Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mac & Cheese (with Squash!)

It should be clear by now that Kraft Mac & Cheese, as yummy as it might be, is not something I'd consider cooking for my family (sodium tripoly-phosphate? yellow 5 AND 6?).  I have made the Annie's Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar, and while I feel ok about the ingredient list, it just doesn't taste all that good.  So that led me to a quest for a home-made version that's not too unhealthy or hard to make. 

I started with this one from Smitten Kitchen, which had the appeal of not requiring me to boil the pasta OR make a cheese sauce first!  Unfortunately, it was too good to be true...the dish came out more like pasta with some melted cheese on it, and was greasy instead of creamy.  Even Deb at Smitten Kitchen later posted another mac & cheese recipe after deciding this super-easy one wasn't up to her standards!  I considered giving that one a try, but making croutons for the topping sounded a bit ambitious (remember, my cooking is SIMPLY wholesome!) and a pound and a half of cheese plus a stick of butter for a pound of pasta seemed a bit excessive.

So I went back to Ellie Krieger, the queen of lightening up traditional favorites.  A few years back I made her mac & cheese recipe for my in-laws, but couldn't really remember if I liked it.  Time to try again!  Well, I am very happy with the results.  This recipe is way more wholesome - there is only roughly a half pound of cheese for a pound of pasta, a ratio I think is much more reasonable, and she managed to include a vegetable for some added nutrients.  Plus, it is actually really tasty!  Let me be clear - this is not the ooey gooey mac & cheese with the buttery crust that you would get in a restaurant.  But if you are looking for a healthier version, this one is very enjoyable.  The squash actually helps create a creamy consistency and adds a little sweetness, which is balanced by the mustard and cayenne.  It tasted good right out of the oven, and then again on day 2 reheated in the microwave, so it's also a nice dish to have in the fridge.

Mac & Cheese (with Squash!)
adapted from Food Network

Non-stick spray
1 pound whole wheat pasta (elbow, or I used spirals because I couldn't find whole wheat elbows)
2 10-ounce packages frozen pureed winter squash
2 cups 1 percent milk
4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, shredded, reserving 1/2 cup for topping
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (this is the original amount, which does not add a ton of heat, so feel free to add more if you prefer a good amount of spice)
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons grated parmesan or romano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with non-stick spray.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but firm (subtract about 2 minutes from the cooking time on the box).  Drain in a colander when cooked.

Meanwhile, place frozen squash on a microwave-safe plate, cut slits in plastic, and microwave 4-6 minutes until completely thawed.  This is also a good time to shred the cheese if you bought blocks, collect the rest of the ingredients, and start making the topping (combine bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons parmesan/romano, and oil in a small bowl).

Once the pasta is in the colander and the squash is thawed, add squash and milk to the empty pot.  Cook over medium-low heat, whisking a few times,  until mixture is smooth and almost simmering.  (Finish making the topping while it cooks if you haven't already).  Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese (except the 1/2 cup reserved cheddar and 2 tablespoons of parmesan/romano), salt, mustard and cayenne pepper.  Add the pasta and stir to combine.  Transfer the mixture to the baking dish.

Sprinkle the reserved half cup of cheddar over the mac & cheese, followed by the bread crumb mixture.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and broil for 3 minutes or until the top is crisp and nicely browned.

Serves 8 as a side dish or lunch portion

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Avocado Lentil Salad

As I've already mentioned, I really like Michael Pollan's philosophy on food and eating, and have been trying to make changes in my life to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."  The "eat food" part I'm in good shape with, as you can probably tell by my blog!  But "not too much", well, that's a bit of a struggle.  Most of the first year of the munchkin's life was spent nursing and pushing a stroller around Manhattan, which basically meant I could eat as much as I wanted and STILL lose the babyweight!  Unfortunately that's starting to catch up with me, so I've had to set some guidelines for myself - 3 meals a day + 2 small snacks, no eating the munchkin's leftovers (a tough one since I feed her such yummy food!), no seconds, and a very small dessert (e.g., a few bites of good dark chocolate).  It's been a week, and so far so good!

The "mostly plants" part is a bit of a challenge, too.  Grains and potatoes are easy, but eating vegetables and legumes is not something that comes naturally to me, and I've had to work very hard over the last few years to even remember to include vegetables in my meal planning (thank you hubby for the reminders!).  But I'm even more committed now, which means I'm always on the lookout for hardy meals that don't include meat.  Lentils are really high in protein and fiber, so they make a great meat replacement.  I've already shared my lentil soup recipe, but another way I've found to enjoy lentils is as a salad.  I first tried this recipe from Food Network, which came out delicious (I will share my modifications another time!). 

