-free cheeses and vegan margarine instead of butter). But now I see the real challenge is to incorporate more whole foods into our family’s diet, and not be simply substituting or depending heavily on the myriad of commercially processed foods out in the market that are not ‘animal-based’. These could include grain commercial products like vegetarian cookies, crackers and biscuits, as well as commercially processed vegetarian versions of familiar animal-based products, that provide calories but may not be very nutrient dense. In our modern day society though, it may be more challenging to achieve a whole foods plant-based diet because of the abundance and ease of using these ready prepared processed foods. I think there is a place for using these products, but it should not take our eyes and focus off of intentionally building a healthy eating pattern around primarily whole foods and plant-based foods.

 

(Source:

  1. Imatome-Yun, N. forksoverknives.com. Plant-Based Primer: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Plant-Based Diet. https://www.forksoverknives.com/plant-based-primer-beginners-guide-starting-plant-based-diet/. January 3, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017.)

Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Based on personal experience, here are some tips for cooking and using spaghetti squash. While you can microwave or bake the spaghetti squash, I’ve found that it is easiest to boil it before removing its strand-like interior. Here is how I would recommend boiling spaghetti squash:

  1. Use a knife to make a few small holes or cut marks through the skin of the spaghetti squash.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and heat the water until boiling. Once boiling, put the squash in to cook (ease it slowly into the water to prevent burns!), turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon. The squash will likely float in the water but that is fine. After about 15-20 minutes (about 20-30 minutes for a large sized spaghetti squash), use a knife to insert into the spaghetti squash. If it goes through easily, then it is cooked through. Take out the spaghetti squash immediately and let it cool in a colander (excess water from within may also drain out).
  3. Don’t worry if the squash skin cracks open slightly. When cooled cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds with a spoon. Then use a fork to scrape out the noodle like strands into a bowl.

That’s it! If you would like to see a variety of ways to cook this delectable vegetable, check out this post I found listing 50 ways to cook spaghetti squash: http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. Like other hard shelled squashes, you can bake it, grill it, roast it, stuff it, and even throw it in the slow cooker. Have fun experimenting!

(Source: Aggies Kitchen. 50 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash. http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. October 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2017.)

Qn of the Month: Just How Does a Citrus Peeler Work?

Can this be true? – Dietitianmom.com

A: When I recently attended an educational presentation, we were given each a citrus peeler as a ‘take-home’ gift. It looked like a strange green plastic contraption to me and I wasn’t sure how to use it. The presentation facilitator stressed that it was not a toy. Up to now, I had been simply using a knife to score 4-5 incision lines into the orange skin (rather like a basketball’s design) from top to bottom around the orange, and then peeling the skin off that way. This method worked pretty well, especially if the skin of the orange is already thick. So honestly, I didn’t feel an urge to use this new citrus peeler I received, and wasn’t planning to, if it wasn’t for the slogan etched into the utensil, “World’s Best Citrus PeelerTM”. Could this really be the world’s BEST citrus peeler? I had to find out.

But how do I use this gadget? Funnily enough, there are plenty of videos on YouTube showing one how to use a citrus peeler, but none looked like the one I had. So I had to figure it out myself. As it turned out, it is a simple process involving only 2 main steps. First, holding a washed orange firmly with your left hand, and the citrus peeler in your right hand (with your thumb and index finger in the grooves of the gadget):

  • Press the citrus peeler firmly into the orange skin to score at least 4-5 lines into the orange skin (from top to bottom) all the way around the orange.

Step 1 – Dietitianmom.com

  • Use the top sharper pointed edge of the citrus peeler to then an indentation into the top of the orange and then pull each section of skin away from the orange flesh.
  • Repeat on all sides until the orange
    skin has been removed.

Step 2 – Dietitianmom.com

That’s it! The instructions above are given assuming the right hand is the dominant hand, so feel free to switch hands if you are left-handed.  I’m sure you can try using the citrus peeler on other citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemons or limes.

