Thursday, July 28, 2011

Easy Low-fat Baked Ziti

We've been penny-pinching once again, so I've just been trying to use what's already readily available in my fridge and pantry. I was in the mood for something easy and filling, and of course healthy, and despite the heat, decided to make a baked ziti. 

Low-fat Baked Ziti with Quick Tomato Sauce

1 16 oz. package whole wheat ziti or penne pasta
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup spinach
½ cup low fat sour cream
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp red pepper flake
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Sautee half the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp of the olive oil over low heat, then add the tomato sauce and stir. Add the oregano, basil, pepper flake, salt and pepper and stir in, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Sautee the remainder of the garlic and onion in the rest of the olive oil for 2 minutes then add the spinach. Cook over low heat until wilted and fragrant.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, toss with a little olive oil, and keep set aside. Grease a casserole dish that is around 14x10 and at least 2 inches deep with a little olive oil. When sauce is done, mix the sour cream in then add most of the mixture to the pasta until well coated. Reserve some for topping the casserole with.

Put a layer of pasta on the bottom of the pan, then top with the spinach spread evenly over the pasta layer. Sprinkle half the cheese over the spinach, then add a second layer of the pasta on top. Sprinkle with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with tin foil or leave open if you want it to get extra crispy and put in the middle rack in oven. Cook for 20 minutes, depending on how brown you may want the top.  Serve with a yummy salad.

Lily enjoyed this ziti just as it was- it really is an ideal meal for toddlers, packed with appropriate servings of whole grains, veggies and dairy. For babies you can puree some spinach with a little mozzarella and sauce, or just the spinach for younger babies who aren't eating tomatoes and/or cheese yet, or just add a little breast milk.

Feel free to substitute the sauce with jarred sauce if you prefer, or use your own style. This is just a quick and easy way to make a simple tomato sauce that still tastes quite good! I always get complimented on it despite the little effort I put into it.

It’s no secret that whole grains are very good for you, and eating whole grain pasta reduces your carb in-take and helps maintain a healthy weight. I’ll be honest that I didn’t really like whole wheat pasta the first few times I tried it. It reminded me of cardboard, especially when used in Italian cooking. But, eventually I learned the trick was in the amount of time I cooked it! Foolishly, I’d been cooking it as long as I cooked regular dry pasta, and it had been coming out a bit too chewy and harder than I like. I did raise the cooking time by a minute at a time, and finally came to the conclusion that 15 minutes for a 4-6 serving amount of pasta is just right; it stays tender and not mushy. And now, I actually prefer the taste of whole wheat pasta!

I hope you will give whole wheat a try for this recipe even if you don’t like it. Try the 15 minute method and don’t forget to add some salt to the water! Naturally-sourced from the sea is best. Whole grains are loaded with a crazy amount of vitamins and nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins to name a few. Besides being a healthier choice for lowering your weight, whole grains help prevent diabetes and give you more energy than eating foods made from white flour that lack the bran and germ, which contain most of the nutrients. Whole grains also support the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal system, keeping your heart healthy and strong, and your bowels…well, regular. Studies have even shown the magical grain to protect against and prevent breast cancer.

Trust me…you’re better off with whole wheat over white wheat any day, it may just take some getting used to. Soon, white bread will taste as bland to you as cardboard does J

I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of this fabulous ziti, so hear is an image breaking down the whole grain and more info on the same subject:

Image courtesy
More info on whole grain benefits, and the benefits of other foods as well:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I made for dinner tonight: a healthy vegetarian meal for 2

June was a jam-packed month for my family and I, and July ain’t looking much different. The move to a bigger place was successful, most of the cleaning and organizing has been done, and we are starting to really like our new home. My sister had her baby, a healthy baby girl :) Summer is just getting started, and I know it will be gone in a blink of an eye so I am trying to take as much advantage of the time I have.

For today’s Meatless Monday recipe, I once again featured my favorite root vegetable in the starring role: the beet. Paul went to the store and selected a nice looking bunch so I popped 2 in the oven and threw what else we had together to make quite a tasty and low fat meal. This would be a great way to recover from a 4th of July weekend filled with hotdogs and hamburgers.

Oven-roasted Beets with Green Beans and Rice


2 Large beets, peeled and trimmed
2 handfuls of green beans, trimmed
1 cup white rice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp butter (I used regular, but you can use margarine)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dry parsley or 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil completely, then put on tray into oven for 45 minutes or until tender enough for a knife to slide right in. Meanwhile, cook the rice for 10 minutes and steam the green beans for 5-7 minutes, depending on how tender you like them. When the beets are done, set them aside to cool and fry the garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until brown and fragrant. Mix the butter, parsley, salt and pepper into the rice. Set each item onto 2 plates and top the green beans and beets with the garlic and oil and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and parsley. Serve with a nice white wine if available.

You can, of course, substitute the white rice for brown and slice up the beet any way you choose. I went with the "sliced orange" style, which is appealing to the eye and looks a little like a rose. You can also skip the butter to lower the fat even more and just mix any excess garlic and olive oil into the rice instead to give it a little extra flavor.

We gave some of the beet to Lily to try. I think she ate about 2 small pieces, then threw the rest on the floor. These were very sweet and soft beets, so we were surprised she didn’t like it. Oh, well. Its normal for a tot to be a picky eater as we all know, but do feel free to offer it up to your little one all the same. She liked the rice of course, and she also had:

2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp steamed mixed peas and chopped carrot

For baby:

1-2 tbsp pureed peas or carrot (4 months+)
1-2 tbsp pureed beet (8-10 months)

Parsley is typically the underrated herb that you normally find as a garnish on your plate in some restaurants. Yet, parsley is packed with vitamins A and C and especially K. Parsley has been shown to benefit the heart and contains antioxidant flavonoids such as luteolin.

A lesser known benefit of parsley is it’s “chemoprotective” properties; it contains oils that can neutralize cancerous carcinogens. Add it to meats when you’re grilling to utilize this effect.

One of the best things about parsley is it’s cheap! You can get a nice bunch from just about any supermarket for $.50-$1.00. Smells great too!

And, it being the 4th and all, I couldn’t get away without posting some kind of healthy grill recipe. We’re all familiar (I believe) with grilling vegetables, but here is a simple and tasty less-traditional way to grill corn on the cob.


6 ears of corn
6 tbsp queso fresco, divided
6 tsp chili powder, divided
2 limes cut into 6 wedges
Extra lime wedges for garnishing

Rub each ear of corn with a lime wedge and sprinkle with a tsp of chili powder. Wrap each ear in tin foil and cook on grill until brown but not burnt, turning every 5 minutes for 20 minutes. When ready to serve, sprinkle each with about a tbsp of the queso fresco and an extra lime wedge if desired. SO GOOD! Enjoyed best with an ice cold Corona Light.

I first had grilled corn this way at a small, but very popular Mexican diner in the Chelsea area of NYC. I wish I could remember the name of the place; I only recall that it was on a corner near the 23rd Street Path Train station. You can use this seasoning for other vegetables as well. I’ve tried it on asparagus and tomatoes and it was awesome both times.

Note: Queso fresco is a light, crumbly, slightly acidic Mexican cheese. If you can’t find it or queso blanco, you can sub with feta, Monteray jack or cheddar.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!!!

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