Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whole Grain Waffles with Yogurt and Strawberries

Kashi 7-grain waffles with greek yogurt, candied pecans and strawberries

This WAS my new favorite breakfast. I came up with it while trying to add whole grains and calcium to my diet, and find an alternative to syrup, after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Trader Joe's has the best nuts!
Unfortunately, now that I've seen the dietician, I learned that this combo has too many carbs. I may be allowed to eat half this amount. I had thought it was healthy! ... I still think it is, just not ideal for carb counting I guess. I've made such an effort to add the whole grains and brown starches that I don't care for. I have learned to like some of them, like these nutrient-rich Kashi waffles.

The good news is I can still eat them, since 2 waffles only have 25g of carbs, but I can't top them with all these other carbs any more! Now, I put a little butter and some berries, or a bit of natural peanut butter. Oh well!

A New Diet Challenge: Gestational Diabetes

Forgive me for not posting much lately. Over the last 3 weeks I've been busy with sooo many doctor appointments and adjusting to new dietary restrictions. I had a few posts lined up about things I made/ate, and meanwhile I was trying to figure out a whole new eating plan. I felt somehow hypocritical, or un-genuine, posting meals which I can no longer eat.

It all started when I went for my 28 weeks check-up and 4 hour pregnancy "3rd Trimester" class with a glucose screening test. As I reeled from the 50g glucose drink, gave up some blood, and sat through nurse-grandma advice and stories, I had little worry about passing the test. They had told us to eat breakfast as normal, which for me was yogurt, berries and granola. The next day I got a call saying I had "abnormal" results on the test. "How abnormal, like how high exactly was my sugar?" was my immediate Type-A, I think I'm in control of everything, response. I had failed by 7 points. To me, this sounds not so bad. To me, this sounds like I had too many sweets for breakfast, and should have opted for eggs.

Okay, so I might have a little problem. A couple days later I fasted and had my 3-hour glucose tolerance test with the 100g glucose syrup and 4 blood drawings. I felt dizzy and nauseous for all 3 hours. I couldn't even focus on my book, the words swam on the pages, as I sat in the hot un-airconditioned closet that is the blood lab. Figures, 10 minutes before I was done, the tech was like "oh, is it hot in here? let me turn on the AC." after I had complained from the beginning. Are you kidding me?

Alas, the next day I got another call saying I had abnormal results. I would have to follow up with an endocrinologist for my now diagnosed gestational diabetes. My glucose had gone up, not too too high, but never came back down. That explains why the baby flipped 72 times in my belly while I felt like crap for hours. Clearly there's something wrong with me.

My Type-A, I think I'm in control of everything, plan was to start eating healthier immediately. Or at least keep track of what I am eating, so I could show that dietician right from the get-go that I am sticking to everything they tell you to eat in pregnancy: high-protein dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, proteins like beans and salmon, and lots of whole grains.

Well show her I did, and she showed me right back - this is not how you can eat if you have gestational diabetes. In fact, my high-fiber cereal with berries and milk, or greek yogurt with fruit and granola, was just carb + carb + carb, day after day. My frequent fruits, abundant whole grains, and vegetarian friendly beans were all high in carbs and I would have to replace some of them with meat, eggs and cheese. "But I eat mostly vegetarian," I told her, "I can't eat meat every day!" She scowled, because it's tough to stick to the low-carb 30g meal / 15g snack diet eating vegetarian. I was left to figure it out on my own, or starve.

**Here's a nice little chart I found for carb counting**

So I headed home with a list of foods and their carb contents, with one whole column on my personal list crossed out - off limits. No burritos, no tacos, no enchiladas, no pizza, no bean chili, no cake, no cookies, no brownies, no granola bars, no ice cream, no lowfat yogurt with fruit. I've lived many years without a craving for real sweets, but take away all my vegetarian-friendly meals, emergency granola bars I keep in my purse, and yogurt and ice cream? Oh and by the way, you can hardly eat a 1/3 cup of rice, beans, potato, pasta or grains of any kind. You wanna snack? Well you only get 15g, so that's just 1/2 a banana. Good luck being full and functional for the next two hours until you can eat again.

Oh this is going to be hard.

My first week, I spent the first couple days just staring into the pantry and fridge trying to find something that had less than 30g of carbs. I really was starving the first couple days, I couldn't even sleep because I would wake up starving. My glucose even dropped to 50 after a walk to the vet and Petsmart in 85 degree weather (it should be at least 60). So I was allowed 30g snacks instead of 15g, and felt a whole lot better. 15g is nothing.

**Here's the site I used to search each food and count carbs**

I ended up figuring out a bunch of things to eat, and all my numbers stayed in check. Timing all my foods, pre-planning, tracking carbs, researching, actually making the food, and doing properly timed finger prick tests was super annoying. Another week I didn't spend getting ready for baby - who is now much more likely to come early due to my condition. Nor did I have time (or the mental energy) to blog about any of this until now. I couldn't have every hour revolve completely around food.

