Rather than this post being a single recipe, it will be a generalized guide to healthy dishes with cranberries to use during the holiday season.
Wisconsin produces half of the world supply of cranberries, and 60% of the supply for the United States. This is a local food of which we should be proud! We know of over two dozen antioxidant phytonutrients in cranberries. In addition, cranberry phytonutrients raise the overall antioxidant capacity in our bloodstream and to help reduce risk of oxidative stress. Put in a simpler way: cranberries reduce promoters of aging and inflammation, the basis of all disease, because of all the healthy food chemicals they contain.
Although cranberries are rich in antioxidants have a slew of health benefits… for whatever reason they are often coated with sugar, making it almost a sum zero as far as all the health benefits. An easy fix for this is just pairing them with oranges, which are sweet and pair perfectly to take the edge off their sour bite, or other sweeter fruits. Excited to try this recipe!: Cranberry Fruit Salad
You can also make an easy Cranberry Relish to use as a side- add equal parts cranberries, raspberries, apples.
This is a YouTube video by Chef AJ and Dr. Fuhrman showing how to make a sugar free cranberry relish in a cooking show style format: Sugar Free Raw Cranberry Relish.
One trick I often use to make a healthier version of ice cream is to make a sorbet with banana as the base. Dr. Fuhrman popularized this way of creating healthy dessert on his website/in his books and calls it “Nice Cream.” The banana adds sweet creaminess, and then you can add whatever other ingredients you want- roasted pecans and vanilla, peanut butter and cocoa, etc. You can create a chocolate cranberry Nice Cream using the following recipe:
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons unsweetened soy, hemp or almond milk (or regular milk if you don’t have a milk sensitivity and that’s what you’ve got around); 2 regular dates or 1 medjool date, pitted; 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or pure vanilla bean powder; 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries; 2 large ripe bananas, frozen (Freeze ripe bananas at least 8 hours in advance. Peel bananas and seal in a plastic bag before freezing).
Directions: Add non-dairy milk, dates, cocoa powder, cranberries and vanilla to a high-powered blender or food processor and start to blend. Drop frozen banana pieces in slowly. Add additional non-dairy milk if needed to reach desired consistency.
You can also add cranberries to cookie recipes, oatmeal, anything to which you would add other berries.
I love cooking. BUT, in the summer, food’s gotta be cool and fresh without much cooking time. Or put it out on the grill. Any way you slice it, even if you love cooking, spending time over a hot stove is more of a winter activity than a summer activity for sure.
Enter the ubiquitous pasta salad, using tons of healthy veggies, non-refined flour pasta (bean-based, whole-grain based or vegetable-based), AND a healthy dressing. That last part is the part that tends to trip everyone up; there will be a reference section for healthy dressing recipes at the bottom of the post.
What I typically do is make up a big container as pictured below, then put it into serving size containers, dressing it with a different dressing every morning for lunch. You can also bring the salad to potlucks (post COVID, I guess!) instead of less healthy options that tend to flood these social events. Five minutes in the morning saves me money, time, and gives my body what it needs to take care of me so I don’t get sick. Piquant jalapeno-mint dressing, flavorful pomegranate balsamic vinegar and blood orange olive oil dressing, ranch dressing I’ve made with a mix for ranch dressing and an avocado instead of using mayonnaise… the possibilities are endless and again, summarized at the bottom of the post.
So, traditionally pasta salads really aren’t that healthy for you. The main bulk of the dish is white refined flour pasta, usually a sugary or saturated or trans-fat laden dressing is used, and there’s not a lot of redeeming nutritional value in this side dish.
This is an easy fix! Pasta salad can become an easy summer staple that is loaded with nutrients and has metabolism-supportive (read: weight loss) effects on your endocrine system instead of being a trash heap of worthless calories.
Easy changes to the traditional recipe:
1.) Transform the white flour pasta into nutrient-dense pasta made from beans or veggies.
My favorite option for pasta is bean-based pastas, made from lentils or chickpeas. Most of my patients are aware that I am always singing the praises of the health benefits of beans, as they are high in iron, calcium, fiber, folate, and tons of other micronutrients, and are a large part of the diet of the healthiest civilizations in the world (The Blue Zones). But, they also raise blood glucose slowly after a meal. Choosing foods that do this is important to maintaining a healthy weight, and is one of the reasons why increased bean consumption is linked to weight loss. The two hormones that cause weight gain in the body are insulin and cortisol. This means if you eat two foods that have the same amount of calories, but one spikes your post meal blood sugar and the other causes a slow rise, you will gain more weight from eating the first food because insulin (the fat storing hormone) is how the body responds to sugar spikes. Conversely, having white flour pasta will spike your sugar like crazy and encourage weight gain.
