Easy Bake Oven, Mom-Style

What’s great about roasted chicken is that it’s both a healthy lo-co meal PLUS it’s the ‘dinner that keeps on giving’ with terrific leftovers.

But I rarely serve it because the store-cooked chickens are always dry, and…well… actually roasting a chicken is awful.  The sticky process of tying down the legs, the horror of reaching into the cavity for the giblets. And the guilt when you toss the carcass rather than making soup.  Because who does that, really?

So basically, I never roast a whole chicken.

But there I was at Stop & Shop last week, exiting the cookie aisle and about to head on over to frozen treats when a yellow and blue bag in the chicken cold case caught my eye.

It was chicken-in-a-bag.  Well, really, it chicken-in-an-oven-proof-bag that’s packed inside a nifty carry-bag (I’m a sucker for packaging.)

Oh, sure, Perdue has a much fancier name than chicken-in-a-bag. They call it Oven Ready Roaster – but basically, it was a whole chicken, already seasoned and prepared (read, no giblets and no leg-tying!), nestled in an oven-ready-cooking-bag.

I picked it up by its built-in handle and inspected it.  I don’t usually roast things in a bag, but this was intriguing.

Perdue Oven-Ready Roaster

From the directions, I could see that all I had to do was pop the chicken (which was, as mentioned, actually lounging, pre-seasoned, in an oven-proof bag) – into a 13x9x2 pan or cookie sheet.  Then pop it in the oven.

OK, sure, I forgot 2 days in a row to allow for the 90 minute cook time + carving time (so we had takeout for 2 nights), but once I remembered to turn the oven on at 4:30 so we could eat at 6:30, I was golden.

Golden, I tell you.  Because here’s what happened:

  • This was so easy to prepare it was like cooking in your old easy-bake oven:  no messy prep, no messy oven and not even a messy pan!
  • The chicken was divine; even the breast meat was moist.
  • My I-hate-chicken-I-only-want-beef teenager drowned it with gravy (that I whipped up from the drippings captured in the bag) and pronounced it delicious.  Actually said the d-word.
  • In fact, he liked it so much, he ate leftover chicken with gravy for the next 2 nights.
  • Plus there was so much left over, I was able to have 3 days of healthy lunches – chicken with avocado on a tortilla that I panini’ed – YUM.
  • All this, and I didn’t have to TOUCH the raw chicken or reach inside that cavity
  • Cleanup was a snap – just the cutting board, really.
  • And the chicken cost all of $9.  With rice and broccoli and the smidge of wine I threw into the gravy, I think we dined (for several days!) for a grand total of about $11.

Maybe you already know about this chicken-in-a-bag thing and how easy it makes things, but it was news to me. I’ll definitely be roasting chicken this way again – it’s a great lo-co meal and oh-so-easy.  I’d post a recipe but there isn’t one, really.  All it would say is:

  • Buy Perdue Oven-Ready Roaster, put oven on at around 4:30 then cook and carve.
  • Empty drippings from bag into saucepan, add some chicken stock and wine and simmer; thicken with cornstarch & water.
  • Put on rice cooker and chop broccoli for the steamer.

The only downside is the carving – which is a hassle (for my husband).  So today I bought the Oven-Ready Bone-In Breast which should be easier to carve.  Worried it won’t yield gravy, but I’ll keep you posted.

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Plant ster-what?

Way back when – was it really just months ago? – when my doctor said I needed to lower my cholesterol, she gave me several dietary suggestions.  According to the now-faded yellow-stickie I kept from that appointment, here’s what she suggested I begin to eat daily/near-daily:

  • Psyllium (aka Metamucil) daily – check
  • Oatmeal – check
  • Fish Oil – check
  • Multi-vitamin and/or margarine with plant sterols – Huh?

I dutifully followed her advice on the first three, but had completely forgotten about the plant sterol thing.  Until, that is, I received an email from a company called Corazonas Foods, complimenting my efforts to lower cholesterol without meds, and asking if I would like to try some of their ‘Cholesterol-Lowering Snacks.’

So they sent a box (free of charge – full disclosure!) and after ripping it open, I was sad to find there was not a ‘cholesterol-lowering snack’ in the form of Phish Food ice cream.  (Yes, OK, I know… Duh, right.  But a girl can dream hallucinate, no?)

My husband, however, was thrilled as chips are his food vice.

But first – what on earth are plant sterols and why did my doctor suggest I add them to my diet?  According to the Cleveland Clinic (and many other sources), plant sterols have indeed been proven to help lower cholesterol:

“Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring substances found in plants. They are present in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes…

Research has shown that plant sterols/stanols included with a heart healthy eating plan may reduce your risk for heart disease. The sterols/stanols work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Clinical research trials have documented safety and effectiveness for use by the entire family…

Effectiveness has been shown with dosages of 2 to 3 grams plant stanols per day…   Regular and light margarines are available, both with only trace amounts of trans fatty acids. In order to achieve the needed 2 grams or more of plant stanols per day, a serving size of 2 to 4 tablespoons per day is needed.”