Here's a look at my (incredibly Type-A) early low-carb diet Excel chart I made (carb allowance, including vegetables: 15-30g, 15g, 30g, 30g, 30g, 15g):

Next post, I'll share a whole bunch of the foods I came up with. I might not have it perfect yet, but I think I managed some good ideas to keep things interesting, and healthy, for my new low-carb life. I confess, I caved and ate fish and chicken, because otherwise I felt starving. Over time, with research and shopping, I came up with more interesting vegetarian options.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cheddar Black Bean Cakes with Avocado Salad and Sweet Red Corn

Good old (low-sodium) black beans are one of my favorite pantry staples. One should never be without a can of at least some kind of beans. The possibilities are just endless.

In search of a new, hearty, healthy vegetarian recipe, I consulted Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. I knew that I should be well-stocked for most items in the beans and legumes pages. How this cookbook works is that you start with a recipe, like I did with "Baked White Bean Cakes", which presents a recipe and method. Variations are suggested at the end, and sometimes possible sauces are listed. The idea is that you get the technique and then let your imagination run wild with possibilities, and end up coming up with your own original take in the end. That's why I love this book, it teaches you how to create ideas from surefire techniques.

My Cheddar Black Bean Cakes ended up quite far from the original recipe. I changed the ingredients to be a little more Mexican, to go with the type of beans. But honestly, the real difference is that I completely misread the amount of beans to be used. So my cakes are more "cake" and less "bean" than Bittman's recipe. But I'm ok with that.

On the side, I served a cool and refreshing avocado salad with lime. The cakey-beans needed a moist partner, definitely. I also found this really interesting red sweet corn. It tastes similar to regular corn but just looks more colorful and rustic. It was a nice light summer dinner, and didn't take too long to prepare - it could probably be done in 45 minutes to an hour.

Leftover bean cakes make a great breakfast, too. Serve them with huevos rancheros, or topped with poached eggs on an english muffin for a mexican benedict. I made a simple sandwich with a cheddar-chive omelet, since I didn't have many other ingredients on hand.

Cheddar Black Bean Cakes

4 servings (8 cakes)

2 T olive oil
1/2 C onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 14oz can of black beans, rinsed & drained
2 eggs
1/4 C + 2 T sharp cheddar, shredded (for vegan, use dairy-free cheese)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Condiments: Sour cream, hot sauce or salsa, cilantro

Preheat oven to 375F.

1.  Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil 3-4 minutes and set aside.

2. Mash beans, leaving them semi-chunky. I use a potato masher. Mix in eggs and cheese. Add garlic and onions, oregano, salt, pepper, flour and baking powder. 

3. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray. Drop heaping tablespoons of bean mix onto the sheet into 8 separate cakes. Slightly press them down to resemble a 1" thick patty. 

4. Bake cakes for 25 minutes. Top each cake with a little cheese and bake for another 5-10 minutes to melt cheese.

5. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with fat-free sour cream and hot sauce or salsa.

Avocado Salad with Cucumber, Carrot and Lime
4 servings

1-1/2 C cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 C baby carrots, halved lengthwise
2 avocados, cubed
1/4 C lime juice (1-2 limes)
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 C cilantro, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chilled.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Healthy Green Couscous

After signing up for the classic childbirth preparedness classes at NYU medical center, they offered a free "Healthy Pregnancy" class. I decided to go, despite knowing it would be mostly obvious information. I figured I'm just not a good book-reader, and I may as well have the facts presented to me in power-point rather than in text. Honestly, the real reason I dragged myself there in the heat wave was to check out everyone else's baby bump and pregnant bodies, so I could compare myself to them covertly. I shamelessly admit it. We're in New York - we're all voyeurs at heart.

As I said, we all knew the information already from our doctors, books and google search. And I decided that despite my minimal weight gain, I looked pretty much like all those other girls around the 5-6 month mark. They gave us some stretches to do, which looked like about 1/20th of what I would do in a session of Rajashree's pregnancy yoga, which I aspire to do frequently. But, once again shamelessly, I admit I've done it about 4 times. And I'm about as likely to do the 5 easy stretches because I'd rather take a nap. Or google stuff on my laptop.

One place I try to minimize shameless indulgence is food. It's been a battle, since the boy in my belly wants chocolate and cookies instead of my usual pickles and popcorn. So I've tried to offset the indulgence with very healthy meals.

One thing I did take from the Healthy Pregnancy class was a question to ask yourself at each meal: "What can I add to this?". It means if you are having a grilled cheese, the answer is "tomatoes". If you are having a spinach salad, the answer might be "avocado or nuts". If you're slicing apples, the answer is "peanut butter". This question is the answer to one of my burning pregnancy-diet questions - how the heck do you manage to eat all those servings from each food group every day? It seems like SO MUCH FOOD! I can't physically eat that much.

And this is the answer: "what can I add to this?" - a little at a time. You want to add fiber, protein, calcium and other vitamins wherever possible, whenever possible. And you can do it a little at a time without much pain. So if you keep a few things on hand with these qualities (nuts, vegetables, cheeses, yogurts, canned beans, berries, nut butters), you can toss them into everything.