It turns out Weelicious has a couple of lentil salads, too - one of them includes avocado, which sounded really yummy to me, so I decided to give it a try.  The main change I made was to add pistachios because there were nuts in the Food Network recipe, and I really liked the combination.  The result?  Big hit, especially with hubby who called it one of his favorites!  The creaminess of the avocado with the lemony dressing really worked well, and what a great way to eat so many healthy foods!

The only thing I struggle with is how to eat this as a main course - I served it with a green salad (using the other half of a lemon to make a quick vinaigrette) and some grainy bread, but I'd love to hear any other suggestions you might have!

Avocado Lentil Salad
adapted from Weelicious

1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (this was the amount in an 8 ounce package of pre-coooked black beluga lentils from Trader Joe's)
1 avocado, cut into 1/2 inch squares (this is most easily done if you cut the avocado while still in the skin, and then scoop out with a spoon)
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss to combine.  Serve!

Makes 2-4 servings, depending on what you're serving it with and if my hubby is present

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Turkey Meatloaf Mini-Bites

A few years ago, when the munchkin was just a far off idea in my head, I came across a blog called Weelicious, which has tons of baby/toddler/kid-friendly recipes.  Even then I loved the idea of being able to cook wholesome, home-made food for my future kids, so I filed the site in the back of my mind until the time was right.  Once the munchkin started on solids, I combed Weelicious and noted all of the recipes that I wanted to try - there are tons! - and am slowly working my way through.  Little did I know that the recipes are adult-friendly, too, and I could have been trying out this food all along!  Well, lesson learned, and hubby and I are thoroughly enjoying some of the ideas we've gotten from Weelicious (Banana Wheat Germ Muffins, Carrot-Zucchini Pancakes, Mini-Cornbread Muffins, and Pumpkin Butter to name a few!). 

My latest creation was the Weelicious Cheesy Turkey Meatloaf Bites, and wow, am I ever sad I didn't try these sooner.  They are so moist and delicious!  I made only a couple of changes - hubby and I don't like red pepper, so I left out the pepper and garlic (didn't think it was necessary) and added a little extra onion to compensate.  I think they had exactly the right amount of flavor, and the cheese is such a great addition - they almost taste more like meatballs than meatloaf, but still went perfectly with mashed potatoes and string beans.  And the best part?  Even the munchkin enthusiastically ate almost an entire mini-bite!  I can't wait to stock my freezer with a bunch of these to pull out for easy dinners for all of us.

Turkey Meatloaf Mini-Bites
adapted from Weelicious

1 zucchini, cut into chunks (or 3/4 cup of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained)
3/4 cup onion, cut into chunks
1/2 cup carrots, cut in chunks
1 egg
1 tbsp worsteshire sauce
1 tsp Italian herbs
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (whole wheat, if possible, or at least ones without partially hydrogenated oils and preservatives)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb ground turkey (white meat only or white/dark mix)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray or grease a nonstick mini-muffin tin* with vegetable oil.

Place all of the ingredients except the turkey in a food processor.  Pulse until everything is finely chopped and well mixed.  Place the ground turkey and vegetable mixture in a bowl and mix throughly with your hands.

Distribute mixture into prepared muffin tin.  I used a 3 tbsp scoop and the cups were filled nearly to the top.  Smooth down the tops with the back of a spoon.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the meatloaf mini-bites are cooked through.

Makes 24 mini-bites
*Making these in a mini-muffin tin was part of the appeal for me (hubby insists that I am absolutely obsessed with my mini-muffin tin, and I think he's right!). It makes them the perfect portion for little ones, and they are fun for adults, too. But if you don't have a mini-muffin tin or don't like this idea, you can certainly make these in a regular muffin tin, loaf pan, or in whatever shape you want on a baking sheet - you'll just have to adjust the cooking time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Carrot Cupcakes with Yogurt Glaze

Today we had plans to go visit some friends who just bought a beautiful house out in the 'burbs, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  Obviously I decided this was the perfect opportunity to try baking something new, and I immediately started scouring some classic sources - Smitten Kitchen (this recipe in particular) and my Baked cookbook (fabulous birthday present with my favorite brownies!), both of which are full of truly decadent choices.  I figured this visit was a special occasion, worthy of indulgence.

