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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Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins

 

Generally, I’m not much into specialty ingredients. If it can’t be found with relative ease at my local Fry’s or Trader Joe’s, I tend to feel I can pretty well do without it or find a reasonable substitute. We don’t need no hifalutin’ muscovado sugar, soy flour, or buffalo yogurt around here, thankyouverymuch. Especially here on the blog, I like to feature recipes that don’t require excessive effort, whether in techniques used, time spent, or ingredients called for. (And I tend to roll my eyes and click right past when other food bloggers post recipes that want you to track down some vegan hemp matcha flax milk. Ain’t nobody got time for that, and the 2% in my fridge will work just fine.)

But today I’m going to make a small exception to my no-specialty-ingredients policy, because my muffin world was recently rocked by the discovery of whole grain medium-grind cornmeal. (Yes, when you make muffins as often as I do, you can legitimately claim to have a “muffin world.”) My dear husband brought me back some cornmeal from the U.S. to Germany when I couldn’t find any here, and lo and behold, it was whole grain medium-grind–something I had never heard of before, since I always buy the cheapo generic 89-cent cornmeal.

Bob’s Red Mill…the FANCY stuff

When I used this semi-specialty ingredient to make the Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins featured here, I fell in loooooove with the result. The grittier texture it yields might not to everyone’s taste, but I found it super hearty and satisfying, like the kind of cornbread the pilgrims would have had at the first Thanksgiving before we got all technologified with grinding our cornmeal into powder.

Come to find out, there is also a difference between whole grain cornmeal and “regular” cornmeal not labeled as whole grain. As a nutritionist, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never really given whole grain corn much thought, but it stands to reason that, just like with any other grain, when the bran, germ, and endosperm of the corn are left intact, the corn will be more nutritious. Therefore, whole grain cornmeal contains more fiber and B vitamins than non-whole grain. Bonus! Awesome taste and texture PLUS better nutrition. And some mega-tasty muffins to use it in.

So there you have it…not too crazy a special ingredient, but maybe a fun one to give a try. After all, the Bob’s Red Mill brand seems to be sold in most mainstream U.S. grocery stores, so I imagine whole grain medium-grind cornmeal won’t be too tough to find if you want to try using it in these summery, bursting-with-berries muffins. When you taste them fresh out of the oven with a schmear of butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar, I think you’ll agree they’re worth it.


Print Recipe
Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins
Medium-grain whole wheat cornmeal gives these summery, bursting-with-berries muffins their hearty texture.
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add melted butter, eggs, honey, sugar, yogurt, and milk, stirring to combine. Gently stir in frozen raspberries.
  4. Divide batter among the prepared muffin cups and bake 18-20 minutes.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe

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Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal

After you’ve been grocery shopping in Germany for a few weeks, you begin to realize that there are numerous food items European supermarkets simply do not sell that American shoppers take for granted as regular possibilities. Chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and corn meal are all examples of foods that seem standard to my American mindset but are absent from all but the most specialized German grocery stores. (They all, for some reason, also seem to have to do with baking…why?) If you go looking on online message boards for answers to this culinary conundrum, you will inevitably come across the TOP most discussed edible scarcity for Americans living, eating, and shopping in this country: PEANUT BUTTER. No peanut butter cookies, chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and no floor-to-ceiling, chunky vs. smooth, Skippy/Jif /Peter Pan peanut butter section at the grocery store.

Some of these people online are VERY worked up about the peanut butter desert that is the European continent. (Now I think I know how Australians feel about Vegemite.)

So when my mom asked if there was anything I wanted her to bring from the U.S. on her recent trip here, peanut butter was at the top of my list. When she pulled it from her suitcase two weeks ago, I all but held it close to my face and whispered “sweet cream of the humble legume, I shall preserve thee as long as I am able.” I mean, let the record reflect that I didn’t.

Then, the next week, I saw peanut butter for sale at the grocery store. Ha!

This peanut butter sighting was, of course, awesome, but because it was certainly not a familiar brand and I frankly have some doubts about how authentic it could be when it’s only been in this country a pretty short time, I’m still spreading my American peanut butter stash as thinly as possible. Since my precious jar arrived, I have rationed it out into three peanut butter sandwiches, one or two dips of a pretzel, and this, one of my very favorite breakfasts, Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal. (And yes, this is the fourth baked oatmeal I’ve featured on the blog…because baked oatmeal is the BEST for a breakfast that’s make-ahead, tends to use only one bowl and one pan, tastes delicious, is super forgiving no matter what you put in it, and is usually healthy.) This peanut butter apple version is no exception.

With whole grain oats, plenty of apple, minimal sugar, and low-fat milk, it’s a winner of a breakfast that also serves to remind me that every time I eat an apple with peanut butter, I go, oh yeah! These are so good together–why don’t I eat this combination more often?

Totally worth using up half a cup of my treasured peanut butter supply. Try it out and I think you’ll agree.

P.S. For the record, I have not seen any horse meat for sale here, either…which I mention not because I WANT any, but because I had read online that it was a normal grocery store item in Germany. You’re safe for now, horsies!