When would a citrus peeler be most useful? I guess this would be places where it isn’t convenient to take a knife… Examples might be when you are planning to go on a picnic or onto the airplane (if you want fresh fruit for yourself or your kids!). Children could also learn how to use the citrus peeler and then be able to help more in the kitchen.

What other uses do you have for your citrus peeler?

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 5

STEP #5: TRY NEW PLANT-BASED FOODS & RECIPES!

Friends, this is where the real exciting adventure begins! Personally, I find this to be the most fun part of the journey. I think my family would agree, because they get to taste test lots of new plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas…not to mention baked and no-baked goodies! Think of yourself as a connoisseur or budding foodie on the trail of plant-based goodness, searching for delectable recipes to

incorporate into your family’s cooking repertoire. Your explorations will lead you to discover new tastes, colors and methods of cooking that you previously had not envisioned. Don’t be afraid to experiment! At worst, you just end up with a result that doesn’t taste great, but then just modify the recipe or try a different recipe.

New Tastes & Textures! – Dietitianmom.com

For myself, I never thought there would be such easy substitutions for eggs in baked goods (you could make a flaxmeal egg replacer or a chia seed egg replacer easily), or learn to appreciate the flavors within an Indian dish and even make a few Indian dishes myself! I am now using new spices like coriander, cumin and garam masala in my kitchen and have even made a vegan pumpkin pie using tofu as a base!

You might find some tastes and recipes that the family likes and some that they don’t like. But regardless, you will be awestruck at the wide array of existing and newly emerging whole foods plant-based recipes on the horizon through sources like the Internet, cookbooks, magazines, library resources, friends and acquaintances. For those with a ‘sweet tooth’ out there, you might be glad to find that there are actually a lot of plant-based foods out there that are naturally sweet, and fruits like dried figs and dates can be used to sweeten baked goods easily. Call them ‘Nature’s Candy’ if you will. There are also many easy vegan baked and no-bake treats that can be found through recipe sites on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time.

Here is another piece of good news. Currently, there is an abundance of plant-based alternatives on the market with new products continually emerging – you just need to be on the lookout for them in the grocery store, health food stores, ethnic food stores and online. Examples include soy based mozzarella or cheddar ‘cheeses’, dairy and soy free shredded ‘cheeses’, nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12, non-hydrogenated vegetable margarine, tofu dogs, tofu with different levels of firmness, veggie bologna, hemp hearts, ready-to-use nut and seed butters, ground flaxmeal, tempeh and a variety of calcium and vitamin D fortified plant-based milk alternatives. These commercial options make it much easier nowadays to maintain a plant-based diet, especially since you do not need to spend time processing or making some of these from scratch if you don’t have time (like making seed butters, tempeh or tofu!), though of course it is important to still choose whole foods where possible. It also helps tremendously that the world we live in now is a global market and foods from different countries are often imported into the nation. So take advantage of this!

Here are some key tips to assist you on your plant-based food journey:

* Don’t be afraid to try new recipes (or create your own!) and new ways of cooking (e.g., stir-fries, casserole dishes, salads, soups). If you have time, read the some reviews on a recipe before trying it. This will tell you if you need to modify the recipe, if you can use certain substitutions or whether the recipe is even worth trying! If you are just starting out in this plant-based realm, pick recipes that require 10 ingredients or less and don’t need exotic ingredients that are hard to source. There are many great plant-based vegetarian recipe websites on the Internet, with just some examples being www.chocolatecoveredkatie.com, www.plantplate.com and www.emmaslittlekitchen.com.

*Use your slow cooker! As mentioned in previous posts, the slow cooker is my new best friend, especially for recipes using legumes such as beans, split peas, and chickpeas. See below for some links to great recipes I’ve tried and tested already.

*Experiment with different nuts and seeds, including using flaxmeal in your cold and hot dishes.

