Month: May 2014

Berrylicious Tostadas

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Berrylicious Tostadas

I have a fantastic treat for you guys today. I’m sharing one of my all-time favorite desserts with you, and it’s a perfect way to ring in the summer season. I’ve had friends request I make it when coming over for dinner, and almost every time I visit my parents my mom drops not-so subtle hints that she has ingredients for it. Fine, mom, I’ll make it for you.

The original inspiration for this recipe came from a Mexican cookbook that my sister bought at Goodwill. We found a recipe inside for fruit tostadas and knew we had to try them. That recipe, however, used cream cheese and heavy cream in the filling. While delicious, it wasn’t necessarily a dessert my waistline would enjoy. Also, those are ingredients I typically don’t have readily available in my refrigerator. Baking tortillas

So how did I health-ify it? Greek yogurt of course! I almost always have some in my fridge, so really the only thing I have to make sure I have on hand are tortillas. I kept the cinnamon-sugar tortilla shell and the chocolate drizzle, but using either plain or vanilla flavored Greek yogurt lightened up the recipe without sacrificing taste or the decadent feeling you get from eating it. Keep in mind that the vanilla Greek yogurt has more sugar than the plain and will taste sweeter, but both are wonderful.

baked shells

Do I even need to mention the health benefits of berries? Often touted as a superfood, berries are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. I don’t necessarily like the term “superfood” because there is no one food that will work miracles. Rather it is a combination of a healthy, varied diet and exercise that has proven time and time again to have the greatest effect on one’s health. Berries definitely pack a nutritional punch, as does the yogurt and whole grains also in this dessert. And the dark chocolate? Well I believe in feeding the soul, and a little chocolate here and there makes my soul happy.

Berrylicious Tostadas Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups plain or vanilla-flavored fat-free Greek yogurt, divided among 4 shells
  • 2 cups mixed berries, divided among 4 shells
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips, melted


Preheat oven to 350⁰. Using a brush or your fingers, evenly spread a thin layer of the melted butter on each tortilla. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and then sprinkle it across the surface of the 4 tortillas (you may have some leftover). Using oven-safe bowls, place each tortilla in a bowl to form a cone shape. Bake tortillas for 15-20 minutes or until browned.

Let the tortillas cool (speed this up by placing them in the refrigerator). Spoon the yogurt into each tortilla shell and place in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. You don’t want to leave them in too long as the yogurt will harden too much (I found this out the hard way).

When ready, remove the shells from the freezer, add the berries, and drizzle with melted chocolate.

Nutrition Facts

  • 274 calories
  • 17 g protein
  • 43 g carbohydrate
  • 6 g fiber
  • 5 g fat
  • 230 mg sodium

MSG: Hero or Villain?

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Once upon a time, a fair maiden Glutamate and a strapping lad Sodium got together and had a child: Monosodium glutamate, who later became known as Ms. G for short. Ms. G was born in 1908 and had an awesome childhood. She had a magical power that caused taste buds to experience the taste “umami.” Everybody in the United Plates of Food loved her and wanted her in all their dishes. She became quite popular. Not to mention, Ms. G had 1/3 the amount of sodium of her half brother NaCl, or Sir Tablesalt. Everyone in UPF understood the destructive hypertension Sir Tablesalt brought to the land so Ms. G was considered a hero to all who enjoyed the umami flavor and lower sodium alternative.

But as time passed, people started blaming her for symptoms they were having after eating a number of Asian dishes she starred in.  These symptoms included headaches, nausea, flushing, sweating, heart palpitations, and chest pain.  People called it “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”  To make matters worse, people pointed at her for the cause of migraine headaches, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and intolerances.  Soon, she became known as a villain.


Before we delve into the fate of Ms. G I think it’s best to take a brief story time intermission.  So no one confuses fairy tale and fact, I’m going to switch gears here and give it to you straight.  Since many thought MSG was the culprit of the afore mentioned health concerns, scientists carried out research involving MSG and its effects in both animals and humans.  Research has been going on for decades and still, scientists cannot find conclusive data stating MSG is harmful.  In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even classifies MSG as a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe.”  Sure, a few studies have proven MSG to be harmful.  BUT, these were done in mice given extreme amounts of the additive compared to their weight.

Still, scientists agree that some people may be sensitive to the effects of MSG. For this reason, the FDA requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate. Of course, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed yeast, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolates, and also in tomatoes and cheeses. Even foods with these naturally occurring MSGs cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their label. Moreover, it cannot be listed as “spices and flavoring.”

This is where people get heated. Many food companies don’t necessarily follow these requirements and try to cover up MSG in whatever way they can. It is up to the consumer to recognize MSG’s other common names (these among others) if he really wants to know for sure.

So, does everyone live happily ever after? Keep reading to find out!


To this day, scientific evidence shows Ms. G is safe, yet some may need to restrict her in the food they eat to avoid adverse reactions. Thankfully, this is such a small number of individuals and studies of Ms. G and her link to health concerns are inconclusive.

Hero? Villain? Neither? Maybe one day the United Plates of Food will unveil her true identity.

