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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White Bean Hummus

White Bean Hummus

We need to talk about beans. If I’ve never mentioned it before, allow me to say right now, standing tall with my hand over my heart, that I believe beans may be the perfect food. I say this not only because it will earn me points with other nutrition professionals (though they are pretty unanimously also in love with beans, as far as I’ve seen), but because beans are…

– High in fiber

– Low in fat

– Plant-based protein

– High in iron

– Super versatile

And, if you ask me, they taste pretty darn good, too. So I generally try to include them in my diet on a frequent basis. Casseroles, soups, tacos, salads, and even certain pasta dishes are great food items to drop some beans into. And I do mean that literally, not euphemistically.

White Bean Hummus

Lately I’ve been on a homemade hummus kick, but since I balk at buying any actual tahini (have you ever bought tahini? You have to buy like gallon at a time and it’s hella expensive!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes that don’t call for it, like this garlicky version with plenty of my dear wonderfood, beans! With two full cans of cannellini or Great Northern beans, this recipe makes a big batch, perfect for sneaking off into a closet with the bowl clutched to your bosom so no one else can eat it. I mean, for parties. PARTIES is what I meant to say.

White Bean Hummus

Seriously, though, this white bean hummus is my new favorite snack/appetizer/side. Even though I’ve scoffed in the past about how hummus and pita chips is everyone’s go-to, last-minute, classier-than-chips potluck contribution, the deliciousness of this version kicks it up into “bring this any time” territory. Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley creates the perfect edible yin and yang.

And finally, because beans didn’t have their own theme song, here is Brak from the ’90s Cartoon Network show Space Ghost to sing you a very special tune about them:

 

 

Print Recipe
White Bean Hummus
Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley make for a uniquely delicious hummus!
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, cook garlic in olive oil over medium heat until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat. With a slotted spoon, scoop garlic into the bowl of a food processor.
  2. To the food processor bowl, add drained beans, lemon juice, cumin, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Process until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour in reserved olive oil while the machine is running and process until well incorporated.
  4. Serve immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container. Enjoy with pita chips or fresh veggies!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Bush's Beans.

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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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Steak Chopped Salad

Steak chopped salad

Somewhere early on in my learning the German language, I read the original Grimm fairy tale of Rapunzel. It’s pretty different from the Disney movie, FYI, from the lack of catchy musical numbers to the fact that the prince who comes to rescue Rapunzel from her tower ends up blinded when he attempts suicide by leaping out her window. (Hard to imagine that fitting in a catchy musical number anyway, now that I think about it.) But the especially bizarre thing that always stood out to me about the original German version of Rapunzel is that almost the entire first half of the story, which happens before Rapunzel’s birth, has to do with her pregnant mother’s insane lust for the lettuce growing in her neighbor’s garden. The mother’s desire for a salad made of the beautiful green lettuce she sees growing in this garden is so strong that she sends her husband to steal some. The husband, dutiful man that he is, does so, only to find his wife’s cravings intensified threefold after she finally tastes the forbidden lettuce. Dang those pregnancy cravings!

Steak chopped salad

When he eventually gets caught by the neighbor (who–didja guess? happens to be a witch), he promises to hand over the baby to her at birth, so long as his wife can continue to have a supply of the lettuce for her surreptitious salads. Cause, you know, baby…lettuce…it’s all good.

You’ll have to read the original Grimm fairy tale if you want to know how things pan out for Rapunzel and kooky family, but whenever I recall the story, I always think, DANG, that must have been one awesome salad to make her parents hand over their firstborn for it. (That or they weren’t too thrilled about having a baby in the first place?) Every time I have a great salad, I kind of chuckle to myself, like, “Could this be the one someone would relinquish their children for?” Just so you know, I have yet to find the salad I’d be willing to trade my kids in for…

Steak chopped salad

BUT…while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about this uh-may-zing Steak Chopped Salad. Thankfully, you don’t need to make a deal with your neighborhood mistress of the dark arts for a taste. Nor do you need to go hopping fences to steal magical lettuce. All you need are some pantry staples, a good piece of sirloin, and some garden-fresh red cabbage and romaine. The combination of roasted red peppers, creamy feta, marinated steak, and crunchy lettuce with a zingy Mediterranean-style dressing is sublime enough to make you think magic was involved. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after we had it a few night ago.

So I can only assume this is the salad Rapunzel’s mother made, because IF there were a salad that could make me go to crazy lengths to eat it, well, this is the one.

Steak chopped salad

Print Recipe
Steak Chopped Salad
A fresh, whole foods chopped salad you'll want to make again and again!
Course Beef, Main Dish
Servings
as a main course
Course Beef, Main Dish
Servings
as a main course
Instructions
Make the steak:
  1. Combine garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper in a gallon freezer bag. Add steak to the bag and let marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes-2 hours.
  2. Bring steak to room temperature by removing from refrigerator 15-30 minutes prior to cooking. Remove from marinade and pat dry. Set an oven rack 4-5 inches from broiler heating element and preheat broiler to high.
  3. Heat a small skillet over high heat. Add steak and sear 2-3 minutes per side, using tongs to flip in between. Place skillet in oven under broiler and broil on each side 2-3 minutes, again using tongs to flip.
  4. Carefully tent aluminum foil over skillet and let steak rest while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Make the salad:
  1. In a large bowl, toss chopped red cabbage, chopped romaine, red peppers, feta, and cannellini beans.
Make the dressing:
  1. In a 1-cup measuring cup, combine all ingredients. Using an immersion blender, mix until emulsified.
Put it all together:
  1. Slice steak into cubes, cutting against the grain, and add to salad. Serve with dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

Loosely inspired by Real Simple.

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Ham and White Bean Soup

Ham and White Bean Soup

Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.

BHG red and white cookbook

Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!

If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.

So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.

Ham and White Bean Soup

Print Recipe
Ham and White Bean Soup
A hearty soup to warm you from the inside out!
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
Recipe Notes

Kinda-sorta based on this recipe from Simply Sated.

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