Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cutting Boards- Plastic, Wood or Glass?

Choosing the correct cutting board is an important choice for your kitchen. There are several varieties of cutting boards available these days, including: wooden, plastic and glass options.

Glass options may be the easiest choice to eliminate. While many glass cutting boards are decorative and very pretty, glass cutting boards will often ruin your knives, making them dull and less effective at cutting food. So when you place a lovely corned beef brisket you have spent all day cooking onto your glass cutting board and attempt to slice it and serve it to your family, you may mangle the slices with your dull life and ruin the presentation of your meal.

However, glass cutting boards can making lovely kitchen decorations, and can be hung on the wall as kitchen art. And if you are choosing ready made meal options, that don’t require much use of knives or cutting boards, you may wish to keep your glass cutting boards.

Chef Blackstock has his own ideas about wooden cutting boards:

Wooden and plastic cutting boards will both be easier on your knives. So that corned beef brisket you wished to serve to your family will hold up nicely on both of these options. You will be able to plate and present nice even slices of the corned beef brisket at dinnertime. The main fight between wooden and plastic cutting boards was hashed out in a study by  Ak, Cliver and Kaspar in 1994 at the University of California at Davis Food Safety Laboratory.

The Ak, Cliver and Kaspar study found wood cutting boards to be superior because of the “self-healing” properties of wood. When slicing on a wood cutting board, you don’t actually cut into the board, you merely slice between wood fibers, which “heal” themselves back together, and do not leave any scoring marks on the surface. Whereas with a plastic cutting board, each knife stroke leaves a mark on the surface of the board. Another argument levied by the study was that wooden cutting boards trap bacteria in their capillaries and the bacteria die off, while plastic cutting boards have porous surfaces with many places for bacteria to hide. However, with today’s anti-bacterial soaps and the ability to run boiling hot water right in your home, this argument may have been better suited to earlier times.

In wooden cutting boards’ defense, they do hold up better over time, and this may have something to do with the “self healing” properties. And presenting a meal, such as a whole corned beef brisket to be sliced in the center of the table, certainly looks prettier on a wooden cutting board. But wooden cutting boards do tend to be more expensive than their plastic counterparts, so if you’re just starting out and needing to furnish your first apartment, a plastic cutting board may be the way to go. Just keep in mind that plastic cutting boards wear out, and you will need to replace them more often. However, again with plastic cutting boards, if you are choosing to prepare ready made meals for yourself often, the plastic option may hold up longer as opposed to a home where a cutting board is used every night. And if you are space conscious, there are some unique silicone plastic cutting boards that can be rolled up to fit into tight spaces or even travel with you for camping.

All in all the cutting board debate probably depends a lot on aesthetics and what kind of meals you are serving in your kitchen. If you regularly present full turkeys and corned beef brisket and other tasty options to be cut front and center of the table, you probably want to choose a wooden option. If you’re more of a ready-made meal person, living alone with no children to worry about, then plastic or glass may be the option for you.

Sierra, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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You’ve Been Diagnosed with Diabetes, Now What?

The doctor has given you your diagnosis and told you that you have Diabetes II. Now the choice is yours. Are you going to succumb to a life of finger pricks and insulin shots or are you going to get busy getting rid of diabetes? Sometimes people don’t know that you can reverse diabetes through exercise and by eating good meals for diabetics. It is certainly possible and many people have done it. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1)      First you should come up with some ideas for easy diabetic meals to help you stay on track. There are a few very helpful websites with recipes and suggestions for not only healthy food, but food that is actually edible too! It is very doable to eat in a nutritious way and still enjoy your food. Now you might not be at your favorite buffet every day, but by making a few adjustments and learning how to prepare foods to help your body recover, you will see great results.

2)      Exercise for the fun of it. For some people, exercise is definitely a chore. The thought of going to the gym is like telling them to join the Army and go through Boot Camp. That is ok. Exercise does not have to be a horrible daily event. Instead, find something that you like to do that doesn’t feel like work. Maybe something like hiking through the woods to go see a waterfall, or chasing your dog around your backyard could be activities you could do that wouldn’t feel like an aerobics class. There has to be something you would like to do that involves being physical. Dancing in your kitchen with your iPod turned all the way up definitely counts!