Other options for non-white-pasta noodles: noodles made from zucchini, spaghetti squash or other veggies. You can make these at home using a kitchen gadget, or buy prepped from the store in the frozen veggies section. The benefits of these are similar to bean pastas- better metabolic profile/doesn’t spike sugar or insulin and full of nutrients instead of just being a worthless heap of calories with no nutritional benefit.
2.) Load the salad with healthy fruits and veggies.
This is what summer cooking is ABOUT- access to an insane amount of fresh fruits and veggies. Flyte Family farms has an outdoor produce mart in front of Culver’s and on the way into Baraboo. There is a farmer’s market in downtown Portage from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Home gardens are bursting. Fresh sweet corn is coming in from the fields. If you use sweet fruits and vegetables like carrots, corn, dried fruit, pineapple, you can replace the sugar used in dressings with these items and have a whole-food alternative to sugar.
However, if the time it takes to chop of vegetables is stopping you from making a salad like this, go ahead and thaw a bag of frozen veggies and throw it in there with the cooked pasta.
Early summer veggies: green onions, peas, baby carrots, early greens like spinach, sorrel, arugula, chard, radishes.
Mid summer veggies: all of the above plus tomatoes of sooo many varieties, sweet corn, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplant (normally would be cooked rather than raw in a salad, e.g. Eggplant Bacon), zucchini
Late summer/fall veggies: squash (with a curry based dressing, yum!) like butternut, acorn, or pumpkin; sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, Brussels sprouts.
3.) Use a healthy dressing
Check out the dressings from the store- most of them have sugar or high-fructose corn syrup as the first, second or third ingredient, or have refined oils as a base. You screw up all the health benefits of your salad if we skimp on the dressing- and there’s no need to do that! The name of the game with this should be to use whole foods that contain the flavors you want instead of refined fat and sugar. Nature normally gives us the toxin with the cure- so although fruits have sugar in them, they also are typically very high in fiber to slow the entry of sugar into the blood stream. OR, if you use an avocado for a fatty flavor instead of avocado oil, the avocado has fiber and plant sterols so that you end up LOWERING cholesterol instead of raising cholesterol by eating this fatty food. Plant sterols can be taken as a supplement to lower cholesterol, and they are found in fatty plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocadoes and coconuts. But if you only remove the oil from those foods and get rid of the protective compounds, the refined oils are not as healthy as the whole food is.
Quick examples of healthy/quick dressings: vinegars like apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or aged balsamics and olive oil with dijon mustard; mix an avocado with dried ranch dip mix; if you like spice, mix 1 jalapeno with 1/4 c packed mint leaves, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 cup soaked cashews (if your salad has dried fruit in it, you likely won’t need to sweeten this for flavor; if not add a little honey to round it out).
Iceberg lettuce and grainy tomatoes with sugar laden dressing is not a salad. Potatoes laden with mayonnaise is not a salad.
When people tell me that holidays cause weight gain and dietary slips and all kinds of reasons to be upset, it makes me sad just like the myth that salads are boring makes me sad. The two myths are interrelated.
This Fall Bounty Salad is just one example of a Fall/Winter Holiday salad that is delicious, healthy, and seasonally appropriate. There are many more!
Fall Bounty Salad- Serves 4
2 cups of Brussel Sprouts
1 small or 1/2 large Butternut Squash
1 cup Pecans
3/4 c dried cranberries
2 tablespoons avocado oil or other high smoke point oil
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Halve the butternut squash, scoop out the seeds, and peel the squash.
2. Chop prepared squash into one inch cubes.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
4. Chop off the bottoms of the Brussel Sprouts, then chop in half. Combine the Sprouts and the squash in a large bowl.
5. Mix the maple syrup and oil. Pour over the Brussel Sprouts and Butternut Squash, and mix well.
6. Line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Pour Sprouts and butternut squash on the pan, and cook in the 400 degree oven until squash is fork tender and Brussels Sprouts are browned, 25-30 min.
7. While veggies are roasting, chop pecans, then sauté them in a warm pan for a few minutes until fragrant but not burned.
8. Combine all ingredients; can be served warm or prepared ahead of time and served room temp. Wait to add the pecans until the time the salad is served so that the crispy pecans don’t become soggy.
Spaghetti Squash is the answer to Easy, Healthy Weeknight meal prayers. I got this squash for $1 from Flyte Family Farms. I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and put it upside down on a Jelly Roll pan in a half inch of water for 30 minutes in a 375 degree oven. I had a hearty tomato based sauce I put on top from the fridge. Done.
