Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Sugar Cookies

Its Christmas Eve and I have been intending on writing a post for three days now. We are hand making all of our Christmas presents so there have been many late nights and early mornings trying to get sewing done while the baby is asleep. We are almost done, just in the nick of time.

Even with all the hand crafting we have been doing we did find time to make sugar cookies with our 20 month old son. It was pretty successful seeing as he is in a stage that he wants to help with everything. He helped me make the dough, with a guiding hand he poured in all the ingredients, he helped me roll out the dough, he kept his hand on the rolling pin as I rolled, and he helped to cut out the cookies, he only tore off one reindeer leg. We have a nice little collection of holiday cookie cutters, some traditional: reindeer, sleigh, tree, and some non-traditional: sweater, hat, mitten, ice skate. Even with all those fun shapes my favorite way to cut out cookies is the what my dad used to do when we were kids, customized letters with a knife. Our son did not like this method as he could not help so I only did a few, but we always made sure to cut an S for Santa so he would have a cookie waiting for him on Christmas Eve.

Even with all his help I don’t plan on letting my son have more than a bite of the cookies. In an effort to stave off the inevitable sugar addiction I try to limit his sugar intake and I have found over the last few weeks, as there have been more holiday treats entering the house and I have been letting him have bites here and there, he has been rather moody. I don’t know if its just a new phase or if it has something to do with the sugar, so to be on the safe side we are going to try to limit the sugar; if he doesn’t see it he won’t want it so of course that means limiting my sugar too, and that’s not all bad. Maybe Dr. Crystal has some better information about sugar and moodiness.

So for the recipe this week… Sugar Cookies.
I adapted the recipe from an Alton Brown recipe I found on

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated if you can
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbl milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix the first four ingredients together.
Cream the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy.
Add the egg and the milk.
Slowly mix in the dry ingredients.
Chill for two hours.
Roll out and cut into desired shapes.
Place on a cookie sheet either greased or line with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Bake for 7-9 minutes, till just barely browned at the edges.

A note about spices: I wanted to make something different so since I have recently discovered the wonderful taste of freshly ground nutmeg I decided to add it to this recipe. That being said there are many different spices you could try in this recipe, ground ginger, cloves (maybe just a dash), or cinnamon. Just add the new spice in moderation so you don’t get over powered, half a tsp in this recipe was just right, it gave it a subtle flavor.

Happy Holidays to you and all your family and friends!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I don't have anything to whine about... because I have my wine

My love affair with red wine started with a $5 bottle of Barefoot Merlot accompanied by very garlicky mashed potatoes. Since then I have learned to prepare my garlic mashed potatoes with a more balanced flavor and have graduated from Merlot to pretty much any other varietal of red. I don’t often have a Merlot that is pleasing to my pallet so I stick with Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or anything that has a red hue, but if it says Merlot I steer clear. The one thing that has remained constant from that first foray into the red wine world is the price. I don’t know the last time I paid more than $10 for a bottle of wine. I am tempted, the names or labels are what catch my eye, but my experience has taught me that a $6.99 bottle from Trader Joes can be a pretty satisfying experience. This being said my husband and I were treated to dinner by a distributor he works with and at this dinner we consumed a very nice, very expensive red wine. I don’t know what the cost, varietal, or producer was but it was definitely not $6.99. So there is a place in my heart for a fabulous, pricey wine but I am devoted to my Trader Joes budget buys.

The recipe I am sharing with you this week is a dessert, Wine Poached Pears. When the pears are finished serve them with a triple cream blue cheese (also found at Trader Joes) and a glass of the same wine you used for poaching liquid, you’ll need to buy two bottles then, one for poaching and one for drinking.

Wine Poached Pears
Makes 4-6 servings

4 cups Water
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
4 - 6 ripe, but not squishy (Pears, Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou, or Comice)
1 bottle dry red wine (Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or a Merlot if you must)
1 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 Orange
4 half inch slices of peeled fresh ginger
Ginger tip: You can buy a big chunk of ginger and store it in the freezer then when you need some grated ginger or slices you just take it out and grate or saw off what you need.