And then hubby had to go and remind me of my commitment to finding healthier choices.  He asked if there wasn't something I could make that would be both delicious AND worthy of calling wholesome?  I had to take on the challenge, and I am so glad I did...because after some internet searching I came across a food blog that I am so excited about - Sweet + Natural.  This blog contains tons of recipes for the most delicious sounding baked goods which contain all wholesome ingredients - no refined flour or sweeteners, and substitutions for healthier fat sources and levels.  I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I e-mailed my friend to help narrow things down for today, but I have a list of new recipes to try!

The winner for today's dessert was carrot cake with yogurt glaze.  The only modifications I made were to convert to cupcakes (shorter cooking time and half the glaze because I only needed to coat 1 layer) and to use 3 whole eggs instead of 2 whole + 2 whites because I hate throwing away an extra egg.  Plus, the recipe was already low-fat so I didn't mind a little extra in the 3rd yoke.  Overall these were a huge success!  The cake was incredibly moist and flavorful, and the yogurt glaze added just enough tang and sweetness without being overpowering.  Plus, the cupcakes have the same low amount of added sugar (1/2 cup for 12 muffin equivalent) as most of my healthy muffin recipes and are packed with vegetables and whole grains, so I felt totally comfortable giving them to the munchkin without the glaze and was excited when she gobbled one up! 

The only issue I had was that the cupcakes stuck to their papers more than I would have expected, but my friend in Brooklyn just sent me an article that suggests it may just be due to the agave in the recipe.  And the good news was that they stuck less the next day after fully cooling than right after I made them. 

Overall, I cannot wait to try more of the recipes on Sweet + Natural - I'll keep you posted on how they turn out!

Carrot Cupcakes with Yogurt Glaze
adapted from Sweet + Natural

3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup agave nectar
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Yogurt Glaze:
3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line 1 1/2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners (recipe makes 18 standard cupcakes).

In a large bowl, mix together carrots, coconut, agave, eggs, applesauce and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until well blended. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes until brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make yogurt glaze by whisking together all ingredients except the walnuts.

Once the cupcakes are cool, poke holes in them using a fork (this allows the glaze to seep in) and remove from pans.  Place on a piece of parchment or wax paper and pour a thin coating of yogurt glaze on each cupcake.  Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. 

Makes 18 cupcakes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spinach Walnut Pesto

As I've already told you, we are big fans of pasta in our house.  And while it doesn't take much to make it exciting in my view (straight from the fridge with nothing on it is just fine!), I do like to vary the ways I eat it.  So far I've shared with you my mom's pasta salad and my spaghetti with turkey meatballs, but yet another preparation I love is pesto.  I find the smell of basil heavenly, love toasted pine nuts, and really, what isn't good with olive oil and romano cheese? 

But while a traditional pesto is certainly delicious, I was inspired this weekend to try a different spin to add a little nutritional boost.  We went up to visit my husband's sister and her family, and she had some leftover ravioli-type pasta which was stuffed with a spinach-parmesan cheese mixture.  And guess what - my little munchkin who doesn't like vegetables ate spinach when it was mixed with cheese and pasta!  I thought about how I could recreate this at home.  Homemade stuffed pasta is a little beyond my energy level at this point, but in the back of my mind I remembered seeing recipes for pesto made with spinach instead of basil and had my answer!  And as an added benefit, most of the spinach pesto recipes I found included walnuts instead of pine nuts - walnuts have higher levels than any other nut of those famous omega-3 fats we're all trying to eat more of.  Perfect!

I found a recipe published in The Washington Post that used frozen spinach, which made the preparation even easier, and bought some organic whole wheat spiral pasta that would hold plenty of pesto.  I also decided to throw in the rest of the sun-dried tomatoes that were still hanging out from the last time I made pasta salad, and cook up some free-range chicken in my freezer for some added protein.  Remember my lemon oregano chicken, which I told you was totally versatile?  Well in this case I used dried basil instead of oregano, and only used half a lemon because that's what I had left over from the pesto, and it was great - enough flavor to be tasty, but not so much that it competed with the pesto.

In the end, hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed this meal for dinner last night AND lunch today, and the munchkin liked the pasta, too!  She didn't inhale it quite like her normal pasta with olive oil (she doesn't like tomato sauce sad...), but she certainly ate enough to call it dinner - a succcess in my book!