*Experiment with making a variety of salads and using different toppings and dressings.

*Try different milk alternatives such as calcium and vitamin D fortified almond milk, soy milk, cashew nut milk and coconut milk. Some stores may also carry rice milk, pea milk and hemp milk. But be careful to choose the calcium and vitamin D fortified versions, as many organic and non-organic versions of milk alternatives are not calcium and vitamin D fortified. Due to the possible contamination of arsenic in rice milks, in the United Kingdom children under the age of 5 are not recommended to drink rice milk (read more about arsenic in foods here)

* Try new foods such as quinoa, chia and buckwheat

*Experiment making your own protein bars/snack bars (non-baking options and baked options available). These then become great snack options for you and your family.

* Try modifying existing recipes. For example, does a recipe call for butter in the graham cracker crust? Substitute with some vegetable oil, and it works pretty much just as well! Need an egg in a recipe? Try using an egg replacer like a ‘flax egg’ or a ‘chia egg’. Need to use cow’s milk in the recipe? Substitute with a fortified plant-based milk alternative like almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk.

Here is just a small sampling of the recipes available from the Internet. I’ve made these recipes and found them easy and delicious. My family agrees!
Slow Cooker Black Bean Pumpkin Chili
Lazy Lentil Burger
One Pot Vegan Mushroom Pasta
Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas
Kung Pao Eggplant

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4 (Increase Beans & Other Legumes)

Qn of the Month: Does It Matter What I Weigh Before I Get Pregnant?

A: Ladies, regardless of whether you are underweight or overweight, your pre-pregnancy weight status does matter! It can affect your fertility, increase your risk of poorer birth outcomes compared to those of a normal or healthier weight status going into pregnancy, and also impact your post-partum health.

Firstly, what determines overweight or underweight? According to national and international authoritative bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight status is categorized using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Underweight is defined as a BMI less than 18.5, a healthy or ‘normal’ status is 18.5 – 24.9, overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 and 29.9, and obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to 30. Note that BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. Obesity status is further subdivided into 3 classes depending on the BMI level of an individual.

From a recent Maternal Nutrition Intensive Course that I attended, the consequences of being overweight or obese in terms of pregnancy outcomes were discussed in detail. These included an increased chance of lower fertility, a lower success of ART (assisted reproductive technology), a tendency for increased likelihood of getting gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia, as well as gestational diabetes. Obesity prior to pregnancy increased the risk of pre-eclampsia 3 to 8 fold. More alarmingly, if a woman has gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, they have double the risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the future. A high pre-pregnancy weight is also associated with more postpartum depression 6-8 weeks after delivery and a greater chance of postpartum weight retention.

A mother’s high pre-pregnancy weight can also affect her newborns in a variety of ways. For instance, during pregnancy, obese women are about twice as likely to need induction of labor, and congenital anomalies are more common in babies born to overweight and obese women. These include neural tube defects like spina bifida (even after controlling for folate intake), cardiac defects and limb reduction. For obese women, the birthweight of full-term infants tend to follow a ‘U’ shaped curve; there is an increased likelihood of either low birthweight or large for gestational age babies. Pre-term birth rates are also higher among obese women. This may be due to mothers having to be medically induced as a necessity due to high blood pressure or diabetes, or due to spontaneous pre-term births as a result of infection or inflammation.   Research is ongoing in this important area.

While a smaller proportion of the population have a prepregnancy underweight status, this is still a cause for concern as such women tend to be at higher risk for having low birth weight (LBW), small for gestational age (SGA), and  preterm infants.

So what is the take home message? For the best health for you and your baby, aim to get to a healthier weight prepregnancy if you are overweight or underweight. This means a BMI as much in the healthy weight range as possible. This can be achieved by eating as much as possible a whole foods plant-based diet and being regularly physically active.