In a large bowl, combine the water and lemon juice. Peel pears, leaving stems intact, and cut a thin slice from bottom of each to enable pear to stand upright for presentation purposes. Place the pears in the lemon water to keep from browning while prepping the poaching liquid.
In a large pan (large enough to hold the pears either laying on their sides or standing upright), add red wine and sugar; bring just to a boil. Add orange zest, orange juice, and ginger slices.
Remove pears from lemon water and arrange on their sides in poaching liquid; add enough additional water as necessary to just cover pears. Reduce heat to low and simmer, turning them occasionally, approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until pears are tender. To test the doneness stab the pears carefully with a thin bladed knife - it should meet little resistance. Don't poach for too long as the pears will quickly disintegrate to mush. This is best done the same day you plan to serve them.
When done, carefully transfer pears with a slotted spoon to their serving dishes. Strain the ginger slices from the poaching liquid. Increase heat to medium-high and boil liquid until it is reduced to about 3/4 cup and slightly syrupy (watch carefully so it does not burn). Remove from heat and pour sauce over pears or serve in a small dish on the side for dipping. Cover and refrigerate pears until ready to serve.
Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Math of Wine--a Postscript

A unit of alcohol (10 milliliters of ethanol—the amount the average healthy body can process in an hour) can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in milliliters) by the percentage of alcohol by volume in your beverage and dividing by 1000. For example, a 750 milliliter bottle of wine at 13% alcohol contains 9.75 units of alcohol. An ounce is approximately 30 milliliters (29.57 for you purists out there) so that means that an average bottle of wine is 25 ounces. If you do the math, that means that a unit of 13% alcohol wine is just a hair over 2.5 ounces (2.564 for the purists).

Wine a Bit...You'll Feel Better!

As I sit to write this, I have just poured a glass of Shiraz (okay, so it’s “3 Buck Chuck” but it’s still wine!). It isn’t anywhere close to the recommended 59-64 degrees at which red wine should be served (I don’t have a wine cellar or wine storage—just my garage which is way colder than that right now as it hasn’t been above freezing around here for a couple of days), but it sure is hitting the spot! We love wine! And while expensive wine isn’t in the budget for either Chef Brett or myself, we still enjoy the wine we can afford. And isn’t it great that wine is good for you too?! Let’s explore, shall we?

Recently, I’ve seen commercials starring my favorite foodie, Alton Brown, talking about the polyphenols in grape juice. Polyphenols are a class of molecules that are highly antioxidant and also may deactivate some of the enzymes cancer cells need for growth. Wine is also high in other flavonoids like quercitin which is also antioxidant. The reason that antioxidants are so important in heart health is that it is oxidized LDL (“bad” cholesterol) that creates plaques in arteries. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of LDL and thus prevent plaque formation. Quercitin also helps prevent platelets from sticking together and so acts as a blood thinner. There is also some health benefit to the alcohol itself—ethanol in moderation helps raise HDL (”good” cholesterol).

Another, lesser known, benefit of wine is that it can kill harmful intestinal bacteria such as shigella, salmonella, and E. coli—some research even shows it is more effective than Pepto Bismol for traveller’s diarrhea. So, if you are travelling out of the country, drink up! When it comes to health benfits, red is where it’s at (remember, pigments are pretty much synonymous with antioxidants). The level of tannin (what makes wine “dry”) is highly correlated with health benefit, making cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, and merlot your best choices.

Grapes share all of the health benefits that wine does except the ethanol effect so for those who would prefer not to drink, are pregnant, or have diabetes, eating grapes is a great choice. Drinking non-alcoholic wines or grape juice (be cautious about the sugar—6 ounces of no-sugar-added grape juice has about 30 grams of sugar and 120 calories) might also be an option (admittedly, I’ve never tried any but if they are anything like non-alcoholic beer, I’m probably not really a fan). Speaking of calories, if you need to know, here’s a link to a website with calories by type of wine: --personally, I don’t want to know!

The cheaper the wine, the more additives and chemicals that can cause trouble in people who are sensitive to them. Sulfur dioxide, a common preservative, can trigger asthma and substances known as congeners as well as amines can trigger migraines. So, buy the best wine you can afford and drink less of it!