3)      Build muscles to burn more fat. A lot of people don’t realize the importance of adding muscle to help your body burn fat. Again, this does not have to mean a trip to the gym. It does mean that the next time you go to the grocery store to buy a giant bag of dog food that you are going to skip the cart and carry the bag all the way to your car! It also means you might lift bottles of water over your head the next time you are on the couch watching the Biggest Loser. When you start to look for opportunities to build muscle in your life, they will appear in simple ways.

Finally, the best way to not only manage your diabetes but to work to beat it is by staying in close contact with your physician. Follow the instructions for checking your blood sugar and maintaining your medications. Eat prepared diabetic meals to make life simpler. Let your doctor know that your intent is to reverse your diabetes with good nutrition and physical activity. They might be inspired to have a patient who isn’t just going to accept their fate as a diabetic for life.

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Have Your 2012 Fitness Resolutions Gone Off Course?

The major reason most fitness endeavors crash and burn is the unrealistic goals people set for themselves. And as you wallow on the floor in self pity amid spent chocolate wrappers, keep this in mind, you are only human, not super human.

It’s all about lifestyle changes. Think about this, the word “diet” conjures up all kinds of unpleasant pictures of pathetically clinging to the side of an empty refrigerator, or a cupboard filled with diety (is that a word?) tasting power bars. Really, the keys are small, independent steps aimed at changing small things in your life that culminate into the grand plan.

Try looking at it like this. Instead of saying “My goal is to lose 100 LBS in 6 months, try, “My goal this week is to find a butter substitute that has fewer calories”. Once you have achieved that, move on to finding a sugar substitute.

I personally can’t stand the taste of saccharin and it’s chemically aftertaste. However, if it works for you, fine, but if you’re like me, try stevia. For me, stevia tastes more like real sugar. You can also try honey. My point is to make small dietary changes that are not going to send you on an eating binge.

Now, keep doing this until you have found reasonable substitutes for all the things that are helping to pack on the weight. If that takes 6 months, so be it.

Fitness and diet kind of go hand in hand. And again, making unrealistic goals will result in you not achieving your goal at all. Much like the example above, let’s apply that to your workout routine.

Don’t tell yourself your goal is to do 110 sit-ups in the morning. In fact, don’t do sit-ups at all if it bores you. Boredom with exercise is the second greatest killer of fitness goals. Again, look for something you enjoy doing. If it’s swimming, then go swimming, or kayaking, or take up Karate, or yoga, or dancing. The possibilities are truly endless, but the point is to find something that you like. Remember, the key to youth and staying young, is movement.

So let’s look at one of these. If you choose to swim, don’t set lofty goals of swimming 30 laps per session. Try wading in the deep end and tread water for 5 minutes. Then slowly, over time, work up to doing laps.  In theory, you can apply this technique to anything. If you decide to take a Salsa dancing class, try not to push yourself too hard in the beginning.

Recently, I decided I needed to move more as I sit in front of a computer all day. So my routine is to take a walk on the beach each morning. My goal is to within 6 months be able to jog a little each day. I’m keeping my goal fun and within reach. Follow this advice and you too can achieve your health goals and get back into that swimsuit this summer.

Dain, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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Top Chef Plating Techniques

Crabcakes on a Neutral-Colored Plate

Whether you’ve spent hours slaving over a gourmet meal or are simply going to have a microwaveable meal for dinner, plating techniques can make all the difference in how you feel about your food and how you maintain your diet.

 If you’re trying to stick to a diet, eating your meal out of a plastic container may make you feel less satisfied. The food will look small and tiny in its container and this effect may cause you to eat more later. Try taking the food out of the container and placing it on a dinner plate.

If you have just cooked a gourmet meal for your family and friends, you don’t want the meal to look less than perfect. Perfect plating is the final step in creating a gourmet meal that will create lasting memories for those that eat it.

 When placing the food on the plate, make sure to keep things neat, and until you become more skilled at plating, it is best to choose white or neutral colored plates… as these color choices will pair well no matter what type of food your are serving.

You will also want to choose larger plates, because food does not look as good when it is crowded together on the plate. There should be room on the plate to see each part of the meal and let each ingredient shine through. If your food looks bland, consider adding some garnishes, but remember that your garnishes should be edible and they should match the taste spectrum of recipe you have chosen.

