Celebrating Modern Holiday Traditions

dreamstime_xs_26685781As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that less is more. In my home, quality trumps quantity every time, and that’s no exception during the holidays, from the gifts we exchange to the food that graces our table.

I’ve also learned that tradition is what you make it. When I was little and my grandmother was still alive, the holidays seemed to stretch for months; guests were a constant stream, and each recipe prepared was heirloom, all from Italy and passed through the generations.

I even recall my mother preparing her “Viennese Table” of desserts. There were no less than 17 different types of sweets on that buffet, from cookies and tarts to pies, cakes, pastry and soufflés. Each dessert was elegantly plated on special china or service ware or displayed on a warming table, if the dessert could not possibly be enjoyed at room temperature.

dreamstime_xs_21695607Looking back, I’m humbled by the skill, planning, time, effort and energy that went into orchestrating the monumental feat that was holiday entertaining at the Ruggiero’s.

While I do my best to keep family traditions alive by preparing some of those incredible meals, times have changed along with everyone’s tastes and priorities. The rich, decadent recipes we used to make are now taboo. Some family members are watching their weight, others are following special diets and still others have gone vegetarian. Health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, so I’ve had to redefine the sumptuous holiday table.

dreamstime_xs_28110156Doing so wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I hold fast to my rule of quality – selecting the finest ingredients I can find – and I bring out the richness of dishes by using herbs, sauces and wines when cooking. This was the inspiration for my book, The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. Family and friends are thankful for the guilt-free indulgences I serve, and I can’t say anyone misses the food coma. Of course, I still prepare a few recipes from Grandma’s treasure trove, but incorporating something old and something new on my holiday table has become our modern day tradition and one that’s embraced wholeheartedly.

This holiday season, take comfort in the familiar rituals of the past, but establish and celebrate modern traditions of your very own. They will add joy and magic to the season, uniting family and building memories that last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a healthy New Year!

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Tina’s (Adult) Almond Hot Chocolate

Almond-hot-chocolateWhen the season or occasion calls for hot chocolate, I make mine from scratch. It’s really quite simple.

Nothing beats the taste of dark chocolate or the mouthfeel of smooth and creamy milk. Of course, you can make this cocoa with any milk alternative, from hemp and goat to almond and soy, but I like cow’s milk with my cocoa, for a few reasons.

Milk is a great source of choline, a nutrient that’s important for memory, muscle movement and sleep (Warm milk before bed, anyone?). It’s also a source of potassium of which high intakes are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Milk also offers b-vitamins, calcium, vitamin A and magnesium, and milk is a wonderful source of protein. As for my choice of antioxidant–rich dark chocolate, once you make your cocoa with it, you’ll never have it any other way!

Last, but not least, the Amaretto puts the cocoa over the top. Sure, you can omit it, but when I’m looking for something festive to serve friends or just enjoy myself as a reward for wrapping, shopping, cleaning and cooking, that splash of liqueur does the trick.

The following recipe can be made using an espresso machine or by hand. I provide both methods. The cocoa is 288 calories per serving and looks extra festive when garnished with a chocolate-covered pretzel stick.

Yield: 1 (6 oz.) hot chocolate
Time: 2 minutes

INGREDIENTS

¾ cup 1% or 2% milk
1 oz. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 oz. Amaretto
1 tsp. toasted slivered almonds
1 dark chocolate covered pretzel stick (optional)

DIRECTIONS

If you have an espresso machine, use the steamer wand. Place the milk and chocolate in the steamer, steam as you would for a cappuccino. As the milk starts to get hot, stop steaming and stir the chocolate to help it to melt into the milk. Continue steaming until frothy and hot. Pour in the Amaretto, then pour into a mug. Top with slivered almonds and garnish with the pretzel stick.

If you don’t have an espresso machine, place milk and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until hot and the chocolate is completely melted (it should be completely homogeneous and not at all speckled). Remove from heat and whisk heartily to make froth or use an electric milk frother. Pour in the Amaretto, then pour into a mug. Top with slivered almonds and garnish with the pretzel stick.

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Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Walnuts and Warm Anchovy Dressing

Kale-SaladIf there were a medal awarded for Most Inconsistent Blogger, I’d take home the Gold. It’s not that I don’t care about my blog. I love it. I’ve been blogging for almost eight years – but I’m a writer first, and I’ve been wielding a pen for more than two decades.

When it comes to writing professionally – delivering stories to editors, ghost-writing books, researching and writing my newspaper columns; giving interviews or writing my own manuscripts – my assignments take precedence. But, I’m back to blogging (At least, for now!), inspired by an interview I gave to InStyle magazine which appears in their December issue.

On page 255, I talk about energy and ways to get more of it. Potassium, a mineral essential to energy metabolism, is something we don’t get enough of. Delicious sources besides bananas include dates, fish like cod and salmon, and dark greens including collards, escarole and kale.

In the article, the editors suggest making my recipe for Kale with Dried Cherries and Walnuts from my book, The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook, but they didn’t provide the recipe. So, for those of you looking for the details, here you go!

Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Walnuts and Warm Anchovy Dressing

Most likely, if you open a can of anchovies, you’re going to hear squeals and jeers from those around you – adults included. However, those same people will gladly use Worcestershire sauce, Green Goddess dressing and eat Caesar salad, each of which incorporates anchovies. Perhaps, the visual of the little fillets in the can aren’t appealing, but what’s so different about anchovies from the fish you buy at the market? One’s packed in oil and the other ice. My response to the fuss? Get over it! Anchovies are delicious, and one of my secret ingredients to making meals taste incredible, this kale salad included. After one bite, you will be addicted. The warm anchovy dressing wilts the kale, so it’s tender yet still crisp; the nuts give the salad a nice crunch, and the cherries offer a bit of sweetness. Best of all, this salad is extraordinarily good for heart health. More than 60% of the fat is mono- and polyunsaturated. Plus you get 120% of a day’s worth of vitamin A and 80% of your vitamin C needs in just one serving.

Yield: 6 servings, Time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1 bunch kale
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 (2-ounce) tin flat fillets of anchovies
1½ Tbsp. lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

To prepare kale, remove the kale leaves from the stem, discarding stems. Layer a few kale leaves on top of each other, roll into a circular shape and thinly slice to julienne. Place chopped kale into a large bowl. Top with walnuts and dried cherries.

In a heavy-duty small pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Being very careful, whisking until anchovies are dissolved, just 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat, and quickly add lemon juice (Be careful. It will sizzle, so step back!). Pour dressing in increments over kale salad, tossing to incorporate. Serve.

Tina’s Tip: The most time-consuming part of this recipe is cleaning and chopping the kale, which can be done in advance of dinner. Make sure to use the salad spinner to dry the kale the best you can. The drier the kale, the better the dressing can cling to it. Also, dried cranberries can also be used in place of the cherries.

Calories: 180, Protein: 5 g, Total Fat: 15 g, Carbohydrates: 9 g, Sodium: 360 mg, Fiber: 1 g

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Healthy Frozen Meals

fitnessMagJuneMost of us devote less than an hour a day to cooking and working out combined, Ohio State University researchers found, so longer gym sessions mean less kitchen time. When you can’t be all Julie & Julia, reach for frozen meals with at least five grams of fiber and under 750 milligrams of sodium, says Tina Ruggiero, RD, the author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. Heat and eat, meet burn and firm!

TV Dinners 2.0

Frozen meals have come a long way since Hungry-Man hit the scene. The latest crop lets you…

Blow off steam. Many entrees now come in plastic or paper pouches, “which allow steam to surround your food so you don’t end up with an icy center and burnt edges,” explains John Mitchell, the executive chef for Luvo, which packages its meals in parchment bags. Other options: Kashi Steam Meals and Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers.

Take it personally. Your iPhone case isn’t the only thing you can customize. Lean Cuisine Salad Additions are meant to be tossed with leafy greens of your choosing. CedarLean combos include an individually packaged wrap and soup you can eat together or split into two mini meals. And Evol burritos can be pan-fried, grilled or cooked in a panini press.

Curry favor. You don’t have to face a tempting all-you-can-eat buffet to get your Indian food fix any more. Stock up on portion-controlled versions of classic dishes, like palak paneer from Amy’s and channa masala and chicken curry from Sukhi’s and Tandoor Chef.

Make It a Meal

Most healthy frozen entrees clock in at around 300 calories, Ruggiero says, which probably isn’t enough to tide you over for more than a couple of hours. Give your main dish staying power with these simple add-ons, all less than 200 calories.

Best with pasta: 1/2 cups chopped Romaine, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cucumber slices with 2 tablespoons Italian dressing, plus 1 cup halved strawberries with 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
Best with a burrito: 1/2 cup brown rice; 1/4 avocado, sliced; and 2 tablespoons salsa
Best with a stir-fry: 1/2 cup lightly salted edamame plus 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks

Tags: Posted in: Cooking, Food/Cooking, Nutrition

Cranberry BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Cranberries are typically a fruit we think of at holiday time, but cranberries are versatile and can be enjoyed year-round. They even make an awesome BBQ sauce! Click here to learn how, and happy Fourth of July!
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Ingredients

Cranberry BBQ Sauce* (makes 1 cup):
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup minced yellow onions
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. chili powder
1 ½ Tbsp. tomato paste
1 ½ cups cranberry sauce
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. dark molasses
¼-½ cup water, if needed

Sandwich:
10 oz. cooked white chicken meat, diced or shredded
1 cup Cranberry BBQ Sauce*
6 whole-grain buns, split
1 ½ cups prepared creamy coleslaw

Directions

For Cranberry BBQ Sauce*:
In a sauce pan, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onions and sauté 2 minutes. Mix in garlic, mustard and chili powder and continue cooking 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 more minute.

Add cranberry sauce, vinegar and molasses and bring to a simmer, whisking often until mixture becomes smooth. Lower heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until mixture reduces and thickens. Add water to mixture if it gets too thick. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Place in a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Reheat before using.

For Sandwich Filling:
Heat prepared Cranberry BBQ Sauce*. Add chicken and bring to a simmer. Keep warm.To Assemble Sandwich:

For each sandwich, scoop ½ cup BBQ chicken onto a bun and top with ¼ cup coleslaw. Replace bun top on sandwich and serve accompanied by cut raw vegetables and/or fresh apple wedges.

Yeild: 6 sandwiches

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