Friday, February 27, 2015

Mediterranean Cilantro & Mint Lamb Burger with Tahini Sauce

The recommendations for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released last week, with some surprises.  The advisory committee advocated for a primarily plant-based diet, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, but acknowledged eating meat in a thoughtful and sustainable way was in line with a healthy eating plan.  They also championed healthy fats (yay!), coffee (thank goodness!) and cautioned against added sugars (hooray!).    

I won’t go into a detailed analysis of the results here, but the report supports what we talk about here: eat real food, mostly plants, but a burger every now and then is absolutely okay.

When I’m craving a burger, more often than not, it’s a lamb burger.  For much of my life, I grew up on a farm, and while we raised both cattle and sheep, I’ve always preferred the lamb burger.  It’s so full of flavor, a small healthy portion is satisfying.   A 3-ounce serving of lamb has only about 175 calories and is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and selenium and a good source of iron and riboflavin.

This lamb burger is in homage to my husband’s Middle Eastern roots, and it reminds me of all the lamb kebabs we eat when we’re visiting his family in Israel.  The kebabs are always slathered in tahini and usually paired with an Israeli salad of tomatoes and chopped cucumber.  The combination of the rich-tasting lamb and the earthy tahini combined with the freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers is nothing short of perfect.

I hope you enjoy this lamb burger with the people you love!  Pair it with a big green salad and maybe some fruit for dessert and know you’ll be doing your body good.   

Mediterranean Cilantro & Mint Lamb Burger with Tahini Sauce

Makes 4 burgers

½ cup tahini
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Juice of one lemon (about ¼ cup)
¼ - 1/3 cup water
1 pound ground lamb
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
¼ teaspoon cardamom seed, toasted and ground
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

First, make the tahini sauce.  Add the tahini paste to a bowl.  Place the garlic clove on your cutting board and pour the salt on top.  Using the side of a chef’s knife, smash the garlic and grind it with the salt until it turns into a paste.  Add the garlic with the salt to the tahini, along with the lemon juice and about ¼ cup of water.  Stir together with a fork until the tahini sauce is blended and becomes the consistency of honey.  Add more water, if needed.  Taste for lemon and salt and adjust, as desired.  Tahini sauce will keep in the refrigerator for one week.

Next, make the burgers.  Add the ground lamb to a large bowl with the chopped cilantro and mint, coriander, cumin, cardamom, red pepper flakes and sea salt.  Using your hands, gently incorporate the herbs and spices into the lamb.  Divide the lamb mixture into 4 equal servings and shape them into patties, making them a little larger than the side of your bun.  Use your thumb and press down in the middle of the patty, making an indentation.  This will keep the burgers level while they cook.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Brush the bottom of the pan with the olive oil and then add the lamb burgers to the hot skillet.  Cook about 3 minutes per side for medium or 4 minutes per side for medium well. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Finally, assemble the burgers.  Place a layer of cucumbers on the bottom of the toasted bun.  Top with the lamb burger and a heaping tablespoon of tahini sauce.  Place chopped tomatoes on top of the tahini sauce and then place the top bun over the tomatoes.


Disclaimer:  McKenzie and I are consulting dietitians for the Tri-Lamb Board.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Creating a Healthy At Home Work Environment

The way people are working is changing. According to Telework Research Network, a whopping 63 percent of Americans will be working from home within the next five years.

As someone who spends a lot of my time working from the comforts of my home, I’ve learned a few tools over the course of the past three and a half years that have helped make my work life a productive, healthy one.

Here are my top 8 strategies.

8 ways to create a healthy at home work environment

1.     Enjoy the mornings. I’ve been a morning person all my life (I’ve talked about it before here), and while sitting in front of my computer immediately after waking up seemed to be worthwhile at the beginning phase of Nourish, the habit grew old pretty fast. I’ve sinced embraced the “morning walk” habit and ever since doing so, I’m more focused, calm, and content when I do sit in front of my computer. Even if you’re not a morning person, getting into the habit of enjoying the mornings – even if its just for 20 minutes prior to starting work, can set a really positive tone for the rest of the day.

2.     Get dressed. When I first started working from home, nothing made me happier than yoga pants, an oversized sweater, and a messy ponytail. As much as my love of yoga pants is pretty unwavering, I’ve found that getting dressed just a little bit nicer (for some, it could mean just getting out of your pajama pants), will do wonders to your morale.

