Monthly Archives: April 2011

Shrimp and Mango Basil Rolls

I’ve been wanting to make basil rolls for a long time.  Light and nutritious, they make a healthy choice if I’m picking up or eating out at an Asian restaurant, and I always wondered if I could pull them off at home.  I found a good recipe in the May issue of HEALTH Magazine (one of my go-to recipe resources along with Eating Well Magazine), so I finally decided to give it a go.

The rolls turned out well, unlike some of my other kitchen escapades, so of course I just had to share this colorful and delicious recipe with you!

INGREDIENTS (8 basil rolls):

Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce:

4 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 tablespoon of thinly-sliced scallion or green onion

Rolls:

8 round sheets of rice paper (8-inch)

16 large basil leaves

4 red leaf lettuce leaves, torn into small pieces, spines removed

1.5 cups rice noodles (I used pho, but you could also use cellophane noodles or bean sprouts), cooked and cooled

1/2 small mango, peeled and sliced into thin strips

16 medium shrimp, cooked and peeled, tails removed and sliced in half down the middle

16 large mint leaves

You can find the rice paper in the ethnic aisle of your grocery store.

PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS:

  • To make dipping sauce, combine the five ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate.
  • Fill a large shallow dish with warm water.  Wet a clean kitchen towel, wring out and place on a clean work surface.  Place 1 rice paper sheet in the warm water and soak  for about 30 seconds.  Remove from water and lay flat on kitchen towel.
  • Layer 2 basil leaves, 3 pieces of lettuce, 2 tablespoons of noodles, a couple of mango strips, 4 shrimp halves and 2 mint leaves in the middle of the rice paper (in that order).  Make sure you leave room on all sides for folding/rolling.  It helped me to have a little assembly line for this process.
  • Wrap up the rice paper around the filling to make a roll (Pull bottom of paper over filling and tuck, fold in the sides and roll into a cylinder).  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Serve and Enjoy!

The sweet and spicy ingredients combine to make a delicious aroma and flavor.

Another Bonus: There are only 153 calories in 2 of these rolls.

Cut the rolls into halves, and they make a fancy little party appetizer!

My husband (aka assistant basil roll chef) gave this dish his official seal of approval.  Two rolls make a great appetizer (your friends will be so impressed!), and four rolls make a nice light dinner.  Next time I’m going to experiment with the ingredients a little.  I might try a little sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, or even replace the shrimp with some ground chicken.  The opportunities are endless!

And that, my friends, is how we roll.  I hope you enjoy this recipe!

All Up In Your Grill

Warm weather is here, and that means more opportunities for one of our favorite things, grilling out.  Doesn’t everything just taste better on the grill?  Skip the hum-drum hamburgers, and wow your friends and family with a fresh, colorful, unique and NUTRITIOUS meal at your next cook out.

Main Dish: Cilantro Lime Chicken

INGREDIENTS:
4 chicken breasts, or 8-10 chicken tenderloins
1 lime, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
2 medium garlic cloves
1.5 cups fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS:
1.  To make the marinade:  In a food processor, finely chop walnuts and garlic.  Add cilantro, salt and pepper and process until finally chopped.  With the motor running, slowly add the oil to create a smooth puree.
2.  Place the chicken in a large Ziploc bag and add the marinade.  Press the air out of the bag and seal, turning the bag to evenly distribute the marinade.  Let the marinate sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
3.  Remove the chicken from the bag and grill over direct high heat until the meat is cooked to your liking.  Serve and enjoy!

On the grill, all the ingredients combine to make a mouth-watering aroma.

You can squeeze fresh lime juice on top and garnish with the wedge just before serving.

Side Dish Option 1: Grilled Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Salad

DRESSING INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

SALAD INGREDIENTS:
4 sweet potatoes
4 large red bell peppers
1 cup thinly sliced celery
3 green onions, white and light green parts only, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS:
1.  In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and whisk together.
2.  Peel sweet potatoes and slice into strips.  Gently brush the potatoes with dressing and grill with whole red bell peppers over direct, medium heat, for about 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally.
3.  Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and put them into a large bowl.
4.  Place the grilled peppers in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the steam.  Set aside for about five minutes, then remove the peppers from the bowl and peel away charred skins (They should peel fall right off if they’ve steam long enough.).  Cut off the tops and remove the seeds and chop into 1/2-inch pieces.
5.  Combine all the salad fixings into a serving bowl and pour the dressing on top, mixing well.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

The sweet potatoes are done when they are fork tender, and the bell peppers are done when they are blackened and blistered all over.

So colorful and tasty! The cumin gives this dish a unique kick.

Side Dish Option 2: Grilled Rosemary Potatoes

If you’re not a big sweet potato fan, or the salad just seems like to much work for you, here’s another great side dish option you can whip up on the grill.

INGREDIENTS:
2 pounds new potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS:
1.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir to coat the potatoes.
2.  Grill over direct medium heat until tender and browned on all sides, 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally.  Garnish with a little fresh rosemary if you wish, serve and enjoy!

Happy Grilling!

Sharpen Up: Boost Your Brain Power with Good Nutrition

Ever feel like you’re walking around in a brain fog?  Do you have trouble recalling names, dates and other simple facts like you used to?  Do you go to the other room to get something only to forget what you came for in the first place?  Do you have problems focusing or feel like your mood and energy slump at certain points in the day?  Do you or your child struggle with ADD and other attention issues?  If you answered yes to any of these things, this post is for you.

