The Silly Nutrition Undergrad

Archive for January 2010

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Few months ago, I briefly mentioned several ways to help you boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. One of the strategies was to rework the classic mashed potato by either adding in pureed cauliflower or substitute in mashed sweet potatoes. Many people will probably have doubts as to how successful these substitutes are since mashed potato is one of the highly ranked comfort foods that is dear to many people’s hearts and cannot be easily replaced. In this post, I will go into greater details as to how well cauliflower and sweet potato can serve as healthier alternatives to the classic buttery and creamy mashed potatoes.

Pureed Cauliflower

In the past, I’ve tried pureed cauliflower on its own and I found that it cannot mimic mashed potato but it does have its unique place in a well-balanced diet. I find that it has a much more “liquidy”, less starchy and more fluffy texture to it. Plain pureed cauliflower does not taste very exciting, but it can be a very suitable complement to a creamy, rich topping. The plain vegetable puree acts as a blank canvas which will accentuates the topping’s flavours, and the lightness of the puree will balance out the richness well. Plus, don’t forget that you’re boosting your vegetable intake too! Pairing a calorie-dense sauce or topping to a vegetable-based, low-calorie puree is a great way to showcase a flavourful sauce, allowing you to truly indulge without adding additional, non-essential calories.

My favourite combination: pureed cauliflower + Italian meatballs with spicy salsa = long-lasting satisfaction without needing spaghetti to fill me up!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes come in many varieties, some are more mushy and sweeter than others. Finding the variety that is starchy and slightly sweet will yield the best mashed sweet potatoes. Starchy varieties will give the most creamy texture when mashed. For me, the best way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is to have it plain because somehow the natural sweetness of it really has me hooked on it – I keep eating one bite after another! Mashed sweet potato is not the same as mashed potato by any means. But to me, it can be an equally satisfying and comforting side dish because of its luscious, creamy mouthfeel and its unique sweet flavour that makes it surprisingly cravable!

My favourite preparation method:

  • Peel and rinse sweet potatoes, cut into large cubes
  • Use a microwave steamer to steam the sweet potato cubes until fork tender
  • While hot, mash with a fork or potato masher (if desired, add milk to thin out)

The Ultimate Winner: pureed cauliflower with mashed sweet potatoes

This combination best mimics the texture and taste of mashed potatoes. The starchiness of the sweet potatoes yields a creamy texture and the blandness of the cauliflower will balance out the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Together, this composition has just the right texture and the perfect clean (but not boring) flavour. This can be the ideal substitute for those who have been longing for a lighter, healthier yet delicious alternative to mashed potatoes!

So how good is it really? Well, I did a little experiment on my brother! I served this over Italian Meatballs and tomato sauce, and told him that it was meatballs with mashed potatoes. He finished the whole dish and literally scooped every last bit from the plate. Only when he finished that he casually mentioned that the mashed potatoes seemed lighter and not as dense than the usual. So, although my brother did detect a slight difference between this faux mashed potatoes and the real thing, he still had a very satisfying meal and did not feel missed out on regular mashed potatoes. In short, pureed cauliflower and mashed sweet potatoes can truly be the ultimate healthy comfort food!

But you just hate cauliflower…

Pureed cauliflower may not work for everybody, but that doesn’t mean you cannot make mashed potatoes a little more healthier. Start by incorporating just a tiny amount of sweet potatoes (or cauliflower, or whatever other vegetable puree that you fancy) into your mashed potatoes and see if you like the taste and the texture. If you enjoy it, then you can experiment further by adding a little more; or if you dislike it, then explore with other vegetables!

It does not really matter how much or how little of vegetable puree that you are adding to mashed potatoes, the key is that you are doing something to improve the nutrition profile of mashed potatoes and that thought alone puts you one step closer to embracing a lifelong habit of healthy eating!

And you just love mashed potatoes…

Here are a few of my favourite ways to lighten up mashed potatoes (without sacrificing flavour, of course):

  • Instead of using Russet potatoes, try mashing Yukon Gold potatoes. They stay moist and fluffy when cooked and mash beautifully, giving you that heavenly creamy texture!
  • Hold the butter as you mash potatoes, instead add a dollop of butter as you serve. Seeing the butter melt into the mashed potatoes satisfies you visually and helps you to taste that buttery flavour better
  • Use brown butter. It has a more intense, nuttier flavour so you only need to add in a small amount to jazz up the dish (Here’s a short video on how to brown butter).
  • Substitute lower-fat milk or buttermilk for cream. Yukon Gold potatoes will mash into a creamy texture naturally so you don’t need cream to add on the richness.
  • Sprinkle in herbs and spices to add flavour, rely less on butter. I like to add in a few cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper and a small pinch of nutmeg.
  • Serve it with a lower-calorie topping. Instead of serving a fatty sauce like gravy over mashed potatoes, I like to top it off with spicy salsa (I love that extra kick!).