3.     Stock your kitchen with healthy ingredients. If you stock your kitchen with donuts and soda, you’ll probably eat or drink them. And if you stock your kitchen with pre-cut veggies, fruit, and tea you’ll be more likely to eat or drink those, too. Working from home does lower the barrier on some parameters set around food (hello, never ending lunchbreak!), so do yourself a big favor and set yourself up for healthy eating success. This leads me to the next one.

4.     Take a lunch break. Grabbing leftovers and sitting in front of your computer at home is no different than doing the same thing at your typical office. Give your mind a break and your food the attention it deserves by scheduling a lunch break for yourself each and everyday. Taking scheduled breaks for nourishment will also help you prevent a case of the mindless-munchies.

5.     Hydrate. I’m pretty weirdly passionate about making sure people are properly hydrated. So, don’t let two, three, or four hours go by without taking a sip of some water. Sip on unsweetened iced tea, carbonated water, or hot tea for a delightful break from plain ol’ H20.

6.     Find a separate space. Whether it’s a small desk in the corner of your living room, your dinning room table, or your own office (if you have the space), treat your bedroom like a bedroom. Since your sleep is so important, anything that can disturb it –such as associating work with your bed – isn’t a great habit to get into. And since I’m also weirdly passionate about sleep, trust me on this one too.

7.     Set parameters on work time. My hardest lesson to learn (and I’m still working on it) is the importance in taking hours and even days (gasp!) off of work. Yes, it can be tricky when you love what you do, but it is so important to give your mind and body a break. Schedule an eight hour work day, schedule days off, and do your very best to commit to it.

8.     Unplug. At the end of your workday, close your computer, turn off your phone, logout of Twitter, and do something that makes you happy. It could mean going to the gym, making a wholesome meal for dinner, spending time with your family, or taking a break to meditate. If you’re able to be kind to yourself at the end of the workday, you’ll be more motivated to give work your best effort again tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Three-Bean Vegetarian Southern Chili

Since most of the country is in a deep freeze, it seems appropriate to give you a stick-to-your ribs, warm-you-up-from-the-cold kind of recipe. 

When I was growing up in Kentucky, we didn’t get snow all that often.  So when we had a snow day, it was a celebration.  We’d pull on layer after layer of sweatpants and sweatshirts, gloves, toboggans and scarves, until we looked like the Michelin man.  We’d grab our plastic sleds and gleefully head outside, only reluctantly coming back to the house after snow and cold had seeped through every soggy layer to reach our icy skin.

We’d walk in the house and strip down to our long underwear in front of the fireplace, and Mom would sit us down to the table with bowls of steaming chili—the old-fashioned kind, thick with ground beef and kidney beans and seasoned with simple chili powder.  Nothing tasted better.

A thick, rich bowl of chili and a slice of cornbread is still one of my favorite meals.  And while I still enjoy the beef and bean variety, I find that more often than not, I’m making a vegetarian all-bean version, fragrant with toasted spices and a variety of chili peppers.

The ultimate weeknight family meal, chili is inexpensive and easy.  It gets better and better the longer it sits on the stove, so make this on a Sunday afternoon, and then reheat it for dinner during the week.  Even better, make an extra-large pot and freeze portions for easy lunches or dinners later.  

I hope this chili warms you up from the inside out, and that you enjoy it with the people you love.

Three-Bean Southern Chili

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2, 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
1, 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1, 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1, 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups water

Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, onion and salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and very tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, red pepper and poblano peppers and continue to cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are softened.

Add the coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper and stir.  Move the onions and peppers to the sides of the pot and add the tomato paste to the center of the pot.  Let the tomato paste cook on the bottom of the pot until it starts to toast and stick to the bottom.  Stir the tomato paste and the onions and peppers together. 

Add cans of whole tomatoes, including their juice, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot.  Add the beans, dried oregano and water and stir.

Bring the chili to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  Serve with bowls of condiments, including shredded cheese, Greek yogurt, sliced green onions or any other toppings you like.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Almond Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow

You know when you have a vision for something turning out just-so...and then the outcome is completely different but also better than anything could have hoped for? 

That was the case with this recipe.

Almond Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow: This simple & fun snack is a cross between puppy chow & puffed rice treats. If you like the sweet/savory combination, this treat is made for you!

When I first read this month’s Recipe ReDux theme, “Favorite Chocolate Matches,” my brain started buzzing about the possibilities. 

I’ve talked about my lack of the “chocolate-lovers” gene on the blog before here. Just to clarify, it’s not that I dislike chocolate. It’s just that I like carrot cake, apple crisp, pumpkin pie, and puffed rice treats more.

Almond Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow: This simple & fun snack is a cross between puppy chow & puffed rice treats. If you like the sweet/savory combination, this treat is made for you!

