Tag Archives: parmesan

The Beef on Red Meat & Cancer (feat. Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs)

29 Mar

Red meat has been at the centre of much controversy over the past 6 months. Bacon-lovers were up in arms when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, released a report in October 2015 describing the association between processed meat and cancer risk. The report classified processed meat (such as hot dogs, ham, and sausage) as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat (such as fresh beef, veal, pork, and lamb) as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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Processed meats are thought to be cancerous because of the chemicals that form during salting, curing, fermentation, or smoking. These chemicals include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Based on epidemiological studies, IARC felt that there was sufficient evidence to say that eating processed meats causes colorectal cancer. For every 50 gram portion of processed meat consumed daily, it is estimated that your risk of colorectal cancer increases by approximately 18%.

But what about fresh red meat? What makes it more likely to cause cancer than other meats, like poultry and fish? Unfortunately the experts don’t seem to fully understand. What they do know is that cooking red meat at high temperatures (for example, barbecuing or pan-frying) can lead to the production of carcinogenic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines. Epidemiological studies have shown a positive association between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer; however, the IARC is quick to say that the evidence remains limited because confounding factors could not be excluded in these studies.

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Does this mean that we should avoid all processed and red meat?

Yes and no. To all the bacon-lovers out there: I’m sorry to say this, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid processed meats as much as possible. Red meat intake, on the other hand, should be limited but you don’t need to completely avoid it. The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends limiting red meat to 500 grams per week, which amounts to approximately 6 deck-of-card sized servings. Keep in mind that the average North American is accustomed to eating portions of meat that are double this size, so keeping portions in check is an important way to reduce your cancer risk.

If you aren’t convinced that a small portion of beef or pork is going to cut it when you sit down to dinner, try using ground meat and incorporate other ingredients like veggies, grains, or legumes to add bulk. This way you can feel like you’re eating a reasonably-sized portion while keeping your red meat intake under 100 grams.

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Meatballs are a great way to stretch your meat portion without sacrificing nutrition or taste. I first stumbled across this spinach and sun-dried tomato meatball recipe several years ago, fell in love with the amazing flavour, and then promptly forgot about it and haven’t made it since. Until now.

Frozen spinach offers many healthy nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin K, folate, and fibre while adding a pretty green marbling to your meatballs. It doesn’t change the flavour all that much, in my opinion, which is where the sun-dried tomato comes in. Don’t skimp on this ingredient! The sun-dried tomato adds a pop of umami with every bite and is what make this meatball so irresistible. A bit of Parmesan cheese rounds out the Mediterranean-inspired flavours to add more depth and a hint of saltiness.

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Cora versus the Meatball tower

My favourite thing about meatballs, second to eating them, is how easily they freeze. I tend to bake a large batch, cool them in the fridge for a day, then toss them in a freezer bag for easy storage. When a quick protein is needed for dinner, I pop a few in the microwave and…voila! Dinner is served.

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Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs
(adapted from Kath Eats Real Food)

1 pound (454 grams) extra-lean ground beef
10 ounces (300 grams) frozen spinach, thawed and drained very well of all liquid (tip: wrap in paper towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible)
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained well and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup panko
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray (or coat lightly with vegetable oil).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients with your hands.
  3. Divide mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs (about 20) and place onto foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip each meatball. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until meatballs begin to brown.

Makes 20 meatballs. Per 4 meatballs: 250kcal, 8.6 g fat (2.7 g saturated), 15 g carbohydrate, 2.7 g fibre, 27 g protein, 363 mg sodium

Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes”

23 Dec

Words cannot describe how excited I was while making this dish a few weeks back.  The “science nerd-meets-dietitian” in me loves to experiment with food to make it healthier.  Lately, I’ve become a lot more comfortable making substitutions.  This newly adventurous Lisa has most likely emerged from my budget-conscious ways.  Living in the city is pricey, so I’m much more inclined to tweak a recipe here and there in order to use up what I have on hand rather than buy a dozen ingredients and follow the recipe to a tee.  The old Lisa would be very impressed with the new Lisa!

This recipe for “mock” mashed potatoes is made with pureed cauliflower.  Brilliant!  E and I both thought it tasted just like mashed potatoes but with a slightly different texture.  Although a little more moist than your typical side of mashed potatoes, the mashed cauliflower still held together nicely in a fluffy pile.  I wonder if an innocent dinner party guest would be able to tell the difference?  My mission for Holiday Season 2011: to fool an unsuspecting family member…

Merry Christmas to all!

Immersion Blender = best purchase of the year

Cauliflower Mashed "Potatoes"


“Mock” Garlic Mashed Potatoes  (adapted from Foodnetwork.com)

1 medium head of cauliflower, washed and cut into medium-sized florets
1 tbsp light cream cheese, softened (or plain yogurt, or sour cream)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/8 tsp chicken or vegetable bouillon base (or use ~1/2 tsp salt)
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Place a steamer basket inside a large pot and add 1-inch of water.  Add cauliflower florets, cover, and steam for approximately 15 minutes or until cauliflower is very tender but not mushy.
  2. In a bowl with an immersion blender, or in a food processor, puree the hot cauliflower with the cream cheese, Parmesan, garlic, bouillon, and pepper until smooth.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 65 kcal, 2.3 g fat, 2.5 g fibre, 125 mg sodium.