These options are only a few of the many methods that you can try to transform mashed potatoes from being the ultimate comfort food to a more nutritious dinner table staple. Play with these options, add in your own creative touch and soon or later, you’ll discover a whole approach to eating mashed potatoes (or better yet, you’ll fall in love with my faux mashed potatoes!).

How do you like to enjoy your mashed potatoes?

The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved. Come to Juicy Fresh Bites for new content on health and nutrition!


The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved. Come to Juicy Fresh Bites for new content on health and nutrition!

I’ve been craving spaghetti with meatballs lately, especially after stumbling upon Christine’s recipe for Italian meatballs. I scanned through the ingredient list, realized that I had everything on hand, and so I immediately dove into making these mini meatballs.

What I love about this recipe is Christine’s choice of using extra lean ground beef with breadcrumbs and fresh herbs; that combination works really well together to yield the ultimate juicy, flavourful meatball that is a lot more heart-friendly than regular store-bought meatballs (less saturated fats than meatballs made with regular ground beef, pork and veal).

The recipe was easy to follow and was a lot of fun! Be prepared to use your hands and get messy!

I followed the recipe exactly and made 25 two-bite meatballs.

Two-Bite Italian Meatballs

Source: Christine’s Corner

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with milk. Set aside to allow crumbs to fully absorb milk.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, gently mix together the ground beef, onion, garlic, egg yolk and Parmesan cheese using clean hands (or with gloves).
  • Add the breadcrumb mixture and fresh oregano to the mixture. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well.
  • Form mixture into small balls (roughly the size of ping-pong balls), make sure the balls are roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Place onto baking sheet.
  • Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes.
  • Use immediately, or let cool and freeze (lasts up to 3 months).

I tasted one right after it came out of the oven – the meatball was juicy and meaty, plus the taste of the fresh oregano was really prominent, adding a whole new flavour dimension to the meatball. I really enjoyed it!

I served these meatballs over faux mashed potato with a salsa and cheese topping to my brother for his pre-dinner snack. He loved it and he scraped every last bite of food off the plate — a telltale sign that the meatballs (and my faux mashed potato) was a definite success!

As for the recipe for my faux mashed potato (which my brother didn’t suspect to be anything else until he finished his last bite), I’ll be sharing that on my next post. Stay tuned![Update: here’s the post on faux mashed potatoes!]

Question of the Day: What is your favourite way to eat meatballs?

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My blog is listed as one of the top 40 blogs for staying healthy and fit. I feel so honoured to be part of that list, especially since I am a regular reader of some of the Diet and Nutrition blogs listed, including Carrots n’ Cake, Kath Eats Real Food, and the Nutrition Data Blog.

The extensive list contains a wide array of health and fitness information, be sure to check it out!

The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved! Be sure to check out Juicy Fresh Bites for new content!

The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved. Come to Juicy Fresh Bites for new content on health and nutrition!

Calling out to all who are not doing any form of physical activity right now: what’s stopping you from getting active?!

The awesome benefits of getting more active:

  • Reduces risk of developing chronic diseases (including diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, etc.)
  • Assist in weight control
  • Improves your mood – release stress and stimulate production of “happy hormones
  • Reduce risks of developing various types of cancers
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joins
  • Strengthens your cardiovascular system – your heart and lungs work more efficiently, boosting your energy level to do things you enjoy
  • Promotes better sleep – help you to sleep faster and deeper
  • Meet new people, make new friends
  • Boosts your self-esteem
  • Lots of fun! – Who said exercising is always boring and dry, it can be as fun and as interesting as you make it to be!

These are only a glimpse of the positive aspects of exercising regularly. The list can go on and on…

By reading through the ever-growing list of health benefits shown above, you will be able to get a very clear idea that exercising is a very cheap yet effective way to prolong your productive years and to help you achieve greater happiness and a deeper appreciation for life.
Getting active doesn’t necessarily mean hauling yourself to the gym every other day and sweating madly on the treadmill. It can be as simple as walking, doing gardening or just completing a home workout for about 30 minutes each day. Plus, you don’t even need to complete the whole 30 minutes in one session; you can split 30 minutes into 2 or even 3 mini workouts and squeeze those sessions into your busy schedule.

