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Slow Cooker Chocolate-Banana Bread

I love this recipe from fellow RDN Joy Bauer. We always have bananas in the house and if I’m not freezing the ones that are getting brown, I use them to make this super easy banana bread in the slow cooker!

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 large egg whites
¼ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or any preferred milk)
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preparation:

Make sure your bread pan(s) fits in your slow cooker.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine bananas, butter, brown sugar, egg whites and almond milk. Sprinkle dry mixture over banana mixture and fold until ingredients are just combined. Take care not to overmix; batter will be slightly lumpy. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into bread pan coated with nonstick oil spray. Place bread pan in slow cooker and set to low for 4 hours. 

To serve, cut bread into 1-inch-thick slices and then cut in half again if using a single large loaf pan.

Note: If using 2 small loaf pans, you may need to prop 1 up using foil paper in order to fit into your slow cooker. Be sure to play with pan placement before pouring batter in. This recipe works for 2 small loaf pans or 1 large pan. 

Alternatively: Bake in a 350˚ oven for 50 to 55 minutes on the middle rack, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of loaf comes out clean. 

 

 

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

A few weeks ago, I tried this recipe from fellow RDN Jennifer Hunt and it has become my new favorite slow cooker chicken recipe! Mix up the sauce and let it slow cook all day.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp sriracha chili sauce
  • ¼ cup creamy almond butter or peanut butter
  • ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS

  • Basil chopped
  • Slivered or sliced nuts such as almonds, cashews or peanuts

Instructions

  1. Place chicken breasts in the slow cooker (cut in half if desired). In a small pot, combine all other ingredients on medium heat and allow to warm through until the almond butter combines with the rest of the ingredients. Pour sauce over chicken and turn slow cooker to low.

  2. Cook for 6-8 hours. Shred chicken at end of cooking, if desired.

Recipe Notes

  • The sauce can also be made by microwaving all ingredients in a medium glass bowl for 15-30 seconds or until almond butter melts and incorporates thoroughly.
  • This recipe has a bit of spice which makes it taste amazing!  You can reduce the spice by using less sriracha and/or black pepper.

Lower Sodium Options

The sodium comes from the soy sauce, chicken broth, sriracha and possibly nut butter, depending on the brand you use.  To lower total sodium, use No Added Salt Chicken Broth (like Kitchen Basics brand) and choose a nut butter with no added salt (like Trader Joe’s No Salt Almond Butter).

Serving Ideas

  • Over zucchini noodles
  • With stir-fried vegetables like broccoli, edamame, pea pods, carrots, bell peppers and/or onions
  • Atop brown rice, quinoa or other whole grain
  • Over whole grain noodles

Mediterranean Zucchini Noodles with Chicken

Mediterranean Chicken was on the menu this week and was inspired by this recipe from the Betty Rocker. I used my Sous Vide to prepare the chicken to place atop spiralized zucchini noodles and this yummy mediterranean sauce. Serves 2.

  • 2 Zucchini Squash – spiraled
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 6 oz cooked Chicken Breast
  • 1/4 cup Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • 2 small Roma Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Kalamata Olives, chopped
  • Pesto

Pesto Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups basil, de-stemmed, loosely packed
  • 1 cup baby spinach (to stretch out your basil)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 T walnuts
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (approximate)

 

  1. Add oil to pan. Cook the zucchini noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, olives and desired amount of pesto until warm.
  2. Plate the noodle mixture and top it with sliced chicken breast.

zoodles

Slow Cooker Salsa

My garden just happens to be overflowing with tomatoes right now….so it’s time for my favorite homemade salsa! Super easy to prep the veggies and let it simmer in the slow cooker for a few hours. Once it’s blended, it’s ready to enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 10 plum tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Directions

  • Roughly slice tomatoes and onion. Place tomatoes, garlic and onion in slow cooker.
  • Cut stems off jalapenos; remove seeds if a milder salsa is desired. Place jalapenos in the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on high for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until vegetables are softened (some may brown slightly); cool.
  • In a blender, combine the tomato mixture, cilantro and, if desired, salt; cover and process until blended. Refrigerate leftovers.

 

Be Good to Your Gut

Dieting, cutting calories and avoiding entire food groups in the name of health could be sabotaging your gut health. And that’s no small consequence.

