OK, so “health food” doesn’t have the greatest reputation for flavor in all the categories of food. You hardly ever see baby-back ribs, stuffed-crust double-pepperoni pizzas or deep-fried anything on the heart-healthy menus, and for good reason: The best-tasting stuff seems to be the worst for our bodies. As columnist and wit Calvin Trillin noted, “Health food makes me sick.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.
(Trillin also wrote, interestingly, “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”)
Here are some honest-to-goodness goodies with a twist: They’re all good for you. Thanks to the employees at Immanuel-St. Joseph’s Hospital-Mayo Health System in Mankato, who put together a “healthy choices” employee cookbook this year, for the following recipes you’re sure to enjoy — even if they are healthy.
From appetizers to desserts, healthy cooking is an attitude: Be bold, be beautiful, be delicious. Here ripe cherry tomatoes and spicy jalapenos meet cool, creamy low-fat cheese in bite-sized treasures for a savory first course or half-time snack.
Cherry Tomato Poppers
32 cherry tomatoes
32 jarred, pickled jalapeno slices
4 (4-inch) low-fat mozzarella cheese sticks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Slice off the very top, stem-end of each cherry tomato. Use a small grapefruit spoon to spoon out and discard insides, leaving the walls intact. Place one jalapeno slice inside each hollowed-out tomato. Add a piece of cheese and press gently into place.
My family loved this simple yet elegant recipe for parmesan-encrusted chicken breasts, and doubling the recipe was no problem as the leftovers were also delicious the next day (thinly sliced on a bed of mixed greens with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkles of parmesan and pepper). Four out of four yums.
Parmesan Encrusted Chicken Breasts
1 cup crushed herbed croutons or seasoned bagel bites
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Dijon or brown mustard thinned with 1 teaspoon water
3-4 chicken breasts
Preheat oven to 375 F. Thoroughly coat bottom of medium baking dish with cooking spray. Wash and dry chicken breasts and sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside. Mix crushed croutons/bagel bites and parmesan cheese in a wide, flat bowl. Coat chicken breasts in thinned mustard and then press into crouton crumbs to coat. Arrange in baking dish. Reserve excess crumb mixture. Bake chicken breasts for 30 minutes. Carefully turn in baking dish and add more crumbs to top if they fall off. Bake an additional 25 minutes.
Instead of using ground beef for your next taco dinner, try grilling a luscious rubbed pork tenderloin in minutes, then shredding it into smoky barbecue sauce and roasted red bell peppers for a filling your family won’t soon forget. Black beans add another layer of taste and texture.
Grilled Pork and Beans Taco Filling
Nonstick cooking spray
1 pound lean pork tenderloin
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 1/2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
2 jars roasted red bell peppers, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 1 tablespoon minced oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Spray the grate of the grill with nonstick cooking spray. Prepare the grill for direct, high-heat cooking. Rub the tenderloin all over with lime juice, then massage chile powder onto its surface. Place the tenderloin directly over the heat and grill, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 160 F (12 to 14 minutes).
Transfer to a cutting board and let stand at room temperature for five minutes. Thinly slice tenderloin, and then cut the rounds into quarters or strips. Place in a large bowl and toss with the beans, barbecue sauce, red peppers, oregano, salt and pepper.
Cool, fruity and dreamy-sweet, Key Lime Bars and Mini Cherry Cheesecakes will melt on your tongue but won’t go to your hips. Using lower-fat versions of favorite dairy products, such as margarine, cream cheese and eggs, help lower the calories without sacrificing great taste.
Key Lime Bars
3 tablespoons margarine, softened
3 tablespoons fat-free cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
1 large egg
1/4 cup fat-free egg substitute
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (or to taste from Key limes)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. To make the crust, beat margarine, cream cheese and 1/2 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and gradually add 3/4 cup of flour. Spread into baking dish using your hands (coat hands with 1 tablespoon powdered sugar to prevent batter from sticking). Bake until crust is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
To make the filling, beat egg and egg substitute in the same bowl used to make crust. Add remaining 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour; beat on low speed until blended. Add lime juice; beat on low speed until blended. Pour onto warm crust and bake 15 minutes more. Cool on a rack. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and cut into 16 pieces.
Mini Cherry Cheesecakes
8 graham crackers, mashed into crumbs
2 tablespoons reduced-calorie margarine, melted
4 ounces fat-free cream cheese
4 ounces light cream cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
20 ounces light cherry pie filling, warmed
Place 12 cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. Combine graham crackers crumbs and margarine; mix well. Spoon 1 tablespoon of crumb mixture into bottom of each liner and press down gently. Refrigerate until ready to fill.
Beat cream cheese until fluffy and add lemon juice, egg whites, vanilla extract and sugar; beat until smooth. Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly into crumb cups. Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes. Cool. Top each cheese cake with 1 tablespoon cherry pie filling.