Women should not consume more than 14 “units” of alcohol each week, men 21. (For all the other math nerds out there, a post script follows with the calculations!) The result of all the math means one 5 ounce glass of wine a day for the ladies; guys, you can have 7.5 ounces. I don’t know about you, but that feels a bit disappointing (and I’ll admit, I just refilled my glass) but let’s look on the bright side: if we can keep our consumption there we are really helping to protect our hearts! Unfortunately, consuming more alcohol than that tends to reverse the health benefits and we start damaging our livers and increasing our risk of cancer. So remember: everything in moderation! Savor that glass!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Cilantro/Tortilla Dilemma

There appears to be a large divide between those who like (or love!) cilantro and those who claim it tastes like soap. I have heard it proposed (though I have no definitive proof) that there is actually a gene that controls the way you taste cilantro and for those with (or without?) the gene, cilantro tastes like soap. Again, no proof, but I would recommend if you are serving for a crowd, find out the taste preferences of your guests--or provide offerings with and without cilantro. I guess all the more cilantro for me Chef Brett!

Oddly enough, we have the exact same tortilla preferences in my house as in Chef Brett's: my hubby prefers flour tortillas in his enchiladas and I prefer corn. I solve our dilemma by making 2/3 of the enchiladas with flour and 1/3 corn (if you layer flour tortillas on one end and corn on the other of a 9 x 13 pan, they fit perfectly). However, it must be said, my hubby will eat just about anything so I'm not sure why I go through the trouble--it must be love! Just to keep things interesting, when we make tacos/burritos, I prefer flour and he prefers corn!

Happy eating!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Remains of the Day

Thanksgiving is over, the relatives have all left, the kitchen is clean and you still have turkey to eat. You are probably sick of turkey, turkey sandwiches and turkey salads so you can freeze it... then add your leftover Christmas turkey to it in a month, or do something with it. I suggest a couple of things. The first is Turkey Noodle Soup, I don't need to give you a recipe for this, just check out my previous post about chicken noodle soup. I highly recommend using the saved turkey carcass to make the stock, although you may not have saved your carcass since I wasn't timely enough to post something about saving the carcass! So first I am sorry I took so long to get back on here, it won't happen again, and second if you didn't save your turkey carcass you can just use boxed chicken stock, it will still be tasty.

My second suggestion is Turkey Enchiladas Verde, this is what we had for dinner last night. My 18 month old son was not interested in it but my husband was, he loves anything with a Mexican food flavor. This recipe has you making the enchilada sauce from scratch which you will see is a pretty easy task, but you can also buy enchilada sauce in a jar, red or green. If you do this you only need the turkey, tortillas and cheese to complete the dish. I also don't make individual enchiladas I make this more like a lasagna with layers of tortillas, turkey and cheese. So I hope you enjoyed your holiday weekend and ate too much yummy food. I will make sure to get back on here with more recipes sooner rather than later.

Turkey Enchiladas Verde
2 Tbl Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Serrano Chili, deseeded and minced (can be found fresh in the produce section)
1 Tbl Cilantro*, minced
28 oz can Tomatillos, pureed
1.5 tsp Salt
3-4 cups Turkey**
Corn Tortillas***
2-3 cups Monterrey Jack Cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil and add onion and garlic, saute till soft.
Add chili and cilantro, stir for one minute.
Add tomatillo puree and salt, simmer for five minutes.
Add turkey.

Time to layer!
In a 9x13 inch casserole dish put half a cup of sauce mix on the bottom. Lay down a layer of tortillas, spread with 1/3 of sauce mix, sprinkle 1/3 of cheese. Repeat twice more. And you are done. Pop it in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes till the cheese is melted and it is bubbling around the edges.

As I was writing the ingredients down I realized I had something to say about a few of them:
* I do not like cilantro. It tastes like soap to me. My husband does not like cilantro either. So we don't put it in most things. But I know that the good Dr. Crystal likes cilantro, so she may have something more to say about it.
** You can easily replace the turkey with chicken, just follow the recipe from the previous post about cooking the chicken for the Chicken Noodle Soup.
*** And finally corn tortillas. I use corn tortillas in my enchiladas, I believe that is what is traditional. I like the flavor and the texture. My husband doesn't agree; he prefers flour tortillas for enchiladas. I love flour tortillas but I feel they get gummy and slimy when baked in enchilada sauce and covered in cheese. Having made that statement I am surprised that my husband likes the flour tortillas in enchiladas seeing as he has a problem with things that are a funny texture like apple pie and pears. But I still make them with corn tortillas because otherwise it just isn't right and I still get text messages from my husband at lunch time that say, "Hot damn, that was some good enchilada!"
Side note: I just read this post to said husband:
Him: "Don't you mean flour tortillas?"
Me: "Um no... those were corn."
Him: "Oh."
Folks he couldn't even tell the difference! I win.
Enjoy the enchiladas, no matter what kind of tortillas you use!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Well, by some amazing turn of events, it has fallen to me to host my family's Thanksgiving feast this year. As I really love to host dinner parties, I'm looking forward to it--though I'm a bit worried about how I'll fit all the cooks into my 2 (okay, maybe 3) butt kitchen! This past weekend Chef Brett and I (and about a dozen of our closest friends) had a preview of the Big Day at our annual Slap Some Gravy On It. A great time with great friends heralded in for me my favorite things about the coming holiday season: sharing food and spending time with those I love.

