Each February, Americans celebrate the affairs of the heart on St. Valentine’s Day, but February is also officially designated as American Heart Month. The entire month is set aside to boost awareness of heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women. While physical and congenital factors certainly play a big part in this disease, diet and nutrition also have a large role to play in both the prevention and treatment of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The situation is alarming, but there is good news: heart disease is preventable and controllable. There are many steps that can be taken in the kitchen to help get heart disease under control. The American Heart Association offers valuable tips and tricks for cooks on its website, www.heart.org. Among the primary suggestions are to decrease fat and sodium, and add fiber. Flavor isn’t compromised. Fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and citrus juices for acid all enhance the natural goodness of foods.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Fat is a heart enemy. Trim the fat from meats before cooking, while choosing cuts labeled “loin” and “round,” as they usually have the least fat. When choosing poultry, use the breast meat with the skin removed instead of the fattier dark meat. Choose oils that have no trans fat and are lower in saturated fat, such as olive, canola, peanut, sunflower and sesame.
Premixed or prepackaged seasoning mixes contain a lot of salt. Use fresh herbs, crushing them to release their essential oils, which provide most of the taste. Always add fresh herbs at the end of recipe preparation for the best flavor.
Try vinegar or citrus juice as flavor enhancers. A squeeze of lemon juice right before serving adds a brightness to dishes and is often the “secret” of fine chefs. Vinegar is great on vegetables, such as greens. Experiment with varieties such as rice, balsamic and malt vinegar to discover which pairings work best.
Dry mustard adds a zesty flavor to meats and vegetables. When mixed with water, it’s a good rub for roasting beef or pork. Peppers come in many varieties, colors and sizes. Remove the seeds and membrane to moderate the heat level.
The American Heart Association provides many more guidelines for addressing heart disease in the kitchen, along with other behavior changes geared toward prevention. A few easy changes to favorite recipes is just the way to show your valentine love all year long. Try this complete menu to see how easy and delicious heart-healthy cooking can be.
SOUTHWESTERN COBB SALAD
This healthy variation of the Cobb salad uses herbs, sweet corn and zippy lime, cayenne and garlic to build bold, big flavor. Sweet corn contrasts with creamy beans and crisp vegetables for a satisfying blend of taste and texture.
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 green onions, thinly sliced
Mixed salad greens
Place lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin, cilantro and cayenne pepper in a small jar. Cover with lid, and shake until ingredients are well mixed.
On a large salad plate, cover plate with mixed greens. In a straight line, arrange beans, corn, bell pepper, tomatoes and green onions across salad. Shake the lime dressing, and pour it over the salad.
ROMANO BAKED TOMATOES
2 medium-to-large tomatoes, sliced in half horizontally
2 tablespoons grated low-fat Romano cheese (can substitute low-fat Parmesan)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (such as oregano, basil and parsley) or 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet. Top with cheese, oregano/parsley/basil, pepper and garlic powder. Drizzle oil equally over the tops and bake 20 minutes, until tomatoes are tender and cheese is lightly browned.
SWEET AND SAVORY GRILLED CHICKEN
This sweet and savory rub for grilled chicken utilizes pantry staples — brown sugar, dry mustard and onion powder — making it a quick recipe that pairs easily with any side dish.
2 teaspoons light-brown sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper or freshly ground black pepper
4 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Combine brown sugar, dry mustard, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Coat both sides of the chicken with the rub; refrigerate for up to 30 minutes before grilling or broiling.
Preheat the grill to medium-high, or position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler.
To grill: Place the chicken breasts on an oiled grill and cook 4 to 8 minutes on each side, turning only once. (An instant-read thermometer should read 165 degrees.)
To broil: Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil, and coat it with cooking spray. Watching carefully, broil the chicken breasts approximately 10 to 15 minutes total, turning as necessary to prevent burning. (An instant-read thermometer should read 165 degrees.)
HEART-HEALTHY DARK-CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
These brownies substitute cherry preserves to add flavor and cut down on fat. Lining the pan with parchment paper helps to keep these moist, fudgy brownies from sticking.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1/3 cup water
5 tablespoons butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper; coat with cooking spray.
Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. In a small saucepan, combine cherry preserves, 1/3 cup water and butter, and bring to a boil. Add cherry mixture to flour mixture; stir well. Add egg and egg white; stir until smooth. Stir in semisweet chocolate chips. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Top warm brownies with chocolate chips. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.