Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon

Quick nutrition question: what do you know about omega-3 fatty acids? My guess is there are a few bits of info that probably come to mind when you think of omega-3s:

  • they’re found in fish, walnuts, certain oils, and other foods
  • alternatively, you can take them in pills that are pretty pricey and can tend to give you fishy burps
  • they’re somehow supposed to be good for you, despite how unappealing the term “fatty acid” may sound

But have you ever wondered what exactly they are and why they’re good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are referred to as “unsaturated” because of their chemistry: the carbon in the fat is not “saturated” with hydrogen molecules surrounding it (as in, it contains less than the maximum number of bonds possible–when the maximum number of bonds are attached, it becomes “saturated”). Also, fun fact: like other unsaturated fats, omega-3 is liquid at room temperature, so if you could buy it in pure form at the store, you’d find it alongside the oils. Fill the carbons up with those hydrogen bonds, though, and you’ll get solid-at-room-temperature saturated fat, as in butter.

The reason these particular fats have the name “omega-3” is also chemistry-related. There is a double bond between carbon and hydrogen on the carbon molecule third from the end (called the “omega”–you know, like “the Alpha and the Omega,” i.e. “the beginning and the end”) of the chemical chain. So, if it helps you, think of omega-3s as the “third from the end” fats. I do!

So, what are these fatty acids supposed to do for us, and why should we care? Evidence-based research shows that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body–always good for protecting our hearts from heart attacks and our brains from strokes, among other benefits–and may also lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Some studies have also shown them to have a cumulative positive effect on cognition.

For my part, I’d rather get my omega-3s through tasty foods than through pills (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them in pill form). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend eating 8 oz. of fatty fish each week, which breaks down to about two servings. And I’ve got a recipe for one for you right here.

This Mediterranean-inspired Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious source of those all-important 3s, as it’s packed not only with tuna, but a good dose of olive oil. And, like any other meal, this one is a sum of multiple nutrition parts, which includes whole grains in the spaghetti, immunity-boosting raw garlic, and a respectable chunk of calcium in the form of Parmesan cheese. Not only that, but it’s a super easy, flavorful dinner that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less with inexpensive ingredients.

I’d say that’s a good deal for your heart, your brain, your stomach, and your wallet!


Print Recipe
Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon
An easy Mediterranean-inspired pasta packed with omega-3s and bright flavors.
Instructions
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, Parmesan, tuna, and basil. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

Print Recipe
Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
Instructions
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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Veggie Pot Pie Skillet with Cheddar Biscuits

Veggie Pot Pie Skillet

I’ve already got a pot pie recipe on this site, and it’s kind of my pride and joy, since it’s one I came up with myself, and (can I brag a little?) it’s to die for. Savory chicken, a velvety cream sauce, and pan-roasted veggies….mmmm….it’s like my wee chickeny baby I just love to dote upon.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other awesome pot pies out there, each with their own spin on the classic. My own recipe certainly isn’t the final word on pot pies, as far as I’m concerned. Especially when I see a new pot pie recipe that involves cheese.

That’s right, I said POT PIE WITH CHEESE.

If you’re a purist, you might think this sounds about as appealing as cheese on your breakfast cereal.(Aside: can I just note how long it took to think of something, anything, for that sentence that would be gross to put cheese on? But cereal and cheese does sound pretty wrong. Give me a minute, though–I may warm up to the idea…) When I saw this veggie pot pie skillet with cheddar biscuit topping over on Budget Bytes, I was smitten. If Beth, the author of that blog, tracks her visitor stats, she may have noticed a giant spike in the number of visits to that particular post in the last few weeks.

They’re all me. I have now made this recipe four times since Christmas, with no signs of slowing down.

Veggie Pot Pie Skillet

Here’s why. This recipe is:

  • Meatless
  • Easy
  • Cheap
  • One-dish meal
  • Uses very common ingredients, making it a virtually no-shop meal if you keep things like frozen vegetables, chicken broth, and flour on hand
  • Totally cozy-comfort-food delicious!

Even my kids go crazy over this meal, which I normally would not think possible for something so obviously based on vegetables. The filling is herb-y and creamy and the biscuit topping always comes out light with just the right texture–a real feat for something as notoriously tough to nail as biscuits.

All that being said, I do have to confess that while it may be vegetarian, this recipe is definitely not low calorie or low fat, since it has quite a lot of butter and no small amount of cheese. Still, we’re talking pot pie here, so nobody’s expecting it to be super healthy, right? In moderation, it’s a yummy, easy one-dish meal that won’t break the bank. Try it out for an alternative to the usual pot pie!

Veggie Pot Pie Skillet

 

Print Recipe
Veggie Pot Pie Skillet with Cheddar Biscuits
A creamy veggie filling gets topped with tender cheddar biscuits in this vegetarian comfort food!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the filling:
For the cheddar biscuits:
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the filling:
For the cheddar biscuits:
Instructions
For the filling:
  1. In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet (very important that it's oven-safe!), melt butter over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add flour and continue to saute another minute. Pour in milk and vegetable broth and whisk until smooth. Add salt, thyme, sage, and some black pepper.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for a couple of minutes until it thickens to to the point where a utensil dragged through it leaves a trail. Add frozen vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to cook until veggies are heated through. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while you make the biscuits.
For the biscuits:
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in cold butter in small pieces and mix with your hands, the back of a fork, or a pastry cutter until the mixture looks like damp sand. Add cheddar and chives, then milk. Stir just until a dough comes together.
  2. Take the veggie filling off the heat and dollop the biscuit mixture evenly across the top of it.
  3. Bake 18-20 minutes or until biscuits are cooked through. Serve immediately, being very careful not to burn yourself as you serve from the skillet! (Lesson learned from experience.)
Recipe Notes

Somewhat adapted from Budget Bytes.