So, for our second go-round here on our blog, we decided it was very timely to talk about the foods we love to chow on at our Thanksgiving feast each year and, rather than pay attention to the fact that we're going to eat way more than we should, we'll talk about all the healthy nutrients we're shoveling in instead!

So of course what would Thanksgiving be without a glorious bird! Turkey, similar to chicken, is high in easy-to-absorb protein, zinc, selenium and iron. Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and also helps with wound healing and normal cell division. Selenium is important in thyroid hormone metabolism, immunity, and is an antioxidant. Turkey is also a great source of B Vitamins--especially B6, B12, and niacin. B Vitamins are used, among other things, to help our bodies make energy; they are essential to healthy brain function, heart health, blood building, and immunity. Turkey is also some of the leanest poultry (especially if you don't eat the skin--but remember, we're not counting calories today!), containing only 2.7 grams of total fat (less than 0.3 grams of saturated fat in skinless turkey breast!) per 3 1/2 oz serving.

Ah, every one's favorite gravy receptacle: mashed potatoes! The info I'm going to give you is for potatoes alone--please remember that mashing potatoes with tons of butter, cream, cheese, etc. tips the scales away from the health benefits a bit! ;) Potatoes have somehow gotten a bad reputation for those of us trying to watch our waistlines--most likely due to the fact that our favorite way to eat them seems to be deep fried! However, when baked or boiled in a little water, and even more so when you leave the skins on, potatoes are actually really good for you! Potatoes (when not smothered in oil) contain less than 100 calories per 3 1/2 ounce serving. Being a root vegetable, nutritional value is highly determined by the quality of the soil in which they are grown, but even taking that into account the potato is a better supplier of energy and protein than almost any other crop! In fact, the protein in potatoes is equivalent to that found in soy beans (without the genetic modifications and potential for hormone modification--you'll have to wait for a future post for more on that...) and one large baked potato provides 1/4 of your daily protein requirement! Potatoes also are high in fiber, B Vitamins, potassium (especially the peel), and enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy. If you suffer from osteoarthritis or stomach ulcers, you might try taking 3 ounces or so of fresh potato juice (mix it with apple or carrot juice or add it to soup just before eating) 4 times a day for a month!

Sweet Potatoes/Yams
Yes, there is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams--however in your average U.S. grocery store, we just have sweet potatoes. "Red skinned sweet potatoes" are often called yams or garnet yams. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, are from an entirely different plant family, and don't taste anything like sweet potatoes. So, we're going to talk about sweet potatoes! As you can tell from their orange color, sweet potatoes are high in carotenoids, especially beta carotene which is antioxidant, boosts immunity, maintains healthy skin, and improves night vision. They are also high in starch which provides energy and contain some Vitamins C and E. The lighter fleshed sweet potatoes are lower in sugar and are much lower on the glycemic index than red skinned sweet potatoes or regular potatoes making them a better choice for diabetics and those with blood sugar regulation issues. Remember, the overall nutritional value of your sweet potatoes depends largely on how you prepare them: sorry grandma, but bubbling in brown sugar and butter with marshmallow topping just isn't going to cut it! Hopefully Chef Brett can give us a better alternative!

Brussels Sprouts
My love affair with Brussels sprouts is relatively new--so the romance is still there! I used to cringe away from these humble veggies but they are one of my new favorites! This weekend we had steamed Brussels sprouts wrapped in prosciutto and skewered with a toothpick as one of the appetizers--yum! Brussels sprouts are in the cabbage (Brassica) family which makes them highly protective against cancer--research indicates especially lung, colon, uterine, and breast cancer. The anti-cancer effects are due to phytochemicals called sulforaphanes and glucosinolates which are converted to indoles by chopping, crushing, juicing, or cooking. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) helps rid the body of excess estrogens (which contribute to the growth of some cancers). Brussels sprouts are also high in beta carotene, Vitamin C, folate, and fiber (which prevents constipation, reduces risk of hemorrhoids, prevents cancer, protects your heart, and lowers cholesterol. Brussels sprouts are best prepared steamed (cut a deep X in the base to help it cook faster) which preserves their Vitamin C and folic acid content; you may also want to consider adding caraway or dill seeds when cooking to help prevent flatulence (which is an unfortunate side effect of brassica veggies). Also, if you are preparing the Brussels sprouts for your Thanksgiving feast, you might want to consider wearing rubber gloves as a compound in brassicas can cause contact dermatitis.