Spring Pasta

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Spring Pasta

Spring has sprung!! Technically it sprung March 20th, but I believe at that time we were experiencing the last vestiges of a polar vortex. It’s time to forget those cold, dark days because grey has been replaced with green, there are flowers to behold, and my face is beginning to lose its “ruddy” look. With the warmer days and thawed ground comes one of my favorite things about spring: asparagus.

asparagus, a spring favorite

Seasonal eating is tricky when supermarkets carry most types of produce year-round, regardless of growing season. My grocery cart, regardless of the season, typically has broccoli, spinach, grapes, and apples to name a few. But there are those special fruits and vegetables that, for both taste and price, I only buy when in season. Asparagus is definitely on this short list. Not only do I refuse to pay upwards of $5.99 a pound for asparagus, but have you tasted it when it’s not in season? I find it woody and lacking in flavor. It’s absolutely wonderful, though, in the spring.

spring pasta ingredients

Asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup has a mere 40 calories but 4 g of fiber, which is 14% of your daily needs. That’s a lot of fiber for a small amount of energy! It’s loaded with folate and vitamin K, at 67% and 100% of your daily needs, respectively. Folate is especially important for any ladies out there of reproductive age as a deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in embryos. It’s a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins. This veggie can really help you spring into a healthy lifestyle (see what I did there?!). A random fun fact I learned is that the white spears you occasionally see at the store or farmers market are the same variety as the green but lack chlorophyll. The shoots are covered with soil while growing to prevent photosynthesis, resulting in the white color. This version has a tad less fiber and tastes a bit sweeter.


Asparagus can be eaten any number of ways and makes an excellent side dish. In this recipe, however, I wanted to incorporate it into a simple vegetarian main dish that can be prepared on the busiest of weeknights. What’s great about this recipe is its simplicity. You can buy the artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes far in advance without risk of them spoiling like fresh vegetables. Most of us have some form of pasta hiding in the cupboards, and I don’t know about you, but my cheese drawer is usually well-stocked. A simple sauté of the asparagus with a squirt of lemon juice is really all it takes to get this dish on the table, ready for a delicious meal showcasing a spring-time classic.

Spring Pasta


Ingredients (4 servings)

  • 1 16 oz bag whole wheat pasta (here I used penne, but use any noodle you like)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 6.5 oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 7 oz jar sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Fresh lemon juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add asparagus and red onion and sauté until asparagus turns bright green, ~2-3 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Cook for 1 minute, then add the artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, and garlic. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until everything is heated through.

Combine the pasta and asparagus mixture. Add grated parmesan, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.

Nutrition Facts

  • 576 calories
  • 26 g protein
  • 101 g carbohydrate
  • 17 g fiber
  • 12 g fat
  • 521 mg sodium
Hugo loves Spring
Hugo loves Spring

Drink this, not that: Craft Beer

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The world of beer has changed. The growing aisles of microbrews at Jewel. The taps full of craft beers at the local dive. The awkward point at a party when you have to decide if flip-cup can be played with Two-Brothers Prairie Path. I’m not complaining. I love the variety present in Chicago’s beer scene and enjoy taking the time to try new brews. However, learning isn’t easy and people with mustaches are intimidating.


Beer snobbery aside, the variation in taste, calories and nutrients in these microbrews are quite extreme. And you can’t judge calories by things like ‘heavy’ or ‘dark’ or other words that typically indicate ‘too much’. For instance Guinness, often described as a meal in a bottle, clocks in at only 120 calories. So, with this post, I’ll offer a quick guide to the nutritional value of beer and some of my favorite picks. In the words of a beer company that won’t get mentioned in this post, Here We Go!


: a light and simple style of pale lager, these brews are relatively new in the beer world and are most commonly found under labels like Miller and Coors.  However, many breweries are experimenting with fun and interesting styles of pilsners that feature floral and fruity flavors.  They rarely offer nutritional value beyond their alcohol content, but are a great choice if you’re drinking multiple beers in a night.

My favorite: Firestone Pivo Pilsner, 5.3% ABV, 159 calories



Wheat Ales: a mixture of barley and wheat grains that uses yeast to develop flavor.  They have a light and cloudy appearance and can be quite delicious. However, the carbohydrate content of these beers is high, causing a disproportional alcohol to calorie ratio.  Don’t drink too many!

My favorite:  Not really worth it, but: Allagash White, 5% ABV, 175 calories


domainPale Ales:
gently roasted barley and pale malt combine to make the earthy flavors found in these ales.  With phenol and anti-oxidant levels similar to a glass of red wine, these beers can offer health benefits beyond their calories. A good choice for regular drinking.

My favorite: Two Brothers Domaine Dupage, 5.9% ABV, 187 calories


these brews have added hops that are balanced with malt to level the flavor. They are typically very strong, have high alcohol content, and can be quite caloric.  Similar to pale ales, their nutrition content can be high, but should be drank in moderation.

My favorite: Double Dog Double Pale Ale, 11.5% ABV, 292 calories


dragStouts: very little hops, slow roasted barley, these brews are quite interesting nutritionally.  In many varieties, the thick creamy texture is derived from specific yeast and occasionally added nitrogen.  They often have coffee, liquorice, or chocolate flavors and high alcohol content. However, their calorie value ranges.

My favorite: New Holland Dragon’s Milk, 10% ABV, 325 calories


If you’re simply counting calories, you can use this nifty formula based on the alcohol content.

APV x 3 x oz = calories per bottle

So a 12oz bottle with 4% alcohol content would look like this:

4 x 3 x 12= 144 calories

It wont be 100% accurate, but it’s a good general guide