Hearting Your Heart

Love is in the air (or at least it’s supposed to be) this week, with the love-iest day of the year coming up this Saturday. In the spirit of everything red and heart shaped, I’m taking a romantic time out for my own heart -- as in my blood-pumping ticker.

I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the fact is, we need to keep better tabs on the state of our hearts. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer among women, and stroke is number three. The good news: You can do something about it.

In addition to regular physical activity and reducing saturated fats (which are found in meat and dairy), we can help our heart and overall health by eating according to the colors of the rainbow. Color-coded eating is not as corny as it sounds. Green foods contain an amazing antioxidant called lutein that keeps eyes and heart healthy, blue foods are rich in cancer-fighting (and anthocyanins), and red foods contain lycopene, a powerful duo that wards off both cancer and heart disease.

As you already may have surmised, the color of the day is Red! To help get you started, Checkup blogger and Health section columnist Jennifer Huget and I have compiled a list of readily accessible ingredients that do your heart -- and the rest of your body some good, complete with Jennifer’s nutritional nuggets, found here. Meanwhile, back at the Appetite Ranch, I’ve harvested a bunch of links from the recipe vault, all with a red tint.

So, as you scurry ‘round town this week gathering goodies for your sweetheart, remember: Love thy own heart true, too! Got a red-licious idea to share with the crew? Do so in the comments area or today at 1ET, for this week's What's Cooking.

Eating Red
In my opinion, pink is close enough, particularly when it comes to the all-powerful wild salmon. This version calls for a spice rub that you can play with based on your mood and what’s in the cupboard.

Red quinoa: Like its beige-y counterpart, red quinoa cooks like rice and is incredibly versatile, playing well with nearly any flavor combination under the sun.
Improv quinoa salad. P.S. Can be served hot or cold – you pick.

For those who’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask: roasted red pepper how-to, which will come in handy when you're whipping up a batch of muhammara, the luscious (and heart-healthy) Syrian treat that just may change your tune about dips from the refrigerated section.

Thai red curry paste and sweet potatoes. Yes, do try this at home. Plus, you’ll beta carotene from the sweets!

Perfect timing for a pot of red beans. Take your pick; you can have’em oven braised or barbecue-style, with plenty of lycopene-rich tomato sauce.

And lookee here, now you know how to make your very own ketchup, without the high fructose corn syrup. (P.S.: Mister MA has been lapping up this stuff.)

Speaking of tomatoes, I don’t believe I’ve ever shared my method for making a pot of good ole marinara sauce. Here’s how I do it.

Marinara Sauce, KOD style

Plan A: Whole Tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot bulb, roughly chopped (alternatively, 1 medium onion, chopped)
At least 2 pounds of your favorite tomatoes, cored and quartered (For canned tomatoes, use at least 1 28-ounce can)
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
Optional herbs while cooking: A few thyme sprigs
A fun optional add-on while cooking: 1 pimento pepper from a jar or can; an ounce of a red wine you enjoy drinking
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional herbs for flavoring off the heat: Chopped fresh basil and/or parsley

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add oil, then onion of choice. Cook, occasionally stirring, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic and any of the optional add-ons at this time. Bring up to a lively simmer, then reduce heat and cook until tomatoes break down, about 30 minutes. Remove sprigs of herbs, if using, and garlic. Set food mill atop a bowl and pour sauce, in batches. Puree will pass through mill into bowl. Season puree with salt and pepper, and reheat if necessary. Add chopped fresh basil or parsley just before using.

Makes at least two cups of sauce. Can be frozen.

Plan B: Tomato Puree

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 28-ounce can tomato puree, preferably unsalted
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
A splash of red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, add oil, then garlic, and cook for about 15 seconds. Add puree, thyme and wine, and bring up to a lively simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low heat until slightly reduced and warmed through. When ready to use, remove thyme and garlic, and season with salt and pepper.

Makes at least two cups of sauce.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 10, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Valentine's Day , Wellness
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Problem with tomato puree is it doesnt have the fresh taste of tomatoes. Puree is cooked way to long. You want canned tomatoes in juice for marinara sauce not puree. better flavor. Organic doesnt help.
And most San Marzano toms are in puree becuase of US trade regs.

Posted by: sheepherder | February 10, 2009 8:50 AM

My go-to marinara recipe:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
Two cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium high heat, saute onion in olive oil until softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes and red wine; crank the heat to high until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the crushed tomatoes and seasonings, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

I also love to play with this recipe, adding a roasted head of garlic and/or sauteed mushrooms with the crushed tomatoes, a splash more of red wine just before serving, etc.

Posted by: jbs280 | February 10, 2009 9:58 AM

Good morning from snowy New Mexico!!

The Italian in me just had to comment on marinara sauce.

For anyone who gardens or who has access to lots of fresh tomatoes via farmer's markets or other outlets, I recommend one of my favorite kitchen toys, the Victorio strainer. You put halved or quartered tomatoes into the hopper, and push through the grinder with the plunger (included). The seeds and skins come out one side, and fresh puree out the other.

Then, combine this puree with tomato paste (I use imported, but domestic brands are OK - pick one you like.), and the following additions to taste: a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, fresh oregano, onions, fresh rosemary, Italian flat-leaf parsley. I use all of the above, and I don't measure because I learned to make this from my grandmother, and she always said, "You just know." I don't use wine because I'm allergic to sulfites, but I suppose you could put some in if you like it. You can use dried herbs, too, but I like the fresh better.

Spaghetti sauce is like laundry; if you're going to do it at all, you might as well do a lot of it. I usually make this in a huge pot with the last of the tomato harvest in the fall, cook it down until a lot of the water is gone, and then freeze it in small containers to last the winter, but you can do it anytime you have the tomatoes and the time.

Serve over your favorite pasta, with your favorite cheese (Locatelli Romano for me) and a garnish of more parsley.

Happy trails! Linda

Posted by: lsgc | February 10, 2009 10:14 AM

Red quinoa is a nice new touch.

But generally, to suddenly focusing on RED is nothing but a gimmick. Red, blue, green, the ten best this, the ten best that...

Healthy food is FRESH (your can of tomato
puree does not qualify) and VARIED.

Have a colorful Valentine's!

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

Posted by: AlexaFleckensteinMD | February 10, 2009 10:41 AM

Your post is so timely for me. I just found out that a friend/co-worker of mine (who also loves to cook) had a heart attack last night.

She's recovering, but I was wondering if anyone could recommend a great heart-healthy cookbook that would be nice gift for her to read through and look at while she's recovering.

Posted by: CookinB-more | February 10, 2009 10:54 AM

CookinBmore - Look for a Mediterranean diet cookbook. Everything I've read lately says it's more heart-friendly than the AHA diet.

Posted by: fran426 | February 10, 2009 3:47 PM

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