Green Beans
Last post, I mentioned some of the health benefits of green beans: they are high in potassium and low in sodium, a good source of fiber, protein, and Vitamins A & C. For me, Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without green bean casserole on the table! Now, I know that canned beans smothered in cream of mushroom soup and fried onions isn't even close to a healthy way to enjoy green beans, but I've gotta have it! Fortunately, green beans are wonderful cooked just about any way! My new favorite: buy a big bag of fresh French beans at Costco, steam until crisp tender, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt & cracked black pepper, minced garlic, thinly sliced red onion, and, if you want, some crisp cooked bacon crumbles--so tasty!

Cranberries have always earned a small spoonful next to my turkey on my Thanksgiving plate (usually I'm trying to save room for more green bean casserole!), but these powerhouse berries deserve more. And please people, making cranberry sauce from fresh berries is so easy so please pass on the formed jelly in a can! Cranberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and have antimicrobial properties. Most specifically, cranberries both treat and help prevent urinary tract infections. Proanthocyanadins in cranberries actually prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder, ureters, and urethra. Drinking a small glass of unsweetened cranberry juice (sorry, not cranberry juice cocktail) daily may be significantly more effective at removing E. coli than antibiotics.

What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie? And more importantly, what would we have for breakfast the day after?! So, if you have been paying attention, you probably already have an idea that pumpkin's strongest health benefit has something to do with it's bright orange color... Yes, pumpkin is extremely high in carotenoids (orange pigment) and beta carotene! In fact, a half cup of canned pumpkin has more than 16 milligrams of the stuff as well as some other important carotenoids. Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber (a half cup has 3 times more fiber than a bowl of cornflakes) and iron. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of iron and zinc which can boost male fertility and is protective of the prostate.

So go and enjoy your Thanksgiving feast and try this year to think about all the healthy things you are doing for your body instead of worrying about calories! Remember, everything in moderation--if you eat well the majority of the time, indulging a bit on Thanksgiving won't matter so much! Celebrate with your families and take time to tell each other what you are thankful for. I'm thankful for my children, my husband, my family and friends, the roof over my head, good health, and finding joy in the small stuff every day.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chicken Noodle Soup Revisited

Since Brett includes more ingredients in her chicken soup than I do, I want to tell you about the healing properties of these foods, too!

Green Beans
Green beans are high in fiber and protein and contain Vitamins A, C, and folic acid. They are also high in potassium and low in sodium and so are good for lowering blood pressure. Remember, Vitamins A & C are antioxidants which help the immune system.

Corn is a good source of protein and fiber as well. They have some antioxidant Vitamins A & E and small amounts of B Vitamins.

Peas are best eaten picked fresh from your garden but frozen is the next best thing! Sugars convert to starch very quickly after picking and levels of Vitamin C rapidly decrease as well. In addition to Vitamin C, peas have decent levels of Vitamin A, thiamin (B1), and folic acid. They also are high in fiber and are a good source of protein. Snow peas and other peas you eat in the pod have higher levels of Vitamins C & A. One word of caution: peas are high in phytate which can decrease the bioavailability of iron, calcium, and zinc so make sure they aren't the only green veggie you eat!

Bell Peppers
Bell peppers, especially red bell peppers, are high in carotenoids and beta carotene as well as Vitamin C. A 3 and a half ounce serving contains 120-140 mg Vitamin C and 100% of the RDA for Vitamin A.

Lemons are high in Vitamin C and bioflavonoids and stimulate white blood cell activity to boost immunity. Lemon juice is highly protective of the mucous membranes of the gut (and 70% of our immune systems are in our gut!). Lemon juice is antibacterial and, mixed with equal parts hot water, makes an excellent gargle and mouthwash. It also works topically on acne lesions and, because it is also anti-viral, works great on cold sores and shingles (as long as the skin isn't broken--that will sting!!). As a remedy for colds and coughs, combine hot lemon with 1 tsp of honey and take at bedtime.