The bottom line is: you just got to start moving and do it consistently!

So here I have prepared a list of activities that you can easily fit into your day, whether you have 10 minutes, 15 minutes or even 2 minutes.

The one exercise tip that I have for you is you simply just got to have a “Just Do It” mentality. When you have that mindset, you’re already more than half way to achieving your fitness goal.

General Fitness Resources:

  • ActNowBC: Physical Activity – A great website packed with different resources to help you learn about different aspects of healthy living. The section on physical activity offers an extensive list of articles that answers many of the fitness questions you may have.
  • Fit-in 15 – customize your own 15 minute workout from a list of simple activities that target strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health.
  • – A great resource on fitness and healthy living. When you have a minute or so, just click on one of the many exercise demonstration videos and learn a new move to tone your body.
  • BodyRock.Tv – Looking for an intense at-home workout that going to make you sweat like mad? Here’s the ultimate place to go to for workout routines. I visit it a lot when I need inspirations for new workout moves and when I need motivation during the days when I just don’t feel like moving. Check it out!

Specific Workout Ideas / Routines:

  • 4 Quick Arm Toners – When you’ve got about 10 – 15 minutes (for example, when you are watching TV), you can easily tone your arms and chest with these 4 simple moves.
  • 15-minute Ab Workout – The belly area is often a trouble zone for many people. Sparkpeople has put together a Youtube Video that targets the abdominal area. The instructions are given in a clear and easy-to-follow manner and those moves definitely work the abs!
  • One Hundred Pushups – Pushups can be a great way to train many muscles in your upper body. So, try this challenge! It is an easy way to assess and improve your current physical strength.

These links have helped me tremendously when I started to exercise on a regular basis, and hopefully you will find them useful too.
As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get moving, just do it!

The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved. Come to Juicy Fresh Bites for new content on health and nutrition!

Hello everyone!

I have big and exciting news!

*Drumroll* After some serious thoughts, I’ve finally decided to get my own domain (after a long, tedious struggle with finding the perfect name…). So, instead of checking The Silly Nutrition Undergrad for new updates, come visit me at Juicy Fresh Bites!

Juicy Fresh Bites is going to the upgraded version of The Silly Nutrition Undergrad, with a better look and much more interesting and useful content.

I’m totally ecstatic about my new blog and I’m going to pour all of that energy into making Juicy Fresh Bites the best that it can be. So, stay tuned!



Juicy Fresh Bites

[This picture isn’t the best quality, but considering I was in a rush to enjoy it, this was my best shot! Next time I eat it, I’ll take better photos…]

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Oatmeal, hands down, is the ultimate healthy breakfast option for me, the perfect wake-up call to a busy weekday morning.

Today is the start of the school week, and it is also the finish-the-leftovers day. So, combining the goal of pumping myself up with fuel for a busy day at school and the objective of getting rid of last week’s leftover produce, I came up with a crazy oatmeal  flavour. It is a meatless dish that includes bean sprouts and Taiwan cabbage as the key ingredients, infused with Sichuan flavour (inspired by one of my favourite Sichuan dish, Dan Dan noodles).

Quite frankly, if I didn’t need to finish the not-so-fresh product, I would never have thought about putting bean sprouts and Taiwan cabbage in oatmeal. And I would definitely would never consider extracting the flavours of Dan Dan noodles and working it into my oatmeal. Even as I was cooking the dish, I knew this was a risky attempt and I prepared myself that it might not taste as good as it sounds in my head. But somehow, in the end, my oatmeal turned out creamy, spicy, peanutty, and overall, very flavourful. I enjoyed every bite.

So far, my adventure to discover new ways to enjoy oatmeal has taken me in all directions; I’ve tried many new food combinations and played with the sweet and savory flavours. But this episode has really got beyond my imagination, and I must say, from the looks of it, this adventure will only get more crazy, more exciting and more dangerous. Can’t wait until a new crazy oatmeal idea pops into my head!