 For an example of a well plated pot roast and vegetables, check out MagicKitchen.com’s Pot Roast. As you will see, the pot roast has been sliced neatly on the plate and laid out with fresh green beans that are garnished with red bell peppers, which of course are completely edible and wonderfully tasty!

A sprig of basil adds taste and beauty

The clock formula is a another popular plating choice, used by many chefs and home cooks. This entails looking at your plate as if it were a clock. You then place your meat or fish at two o’clock, your starch at ten o’clock and your vegetables at six o’clock. Some tricks that will keep this plating technique exciting is to use different heights and textures. For instances, don’t just plop potatoes on plate, consider using a pastry bag to make your potatoes or sweet potatoes look decorative.

However, if you are serving a meal that does not have three components, this clock formula may not work for you. For instance, if you are serving pasta, you will want to choose a larger plate and make sure the pasta in in the center of the plate and that the rim of the plate remains clean, wipe away any sauce that falls on the rim of the plate with a napkin. You can then garnish the pasta with some fresh herbs, so that the plate does not look monotone.

 The most important thing to remember is that the plate should look neat and attractive. Make sure you place the most appealing part of your plate directly in front on your guests and you want it to look edible. In the beginning, simple is better.  Creating elaborate towers or structures out of your food may confuse your guests instead of making them eager to eat the meal.

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5 Foods to Brighten Your Mood

Honestly, who doesn’t love to eat? It’s an American pastime, really, and food has tons of associations with social functions and the ability to alter mood. So why is it, anyway, that when we get upset with something or someone, our first instinct is to pig out on junk food?

There’s something about unhealthy foods that seem to make you feel good, but there’s nothing in most of them that actually does so. And science actually shows that when your body is deprived of certain vitamins and minerals, you are more susceptible to feelings of depression.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or you just feel like you need a boost of energy and positivity, instead of reaching for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s, try downing one or two of these 5 yummy, mood-boosting snacks.

Bananas

OK, so before we get into how and why bananas can boost your mood (and they really can!), let’s first explain how many of these foods will work to help you feel better and more positive. Your brain produces a hormone called seratonin, which is associated with feelings of happiness. The higher your seratonin levels in your brain, the happier you feel.

But your brain has more to do with it than simply producing seratonin and regulating the levels of it in your body. Your brain also produces dopamine, another hormone that’s created in the area of the brain that’s associated with pleasure and reward. You put the two together, and you get almost overwhelming feelings of happiness.

That said, bananas don’t exactly contain the hormones seratonin or dopamine, but they do contain tryptophan (you know, the stuff that’s in turkey that makes you sleepy after every Thanksgiving dinner). Your body can’t produce tryptophan naturally, since it’s an amino acid that your body has to convert for use as something else.

What does your body use it for? To boost seratonin levels. Therefore, any food containing and especially high in tryptophan will boost your seratonin levels and make you feel happy. Bananas are a great example.

They also have the power of boosting dopamine production in the brain, so you’re getting double the happy hormones with every banana you eat. Plus, they’re oh so healthy for you.

Dark Chocolate

Two things to say about dark chocolate real quick before we get started: 1.) It’s not meant to be consumed in mass quantities (like a pint of dark chocolate-flavored ice cream, for example) and 2.) it is already proven to have awesome health effects, like the ability to raise good cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and decrease your risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

With the health benefits of real dark chocolate (as in, not the fake kind that is just a “flavoring” added to your favorite ice cream or other snack) aside, now we can move on to why it will make you happy, as if those health benefits aren’t enough.

Chocolate contains anandamide, a compound that binds with the same receptors in the brain that marijuana binds to for its psychoactive effects. When anandamide binds with those receptors, more dopamine is produced and scientists believe that it causes that unexplainable feeling of happiness and contentment.

Theobromine is the other ingredient in chocolate that contributes to feelings of happiness. It’s a natural stimulant similar to the caffeine found in coffee, which can have effects on feelings of happiness and relaxation.

Let’s be honest again here, who doesn’t enjoy eating chocolate? Especially knowing now that it does, in fact, make you happy!

Omega-3’s (Salmon, Tuna, Sardines)

Sardines might not exactly sound like a tasty treat that you’ll reach for when you’re trying to feel better about something, but certain fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be mood altering substances.