Nothing gets the sinuses clear quite as quickly and effectively as chilies! Capsaicin found in chilies is similar in action to guaiafenesin (the active ingredient in Mucinex and Robitussin) acting as decongestant and an expectorant to thin mucus. Chilies are also high in Vitamin C and beta carotene. Cooking chilies destroys Vitamin C but capsaicin remains active. So, try adding 10 drops of chili sauce to your chicken noodle soup! You can also add it to warm water to use as a gargle for sore throats, nasal congestion and sinusitis. Tip: store your chili powder in the freezer to preserve the beta carotene which quickly breaks down at room temperature!

Ginger is a warming herb traditionally used to treat nausea (motion sickness and morning sickness). In addition to boosting immunity, it also helps with migraines, digestive complaints, arthritis, blood clots, heart disease. Fresh ginger, grated fine is the best but crystallized ginger works also. For upset stomach and colds, make hot ginger tea by grating ginger into hot water with lemon and 1 tsp of honey.

Parsley is "nature's breath freshener"--it breaks down sulfur compounds (so eat all the garlic and onions you like and start eating your parsley garnish!). Parsley is high in Vitamins A & C, folic acid, iron, calcium and potassium. It is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic. In fact, it is very useful in detox and for urinary tract infections and premenstrual bloating. A half cup of parsley contains 40 mg of Vitamin C (more than in half an orange). Fresh is definitely best--keep it fresh by washing it right when you get it home and store in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel either upright in a glass of water or in a sealed bag.

You will note that Chef Brett neglected to include mushrooms as a possible addition to her recipe--this is because Chef Brett really doesn't like mushrooms! I, on the other hand, do--plus they are great for the immune system so I'm including them here! Mushrooms contain easily absorbed, high-quality protein. They also contain a decent amount of Vitamin B12--which helps with fatigue and low mood--as well as Vitamin E. They have been used extensively in Chinese medicine to boost immunity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boosting Your Immune System with Chicken Noodle Soup

Flu season is upon us--with much more discussion and anxiety than usual thanks to the Swine Flu. Three weeks ago, my Little C was wiped out with a fever for a day, followed by a day of vomiting and several days of runny nose and coughing. Sure enough, my Big C (who may not stay the big one for much longer--kids grow so fast!) followed suit 3 days later. As they were getting better, it was my turn. Does this sound familiar? So many families coming into the office or calling me have told me the same story. We didn't go get tested, but I'm pretty sure we had the Swine Flu and we all got through it just fine! But with winter fast approaching and the regular flu season starting as well, we felt that starting out our blog with an entry about boosting immunity sure made sense--and what better food to discuss than chicken noodle soup?!

There have actually been several research studies conducted on the healing benefits of chicken soup. Eating soup made from actual broth or stock (not bouillon--canned or boxed is okay) helps increase the activity of most types of white blood cells (your immune system's main line of defense), relieves congestion, thins mucus, has antiviral (and antibacterial) effects, is high in antioxidants and Vitamins A, C, and E as well as zinc, iron, and selenium. So, lets look at the ingredients, shall we?

Chicken is especially helpful in convalescence, pregnancy, and can help build up your immune system. It contains easily-absorbed iron (which makes hemoglobin to carry oxygen in your blood and improves the absorption of Vitamin C from foods) and zinc (which boosts immunity). Dark meat contains twice as much of these minerals compared to white meat (though white meat has twice the Vitamin B6 which is helpful in mood elevating and PMS symptoms). A 4 ounce serving of chicken breast contains about 40% of the RDA of selenium (or about 30 micrograms). Selenium is a powerful antioxidant--low levels of selenium are associated with cancer, infertility and miscarriage, and make you more susceptible to virulent viral infections. Chicken also contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine which is chemically similar to the drug acetylcysteine used to treat bronchitis and other respiratory infections.