So the one thing that’s not basically ready-made is the tomato based sauce. I had this sauce hanging out in the fridge from when friends were visiting last week, heated it up, and put it on the squash- however even if you don’t have leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, it’s still pretty easy- lemme get to that in the next paragraph. Whole meal took 30 minutes, but really just 10 minutes of actual work. I would even argue cooking spaghetti squash is easier than making white pasta because you don’t have to watch it while it’s cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil over….. and it’s a food with all kinds of fantastic nutrition (potassium, magnesium, fiber, calcium, vitamin C) instead of just processed carbs with no nutritional value like white pasta.
Back to easy, healthy tomato sauce: sauté a diced onion in a tablespoon of water (instead of oil), add more water if it sticks. Sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add a 15oz can of drained garbanzo beans, a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of garlic powder, and black pepper, oregano and marjoram to taste. If you have some frozen corn and peas you can throw those in, too. If you have absolutely no time, you could combine pasta sauce and a can of beans for a fast, delicious, hearty meal with 5 minutes of work.
Sunday brunch is both delicious and healthy. If you are having white flour pancakes with butter and maple syrup or full fat bacon and eggs, then it may be delicious but you will also be getting your full day’s supply of calories in one meal without a lot of nutrition. No thanks… here’s a healthy spin on typical Sunday brunch fare to make sure you start off your week both healthy AND satisfied.
Comparison of nutrients in a 100 gram serving of typical brunch fare (bacon) to the updated fare (portobello recipe). Percentages refer to % daily value and was obtained from nutritiondata.self.com/
Griddled Portobello (one full cap, 100 grams)
Bacon, 100 grams
Calories per servings
144 cal, 14 grams of fat (mostly from added avocado oil), 4.9 g carb
541 cal, 42 grams of fat, 1.4 g carb
Other nutrients per serving
This recipe has anti-inflammatory spices like paprika and garlic added during the cooking process that reduce risk of disease.
2.2 grams fiber
* Calcium 4.0 mg 0% * Iron 0.6 mg 3% * Magnesium 15.0 mg 4% * Phosphorus 150 mg 15% * Potassium 521 mg 15% * Sodium 700.0 mg 0% (if using low-salt version of recipe has minimal salt) * Zinc 0.7 mg 5% * Copper 0.5 mg 25% * Manganese 0.1 mg 4% *Selenium 17.7 mcg 25%
Has nitrates added during the curing process, which becomes nitrosamine during the cooking process- a cancer forming compound.
We ended up getting a collection of fantastic summer veggies from our local Community Supported Agriculture Share- Orange Cat Community Farm.* I couldn’t wait to make this reeks-of-summer dish with the tomatoes, summer squash, onion, and eggplant we received in the share, along with some basil, parsley and thyme from my own yard. I know I already discussed Ratatouille in a previous post last summer/late fall, but I just can’t help myself I love it so much. It’s like warm apple cider in the fall or asparagus in the spring… Ratatouille IS summer bounty. And this time I have an actual recipe instead of just suggestions.
for 6 servings
Nutrition info/serving: Calories 164, Fat 5 g, Carbs 26 g, Fiber 8 grams, Sugar 15 g, Protein 5 g
The numbers are empiric; the idea is to have about equal numbers of slices of all the different colored veggies, so if that’s 2 large brandywine tomatoes cut to fit or 20 cherry tomatoes or 6 roma, as long as you’re eating the veggies that’s all that counts… and if the colors alternate it’s pretty, too.
6 roma tomatoes
2 yellow squashes
2 lemons plus extra juice to squeeze on top
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced. Also a dash of smoked or roasted garlic powder is always a nice addition if you have it.
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste (freshly ground is the most yummy)
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, from 8-10 leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, from 8-10 leaves
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or tarragon)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven for 375˚F.
Slice the eggplant, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and lemon into approximately ¹⁄₁₆-inch (1-mm) rounds, then set aside. If you have a mandoline, that makes this really easy.
Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, garlic, and bell peppers until soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the crushed tomatoes. Stir until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Remove from heat, then add the basil. Stir once more, then smooth the surface of the sauce with a spatula.
Arrange the sliced veggies and lemon in alternating patterns, (for example, eggplant, tomato, squash, zucchini) on top of the sauce from the outer edge to the middle of the pan. Stick a lemon slice in there every so often until the entire two lemons are used up. Season with salt and pepper, spritz with a little more lemon juice either from another lemon or a container of lemon juice. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, then bake for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
Mix herb seasoning ingredients and pour over the cooked ratatouille.
Serve while hot as a main dish or side. The ratatouille is also excellent the next day–cover with foil and reheat in a 350˚F (180˚C) oven for 15 minutes, or simply microwave to desired temperature.