Oatmeal, Sichuan flavour

What you’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup cooked steel cut oats (regular / quick oats work as well, just not instant oatmeal)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon Chinese sesame paste
  • A drizzle of sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup Taiwanese cabbage, shredded (Taiwanese cabbage is a different variety from Green Leaf cabbage; it has a sweeter flavour and a more tender texture.)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock, low sodium preferably
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped

What to do:

  • I’m assuming that you have already cooked up a big patch of steel cut oats and have them in individual servings sizes alright — If not, follow these instructions and make some now!
  • Boil a pot of water, put in bean sprouts and Taiwan cabbage, simmer on medium heat until tender. Drain and set aside.
  • In the same pot, pour in chicken stock and stir in the oatmeal and the veggies. Heat mixture on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together chili sauce, peanut butter and sesame paste. If mixture is too thick to stir well, add in a splash of hot water to help the paste blend together better. Set aside.
  • When oatmeal is heated thoroughly, add the sauce and scallions. Stir well. (At this point, you can adjust the seasoning to taste – if you want a more prominent sweet, nutty flavour, stir in more peanut butter, or if you are looking for more heat, add in chili sauce or chili oil for an extra kick.)
  • Remove from heat, cover pot and let sit for 2 – 3 minutes (let the flavour of the scallion infuse into the oatmeal). Drizzle on sesame oil before serving.

This is really a delicious way to start the day. I can savour the flavours of my favourite lunch dish while treating my body to a bowl of whole grain goodness.

If you’re the type of person who prefers savory breakfasts over sweet ones (and if you enjoy hot and spicy food), then you’ve got to try this recipe, it won’t disappoint you. I promise!

Photo by Alvin Kwan
[Stars in the photo: Whole wheat rotini, Pasta shells, Stir-fry broccoli & mushrooms, Veggie-loaded tomato sauce, and Boiled cauliflower]

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On the last few days of 2009, I went on a 4-day ski trip with my friends to Mt. Baker, WA. At first I was terribly worried that I would not be able to eat in a balanced manner but somehow, with determination and creativity, I managed to feed myself (and the Boyfriend) nutritious food most of the time.

My friends and I rented a cabin near Mt. Baker. I was so thankful that the cabin was equipped with a small kitchen. Without that I would probably have had much more difficulty in eating healthily.

On the first day before checking in, we went grocery shopping at a huge Walmart store on the way. The goal was to buy enough food so we could make home-prepared meals at the cabin and save money. In my opinion, Walmart is far from being an ideal place to buy groceries, especially fresh produce, but it was the best option we had, and I guess it sufficed. We split up and shopped separately. Unsurprisingly, the Boyfriend and I lingered at the fresh produce section for the longest time; meanwhile my friends quickly darted for the frozen entrees and junk food aisles deeper into the giant store.

While my friends were madly stocking up their carts with pre-packaged food, I chose to load my cart with as much fresh produce as possible. The produce section was small; it only occupied a small corner of the giant store (literally, the baked goods section adjacent to it was the same size, if not bigger). I was slightly disappointed to see such a small selection of fruits and vegetables, but nonetheless, I was determined to buy as much fruits and vegetables as I could to keep myself happy for the entire trip. I chose mostly vegetables that can be prepared and cooked quickly. My top choices were: tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce, bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. As for fruits, I picked out a huge bag of Fuji apples and a few lemons. Other items that I threw into the cart included a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette dressing, canned beans, canned corn, whole wheat pasta, canned tomato sauce, a carton of chicken stock and a small bottle of ketchup.

From the limited food selection that I picked out from Walmart, I managed to make 10 different food combinations which truly helped to keep me eating well and avoid myself from slowly sinking into the quicksand of filling up on junk food and prepackaged frozen entrees for the entire trip. Curious about what I made? Here’s the list!

1. Jarred tomato sauce + bell peppers + onions + tomatoes + mushrooms

End result: enhanced tomato pasta sauce loaded with veggies.My idea was to add extra veggies to a basic tomato sauce from a jar to add more flavour while boosting the amount of vegetables in a serving. I chose to add in diced onions and bell peppers to add sweetness and a little bit of a crunch to the sauce. In addition, I put in cubed mushrooms and tomatoes for a meaty texture. Lastly, I sprinkled in a dash of steak seasoning and squeezed in fresh lemon juice to add a little kick to the sauce (adding in steak seasoning may seem odd, but since I had no other dried herbs, it was my best option).

2. Broccoli + mushrooms

End result: delicious Asian style broccoli & mushroom stir-fry. This was a simple dish to prepare and cook. Simply blanch broccoli and mushrooms. Then to add a delicious Asian flavour, simply stir-fry them in a large pan with garlic, ginger and a generous splash of soy sauce.

