Pandemic snacking: Try sugar-free chocolate pudding

A lot has been written about people gaining weight while they sit home in quarantine because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The so-called “Quarantine 15” likely resulted from people loading up on high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar snacks. It’s been difficult for me not to do the same, and I have had my mini-binges as stress levels rose to hideous heights.

All you need to make pudding at home.

But I have found one snack that has no sugar and minimal fat — sugar-free chocolate pudding. You can buy it in pre-made cups, but those became harder and harder to find in my area as the pandemic persisted, so I bought the box variety instead and made it myself.

Chocolate pudding comes in two varieties, instant which requires no cooking, and the old-fashioned regular kind which requires you to do some very simple cooking. You can use either low-fat or no-fat skim milk, thus controlling the bad-fat levels you eat in the pudding you make.

The instant kind just requires you combines the powdered pudding mix with milk and mix it for a few minutes. I use an electric mixer but you can do it by hand with a whisk or fork too. The traditional kind requires heating the milk in a small pot on your stovetop and adding the mix, combining them in the pot.

This is my production from two boxes of pudding mix.

One regular-sized box requires two cups of milk, a pint, so two boxes work with a quart. I found a larger size box as well that requires three cups of milk.

Once mixed, you pour it into whatever small serving bowls or glasses you want and then put it in the refrigerator to cool and thicken.

If you need some chocolate every day, this I a great way to get it. Enjoy!

A great pandemic grilling tip: clean up with an onion

Here’s a great grilling hack for everyone cooking more outside now that the weather has turned hot. The worst part about grilling is cleaning the grill, I think. I typically buy disposable grilling sheets at a local dollar store to put over my grill so food doesn’t bake on it. That cuts down on how much wire brushing I need to do in the cleanup stage.

But now I’m going to try this hack from Southern Living magazine that says an onion can be a handy cleaning tool for a grill. Just cut a large onion in half and put the cut side down on your grill, moving it up and down with a long grilling fork to remove cooking residue on the grill, it suggests.

I use these disposable grilling sheets to keep my main grill clean, but this onion trick sounds like a great alternative.

“For extra gunk-fighting power, spray the grates with lemon juice or our old friend white vinegar first. The extra acidity helps with the cleaning process,” the magazine article states.

“Not only do onions have natural antibacterial properties, but if you’re cooking with charcoal, you can throw into right in the coals when you’re finished to add flavor to whatever you’re grilling,” it goes on to state.

 

Pandemic cooking: try these Hawaiian chicken skewers

A dream trip to Hawaii in January was the last vacation we took before the pandemic swept across the U.S. I love Hawaii and miss it daily, so I’m always looking for ways to connect, especially now when I can’t leave my house. So this Mini Hawaiian Chicken Skewers recipe called to me when I saw it.

Luckily, I had a can of pineapple slices in my pantry to it and I’d stocked up on chicken breasts. I substituted lemon for lime juice because that’s what I had available. The same for ground ginger in my spice cabinet instead of the fresh ginger mentioned here. And I used fulls-ze skewers.

My Hawaiian chicken skewers.

Even with those changes, it came out very tasty, the grilled pineapple adding a nice bit of juiciness to chicken that could have veered toward dryness otherwise. I always recommend clicking through to the original recipe, where you can see a preparation video as well. But if you’d rather just see the recipe here (as some readers have told me they would):

Ingredients:

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (the thick variety) [use sugar-free version]

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 1/2 lime

Kosher salt [I left this out, it’s not needed and I’m on a low-salt diet]

4 green onions, sliced

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into bite-size chunks

2 red bell peppers, cut into chunks the size of the chicken and pineapple

One 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil, for the grill pan

 

Directions

  1. Add the teriyaki sauce to a bowl and stir in the ginger, brown sugar, crushed red pepper, garlic, lime juice, a pinch of salt and half of the green onions; set aside.
  2. Using wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for at least an hour, assemble your skewers. Start with a piece of chicken, then add a piece of bell pepper and a piece pineapple, then repeat until you 2 pieces of each on the skewer. Continue with the remaining ingredients for a total of 30 skewers. Season the skewers with salt and pepper and brush them with the marinade on one side.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with olive oil. Arrange the skewers on the grill sauce-side down (in batches if necessary) and grill for 3 minutes. While the skewers are cooking, brush the tops with the remaining marinade. After 3 minutes, flip and cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining green onions.

All the chopping takes time, this isn’t a quick recipe to make, but it was worth the effort. I’d also recommend making more marinade than the recipe calls for. I had less chicken than specified and still ran out as I was coating the second side after turning the skewers on my grill.

Getting tired of pandemic cooking? Here’s one way to make it easier

Everyone is eating and cooking more at home during the Coronavrus pandemic and, let’s be honest, it’s a lot of work. Tired of it all yet?

Ordering take-oput from local restaurants is one alternative. But another is looking for ways to simplify recipe prep. This food hack I found for making chicken kebabs is one of those.

It suggests skewering chicken breasts before you cut them up and then creating the kebab pieces. The picture expelains it better than I can, click here to read the full story from Cooking Light.

Here’s a handy heart-healthy cookbook for pandemic cooking

If, like most of us, you’re doing more homecooking during the Coronavirus pandemic, you’re liekly running out of new recipes at this point to give some variety to your daily meals.