*Regarding Orange Cat Community Farm– it’s a great local Community Supported Agriculture farm to support, meaning you don’t ship veggies in from California on a truck or a plane to eat them… they are grown right where we live so it is fresher, tastes amazing every time, and keeps money and resources in our local community!
It’s that time of year- the time of rhubarb and strawberry peak ripeness overlapping. The sweet of strawberries and the tart of rhubarb are a time-tested, palate pleasing combo that means the spring season is full and almost ready to transition to summer. Peach rhubarb is also a stellar combo later in the summer!! Considering Wisconsin food culture has a large overlap with Scandinavian food culture, it is no surprise both have a penchant for rhubarb desserts of all types… rhubarb tarts like this one, rhubarb pudding, etc. It is used much the way tart cherries are.
When I look up recipes for rhubarb dessert, though, it seems they tend to have almost as many cups of sugar as they do rhubarb. Gross; this is completely unnecessary and hides the flavors of the season under a mask of refined sugar. This simple recipe has no refined sugar- sweetnesss comes from Stevia or fruit. You can pick up a Stevia plant at Edgewater Home and Garden at this time of year. I love them; at the end of the season I bring my Stevia plant inside for winter baking. My plant did die, though, when I went on vacation…. I came back and harvested all the dry leaves though and use them to sweeten oatmeal or tea or anything else for which I would otherwise use sugar.
2 cups of chopped strawberries
2 cups of chopped rhubarb
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 oz dried apricots, diced (about a half cup)
3 stevia leaves, minced* (see note)
1/4 c orange juice
dusting of coconut sugar
Crust- 1/2 c dates, 1/2 c walnuts or pecans
* If you don’t have a Stevia plant in your yard, there are a few options for replacing this ingredient. 1. Powdered Stevia. If you have pure powdered Stevia, that stuff is powerful and a small dash (less than an eighth of a teaspoon) will flavor this whole recipe; it’s easy to use too much. Most Stevia powders have fillers, though, exactly for this reason. If you have Stevia in the Raw packets, 3 will work. If you have a watered down Stevia powder with fillers, most would sufficiently flavor the dish with 1.5 tsp. May have to flavor to taste, though …. this is definitely the wild card ingredient in this recipe, but Stevia is worth learning how to use to replace an unhealthy ingredient with a healthy one in a lot of recipes.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine all filling ingredients except coconut sugar. Put mixture into a greased 9 inch pie pan or glass (I used coconut oil; I would stick with either a flavorless oil like avocado or a nutty oil considering it is a dessert like coconut or pecan or hazelnut oil, etc.).
3. Dust with coconut sugar.
4. Combine nuts and dates in a food processor. Process on “high” until crumbly; this may take several minutes.
5. Sprinkle the date-nut crumble into the fruit filling.
6. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. Uncover in the last 5-10 minutes to brown the topping (I left mine in the picture uncovered for too long thus the burned sections…)
Totally ok to double the recipe and have more for later/freeze as well. This dessert didn’t raise my sugar appreciably when I ate a 3/4 cup serving.
Take a banana, cut it in half, coat in almond butter, stick some fruit on top. My personal fave on top is sweet dark cherry halves, like Bing cherries. I could go more into it, but it’s really that simple. It takes a minute to create at most.
Health benefits of all ingredients:
1. First of all, congratulations on not using sugar in your dessert. Sugar causes unnecessary inflammation (the basis of all disease), messes with your metabolism, and just in general wreaks havoc on the body, whether it comes through soda, candy or dessert.
2. Berries: one of the best things you can put in your body. They are full of fiber, micronutrients like anthocyanins and polyphenolic compounds and plenty of vitamins. Increased consumption linked to all kinds of good things: with slowed cognitive decline in the elderly, cancer prevention and destruction,
4. Almond butter: although almonds are caloric because of all the fat they contain, it is a “good fat” that lowers serum blood cholesterol levels instead of raising them, perhaps because it is linked to other phytonutrients like fiber and plant sterols. Used in moderation, nuts and seeds of all kind are heart healthy, help absorb any nutrients eaten along with them (the fat helps the nutrients cross the mucosal barrier in GI tract easier), improve cholesterol levels, have lots of micronutrients like vitamin E and Several B vitamins, etc. Compare this type of fat to the fat found in fries or animal sources that has no associated micronutrients, worsens blood cholesterol levels, and causes vascular problems.
This is the idea with healthy desserts. If you can choose things like fruit sorbets without added sugar or other dishes that use fruit that is loaded with nutrients instead of empty calories without any nutritional benefit like most desserts on the market, this can only do good things.