In medieval times, bunches of onions were hung on door posts to protect against plague and this superfood is helpful in bronchitis, asthma, colds, flus, gout, urinary tract infections, arthritis, heart disease, anemia, cancer prevention, and even topically for insect stings, boils, and other bacterial infections. Onions have diuretic properties as well as powerful antimicrobial action. They are high in quercitin and other flavonoids which are antioxidant. The sulfur compounds in onions (which, when acted upon by allinase enzyme, is what makes you cry when you cut them) inhibit inflammation and allergic symptoms and clear airways. Ideally, you should eat half a cup a day of various types of onions (preferably raw or, if you can't handle raw, then gently cooked). Shallots and red onions are higher in Vitamin A/beta carotene than white onions and scallions (green onions) are higher in Vitamin C and folic acid (which is very important in pregnancy). Other great uses for onions: slice an onion and steep in hot water; let it cool and give 1 tsp to soothe a colicky baby. Slice an onion in half, bake until hot, let cool until it can be handled, wrap in a tea towel and apply to the ear for ear infections. Bake an onion for 40 minutes in a hot oven, crush for juice and mix with equal parts honey; take 2 tsp every 2-3 hours to help lower a fever.

Garlic was the first herb planted by Roman doctors whenever they arrived in a new country. Garlic has an incredibly powerful antimicrobial/anti-fungal effect, is cancer protective, improves circulation and thins the blood, improves blood lipids (cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, and is an antidote to alcohol and heavy metal poisoning. Roman soldiers used slices of raw garlic between their toes on long marches to prevent athlete's foot. Ideally, you should consume an entire bulb of garlic a day (it's a good thing I love garlic!) and raw is best though roasting is okay too (maybe Chef Brett can tell us how to roast garlic...). Otherwise, try to add minced garlic at the end of cooking and rub raw garlic on the inside of salad bowls before tossing. In addition to cooking and eating it liberally, try making a tea of 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tsp honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice in some hot water to help with colds and flus.

There is enough beta carotene in 1 carrot to be converted by the body to an entire day's requirement of Vitamin A! Beta carotene is a fat-soluble pro-vitamin, antioxidant, and cancer-protective carotenoid found in yellow, orange, red, and dark green fruits and veggies. Vitamin A is made from beta carotene by the body and is important in skin health and increasing the amount of secretory IgA on mucus membranes (our first line of defense against invasion by viruses and bacteria!). The body also converts Vitamin A to rhodopsin in the retina which improves night vision. Carrots are also high in Vitamins C & E. When eating carrots, cooked (or freshly juiced) is best as this breaks down the fiber that holds the beta carotene and carrots should be eaten with a little fat or oil as this improves the absorption of fat-soluble beta carotene. A few other things to be aware of: it is important to use organic carrots if possible because growing in the soil increases the exposure to pesticides--if you absolutely can't get organic, wash and peel carrots well and discard tops and tips. Eating too many carrots (or any foods high in beta carotene) can cause carotenosis, an orange coloring of the skin--babies are particularly susceptible to this but it goes away after a few days of avoiding beta carotene and is not dangerous. Also, do not store carrots with their leafy green tops still attached as they steal water and nutrients from the carrots!

Although celery is always an ingredient when I make chicken noodle soup, it actually has more health benefit when eaten raw--and the seeds are particularly potent! Celery has Vitamin C and fiber and the darker green stalks and leaves have some beta carotene. Essential oils found in the seeds have a calming effect and can lower blood pressure thanks to a compound called phthalide (eating 4 stalks of celery every day for a week each month can significantly lower blood pressure!). Celery is also cancer protective and helps with rheumatism, gout, arthritis, as well as bladder and urinary tract infections thanks to its diuretic and antiseptic effects.

Pasta is one of the first true convenience foods--allegedly brought to Europe from China by Marco Polo in 1295. It is a good source of complex carbohydrates which provide sustained, slow-release energy. For some people, a high carb meal can be mood elevating as well!

Thyme is an herb that has specific affinity for the respiratory tract, acting on the smooth muscles of the trachea as an expectorant. The essential oil thymol is used as a base for antiseptics and mouth washes. Tea made from thyme is an excellent gargle for sore throats, mouth ulcers, and gingivitis. Caution: thyme essential oil is toxic and should not be taken internally (using the whole herb is okay) and thyme oil should not be used topically for massage or in baths for pregnant women!

The symptom relief from chicken noodle soup lasts about 30 minutes so make a big pot and eat it often! And while home made is certainly best, in a pinch, canned will work too. Chicken noodle soup is easily digestible, contains all kinds of immune boosting nutrients, and, well, it reminds you of mom so eat up and stay well!