Extensive studies have shown that Omega-3’s are associated with increasing grey matter in the brain, which are areas made up of neuronal cell bodies that cover regions of the brain associated with emotions. According to the studies, the more grey matter there is in the brain, the happier you will feel.

The studies also show that people with higher levels of Omega-6 than Omega-3 were more likely to report having a negative outlook and feelings of impulsiveness. In contrast, those with high levels of Omega-3 in the bloodstream reported to feeling more agreeable and happy, and less likely to report acute symptoms of depression.

So even though there are arguments out there that fish like tuna and salmon (and of course sardines, as well as flax seeds and walnuts, among other foods) are too fattening to eat regularly, they actually contain many powerful ingredients to improve both your health and your mood.

Sunflower Seeds

No longer just a snack for a summer day at the ball park, sunflower seeds contain one ingredient in particular that scientists believe is solely responsible for an almost immediate mood boost.

The ingredient is actually selenium, a chemical that is essential for maintaining good health, but only in small doses. It acts as an antioxidant in the body, and although dietary selenium deficiencies are rare in the United States, increased levels of it in the body are linked with higher moods.

Studies show that people who do suffer from dietary selenium deficiency are more likely to report feelings of depression, and scientists are actually working to create a product that incorporates selenium to use as a treatment for depression.

The chemical is found in the salt that usually accompanies sunflower seeds. They’re a fun and tasty snack to eat and now that we know they make us feel happier, we’ll probably be seeing them a lot more frequently than just at the ball game!

Honey

Add some extra honey to your next cup of green tea and feel its mood-boosting effects almost immediately! Honey contains high amounts of the flavonoid (a super powerful antioxidant) quercetin.

Quercetin is an antioxidant that’s proven to be 5 times more powerful than Vitamin C and can help increase athletic performance by improving endurance in aerobic workouts. So why does that make you happy? Well, antioxidants rid the body of toxins. When your body is healthy, your mood is happy!

Honey also contains high levels of kaempferol, which cleans up free radicals in the brain to reduce any inflammation surrounding the areas that are happy triggers.

Plus, some studies have shown that people who sweeten foods and drinks with honey rather than sugar are more capable of losing weight. So basically, you can’t go wrong by adding a couple drops of honey to your tea!

Emily Carmichael is a freelance writer who supports natural remedies for any and every ailment. From natural supplements for depression to foods that fight depression, she encourages people to try the all-natural way before turning to western medicine.

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Antioxidants in Foods

It can be hard to eat healthy, and even harder to eat healthy the right way. Sure, eating your fruits and veggies is an excellent way to slim your waistline, but what about your other health concerns? If you don’t eat a balanced diet you could still lose weight and retain some serious health issues. Choosing the right foods can be difficult, so make sure that you address specific issues with the correct foods. For example, if your doctor advises eating foods rich in antioxidants then just chewing on a stalk of broccoli won’t cut it!

Rosemary Potatoes

Many people think of grapes as the big antioxidant superstar, but they really only pack a fraction of the punch as these other foods: beans, blueberries, and potatoes. When you’re trying to lose weight people tend to avoid carbohydrates like potatoes, but they actually can help fight off diseases better than most foods. It’s because of the heavy saturation of antioxidants that they can be an important addition to your diet.

A recent study shows that the best source of antioxidants is in fact the small red bean. Just a half cup of these unusual little guys has more antioxidants than an entire cup of wild blueberries, or even an entire gala apple!

The way that foods are prepared can also adjust the amount of antioxidants. For instance, cooking potatoes can get rid of the antioxidants held within the precious healthy spud. It’s strange, because you would think that would be the same for all foods across the board, however it turns out that cooking tomatoes actually increases antioxidants!

A diverse diet is still the best diet, regardless of the fact that many people choose to cut out certain groups of foods for the sake of losing weight. Doing that could actually have an adverse affect on your health. To keep fighting the good fight against diseases, make sure to have some antioxidant-heavy foods in your meal plan.

Doug, MagicKitchen.com Blogger

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Eating Healthy on the Go

Typically, it’s rare to be able to find “fast” food that is healthy – the McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King’s of the world might be delicious, but their food is also mostly overrun with sodium, fat, and calories. But, when you’re short on time and hungry it can be hard to make healthy food choices. We have some ideas to help you eat healthy and still eat fast.

