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.)

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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?

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.)

 

Coconut Corn Mini-Breads (Dairy & Egg-Free!)

I knew there was a reason I bought this recipe book. Many years ago, I decided to buy a book titled ‘Quick Breads’ by Howard Early and Glenda Morris. I am a novice bread baker, so the idea of being able to make breads rapidly without much dough kneading or rising time was very appealing. However, I never made more than 2-3 recipes from this book over the past decade. This past weekend, we had company over and I decided to have another look at this dusty book on the shelves, to find something to complement the vegan lasagna I had made (we had forgotten to get dinner rolls at the store). To my surprise I found an easy recipe called Coconut Corn Bread using ingredients I already had at home, so I decided to modify the ingredients and give it a try. It was an intriguing combination: coconut and corn? I had made cornbread before but had never mixed both ingredients together before. The result? Our family and guests enjoyed it so much I wanted to share this simple modified dairy-free and egg-free recipe with you!

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used the fortified Silk brand original flavor coconut milk)
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 1 flax egg (see directions below)
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey (or maple syrup for those who do not want to use honey)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan (I used silicon muffin cups instead).
  2. Make the flax egg: Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal combined with 3 tablespoons of water together with a whisk or fork, then let sit for 10-15 minutes. Before using, use the whisk and give it a good mix for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix wet ingredients together.
  5. Gently combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (or when toothpick inserted comes out clean). Optional: at about 5-10 minutes before the baking time was up, I sprinkled some shredded coconut flakes on the tops of the cornbread muffins for an extra flair!
  7. Serve warm or let cool for 5-10 minutes then remove from pan.

You may adjust the ‘sweetness’ factor depending on your preference, by adding more or less honey or maple syrup. Serve warm to complement a meal, or add a little bit of vegan butter, jam or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup on top. Th

is is such a simple recipe that you can also enlist your little helper at home to help out with measuring and mixing the ingredients together!

Qn of the Month: Are Legumes & Pulses Just Different Terms for the Same Thing?

 

A: What exactly are legumes and are they the same as pulses? The terms ‘legumes’, ‘pulses’ and ‘beans’ can certainly all be very confusing. A helpful way to keep these straight is to remember that ‘legumes’ is the overall umbrella name, just like ‘fruits’ is the umbrella name for a huge category of different types and varieties of fruits. Legumes simply refer to all plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. However, pulses only refer to the dried seed itself. So under legumes are 3 main subcategories: soybeans and peanuts, pulses and fresh beans/peas. I like this graphic from Pulse Canada which illustrates these categories aptly (see source citation for more details):

 

Pulses include dried beans, dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. Pulses are cheap, nutrient dense, low in fat, available throughout the year, and are high in protein and fiber. Soybeans and peanuts are separated out into their own separate subcategory due to their higher fat content. Legumes are also super versatile, as they can be cooked to the age appropriate texture in a variety of forms (e.g., pureed, mashed, or whole/halved but in soft cooked forms) for infants, toddlers and children of varying ages depending on their stage of oral motor development.

 

(Source: Pulse Canada. http://www.pulsecanada.com/about-us/what-is-a-pulse. Accessed March 15, 2017.)

Qn of the Month: What Are Key Infant & Toddler Feeding Transitions?

A: Have you ever wondered whether your baby or child is meeting or progressing well in terms of his or her oral motor development? For new mothers, it can be especially daunting knowing when to introduce a different texture or when to start teaching your baby how to drink from a cup. The following are key infant and toddler feeding transitions that are important for a child’s optimal growth and physical as well as oral motor development:

Feeding Transition Age of Occurrence
Establishing breastfeeding Birth to 1 month
Introduction of solid foods 4 – 7 months
Finger foods 6 – 8 months
Introduction to the cup 6 – 12 months
Introduction to table foods (texture) 9 – 12 months
Weaning from breast or bottle 12 – 18 months
Rotary chewing 2 -3 years

Even though it is true that every healthy baby develops differently and often at their own pace, it is still good to keep these general key infant and toddler feeding transitions in mind as you watch and help your baby progress.

[Source: Milano K. How Infant Feeding Transitions Relate to Feeding Difficulties in Young Children. PNPG Building Block for Life. Spring 2016, 39(2): 1-6]

 

 

Qn of the Month: Intakes of Baby-Led Weaning Infants & Traditional Spoon Feed Infants – Are There Nutritional Differences?

Pureed or Baby Led? - Dietitianmom.com

Pureed or Baby Led? – Dietitianmom.com

A: Yes, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Led by Morison and colleagues, this New Zealand based study looked at the intake of 51 age-matched and sex-matched infants at 6-8 months of age. One to three day weighted food records and questionnaires were collected from those in the baby led weaning (BLW) group and those in the traditional spoon feeding (TSF) group, which were then analyzed. The result? It was found that while infants in both groups had relatively similar caloric intake, those in the BLW group may be consuming higher fat and higher saturated fat intakes, along with possibly lower iron, zinc and vitamin B12 intakes.

Although the research finding results are exciting, it is important to note the strengths and limitations of the study. Strengths include analysis done by a registered dietitian blinded to which group an infant belonged to, the use of weighted food records and detailed questionnaires, and the age and sex matching of infants. The limitations of this study however include the fact that a small sample size was used, the use of estimated breast milk volumes, and the fact that there was no standard definition or classification used in the study of what constituted a baby led weaning infant.

As mentioned in my previous post on BLW (Qn of the Month: How is Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Really Defined?), research on BLW is complicated by the fact that there is no standardized definition of baby led weaning, with research studies using different definitions. In this study, parents self-reported and classified themselves which group their infant fell into. Also, the lower iron intake levels observed in the BLW group compared to the TSF group may be due to the fact that the BLW infants consumed less iron fortified infant cereals, and were breastfed for much longer (approximately 8 more weeks) than TSF infants. Hence infants in the BLW group would have received less iron fortified infant formula.

It is unclear whether this study looked at the potential differences in nutrients contributed by use of iron fortified infant formula and breast milk intake, which could have a big impact on the final nutrient intake of infants in either group.  Also, since estimated breast milk volumes were used, this study cannot accurately determine the exact differences in caloric and iron intake levels between the BLW and the TSF groups. A future study needs to not only control for potential confounding in terms of the length of breastfeeding in both groups, but may also need to include biochemical tests to determine more accurately the iron status of infants in both groups.

 (Sources:

  1. University of Otago. “Dietary intake differs in infants who follow baby-led weaning.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517094206.htm. Accessed Nov 26, 2016.
  1. Morison BJ, Taylor RW, Haszard JJ, et al. How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6–8 months. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010665. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/5/e010665. Accessed November 26, 2016.)