The colon, once thought to be a rather dead place where undigested waste sits until you are ready to poo, is actually brimming with activity primarily from trillions of active, beneficial bacteria. Researchers now know the gut microbiome plays an important role in strengthening your immune system and helping to regulate important daily bodily functions, including hunger signals and your mood fluctuations. In fact, 95 percent of the feel-good hormone, serotonin, resides in the gut, meaning what you eat can impact your ability to respond to stress, reduce anxiety and help the body fight foreign invaders that could make you sick.

Turns out, your gut bugs love to eat plants. Bacteria take the undigested plant carbohydrates and use them for energy, creating fatty acids that can refuel your brain and body. The more varied the plants you consume – fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts – the more varied the “good” bacteria are that survive in your colon. They are like picky toddlers who will only feast on certain foods. The best way to optimize the health of your gut is to give the bacteria enough variety of the types of foods they love to eat.

One of the best ways, then, to hurt you gut health is by dieting. Here are three gut-unfriendly dieting practices – and how you can correct them:

  1. You restrict calories.

If you cut calories to try to lose weight, you may not get the amount of food and fiber you need to allow the best bugs to thrive. Most Americans already fall short of the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber per day.

In order to consume enough fiber to keep your good gut bacteria happy, you need to eat enough calories from high-quality plant foods. Low-calorie diets tend to be low in fat and may not have much in the way of seeds, nuts and avocados, which contribute to both your fiber totals and healthy fat intake.

When your calories are low, your eating needs to be pretty darn near perfect in order to hit optimal nutrition. A perfect diet isn’t always fun, and when your diet isn’t enjoyable, you lose motivation to follow it. Then you probably blame yourself and where does that leave you? Being hungry all the time means you aren’t eating enough, and there’s a good chance your gut bacteria are starving too.

Instead of making yourself miserable, make healthy foods tasty. It doesn’t take but a dash of salt and some fat to liven up a humble head of broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. Splashes of citrus juice, herbs and spices are excellent choices to brighten up and layer flavor in the dish. Don’t feel an ounce of guilt using a little oil to get delicious vegetables. In fact, a moderate amount of fat with plant foods helps your body better absorb fat-soluble vitamins that plant foods provide.

  1. You eliminate food groups.

Some popular diet plans today prefer the term “lifestyle” because they don’t promote calorie restriction, but to me, they are diets in disguise because they don’t allow you to get a robust variety of nutrients.

Low-carbohydrate diets, for example, are notoriously low in fiber and excessively high in fat and protein, which has been shown to reduce the diversity of bacteria living in the colon. The paleo diet and the Whole30 plan, meanwhile, don’t allow for resistant starches such as beans, legumes, whole-wheat foods and white potatoes, but these carb-heavy foods are key players when it comes to a healthy and happy gut. These diets also eliminate dairy foods. However, there is good research showing that fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, are key probiotic foods that help replenish bacteria in your gut. Of course, if you are allergic to dairy, this would be a reason to avoid it.

To be sure you get the right variety of foods, aim to put plant foods on three-quarters of your plate. Even on your least healthy burger nights, adding a side of carrots and a piece of fruit makes a big difference. Any little effort leads to the next best choice, so just go for it.

  1. You put your gut in a rut.

Even if you’re not dieting, food ruts are bad for your gut. Often, when you’re uninspired by food, you become very rigid in your routines and do not consume nearly enough volume or variety to satisfy your healthy bacteria. When this happens, you are essentially starving your good gut bugs, causing them to become weak and scarce. Over time, this leads to a lower microbial diversity in the gut.

The good news? Coffee, wine, tea and chocolate – in moderation, of course – all contribute to a healthy microbiome, studies suggest. That’s one way to expand your palette. Another way is simply by giving yourself a break. Don’t make cooking and eating more complicated than it needs to be. Any vegetable-and-bean combination will taste good sauted with a little sauce. Then, add your protein. Try taking advantage of an hour on a weekend to roast veggies all at one and reheat them different days.

Building a pattern of eating well means establishing eating habits that are sufficient in calories, heavy on plants, rich in variety and, most importantly, enjoyable. That’s how you’ll keep those gut bacteria thriving right along with you and working hard for you every single day.