Oh, right!  Now I remember why I didn’t try plant sterols: since I rarely add butter or margarine to anything, my doctor and I agreed it wouldn’t make sense for me to ADD margarine (even with plant sterols) to my diet.

Instead, I was supposed to take Centrum Cardio, which also has plant sterols.

Let’s not ask why I forgot about that.

Well, OK, if you must know – I bought the darn vitamins, but you have to take them TWICE a day and they are VERY BIG and so, well, let’s just say there’s a full vitamin container on my kitchen counter.  But I did just crack it open, and…

Back to Corazonas.  They kindly sent samples (again: for free) of their tortilla chips and snack bars, and even though chips are not my thing, I have to say, they were quite good.  For chips.  I liked the ‘squeeze of lime’ tortilla chips, while my husband preferred the extremely spicy habanero flavor.  So, if you jones for chips/bars instead of ice cream like me, you’re in luck… you can have your chips and get plant sterols too.

Though, you’ll probably also need the big-honking vitamins and/or ‘Heart Smart’ spread to get to the level of plant sterols that are effective.

But hey – if you’re snacking on chips anyway…

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Vote for next Lo-Co post topic!

Which of the following cholesterol-lowering topics should I research and post about next?  Which is most important to you?

  1. Instant Oatmeal vs Steel-Cut Oatmeal: is steel-cut that much better?
  2. What are plant sterols?
  3. Are there home-cholesterol tests?
  4. Must I / should I switch to Frozen Yogurt (oh, the agony)
  5. Are there any good lo-co frozen dinners?

Follow this link to vote on the GoLowCholesterol Facebook page:  Vote here!

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What is a low-fat recipe, really?

So there I was in the produce aisle searching for arugula to try that Pappardelle with Baby Spinach Arugula, Herbs and Ricotta recipe I posted about when my friend Michaela called.

“Why is this a good lo-co recipe?” she asked.  “Where is the nutritional info?  I didn’t see that in your post?  Can you add that?”  (Michaela writes historical fiction for teens – so she’s a stickler for details!  But we love her anyway.)

I stammered something to the effect of, “Well, um, it’s a Cooking Light recipe… so… um…”

And then I peered more carefully at the recipe.  Bucking usual Cooking Light norms, this recipe calls for whole-milk ricotta rather than a skim/reduced fat version.  And though I nearly always replace full-fat with lower fat, I didn’t in this recipe, as that felt risky – the ricotta mixed with hot pasta water is the entire sauce.  Plus, I felt sure that the folks at Cooking Light would have tried a reduced fat ricotta when they were testing it, and if it was good, it would have been in the recipe.

So why is a recipe with a full-fat ricotta okay as a low-fat / lo-co option?  (Or worse, maybe it’s not?)

Further inspection made me feel better – this recipe has 11.6 grams of fat and 329 calories – so only 4% of calories from fat.  And I didn’t need my calculator to see that 4% is far lower than the ‘no more than 30% calories from fat’ rule of thumb.  Woot.

But wait – it has 14 mg of cholesterol.  Is that OK?

ARGH.  It’s hard enough to plan lo-co dinners at all.  If I now need to analyze the nutritional content of every recipe I consider, you know I’ll abandon cooking altogether and end up dining at Wendy’s all the time.  With a Phish Food chaser.

So I jammed the recipe into my back pocket.  Questions be dammed: this recipe is from Cooking Light and I’m going with it.  Into the cart went the full fat ricotta this recipe calls for, as well as the arugula a few recipe reviewers suggested.

And I am happy to report that this recipe was fantastic the 2nd time around, with baby arugula instead of baby spinach and these other modifications:

  • The ‘pour the pasta water over the spinach/arugula’ suggestion was brilliant.  This cooked (blanched?) it just enough to take the edge off but still taste fresh.
  • I eliminated the dill as I just really don’t like it – and didn’t miss it at all.  Might try substituting other fresh herbs next time I make this
  • After adjusting to a finer grind on my pepper mill, it was fine, pun intended. (Of course I didn’t measure it, so have no idea if the ‘1/2 tsp’ is a good amount – I leave that to your personal taste & judgment.)

And here’s a bonus: my 16-year-old son actually ATE and LIKED this dish.  Not only that, the LIE ACTUALLY WORKED!  He bought that the arugula was an herb and actually ate some, though did leave a smattering at the bottom of his pasta bowl claiming it was too ‘leafy’ for him.  But overall, he actually liked it!

Another bonus – it is GREAT as a leftover for lunch.   So I highly recommend the Cooking Light Pappardelle with Baby Spinach (or Arugula), Herbs and Ricotta recipe.

For you data hounds out there (Michaela, that means you) here is the nutritional info per serving for this recipe – it’s also printed on the recipe itself but here goes: Calories: 329, Fat: 11.6g, Saturated fat: 3.6g, Monounsaturated fat: 6.1g, Polyunsaturated fat: 1.1g, Protein: 12.2g, Carbohydrate: 45.5g, Fiber: 2.9g, Cholesterol: 14mg, Iron: 2.9mg, Sodium: 373mg, Calcium: 118mg.