3. Cauliflower +veggie-loaded tomato sauce + shredded cheese

End result: cheese and tomato sauce covered cauliflower. Cauliflower by itself is not interesting at all to me. But, I bought it anyways because it requires little preparation work (just rinse, cut and boil in water). With my greatest effort to make boiled cauliflower taste the best it possibly can to give, I served it over the tomato sauce. To upgrade it even further, I sprinkled on some shredded cheese. Not the most creative way to eat cauliflower, but definitely a simple method to spice it up (and use up the huge batch of tomato sauce that I made too).

4. Tomatoes + leftover rotini + canned corn + chicken stock

End result: comforting tomato pasta soup. While my friends toasted garlic bread and frozen eggo waffles for breakfast, I chose to make a simple tomato and pasta soup by making a soup base from mixing together chicken stock and water (1:1 ratio). I then added corn, the entire can of whole kernel corn (I love corn!) and stirred in cooked whole wheat rotini (leftover from last night’s pasta dinner). As a finishing touch, I stirred in a heaping spoonful of ketchup for a subtle sweet and sour taste.

5. Broccoli + cilantro

End result: simply vegetable additions to make a not-so-healthy meal a little more diet-friendly. After a long morning of snowboarding, I was exhausted and ravenous when I got back to the cabin. Hence, lunch was simple: instant noodles with a side of boiled broccoli and cilantro. I know, instant noodles isn’t the best option, but since I chose to supplement it with a large side dish of fresh vegetables, the meal is less detrimental and in fact, more satisfying (since I know I’m not giving in to eating solely junk food, I’m still mindfully choosing what to put into my mouth and giving it every ounce of effort to include fresh produce in my diet! Kudos to me!)

6. Canned white beans + canned corn + bell peppers + balsamic vinegrette dressing

End result: amazing tasty and satisfying bean salad. When I bought bell peppers, I planned to simply slice them up and munch on them like I would with carrots sticks. Instead I got adventurous and created a bean salad by combining diced bell peppers, canned kernel corn and canned white beans. This was a super simple salad to put together; the most time consuming part was just rinsing and chopping the peppers. Then I just simply tossed the ingredients together and dressed the bean salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegarette dressing and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. This salad was delicious! I immediately devoured about half of it, and saving half of it for later.

7. Lettuce + balsamic vinaigrette dressing

End result: simple, delicious, refreshing salad. This was served on the dinner table along the fatty steaks that my friends prepared for dinner. I was really glad that I made the salad because it was the perfect light and palette-cleansing side dish to offset the richness and heaviness of the steak main course. I ended up loading a ton of the salad on my plate, pushing aside the poor less-appealing steak (half of which ended up in the BF’s belly, hehe).

8. Leftover bean salad + cremini mushrooms + leftover rotini + ketchup

End result: a hot, hearty and healthy breakfast option. For my next meal, I took out about half of the bean salad leftover and transformed it into a hot, hearty pasta dish. I also added in cremini mushrooms to try to fool the BF that this was a new dish ;).  This dish is easy to put together, takes no more than three steps; step 1: rinse and slice the mushrooms; step 2: saute them until soft in a large pan; step 3: add bean salad and cooked rotini (from day one dinner) into the pan, let it reheat and season with ketchup, salt and pepper to taste. Viola!

9. Leftover bean salad + leftover rotini + extra tomatoes + more balsamic vinaigrette dressing

End result: a variation of the previous bean salad, still equally yummy. Once again exhausted from a full day on the mountain, I was glad that I had saved half of the bean salad for lunch. Simply by tossing in diced tomatoes and drizzling in more dressing and lemon juice, my lunch was ready in no time. It was exactly what I needed, a simple and refreshing lunch.

10. Cremini mushrooms + portabella mushrooms

End result: a vegetable side dish with satisfying, bold earthy flavours in each meaty bite. Again, this dish required little prep work. Simply rinse and drain mushrooms, then saute them over medium heat until soft, and season with steak seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.

Spending time with friends (a.k.a away from family) is almost always an exciting and memorable experience. This ski trip has proven to be one of the most memorable yet because not only did I get to snowboard ’till I drop, I also got the opportunity to prove to myself that I am in control of what I eat and how I eat and as long as I am determined to eat well, I will somehow find a way to do so. And along the way, as a bonus reward, I have somewhat convinced my junk food maniac friends that eating healthy foods can be very delicious and enjoyable, nowhere near boring as they have imagined before!

Do you have any tips on how to eat healthily while on vacation?

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