• Theresa Gentile

Updated: Oct 3, 2020



These “cookies” are healthy enough to have for breakfast. Have them on the way to school, throw them in the kids’ lunchboxes or enjoy them with a cup of coffee on a lazy weekend morning.


I don’t know about you, but this time of year always seems to have the smell and feel of sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks – even more so, now that I have kids. I’m a summer baby at heart, but I love the change of seasons in NY and fall is quickly approaching. (I mean, c’mon, all the coffee shops are already serving pumpkin lattes, so it must be fall.)


I dare to call these little bites of baked goodness, “cookies”, because, of course, cookies have the connotation of being “unhealthy” which implies other nutrition behaviors, which we wrongfully shun when we don’t eat intuitively……..but I digress.


Miriam Webster defines a cookie as a “sweet baked food that is usually small, flat and round and is made from flour and sugar”. So, I suppose these are “cookies”. Of course I call them cookies to give them the extra anticipation of deliciousness for my kids. But even with slashing the sugar, a little banana gives these pumpkin cookies natural sweetness, along with a few chocolate chips sprinkled throughout.


I cut the flour in the base and substituted oatmeal for extra more fiber.

My family ate these pumpkin cookies right up when they came out of the oven. There were definitely better right out of the oven, but the 2 cookies that were left over went into the kids’ lunchboxes and were gobbled up.


Because I love food and learning about food’s origins, I find the origin and nutrition of pumpkins quite interesting.


Pumpkin Origins


Pumpkin may creep up in artificial flavor form in the fall, but there was a time when Americans consumed them more in their natural form. Pumpkins were a staple in Native Americans’ and early colonists’ diets. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Mexico. There have been seeds from related plants found in Mexico in 7000 to 5500 B.C. (And the name, pumpkin, originated from the Greek word “pepon”, which is “large melon”.)


In today’s Mexican markets, though, there aren’t Jack-o’-lantern varieties (which are used more for carving than eating). In Mexico, you’ll find Calabaza, which are bulbous or round, being or green-striped and with crooked necks.


Pumpkin Nutrition


Pumpkin, fresh or canned, is superbly nutritious, packed with fiber, potassium, vitamin K, beta carotene and iron. I’ll focus on canned pumpkin since it’s more user-friendly.

The fact that canned pumpkin has a high water content, keeps the calories low, and fills you up more. It is also a low sodium food.

According to the USDA, ½ cup canned pumpkin contains:

Calories: 40

Total fat: 0

Sodium: 5mg

Total Carbohydrates: 10g

Dietary Fiber: 4g

Sugar: 4g

Protein: 1g

Vitamin A: 380%

Vitamin C: 8%

Calcium: 4%

Iron: 10%


This makes pumpkin a real nutrient dense food. It is high in fiber, keeping you fuller longer and helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. It has 4 grams of fiber per ½ cup, which is more than a medium sized banana.

The high beta-carotene content (which turns into Vitamin A in the body) is a powerful antioxidant. This may help boost our immunity and protect your skin from UV rays, warding off wrinkles.


Web MD suggests making an all-natural face mask with pumpkin. Take 1/4 cup pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie), an egg, a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of milk. Mix, then apply it, wait for 20 minutes or so and wash it off with warm water.


Pumpkin’s low calorie content makes it perfect for mixing in with other ingredients in a recipe to really boost the nutrition….like these pumpkin oatmeal cookies.



Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies


Makes about 13 cookies


Ingredients:

½ can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie)

½ banana, mashed

½ cup flour

1 ½ cups whole oats

4 Tbsp coconut oil (or canola/vegetable)

3 Tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup chocolate chips


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl (flour, oats, pumpkin pie spice).

Mix wet ingredients in another small bowl (pumpkin, banana, coconut oil, vanilla maple syrup).

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.

Mix until just combined.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop on greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until slightly browned.


Nutrition:

Per cookie:

Calories: 100

Carbohydrates: 11 g

Sugar: 6.7 g

Fat: 6 g

Protein: 1.2 g



Did you make them?? Tell me how they came out!