Spinach Walnut Pesto
adapted from The Washington Post

1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted
2 teaspoons dried basil*
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 1/2 lemon)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Drain the spinach by wrapping it in a clean kitchen towel and twisting over the sink. Place it in the bowl of a food processor with all other ingredients except the oil. Pulse until finely chopped.

With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil to form a smooth, thick paste.  Toss with hot pasta and add a little of the starchy cooking water from the pasta if necessary to loosen the pesto.  Add whatever else you are including in the dish and serve.

You can also cover and refrigerate if making it ahead.  Note that unlike basil, spinach does not turn brown as it oxidizes, so this pesto keeps it's bright green color much longer!

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups, and I used about 75% of that for 1 lb of pasta.

*The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon dried, but I hate buying fresh basil, using a small amount, and throwing away the rest, as has happened way too many times.  So until I figure out how to keep a plant alive and grow my own basil, I try to only buy it when I'll be able to use the whole package.  That being said, I'm sure this would taste delicious the original way!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Food Rules" Rules!

In general this blog is about cooking, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk about a new book I just read: Food Rules, by Michael Pollan.  I wholeheartedly agree with Pollan's philosophy on eating and really appreciate the time he's put into researching and writing about the food industry.  His first two books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, are two of my favorites, but I'm told they can be a bit too detailed by people who do not share my passion for food (although I really can't understand why anyone would get bored reading an entire chapter about the history and genetics of corn - I found it fascinating!) .  This has made me careful about who I recommend them to, as I didn't want to risk alienating anyone with information overload! 

But now Pollan has come out with a third book, Food Rules, which I read in about an hour last night.  If you have read In Defense of Food you won't find any really new ideas here - it is based on his motto to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" and includes 64 "rules" for how to carry out this directive.  What's really nice about the book, though, is how succinct it is.  There is nothing groundbreaking here that you will read and think "wow, if only I'd thought of that I'd be in perfect health!" - but it is the kind of common sense info that is not actually commonly acted on.  I think that Pollan is probably preaching to the choir and is unlikely to convert anyone new with this book, but for those of us who generally agree with him, it is a great reminder on how to eat.  And as an added bonus, I feel totally comfortable recommending it to even people with the shortest attention span for this topic! 

If you have any thoughts on Michael Pollan's books (or the movie Food, Inc. - another favorite!), please feel free to comment below :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cheddar-Broccoli Sticks

My little munchkin is not a particularly adventurous eater.  She eats well when you put something she likes in front of her, but is very skeptical of new foods and, predictably, has been slow to warm up to vegetables.  So far the only veggie she eats enthusiastically is sweet potato, and even that took some persistence!  But one thing she does like is cheese, so when a friend recommended these cheesy broccoli bites, I thought it was worth a try.  It's from a website called Wholesome Baby Food, which sounds like it would be right up my alley!

As it turns out, these sounded like they would taste better than they do.  I imagined gooey cheesy nuggets with bits of broccoli in them, but the cheese is almost hard to detect because there is so much bread.  Instead, they are kind of stiff and don't have a ton of flavor.  That being said, the munchkin actually ate a few bites of them today, so if she likes them I am happy to make them as they are a great source of both veggies and dairy!  Hubby and I also enjoyed them as a side dish with our salmon, so while not the best thing I've ever made, they will certainly not go to waste!

Cheddar-Broccoli Sticks
adapted from Wholesome Baby Food

1 16-oz package frozen broccoli, cooked, drained, and very finely chopped (I used a food processor)
1 cup bread crumbs (seasoned, or if unseasoned, you may want to add salt and pepper and any other spices you like - I used plain breadcrumbs which probably contributed to the lack of flavor!)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 large eggs

Heat oven to 375.  Cover a baking sheet with foil (to facilitate clean-up) and spray with non-stick spray.

Combine all ingredients and mix well.   Shape mixture into whatever shape you like (I made mine roughly the size and shape of mozzarella sticks) and place on baking tray.  Spray tops with oil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning them over halfway through.
So far we have had success reheating from the fridge, but I also put some in the freezer, so I will update if there are any issues reheating from frozen.
I was able to make 24 sticks.