And if you really want to know more about nutritional info, check out the Cleveland Clinic’s Nutrition-Cholesterol Guidelines.  These guidelines lay out the % of total calories recommended for each type of nutritional element. Pasted below is a summary chart, but this web page has a lot of useful (albeit somewhat overwhelming) info.

And hey – look at that – turns out I can 100% confirm that this IS a great lo-co recipe:  it’s easy, fast, delicious AND has just 14 mg of cholesterol.  Which, looking at the chart below, is just 7% of the 200 mg total per day recommended in the chart below.  Totally lo-co.

And best of all, that leaves room for a Phish Food dessert, don’t you think?

NutrientFor a 1,800-calorie diet
Saturated fat, <7% of calories14 grams or less per day
Polyunsaturated fat, up to 10% of caloriesUp to 20 grams per day
Monounsaturated fat, up to 20% of caloriesUp to 40 grams per day
Total fat, 25% to 35% of caloriesBetween 50 and 70 grams per day
Carbohydrate, 50% to 60% of caloriesBetween 225 and 270 grams per day
Protein, about 15% of caloriesAround 67 grams per day
CholesterolLess than 200 milligrams per day
Fiber20-30 grams per day with a focus on viscous (soluble) fiber
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The alcohol-triglyceride connection

After 3 months of lo-co lifestyle changes, my cholesterol test results were mixed.  Total and LDL (bad) cholesterol dropped, but HDL (good) and Triglycerides went the wrong way.  Triglycerides, in particular, went up A LOT.

As you may recall, my doctor advised 4 key things.  The first in this list below was to ensure I stay on track with lower cholesterol results, and the other THREE were for triglycerides in particular:

  1. Keep up the low-fat, low-cholesterol, plant-sterol, high fiber dietary changes I’d made (I have been  marginally successful with this in recent months)
  2. Exercise more (marginally successful here would be a HUGE overstatement)
  3. Add fish oil (not too difficult, have done OK with this)
  4. Cut out or reduce alcohol (this I pretended not to hear)

I would have kept ignoring the dreaded cut out reduce alcohol recommendation, except my friend Christine asked me yesterday WHY you should reduce alcohol when you have high cholesterol and/or triglycerides.

Normally, I don’t care why – the technical details just plain bore me.  But if I’m (or she’s) supposed to do something as drastic as abandon that best-part-of-the-day-glass-of-red-wine, then knowing why I should ditch the wine is important – or it’ll never happen.

Oh, who am I kidding.  I know it’s not going to happen.  But hell, I might as well know why I should cut out reduce my alcohol intake!

So I did some research: here’s what the Cleveland Clinic has to say about triglycerides (you can see the full page and more useful links on my Resources/Info Links page):

“Excess calories are stored as triglycerides in the body. If you eat more calories than you need, it could elevate your triglyceride level.

You may be able to reduce high triglycerides without medication by following a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and reducing sugar, fat, and alcohol intake. If you currently smoke, stopping may decrease your triglyceride level and your risk for heart disease.”

Woot!  Alcohol is just ONE factor!  Not the be all and end all!  I mean, really, from what I read, it looks like a key cause of high triglycerides is extra calories & sugar, not alcohol per se.  (I’m inferring that alcohol = bad because it has empty calories & sugar: I could not find a lot more about specifically WHY one should cut out reduce alcohol.  If anyone has any solid info, please comment!)

As my jeans are not fitting me well right now (oh, the muffin-top horror) and I’m still a sugar addict, I decided that WINE IS NOT MY PROBLEM.  Well, it might be a problem, but it’s not what is causing my sky-high triglycerides.  Probably that is due to too much fat and sugar (see muffin-top horror above).  So it seems totally clear to me that best way for me to lower my triglycerides is to work on items #1 (low fat and low sugar diet) and #2 (exercise) above.

Yes, OK, as for #1 – Phish Food is still in the freezer.  And it was on sale last week, so I bought 4 pints.  So shoot me.  And as for #2, exercise, well, that is not what this post is about.  So I am not discussing it.

But I did discover something great just past that freezer case…and it is cutting fat in my daily diet: Silk Soy Milk Creamer.  Instead of half-and-half in my coffee, this is not bad…in fact, it’s downright good if you add a splash of half-and-half as well.  And soy is on the it-lowers-cholesterol list, so hey, double bonus.  And triple bonus:  I even managed to cut the sugar in my coffee in half last week.

These sound like small accomplishments, but in fact they are HUGE victories for me, as my feeling about coffee is that it exists solely as a vehicle for cream and sugar.  My (former) order at Dunkin’ Donuts:  a medium decaf, light and 2 sugars.  Oh, I miss those days.

So take that, triglycerides.  You can mess with my coffee.  But you are NOT taking my wine!

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