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  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

This dish is easy to make, produces a lot and can be eaten cold. Perfect for a summer picnic lunch.



I love eggplant and try to incorporate it whenever I can. My favorite way to eat eggplant?? Fried and smothered in mozzarella and sauce. Yeah, we won’t even talk about those calories. This eggplant recipe, on the other hand, is much lighter and is a great way to add vegetables to your diet.


Is Eggplant Healthy?


Let’s talk about eggplant nutrition a bit, shall we? Eggplants contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and other phytonutrients. These nutrients have been associated with heart health and lowering LDL cholesterol. Eggplants’ purple color comes from its anthocyanins. One in particular, nasunin, has been associated with cancer prevention, as it fights free radicals. These free radicals may also be responsible for improving brain health by reducing inflammation. Raw eggplant has about 20 calories per cup, 5g carbohydrates and 3g fiber making them a nutrient dense food. The fiber also helps slow sugar absorption, which makes it a good food for those with diabetes.


Which Vegetables are Nightshade Vegetables?


white potatoes

tomatoes

eggplant

bell peppers

cayenne pepper

paprika


When Eggplant is Not Healthy


Frying converts this nutrient-dense food to gluttony. Eggplants’ spongy flesh and high water content help it soak up lots of oil when the two meet. This is why most recipes will call for salting eggplant first. Salting draws the water out of the eggplant, allowing less room for oil to be absorbed. There are ways to cut down on both oil and salting time as the salting can add significant time to a recipe. Pan searing and microwaving eggplant first can do the trick of releasing some water, so that the eggplant will not soak up as much oil. (I used the microwave method in this recipe, as the slightly soggy texture is great for this caponata-type dish.) You can also brush eggplant with oil right before baking, roasting or grilling. When sautéing, heat oil to a pre-smoke point before adding eggplant to the pan.


Eggplants and Nightshade Vegetables


Eggplants are a nightshade vegetable and part of the family, Solanaceae. Some species are toxic. Leaves of eggplant and potatoes should not be eaten, nor should the green stalks of potatoes. Other species are commonly cultivated and eaten by humans. Nightshade vegetables contain alkaloids, mainly solanine, which may aggravate arthritis or trigger inflammation in some people. The Arthritis Foundation says this is not true. It is more likely that people who experience an increase in arthritis pain with nightshade vegetables have a food sensitivity to the components in these vegetables.


Mediterranean Eggplant Recipe


Serve this with crusty Italian bread, or over sliced tomatoes for a beautiful garden lunch or appetizer! This assembles quickly, but will need time to marinate, about 24 hours.


Ingredients:


2 large eggplants

4 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons each of: fresh basil, parsley, mint

Shaved parmesan, optional



Preparation:


1. Pell and cut eggplant into ¾ inch dice. Lay between paper towels on a plate and microwave on high for 7-9 minutes, more if needed, to cook eggplant. Work in batches so the eggplant is in one layer.


2. Place eggplant in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic, herbs and olive oil and toss. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, tossing a few times.


3. Serve over sliced beefsteak tomatoes. Top with shaved parmesan cheese.


Let me know if you try it!


References:

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2962

https://foodandnutrition.org/from-the-magazine/eggplant-a-savory-fruit-with-a-juicy-past/

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  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

The only thing better than a refreshing treat is knowing that the “treat” is healthy! These lemon ices are refreshing on a hot summer day and add elegance to any party.



I love summer treats, namely ice cream. Once I studied nutrition, to cut down on my fat intake, I switched from creamy ice cream to tasty ices. Eventually, I learned that the sugar in commercial ice was just as unhealthy than the fat in ice cream. Which was a real bummer because I thought ices from the pizzeria were just fantastic (well, I still do) and I could eat them after every meal. But there’s just too much sugar in those ices! So, any chance I get, I make frozen treats at home so my kids can enjoy a healthy snack. This has been great lately as they don’t seem to be eating much in this summer heat.


