The spice of life

Variety not only wakes up bored taste buds, it's important for good nutrition

Variety not only wakes up bored taste buds, it's important for good nutrition

June 13, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Another night, another mealtime decision: The same old chicken or pasta or pork?

Oh. Sigh.

In a rut over endless nights of the same foods meal after meal after stomach-churning meal? Cheer up. It's easier than you might think to dress up old favorites with a new food to make palates pop with anticipation.

The beautiful thing is that sprucing up evening meals can be simple and - bonus - healthful, too. Just ask Monty Jones, owner of Always Catering in Williamsport.

"Immediately I thought of spinach because it's a healthy food, but most people only eat spinach cooked or in one particular situation," Jones says. "We actually stuff a lot of foods with spinach. We stuff chicken breast with spinach and beef with spinach."


Jones' recipe for Stuffed Chicken Breast Florentine represents one way to kick-start a meal without abandoning old favorites all together.

More than the spice of life, variety provides necessary balance to any diet, says Joe Prickitt, assistant director of the National Cancer Institute 5 A Day for Better Health program.

"There's a lot of science that's pointing to the necessity of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables for better health," Prickitt says.

Take antioxidants, for instance. Found in blueberries, black currants, plums and raisins, they can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's.

So, when making a big Sunday breakfast, keep the power of fruits and veggies in mind.

"If you're going to have an omelet, if you're going to have pancakes or waffles," Prickitt says, "think of them as a delivery vehicle for fruits and vegetables."

Translation: Blueberry or banana pancakes or waffles, or eggs dressed up with peppers, tomatoes or mushrooms.

Chicken is at the center of another culinary concoction, this one from Washington County Technical High School culinary arts instructor Michael Toth.

During summer grill season, he enjoys setting aside traditional barbecue sauce for a jerk seasoning rub tempered by a fruit salsa combining mango, red pepper, cilantro and lime juice.

"The salsa cools that bite down," from the jerk seasoning, Toth says. "You get that flavor contrast."

Because of the diverse vegetables available during the summer, Jones says it's easy to stray from traditional menus without rocking taste buds too much.

Does a recipe call for green pepper? Sub in red or yellow instead. Stuff that chicken breast or steak. And if all that still keeps your mouth from watering anew, Jones returns to spinach, this time as a complement to a garden-variety salad.

"Another thing we do with spinach is add it to a normal tossed salad. It gives it some color and another dimension," he says. "Of course, if kids don't usually eat their spinach, they don't even know it's there."

Stuffed Chicken Breast Florentine

For chicken:

4 oz. boneless chicken breast

2 oz. fresh spinach

1 slice bacon

salt, to taste

white pepper, to taste

For glaze:

8 oz. can chicken broth

2 T. honey

salt, to taste

white pepper, to taste

Butterfly chicken breast, stuffing with spinach and bacon. Season to taste and bake in a 350-degree oven 35 to 45 minutes or until done.

While chicken is cooking, boil broth and honey in sauce pan, adding salt and white pepper as desired.

Pour glaze atop cooked chicken.

Serves 1.

- Recipe from Monty Jones, owner, Always Catering in Williamsport

Creamy Tomato-Pepper Pasta

1 small onion, chopped

2 T. garlic, minced

2 T. olive oil

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

3 cups fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup non-fat half-and-half

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 t. black pepper

1 lb. dry bowtie or penne pasta (red pasta, if you can find it), cooked and drained

Saut garlic and onion in oil on medium-low heat until onion is translucent, splashing in a few drops of water midway through cooking, if necessary, to prevent burning. Add bell pepper and saut until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato and bring to a simmer. Turn heat off, let mixture cool for a minute or two, and gradually stir in half-and-half. Add cheese and pepper, stir, and return heat to low. Cook until heated again, and serve over pasta.

Serves 4.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 567 calories, 19 g protein, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 196 mg sodium, 7 g fiber

- From National Cancer Institute 5 A Day for Better Health Program

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