Your nutritional health plays a huge role in mental clarity, memory and brain function, so today I want to talk about some brain boosting habits, foods and supplements to help you stay as sharp as a tack!

Bulk up on B12.

Also known as the “feel good vitamin,” B12 helps ward off fatigue and weakness.  It also enhances our ability to reason and think logically.  B12 assists in the production of myelin, which keeps the nerves in our brain in good repair.   An added bonus is that it keeps the walls of blood vessels strong to prevent heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.   Depression and memory loss can be sure signs of B12 deficiency.  When it comes to foods high in B12, protein is the name of the game.  The vitamin is abundant in all animal products: meat, eggs, fish and dairy, so it may be necessary for vegans and vegetarians to take a supplement.  Vitamin B12 absorption naturally declines as we age, so the older we get, the more we need.  Recent studies have shown that 16% of the elderly are B12-deficient, contributing to problems with memory retention and cognitive functions.  Certain medications, like aspirin, diuretics, blood pressure lowering drugs, stomach acid blockers, drugs for osteoporosis, and birth control pills, also deplete B12, so a supplement is especially important if you’re on any of these drugs.

43% of vegetarians are B12-deficient.

Reach for Amino Acids.

Brain cells communicate with one another via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which are usually made of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The amino acid tyrosine prompts the brain to manufacture norepinephrine and dopamine, other kinds of chemical messengers in the brain. These neurotransmitters promote energy and alertness.  In addition to meat and eggs, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables are high in amino acids.

Don’t Skip Breakfast!

Not only is it one of my Top 5 Nutritional No-No’s, but skipping the most important meal of the day also takes a negative toll on brain function.  Adults and kids who eat a balanced, high-protein breakfast perform better at work and school and have improved mood and energy levels throughout the day.  Plus, when we skip breakfast, we’re much more likely to reach for unhealthy choices come lunch time.

Get off the Sugar Roller Coaster!

Refined sugars, white flours and other processed foods deplete our tissues of B12.  So when our meals are out of balance, it’s only natural that our mood, energy and focus will take a nose dive.  Many people use starchy carbs and sugars to lift them out of these slumps, only to find that they plummet again an hour or two later.  And the cycle continues day in and day out, taking a huge toll on the adrenal glands and our quality of life.  Limit sugar, starches and other high-glycemic foods to enhance brain function all day long.

Limit Caffeine.

Once again, we turn to the very thing that’s contributing to our downfall when we reach for caffeine to pull us out of a brain fog.  Like processed carbs and sugars, caffeine leaches B12 from our tissues.  Eliminate those harmful sodas and energy drinks from your life all together, and keep coffee and teas to 1-2 cups a day (Don’t forget to drink plenty of extra water to make up for any diuretics!).

Add Antioxidants.

Individuals who eat more brightly colored fruits and leafy veggies have less cognitive decline than those who don’t.  That’s because the antioxidants in produce combat free radicals and protect our neurons from damage.  As we move into the spring and summer weather, more and more antioxidant-rich, colorful produce will be available to us, so eat up!

Pump Some Iron.

The symptoms of iron deficiency include irritability and diminished mental alertness.   Studies show that when the iron level of students increases, they concentrate better and learn better.  Iron is necessary for healthy brain tissue and for adequate neurotransmitter function.

Food sources of iron egg yolks, red meat, dark leafy greens, turkey, beans and artichokes.

Banish Bad Fats.

Looking for yet another reason to avoid processed foods?  They often contain biochemically-altered fats labeled “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the fine print on the package label.  The hydrogenation process produces trans fatty acids which can affect brain function.  The trans fats enter the cells of the central nervous system where they may compete with the action of natural fats, so that the nerves in the brain don’t function as well as they were designed to.   Filling up on these undesirable fats deters us from eating the healthy fats, like nuts, olive oil, avocados and meat protein that are so beneficial to the brain.
Get Your EFAs.

The essential fatty acid DHA is the primary structural component of brain tissue, so DHA deficiency translates into brain deficiencies.  More and more research studies are recognizing the possibility that DHA has a crucial influence on neurotransmitters in the brain, helping brain cells better communicate with each other.  Asian cultures have long appreciated the brain-building effects of DHA.  In Japan, DHA is considered such an important nutrient that it is used as a nutritional supplement to enrich some foods, and students frequently take DHA pills before examinations.  Salmon and other fatty fish are a great source of DHA.  In fact, women who eat these fish during their third trimester of pregnancy have babies who tend to perform better on cognitive tasks.  DHA-fortified eggs and flax seed oil are other excellent food sources of this important essential fatty acid.  Here are a few nore DHA research findings to consider:
  • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.
  • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.
  • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis .
  • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central-nervous-system development.
  • Many children with poor school performance because of ADD have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet.

Lighten Your Toxic Load.

Our bodies are constantly working to cleanse the toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis, but sometimes we need a little help.   When everyday toxins like pesticides, heavy metals and parasites are stuck in our system, it can lead to fatigue and headaches and greatly impair our ability to concentrate.  Bio energetic testing helps to pinpoint toxins or deficiencies that are bogging us down so we can send in a homeopathic or nutritional supplement to correct it.

Don’t wait until your grades, career, relationships and health suffer to improve your brain function, memory and focus!  Start with a diet rich in healthy proteins, fats, and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, and add in supplements when necessary (Contact me if you need suggestions!).  Many people find it convenient to start the day with a high-quality protein drink where they can add essential fatty acids and antioxidant-rich berries.

Let me hear from you!  What do you do to boost your brain power throughout the day?