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Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce

Cajun lemon tilapia

As a practicing Catholic, my observance of Lent began yesterday on Ash Wednesday. Like most Catholics, I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. No one likes sacrifice, which is exactly what this pre-Easter season is all about, but despite our sometimes begrudging feelings about it, we all can benefit from setting aside some of our own desires for awhile. As I like to remind myself, the hard things are usually the things worth doing.

For my Lenten sacrifice this year, I decided not to go with anything to do with my eating or drinking habits. (After last year’s “giving up” wine turned into a total failure.) This time I’m limiting my screen time, including not watching any TV or movies and not using my phone for any purpose while driving. It may sound like a small “sacrifice”–and really, it is–but even a day and a half in, I’m pleased with this choice because it has to do with my use of time, an area in which I’m constantly striving for balance. My former priest used to say “fast so you can pray,” meaning “give something up that will move you to pray.” And certainly giving up TV and movies and cutting back on my attachment to my phone will give me extra time in my day–time I can spend on other, more important priorities like prayer, studying for my upcoming nutrition licensure exam, or reading.

However, is it just me, or is the first week of Lent the absolute hardest? I can’t tell you how many times in just the last 36 hours my brain has tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Hey, you know what’s a great movie? Hey, you know what show I really want to watch?”

GET OUT OF MY HEAD, BRAIN!

Fridays, as all Catholics know, are the same way when it comes to the whole don’t-eat-meat issue. Saturday through Thursday you could be like those “women laughing alone with salad.” (Have you heard of this? It’s a whole thing on the Internet about how often you see pictures of women laughing alone with salad in marketing photos.) But come Friday it’s like…

betty white hot dog

Yes, I did make this Betty White Eating a Hot Dog meme myself. You’re welcome. 

But I have good news! Fridays during Lent (if you do Lent) don’t have to be meatless misery. This Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce is an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree to help curb those Friday cravings. And if you don’t do Lent, it’s still an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree for any day of the week! Cajun-seasoned tilapia topped with zesty lemon slices and paired with a creamy dill sauce make for an irresistible combination. I especially love to serve it over couscous with a side of steamed broccoli.

So…do you observe Lent? Or if you don’t, have you ever had and experience where self-sacrifice provided personal growth? I’d love to hear your encouragement, because I really want to watch some Netflix right now.

Cajun lemon tilapia

Print Recipe
Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce
Spicy Cajun-seasoned tilapia combines with a cool and creamy dill sauce in this easy fish recipe.
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of tilapia fillets with Cajun seasoning and salt and pepper. Place in prepared baking dish and top with lemon slices. Bake 12-16 minutes, depending on size and thickness of fillets, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve alongside the fish.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Maybe it’s just me, but do you ever go through phases of food obsession? I mean, some food obsessions are an unchanging given, like chocolate. But others seem to come and go. My current fan favorite is red peppers. Perhaps you could tell, seeing as how this is the third recipe in two months on the blog to include red peppers. The passing fancy of my own food phases makes me think of here-today, gone-tomorrow food trends I’ve seen throughout my lifetime. Maybe today’s kale and quinoa–or in my case, red peppers–are tomorrow’s pop rocks and 1-2-3 Jell-O. (Remember 1-2-3 Jell-O? Why did that have to die? ’80s kids, let’s get a petition going!)

123 Jell-O

Bring it back! Bring it back!

The fact is, unlike the processed mystery that is 1-2-3 Jell-O, I’m new to the crunchy crimson veggie wonder that is red peppers. Up until the last couple of years, I ate red peppers only under social pressure, and even then would prod them around my plate like a picky toddler. I had the sneaking suspicion that people who claimed to enjoy bell peppers were trying to play a vile joke on the rest of us. But somehow–probably as a result of learning in my nutrition studies how fantastically healthy peppers are for you–I have gradually come around. It’s amazing how our mentality can change our feelings about food, isn’t it? (I draw the line, however, at mushrooms. Mushrooms are an eternal abomination.) Having developed a taste for red peppers, though, I’m now all over the map trying them in various combinations and permutations.

It was inevitable, then, that stuffed peppers would make their way into our family’s meal rotation.

Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers

This version of the classic is 100% vegetarian with a hefty dose of black beans, rice, corn, and tomatoes and a not-too-spicy Mexican flair. The rice and bean filling is delicious all on its own, but stuffing it in a tangy red pepper dripping with sharp cheddar takes it over the top. My husband–a more experienced stuffed pepper eater–says that most stuffed peppers have a softer texture than this recipe, but I for one enjoyed the not-too-squishy crunch that these peppers retained by not baking for too long. These made for a satisfying vegetarian dinner I know I’ll make again.

So how about you? Do you have a current food obsession, or a food you used to hate but have come to love? Tell me all about it!

Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Print Recipe
Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers
A healthy vegetarian stuffed peppers recipe with a Mexican flair!
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute 5 minutes, then add minced garlic and saute another 30 seconds. Add rice, vegetable broth or water, diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 16-18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice off the tops of the peppers and scrape out the seeds and membranes. Place peppers snugly in the bottom of an 8 x 8 glass baking dish (or larger, depending on the size of your peppers).
  3. When rice is finished cooking, add corn and beans to the mixture and stir to combine. Spoon carefully into peppers.
  4. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheddar, and continue baking another 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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