Snacks are key, here, to incorporate healthy foods throughout the day to fill in gaps in their diet. I do this through homemade ice pops, smoothies, energy balls, and, of course, fruits and veggies.


I’m also a summer baby, so my mom planned my birthday parties to compliment the season. Pool parties, iced tea and ice cream cakes were the norm. For the bigger summer parties, my mom would make these homemade lemon ices. (Let me rephrase that to say, For the ADULT summer parties.) I remember that she would semi-freeze some lemony stuff in a shallow container, then take it out and scrape it with a fork. Then she’d repeat that process a few times. I’ve since realized that this process is what makes the fruit slush almost creamy in consistency.


Every time you semi-freeze, whip, and freeze again, air is being incorporated into the mixture and it creates that lick-able icy texture. Lemons lack fiber and pectin so the resulting low viscosity makes it hard to get rid of those ice crystals. The sugar you need to add to cut down on the tartness of the lemons helps produce a creamier consistency.


Let’s talk about sherbet vs. sorbet for a minute. The difference lies in the incorporation of dairy. Sherbet’s base is fruit and includes dairy to make it a bit creamier (milk or cream). Remember rainbow sherbet in those plastic tubs? That was definitely was a part of my childhood summers. Sorbet, on the other hand, is lighter and made of fruit, ice and sugar. It’s meant to be a palate cleanser. Making sorbets at home is a great way to use up fruit (in my house, any fruit that’s too ripen and won’t get eaten, gets chopped up and put in the freezer) and I do not normally add any sugar.



So, how do you make lemon ice?

A few quick tips:


If you’d like to present your ice in the shell, pick nice looking lemons. I served 8 lemon shells, but you’ll need to purchase ~3 extra for zest. Try to choose larger sized and heavy lemons with thick skin and without any blemishes.


For the simple syrup – you could infuse mint or basil in it which would really put this lemon ice on the next level. I’m definitely going to do that next time.


I would suggest preparing the sorbet at least a day in advance as it can take hours for the freezing and re-freezing process, which makes this perfect for party prepping. I made these for my daughter’s Communion and left a little too much of this process for the last minute, which was not a good idea.


Lemon Ice in Lemon Shells


Ingredients:

11 lemons (8 for the shells; 3 for the zest) 1/3 cup lemon zest (from the extra 3 lemons) 1 cup strained fresh-squeezed lemons Juice (from lemons used for cups) 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 1/2 cups water


For the Shells

I first washed my lemons and then cut off ~1/2 inch of one end of the lemon. I suggest cutting the end that’s more knobby, as this will be its top. Then cut just a scant ¼ inch off the bottom, so the lemon will stand on it’s own. It’s better to be conservative here, as you just want to cut through the skin, not into the flesh.


Freeze the shells at least one hour or overnight. The frozen shell will prevent the sorbet from melting too quickly when you serve it.


Then, scoop out the juice and flesh. Use a grapefruit knife or small serrated knife to cut out the flesh, leaving the shell intact. You can then use a melon baller (or small spoon) to scoop out anything else. Reserve the juice and flesh; you can put this in a juicer, or blender, and then strain the mixture.


For the Lemon Sorbet

Make simple syrup: boil 1 ½ cups water with 1 ½ cups sugar.

To infuse herbs in your syrup, add ¼ - 1 cup herbs to the mixture. (I think mint or basil would be perfect here.)


Over medium heat, stir until sugar is combined. Add zest of 3 lemons and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add reserved lemon juice (about 1 cup). Cool and strain. Pour into a shallow container and freeze until semi-frozen. Then, remove from freezer and mash it up with a fork and freeze again (or throw it in a food processor). Do this a few more times as the more you do it, the smoother your sorbet will be.


If you have an ice cream maker: Freeze mixture, then transfer to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.


Fill your shells, place the top back on and enjoy your refreshing, tasty treat!



Did you try them? Let me know what you think!

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