Grab a Sub

Often, you’ll find healthier food options – that are still fast to purchase and consume – at sandwich and sub shops. When ordering a sub, go for a healthier meat – like chicken or fish – skip the cheese, opt for light or low-fat dressing, and load up on the veggies. You can also consider asking for less dressing than normal or for packets to put on yourself.

Try some Sushi

If you’re okay with eating Sushi, you can very often find it quickly in the “to-go” section of a grocery store, and many malls have sushi kiosks with prepackaged meals. Generally, Sushi is healthier than many other on-the-go options – many sushi places are now offering brown rice sushi, taking the health value up a notch.

Kid-size your portions

If you have to have that burger, remember that moderation is key. Opt for a kids’ size or junior sized burger instead of a big quarter-pounder, which will cut the calories and fat content almost in half. Drink water instead of pop with your meal, and don’t add more salt to your fries – they usually come loaded with sodium.

Microwave a meal

Many popular TV dinner brands now offer low-fat and light options. Try one of Magic Kitchen’s low-fat meals, most of which take just a few minutes to microwave. Microwavable dinners are perfect for heating up quickly at the office or at home before heading out, and an increasing number of public areas have nearby microwaves as well. There’s low fat, low carb, low sodium, and low cholesterol options – so you can easily select a tasty meal that best suits your eating habits and lifestyle.

Keep healthy snacks on hand

When all else fails, avoid giving into that high-fat fast food by keeping healthy snacks on hand. Protein bars, granola bars, apples, tangerines, trail mix, nuts, and dried fruit are all snacks that can easily be stored at work, at home, or in the car – and are easy to grab, scarf down, and feel satisfied until you’re back home or near a healthier meal option.

Leslie, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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Various Tips to Stay Healthy and in Good Shape

There are various tips to stay healthy and in good shape that are small things you can change here and there in your daily routine and diet. If you stick to changing the little habits one at a time, pretty soon you will realize that you feel better, look better and sleep better. The same health habits that can change a sedentary life can also benefit those who have health problems, and even in some cases improve their condition.

Move, Move, and Move Again!

One of the easiest healthy living tips to implement is to start getting a little exercise every day. You think you don’t have time; you are busy all day and all evening until you fall in bed at night. You can get this exercise while you go about your usual activities. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from the building at work or when shopping, and walk the rest of the way. It only takes a couple of minutes longer, but you would be surprised how much exercise you will get. Pack your sneakers in your bag when you leave for work. Take a walk at lunch or on break.

You are What You Eat

Some good healthy tips that you can apply to your diet are also simple and easy. Eat low fat yogurt with live acidophilus cultures every day. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or dessert. When you scramble an egg use a canola oil spray instead of butter or margarine in the skillet. The spray has 0 calories and 0 fats. Take a salad or light sandwich to work for lunch instead of going out for fast food or a sit down lunch. Bake, broil or grill your meat rather than fry it. Try eating pinto beans instead of meat; all the protein and none of the fat. Steam your vegetables crisp tender instead of boiling the vitamins and nutrients away. Snack on raw veggies, dried fruit or un-buttered popcorn instead of chips, crackers or cookies.

The Healthy Choices

Step down from whole milk to 2%; it has pretty much all the flavor and much less fat. Try flavored water or sugar-free fruit flavored drinks rather than sodas. Drink as much water as you can stand; the body is about 75% water and it needs to be replenished. Water also flushes the toxins from the body. Tap water should always be filtered or purified for drinking. The chemicals that kill undesirable bacteria and microbes are not good for you and should be removed before you drink it.

Eat lots of fresh fruit; many will tell you that the natural sugar in fruit is just as bad as cane sugar. This is simply not true. The natural sugar in fruit is easily processed by the body and is the kind of sugar your body craves to give you energy. Do not panic when a label says high fructose corn syrup; it is all natural and made from corn. It is similar to the sugar in fruit. The same is true of carbohydrates; the body will not function properly without them. They are the fuel that allows your body to burn fat.

Step down the size of the portions of food on your plate and eat it more slowly; you’ll feel just as full without nearly as many calories. When you really want something, eat it, just don’t eat it all. You’ll be amazed how much difference a few of these changes can make in the way you feel.

 

This article is the courtesy of Patrick Grant from good-health-tips.org, a website about various health topics.

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