Print Recipe
Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients: oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, combine milk, egg, applesauce, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix. Add peanut butter and mix again until well distributed. Finally, add diced apples and stir to incorporate.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until the top is golden. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving, or, to make ahead, cool completely, refrigerate, and serve in the morning reheated with a splash of milk.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

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Strawberry Applesauce

Aww, I totally missed it. May was National Strawberry Month, and I really meant to squeeze this recipe in before May ended three days ago. Then again, I’m not actually in the country, so I think I kind of get a pass on being up to speed on the whole “National (insert item here) Month” idea (though June is National Dairy Month, which I can totally get behind–and also, weirdly, National Potty Training Awareness Month? I’m as aware as I want to be on that subject…)

Plus, it seems to me like the entire summer should be called National Strawberry Season. Strawberries are one of those foods that just scream summer. When I think of strawberries and summer, I think of a refreshing poolside snack, sweet strawberry ice cream, and the edible red stripes on the American flag of a Fourth of July dessert. And now, after this recipe, I think…applesauce! Incorporating strawberries into applesauce is a great way to use up those last loner berries you got on mega summer sale that have faded from their grocery store beauty contest-best and are a wee bit too mushy to be featured in your attractive strawberry dessert. After all, in applesauce, everything is supposed to be mushy and mixed! It’s like the meatloaf of snacks.

So if you’d love a new spin on a healthy, whole foods classic or your kids are home for the summer and you need something a little different than the granola bars on repeat at snack time, give this easy strawberry applesauce a try! (And don’t think too hard about that whole “meatloaf of snacks” comment…I promise, it’s really tasty. 😉)

P.S. For more strawberry fun, read my 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Strawberries post!

Print Recipe
Strawberry Applesauce
An easy, refreshing spin on the snack classic!
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, bring apples, water, and cinnamon stick to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Mash until chunky.
  2. Add strawberries and cook another 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, puree until the mixture reaches a consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in sugar to taste.
  3. Serve warm or chill until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Food Network.

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An American’s Guide to Grocery Shopping in Germany

Mini grocery store in the Cologne train station

Now that we’ve been in Europe for over three weeks, I would say I’ve gotten my bearings in many regards. I’m now used to taking trains, trams, and busses (or walking) everywhere I go, and I can roll with the unpredictability of weather that can go from requiring coats and gloves to shorts and flip flops overnight.

But one cultural clash that continues to plague me is grocery shopping. I swear, it’s the most harrowing thing I do here (well, that and ordering food from waiters who obviously think I have disgraced their establishment by choosing to dine there). Sometimes it seems like EVERYTHING is different and I am constantly making direly embarrassing mistakes. Then again, some things about grocery shopping in Germany are undeniably awesome, like the fabulous deals on chocolate and local wine, or the fact that they don’t hand out plastic bags like it’s going out of style.

So if you ever intend to spend time in Germany as an American, plan to prepare some of your own food, and need to purchase it at a grocery store, here is my step-by-step, sort of tongue-in-cheek (but also kind of serious) guide for how to grocery shop, from what I’ve learned in our first three weeks in-country.

  1. Before you leave your house, arm yourself with reusable grocery bags. Otherwise, you will be paying to purchase them at the store (since plastic grocery bags are not a thing here) and by the end of your stay in Germany you’ll find yourself with 87 canvas bags.
  2. Walk to the store, because you don’t have a car.
  3. Enter the store. Attempt to pull a cart from the line, only to realize that they are all chained together. Fiddle with them for awhile to see if you can unchain one. After about 5 minutes, figure you probably look like one of the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, give up, and opt for a basket.

    (Realize later that you had to insert a Euro to detach a cart.)

  4. Marvel at the beautiful array of fruits and veggies, especially those different from at home, from plump heirloom tomatoes to purple asparagus.
  5. Semi-stalk another shopper to determine whether or not this is the kind of German grocery store where you have to weigh and label your own individual produce. (I didn’t do this at a Hofer in Vienna and was very pointedly informed by the checker that since I did not weigh and label my single tomato, I could just leave it right there at the register instead of buying it.)
  6. As you wander the aisles, impulse-buy at least one fun-looking European product, like chocolate with currants or a mysterious pink cheese.
  7. Snicker at all the products that are comical to American sensibilities, like the breads with the word “Dinkel” on them and…these?
  8. Do the mental calculus of trying to figure out what familiar, no-recipe-needed dinner you could throw together with the ingredients this store provides. Settle on something easy like pizza. Get through adding mozzarella, tomato sauce, and toppings to your cart before realizing they don’t sell pizza dough here, or anything close to being suitable for a pizza base. (Unless you want to try to make pizza on a croissant, pretzel, or Vollkorn bread.)
  9. Put everything back and start over. This time, decide you’ll make some other easy meal–chili, let’s say–only to realize that they don’t sell any beans, corn, or chili powder.
  10. Cry.
  11. Buy a frozen meal and pray you can figure out how to cook it in Celsius.
  12. Get in line behind the 19 other waiting customers. When you reach the conveyor belt, arrange your items on it like tightly-fitting puzzle pieces in a feat of engineering that could only be German.
  13. Okay, get ready. Here comes the hardest part: checking out. 
    The checker lady (who, by the way, is sitting, not standing, behind the counter like in the U.S.) will now slide your items across the scanner as fast as humanly possible and push them into the holding pen at the end of the counter.

    Here they come!

  14. Scramble to open the bags you brought, load your items into them in some halfway logical fashion, and pay your bill before someone behind you groans audibly in frustration at your slowness. (Yep, this has happened to me, too.)
  15. Heave a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back as you walk out. You just got through grocery shopping in a foreign country! But…
  16. Since your kitchen is the size of an airplane bathroom, there’s only so much you can keep around at once, so get ready to do it all again tomorrow!
  17. And finally, remind yourself that this will get easier and it’s all part of the experience of living in another culture for awhile.