(Sources:

  1. About Adult BMI. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/. Reviewed and updated May 15, 2015. Accessed July 26, 2017.
  2. Gaillard R, Durmuş B, Hofman A, Mackenbach JP, Steegers EA, Jaddoe VW. Risk factors and outcomes of maternal obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 May;21(5):1046-1055.
  3. Schummers L, Hutcheon JA, Bodnar LM, Lieberman E, Himes KP. Risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes by prepregnancy body mass index: a population-based study to inform prepregnancy weight loss counseling. Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Jan;125(1):133-143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285688/. Accessed July 26, 2017.)
  4. Papachatzi E, Dimitriou G, Dimitropoulos K, Vantarakis A. Pre-pregnancy obesity: maternal, neonatal and childhood outcomes. J Neonatal Perinatal Med. 2013;6(3):203-216. DOI: 10.3233/NPM-1370313.
  5. Stothard KJ, Tennant PW, Bell R, Rankin J. Maternal overweight and obesity and the risk of congenital anomalies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009 Feb 11;301(6):636-650. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.113.
  6. Waller DK, Shaw GM, Rasmussen SA, Hobbs CA, Canfield MA, Siega-Riz AM, et al.; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Prepregnancy obesity as a risk factor for structural birth defects. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Aug;161(8):745-750.
  7. Carmichael SL, Rasmussen SA, Shaw GM. Prepregnancy obesity: a complex risk factor for selected birth defects. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2010 Oct;88(10):804-810.)

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

My husband has a love (…ok craving…) for sesame snaps and frequently buys them at grocery stores. It looks deceptively healthy…after all it’s packed with sesame seeds, which are nutritious right? However, a look at the ingredient labels reveals that the snack is basically made up of sugar. For example, of the four ingredients in a Sezme brand sesame snap, three of the ingredients are sugar based. Here is the entire ingredients list: Sesame seeds, glucose syrup, sugar, honey.

I was determined to make a healthier version. But I was disappointed to see that most of the recipes out there on the Internet for homemade sesame snaps or sesame bars use quite a lot of sugar or sweeteners as the main ingredient as well. I really wanted a healthier, lower sugar version. So when I stumbled across this recipe (see source) from bon appetit for Sesame-Peanut Bars Recipe by Molly Mitchell, I was ecstatic!! I tried it out right away, making some modifications and a winner was born! I absolutely love the fact that it only calls for ¼ cup of honey. Try it yourself!

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

Recipe by: Dietitianmom
Makes about 16 snaps

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups raw or toasted sesame seeds
  • ¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup unsalted, roasted cashews (chopped).
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13 inch glass bakeware pan with parchment paper, with sufficient overhang on all sides.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients (sesame seeds, coconut, chopped cashew nuts, salt and optional ingredients like the flaxseed meal and chia seeds if desired).
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients (honey, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla)
  4. Add the wet ingredients mixture to the dry sesame seed mixture and mix well.
  5. Scrape mixture into prepared baking dish, and then press firmly into an even layer, as thinly as you can!
  6. Bake in the oven until golden brown around the edges (at least 20–25 minutes, depending on how thick the mixture layer is).
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until firm (this will take at least 30–40 minutes). Lift the entire parchment piece with the baked layer out of the bakeware (if it starts to crumble, let cool longer) and let it cool fully. Then cut into rectangular snaps.

This is a very easy and versatile recipe, and quick to throw together when the snack craving hits. Use whatever you have in the kitchen, be it toasted or raw sesame seeds, sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes or coconut shreds. I’m sure it will work fine with other nuts too such as chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts! Feel free to experiment! You can also make these bars a few days ahead of time and store them in an airtight jar or container. However, if you don’t intend to eat all of this right away, the best method I’ve found to maintain the crispiness of the sesame-cashew snaps is to freeze them in an airtight container. Then take some snaps out to thaw for about 10 minutes before consuming.

The problem? Now I’m addicted!

(Source: Sesame-Peanut Bars. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sesame-peanut-bars. Published September 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.)