The American Heart Associaiotn has a free cookbook available, Cooking in Color, that could help with that dilemma.

Among the recipes in the book, which you can grab as a PDF by clicking here, are:

Fruit Kebabs
Tomato and Ricotta Toast
Teriyaki Salmon with Cauliflower Rice
Couscous-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Caps
Grilled Cuban Mojo Pork Tenderloin with Plantains
Orange-Glazed Turkey with Potatoes and Carrots

Of course, you’re still on your own trying to find the ingredients you need amidst increasing sparse food stroe shelves but hopefully this book will give you some ideas to vary your menu.

First salad of 2020…and so it begins

The start of any year is notorious for people resolving to lose some weight. Indeed, all the major weight-loss programs already are running ads to attract new clients this time of year.

Like millions of others, I’m resolving to drop some pounds this year too. But I don’t use any commercial diet plans. Rather, I merely need to return to what I was eating after having my first angioplasty in 2012.

Following that surgery, I dropped 25 pounds by cutting out everything I enjoyed — red meat, candy, cookies, doughnuts, cake, rich, creamy ethnic foods (think most things from Europe), high-salt ethnic foods (think anything from Asia).

Sadly, after three years of that, I began slipping back, mainly with M&Ms and cream-filled doughnuts, until, in 2017, I was forced to have a second angioplasty to open yet another blocked artery.

That second surgery really had me questioning whether changing my diet had any impact on my artery-health, since it seemed like the answer was a resounding no.

So for the past two years, I’ve been eating much more junk food than before and have gained back that 25 pounds I lost. That officially makes me a fat old man these days and I don’t like that image. So I’m starting all over again.

Here’s today’s lunch salad which I made at home. Restaurant salads are normally load with salt, fat and sugar, avoid them or strip them down to their basics if you must eat one.

I try to add as much as possible to the basic spring greens lettuce mix to give the salad some texture. Here’s a look at ingredients before I built the salad. The only thing missing in this photo is the turkey I put on. That’s leftover from our low-salt Christmas turkey.

The feta cheese is fat-free and the olives (in that black liquid) are low-salt. The beets are sold at Costco, they’re sealed and shelf-stable, not the jarred ones that are loaded with salt.

The mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers and even the lettuce mix were on sale at a local supermarket. Eating healthy is expensive, so always shop the sales each week to find deals.

I topped all this with olive oil (a so-called good fat) and balsamic vinegar.

Happy 2020 eating everyone!!!

Last-minute low-salt Thanksgiving Dishes

Rushing around trying to figure out how to blend a traditional Thanksgiving meal with low-salt offerings? Check my recipe page first for a whole Thanksgiving menu.

Getting ready for holiday cooking? Check back here often for no-salt, no-sugar, no-fat recipes.

And if you want more options, this Low Sodium Thanksgiving list from Epicurious.com is just what you’re looking for. Among the options:

There’s also a slew of cranberry recipes. I don’t eat those, so didn’t pay much attention but if you love them, this is the list for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Thanksgiving is a time to think about turkey (burgers)

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house, there’s likely a giant turkey somewhere nearby just awaiting its moment. But if you’re planning to eat out, or going to someone’s else’s home as I am this year (my son is cooking!!!), you might have an urge for turkey when you get home.

My Applegate turkey burgers with low-fat cheese on a whole-wheat bagel.

So Thanksgiving time could be the ideal time to try turkey burgers, which can be low in fat and salt and satisfy your craving without all the mess of making an entire turkey.

Turkey burgers generally are a good substitute for hamburgers as well since they are generally lower in salt and fat. One caveat, read the package label, some turkey burgers include dark meat and even skin which sends their fat content souring. Many add salt too, especially when they’re flavored somehow.

Applegate Natural & Organic Meats recently sent me some of its turkey burgers to sample. I like them. They pass the fat content (8 grams per burger) and salt content (105 mgs a burger) for a low-salt, low-fat diet. I broiled mine in the oven and was surprised to see them browning. Other turkey burgers I’ve tried usually remain a dull white color.

I think I left them in a bit long, so carefully monitor when you’re cooking them. I had two in a whole wheat bagel (the only whole wheat product in my local supermarket bakery the day I went). I added a slice of low-fat mozzarella cheese and used Localfolks low-salt, low-sugar ketchup to top them off. I also added a side of steamed asparagus.

Applegate turkey burgers are relatively low in fat and salt and have a very clean label in terms of ingredients.

It was a simple meal but delicious, sometimes simple is best, especially after elaborate Thanksgiving feasts. Thanks Applegate, I’d buy these burgers and serve them to company, especially when I do summer grilling.

20 healthy Easter sides? Check the salt and fat content first

Holidays are always difficult when you’re trying to minimize your salt, sugar and bad fat intake. Easter — traditionally a ham or lamb day — is no exception. We’ve posted about trying seafood instead, something we plan. But what about the side dishes? The Food Network recently ran this piece on 20 Healthy Easter Side Dishes which, of course, got my attention.

I regularly use pepper on grilled veggies such as these asparagus and zucchini.

But how healthy are they, really? The first, Provencal Potato Gratin, isn’t if you’re worried about sugar level since it starts with potatoes and also includes cheese, which is salty and fatty.

The steamed artichoke is good, if you leave off the melted butter shown. Try some lemon juice instead. Continue reading “20 healthy Easter sides? Check the salt and fat content first”

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