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal

Chicken Noodle Soup

Before I get into the recipe for chicken noodle soup I have to say one thing about my cooking and my recipes. I love my pressure cooker. If there is a way I can make something in my pressure cooker I will try it. So if there is a pressure cooker alternative I will probably list it after listing the conventional method. My mother won't touch the pressure cooker. She grew up in a time when pressure cookers blew up and burnt people's homes down. But for those of you who have heard similar stories and also fear the power of the pressure cooker keep in mind that they are made much better these days. As with any tool, kitchen or otherwise, if used appropriately and following the manufacturers' directions can be used quite successfully without incident.

Now, here is the recipe for the Chicken Noodle Soup. To get the most nutrients out of the chicken I recommend buying a whole chicken, 3-4 pounds, and cooking the whole thing using the broth created in that process. Then cooking the bones again for the rest of the broth needed for the soup. If there is not time for this you can use 3-4 pounds of chicken breast and just boil it in water or chicken broth and make up the rest of the chicken broth with canned or boxed broth.

For the chicken:
1 whole chicken, rinsed
4 cups of water

Simmer for about 1 hour till meat falls off the bone. Remove chicken from the broth and let cool so that you can separate the meat from the bones (do not discard bones, they can be used to make chicken stock, which you will need for the soup), can be left overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the broth and reserve. To reduce fat content cool the broth for a few hours and you can scoop the gelatinous fat off the top.
Pressure cooker option: Just use 2 cups of water and cook for 20 minutes at high pressure.

For basic chicken stock:
Bones from chicken
2 carrots rough chopped
2 celery stalks rough chopped
1 onion rough chopped
12 cups water
1 Tbl thyme

Place all ingredients in a 6 qt pot and simmer for 1-2 hours. The longer the simmer the richer the flavor, just monitor the water level. When finished strain broth out and discard the bones and the veggies. This will be more stock than you need for this soup but you can freeze it and use it for a future dish. Alton Brown from the Food Network has a very good recipe for chicken stock that involves simmering for up to six hours, if you want to stock up on stock check his recipe out at .
Pressure cooker option: Just use 8 cups of water and cook for 25 minutes at high pressure.

And finally...
Chicken Noodle Soup
Reserved broth (approximately 4 cups)
5 cups chicken broth (either what you just made or from a box)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tsp thyme
Chicken, chopped or shredded (approximately 4 cups)
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup green beans, 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups wide egg noodles
3 garlic cloves, minced
juice of one lemon
Salt and Pepper

Optional ingredients:
1 Tbl minced ginger
1 bunch parsley, minced
Hot sauce, to taste as a garnish

Add the reserved broth and the 5 cups of chicken broth to a 6 qt pot and set over medium high heat.
Bring to a simmer.
Add onion, carrots, celery, and thyme. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add chicken, red pepper, green beans, corn and peas. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Bring to a boil and add wide egg noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender.
If at any point there seems to be no enough liquid add more and just bring back up to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and garlic. If using the option ginger or parsley add now.
Add salt and pepper to your own taste.


Our husbands have been friends for 13 years. Eight years ago, when Crystal was pregnant with her first baby our husbands both worked nights so they suggested we hang out and have dinner together. It started innocently enough, beef stroganoff one night, minestrone soup another night. After the baby was born we started grilling things and then we declared Girl's BBQ an official once a month event. We found a couple other girls who liked to eat and started planning menus with coordinating cocktails and trying new recipes. At the time Brett was in culinary school and Crystal was working on becoming a Naturopathic Doctor so we constantly called each other for advice. This has continued to go on for eight years now. Girls BBQ is now just called Girls Night but it has expanded to eight girls and we are still on the phone daily consulting about health and food.
Between the two of us we have fed three babies, we have made our own baby food and used the stuff in jars. Most of the recipes posted here will have a side note about feeding your little one, either from the recipe posted or some other quick tip to make something special so that the whole family can eat well.
What we want to do with this blog is to invite you, the reader, into our conversations. We want to share the interesting things we learn about food and nutrition. We also want to give examples of easy ways to prepare mostly healthy but always delicious foods for yourselves and your family. We aren't perfect, we don't just eat vegetables and homemade foods, we like chocolate, wine and macaroni and cheese, so don't be intimidated to post a comment. This blog is also a platform for questions. Is there a topic we covered you want clarification on or more information about? Or a health concern that you would like covered? Please leave comments and questions for us and we will do our best to answer them.
Crystal "The Doctor" & Brett "The Chef"