The Mighty Caesar

31 Aug

My apologies… this post is WAY overdue!  I made this Caesar Salad to accompany the Eggplant Parmesan from a week ago (er, two weeks ago) and I haven’t gotten around to posting the recipe until now.  The past couple of weeks have been busy– I had to pack up my kitchen into boxes, deal with frustrating movers, then try to find new homes for my gadgets while tripping over half-empty boxes and partially assembled furniture in my new “big city” apartment.  On the bright side, the unpacking is now done (ish) and I will be able to eat, drink, and be merry in my new space. Hurrah!

Enough of me, now onto the Caesar Salad.  I decided to call this the MIGHTY Caesar because the oil found in your typical Caesar dressing is replaced with cottage cheese and plain yogurt– good sources of protein and calcium, respectively– which will help make you… mighty!

As long as you have a food processor or a blender on hand, this dressing is a cinch to prepare and is so much healthier than traditional Caesar dressing.  I really like the tartness that the plain yogurt adds, although I must say that I’ve fooled a picky eater or two who thought this dressing made the salad taste just like “normal” Caesar salad.  See if you can fool your guests!

I love making Cajun croutons to accompany this Caesar dressing.  They, too, are incredibly easy to make and definitely beat the butter-laden store-bought kind.  Instead of bacon, I toasted a handful of sliced almonds in a dry pan over medium heat just until they were aromatic and a golden brown. Right before taking them off the heat, I added a splash of soy sauce and stirred quickly to coat.  The saltiness and crunchiness of the almonds made them taste almost like bacon bits (okay, maybe not) and complemented the salad well.

A Mighty Caesar Salad

Light Caesar Salad Dressing  (from EatingWell.com)

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/3 cup cottage cheese (1%)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon of salt, or to taste (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

Puree garlic and cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add yogurt, Parmesan, white wine vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and pulse to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Makes about 1 cup.  Per 3 tbsp serving: 45 kcal, 1.6 g fat, 150 mg sodium


Cajun Croutons  (from Cooking Light Magazine, July 1995)

2 cups whole wheat bread, cubed (I like to use whole wheat buns– you get a better crust to interior ratio!)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

In a medium glass bowl, microwave oil, garlic, and Cajun seasoning on high for 40 to 60 seconds.  Add bread and toss well to coat.  Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, checking frequently to ensure bread doesn’t burn.

Makes about 2 cups of croutons.

Meaty Meatless Eggplant Parmesan

21 Aug

Eggplants are an interesting vegetable.  Large and deep purple with a spongy flesh that is virtually inedible raw but becomes tender and meaty when cooked.  E’s uncle lives on a farm and grows a variety of vegetables for personal consumption.  Earlier this week he surprised us with two gorgeous eggplants from his garden, along with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

With two eggplants in hand, the first thing that came to mind was Eggplant Parmesan.  I’ve never made the dish before but I sifted through my cookbooks and found a couple of recipes: one was lengthy and involved salting the eggplant then allowing it to sit for 45 minutes.  The other was very straightforward: no salting, relatively few ingredients, and it was much healthier.  Can you guess which one I made?

As an aside, I did a bit of research just to be sure that I wasn’t sabotaging my dish by omitting the salting step.  Adding salt to the eggplant removes bitterness and was a step in traditional recipes because earlier strains of the vegetable were much more bitter than our current strains.  According to the wise Wikipedia, most modern varieties of eggplant do not need this treatment.  Phew.

The Eggplant Parmesan was super flavourful and, in the words of meat-eater E, was very satisfying despite being a vegetarian dish.  Pair this with a healthy Caesar Salad (more on that another day) and you have yourself a balanced meal.  As an added bonus, the leftovers were phenomenal the day after!

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan  (from Crazy Plates)

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs (preferably whole wheat)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried basil
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds),
unpeeled and each sliced crosswise into 8 rounds
cooking spray
3 cups low-fat tomato sauce
(use one that you like– the tomato sauce dominates in flavour.  I used slightly less than the amount called for and there still seemed to be a bit too much sauce)
1 cup shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese (4 oz)
2 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley

  1. In a shallow bowl or pie plate, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, and basil.  Mix well.
  2. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat together egg whites and salt.  Working one at a time, dip eggplant slices into egg whites, then into crumb mixture.  Turn to coat both sides with crumbs. Place slices on 1 large or 2 small baking sheets that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.
  3. Spray tops of slices lightly with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Remove eggplant slices from the oven, turn them over, and spray again with cooking spray.  Return to oven and bake for 15 more minutes.
  4. To assemble casserole, spoon 1 cup tomato sauce over bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Top with 1/2 eggplant slices.  Spoon another 1 cup tomato sauce over eggplant, followed by 1/2 mozzarella.  Repeat layering with remaining eggplant slices, sauce, and mozzarella.  Sprinkle parsley over top.
  5. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and sauce is bubbly.  Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 260 kcal, 6 g fat, 6.4 g fibre