That’s where the idea for this recipe was born. I really wanted to emulate a recipe I tasted a few years ago that was a healthier spin on your average marshmallow-butter-puffed-rice-cereal-squares. It was a recipe that mastered the sweet/savory combination perfectly; it incorporated almond butter and nuts with coconut and marshmallows. 

Then, of course, I wanted to add chocolate to this non-chocolate recipe since the sweet/savory combo is my favorite way to enjoy chocolate.

Almond Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow: This simple & fun snack is a cross between puppy chow & puffed rice treats. If you like the sweet/savory combination, this treat is made for you!

Except my bars didn’t necessarily hold up the way I expected; instead, the recipe created these really wonderful, fun clusters. They’re the perfect vehicle for leftover melted Valentine’s Day chocolate and shredded, unsweetened coconut. 

Don’t you just love it when life gives you those unexpected surprises?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow

This simple & fun snack is the a cross between puppy chow & puffed rice treats. If you like the sweet/savory combination, this treat is made for you! 

Almond Butter Chocolate Brown Rice Chow: This simple & fun snack is a cross between puppy chow & puffed rice treats. If you like the sweet/savory combination, this treat is made for you!

1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup almond butter
20 large marshmallows
3 cups puffed brown rice cereal
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts and almonds)
1 cup chocolate, melted
1/3 cup unsweeteend shredded coconut

1.     In a large bowl, combine brown rice cereal, flax seeds, and nuts. Stir to combine.

2.     Over the stove, on low heat, combine the butter, marshmallows, and almond butter until melted.

3.     Pour over dry ingredients and stir to combine.

4.     Press into parchment lined or greased pan (like one you would make brownies in). Allow to sit over night.

5.     The next morning, break up the mixture into chunks and lay out on a lined baking sheet.

6.     Drizzle with melted chocolate and then sprinkle with unsweetened coconut.

7.     Allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Veggie Heavy Sweet Potato Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

We got this really great pot for Christmas – not last Christmas, but the one before that – and ever since then, I've been wanting to make a Shepherd’s Pie. Trust me when I say that this pot is just begging to cook a Shepherd's Pie. 

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me this long.

Since we decided not to do anything too elaborate for Valentine’s Day this year, I decided I wanted to (yes, finally) make a Shepherd’s Pie. 

Since this dinner was over a year in the making, I knew I had to make it good.

Veggie Heavy Sweet Potato Lamb Shepherd’s Pie: Packed with tons of veggies and made with lamb, this easy stew is special enough to make for a celebratory dinner, yet is comforting enough to make any night of the week.

I decided to use lamb, a protein that feels special enough for celebratory dinners like this one, but also holds up so well in comforting, hearty dishes. And because a 3 ounce serving of lamb provides nearly five times the amount of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA compared to the same serving of beef, incorporating lamb in our Valentine’s Day dinner, or such a heart-focused meal, felt appropriate. 

Veggie Heavy Sweet Potato Lamb Shepherd’s Pie: Packed with tons of veggies and made with lamb, this easy stew is special enough to make for a celebratory dinner, yet is comforting enough to make any night of the week.

I added a carrots, celery, and peas, and then topped the lamb stew with one of my favorite vegetables, sweet potatoes. The result made me wonder why I didn’t make this sooner.

Veggie Heavy Sweet Potato Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

Packed with tons of veggies and made with lamb, this easy stew is special enough to make for a celebratory dinner, yet is comforting enough to make any night of the week.

Veggie Heavy Sweet Potato Lamb Shepherd’s Pie: Packed with tons of veggies and made with lamb, this easy stew is special enough to make for a celebratory dinner, yet is comforting enough to make any night of the week.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
½ cup low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons butter

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.     Fill a large pot with water and add the sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

3.     Meanwhile, in a oven-safe pot, such as a Dutch oven, saute onion, garlic, carrots, and celery in olive oil until softened.

4.     Add lamb, breaking apart until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.

5.     Add tomato paste, oregano, thyme, and flour. Stir until mixture thickens, about 1 minute.

6.     Add broth and peas. Allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

7.     Drain the water from the sweet potatoes, and mashed the potatoes until smooth and fluffy. Stir in two tablespoons of butter.

8.     Top the lamb, vegetable mixture with sweet potatoes. Bake for 20 minutes, and then broil at the end of baking time for an additional 1-2 minutes.


Disclaimer: While Lisa and I are consulting dietitians with the Tri-Lamb Group, we are sharing this recipe simply because we want to!