When I went to make couscous as a side dish, I asked myself "what can I add to this?". I started with whole-wheat couscous (because anything white is basically empty junk food that will take up space needed for the good stuff). I used vegetable stock instead of water, to add flavor. I added pine nuts for protein and good fat. I added spinach for nutrients, and cooked it in olive oil for more good fat needed for digestion. Besides, the spinach gives the couscous a hint of green, and I think colorful food tastes better!

Healthy Green Couscous
4 servings

2-1/2 C fresh spinach
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1 C vegetable stock
1 C whole wheat couscous
1/4 C toasted pine nuts

1. In a deep skillet, sauté spinach in olive oil until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a blender, purée spinach with vegetable stock. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Add couscous to stock, stir, cover, and reduce heat to simmer for 2 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from heat and set at least 5 minutes. 

5. Fluff with a fork and add pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cashew-Creamed Corn with Chanterelles

I thought I'd have so much more time to play in the kitchen and blog about my experiments this summer. But life has a way of distracting you, especially when your priorities shift daily. I have quite a long list of excuses which include pregnancy fatigue, researching baby gear and dealing with my dog Misty's intensifying fear and anxiety disorder. 

Misty on the rug is a rare occurrence these days, as she typically resides in the bathroom 24/7.
"Cook something new", "update blog", and "index recipes" have been on my excel format to-do list for months. I've occasionally chipped away at the blogging to-do's, but have not been able to check them off completely. In fact, I've just about given up on the to-do list as a whole. Outside my absolutely necessary 2-hour naps, I end up doing whatever is of utmost priority - like minimal cleaning, doctor visits, baby registry, and solving the dog's problems. I end up cooking and eating simple tried-and-true meals that don't create many dirty dishes. Cooking is not that fun any more when I have to clean up the mess - my belly is too big to reach the faucet and bend over the sink to wash dishes.

Sometimes I do get a chance to stop by the farmer's market, or at least order something seasonal from Fresh Direct. Corn is at a peak now, and it's pretty versatile for experimentation. Chanterelle mushrooms were on sale at some point, and I decided I'd try something new instead of using them in soup. I had a vision of combining the sweet corn with the delicate mushrooms.

I didn't want the dish to be too heavy, so I used cashew cream instead of dairy cream. For some reason I added fakin' bacon, but I wish I hadn't. The smokiness overpowered the other mild flavors, which made adding the pricey mushrooms a waste since you could hardly taste them. Although, the smokey corn dish still tasted great as a topping for sautéed Quorn chicken fillets

Next time I would omit the expensive mushrooms and serve them sautéed on the side, or skip the bacon and make the mushrooms and corn an interesting side dish for a party that can stand on it's own.

Here are the two versions:

Vegetarian Creamed Corn with Bacon
*great as a sauce for meatless chicken
approx. 4 servings

1 T olive oil
1 T butter or vegan butter
3 strips veggie bacon
2 C fresh corn (approx 3 cobs)
1/4 C onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 C cashew cream (see below instructions) 
1/4 C water, or as needed
1/4 C white wine
salt & pepper
2 T dried parsley

1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon about 2 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Remove to a plate to cool.

2. Add 1 T butter to the skillet, along with corn, onions, and garlic. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

3. Season with salt and pepper. Add cream, water and parsley. Cover and cook another 5 minutes until heated through. Add more water if the consistency seems too thick. 

4. Chop bacon into small pieces and add to the corn before serving.

Cashew-Creamed Corn with Chanterelles
*a mild side-dish that would go well with breaded cutlets and an herb or arugula salad

approx. 4 servings

1 T olive oil
6 oz fresh chanterelle mushrooms
2 C fresh corn (approx 3 cobs)
1/4 C onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 C cashew cream (see below instructions) 
1/4 C water, or as needed
1/4 C white wine
salt & pepper
2 T dried parsley

1. Prepare the chanterelles by swishing them in a bowl of water to remove the dirt. Wipe any remaining debris and cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. 

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, corn, onion and garlic. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

3. Season with salt and pepper. Add cream, water and parsley. Cover and cook another 5 minutes until heated through. Add more water if the consistency seems too thick. Serve hot.

Cashew Cream
To make cashew cream, you must soak raw cashews in water for about 3-4 hours or overnight. 

Place the cashews in a container and add cold water to just barely cover thenuts completely. Cover and refrigerate. Using a blender, purée until liquified. You can also use an immersion / hand blender, but it won't be as smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add water a little at a time to reach the consistency of cream.

1 cup of nuts will yield a little more than 1 cup of cashew cream, depending on how much water is added. Exact measurements don't matter, but it's much easier to make a larger quantity, such as 2 cups of nuts at a time. Refrigerate the unused cream for about 4-5 days, or freeze in small containers to thaw and use as needed. Frozen cashew cream lasts 1-2 months, but is never quite as good as fresh.

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