I love tacos.  As a kid, I was so excited when my mom told me it was taco night.  I remember the taco shells nested together in the oven, the little bowls of shredded cheese and salsa, and of course the yummy taco meat.  As delicious as this meal was, it was made using the packaged taco kits, which included huge amounts of sodium, partially hydrogenated oils, msg, and a host of other scary chemicals and preservatives.  As you can probably guess, I just can't bring myself to eat this kind of food anymore.  Which means I had to find a replacement - a way to enjoy tacos without compromising my standards for what I will put into my family's bodies.  I tried improvising by just seasoning ground beef with chili powder and cumin, but it never tasted very good.  I looked for recipes, and was having a hard time finding something simple enough and with the same flavor profile as the taco seasoning packets of my youth (and even my early 20's!). 

I finally came across this recipe on, originally from the magazine Southern Living.  It has a simple enough ingredient list, is made all in one pan, and, as a bonus, includes beans.  As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of beans, but appreciate how healthy they are and am trying to find ways to incorporate them into my diet.  Plus, in a recipe like this, they help the meat to go further, helping us to be less dependent on animal sources of protein - a good thing for our health and the environment.

I made a few modifications from the original recipe to make a simple recipe even easier, but I'll note where I took shortcuts so that you can be more diligent if you choose :)

adapted from Southern Living

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed if possible)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup salsa
In a large skillet, sautee onions in olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften.  Add ground beef, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  Break up meat and cook until no longer pink and onions are soft.  (This is one area where I cut corners - this method does not allow for draining the beef, but my grass-fed beef is so lean I don't worry about that.  If you'd like to be able to drain the fat, first brown the meat, drain on paper towels, then sautee the onions in oil, adding beef and spices back in after a few minutes.)
Add beans, tomato sauce, water, and salsa to the pan.  Use a fork to mash the pinto beans, leaving some of them whole.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, simmer over low heat until thick.  (At this point you can melt some cheese over the meat mixture by sprinkling with shredded cheese, turning off the heat, and waiting a few minutes for it to melt.  I chose to just use cheese as a topping).
Serve in whole grain tortillas/wraps, taco shells, or over salad greens (like in my photo) with whatever toppings you like.  We used additional salsa, cheddar cheese, and avocado with some whole grain blue corn chips on the side.  Other ideas are lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sour cream - whatever makes you happy!
Makes approximately 6 servings.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maple-Glazed Salmon

You may have heard that salmon is super healthy.  It's incredibly high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to our health but hard to come by in food.  I am generally not a huge fish/seafood person (people who know me have heard me claim that I don't eat anything that lives under water!), but after learning about the health benefits, I was convinced to give salmon a try.  I tried to maximize my chances of liking it - my first piece of salmon was at Atlantic Grill, one of the best seafood restaurants in Manhattan.  Then I made it myself using this recipe from Epicurious, which has the most delicious marinade.  Both tries were successful, but Atlantic Grill is really expensive and the marinade recipe requires a lot of ingredients that aren't easy to always have on hand. 

Then I found this maple-glazed salmon recipe from Real Simple magazine, and I was blown away.  I mean seriously, maple syrup?  How can you go wrong with that?  And the glaze has just 2 ingredients which I ALWAYS have in my fridge!  The original recipe suggests making it with pineapple, which I have done, but it really isn't necessary - you can serve the glazed salmon with whatever sides you want (my favorites are generally brown rice, sweet potatoes, and/or broccoli, but in the photo below we had cheddar-broccoli sticks, salad, and whole wheat rolls).  I've gotten to the point where I actually enjoy salmon simply with some lemon juice, salt, and pepper, but this is my go-to recipe when I feel like adding a little more flavor.

Maple-Glazed Salmon
adapted from Real Simple

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 6-8 ounce wild Alaskan salmon fillets*
Pineapple and crushed red pepper (optional)

Preheat broiler on high, and cover a small baking sheet with foil.

Whisk together maple syrup and mustard in a very small saucepan (it helps to have a butter warmer for this).  Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until somewhat thickened.  Turn off heat.

Place salmon skin side down on prepared baking sheet, pat dry with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon glaze over salmon, creating a thin coat and reserving remaining glaze. 

If you are using pineapple, cut into 1/2 inch thick triangles, place on baking sheet around the salmon, and sprinkle with a few flakes of crushed red pepper.

Broil until salmon is cooked through and flakes easily, approximately 8 minutes.  Remove skin from salmon and drizzle salmon and pineapple, if using, with remaining glaze.  

Serves 2

*In my opinion, using wild Alaskan salmon is essential.  Without going into too much detail, farmed salmon is not as healthy for us, not as tasty, and bad for the environment.  It is worth the money to get the wild, sustainable variety.  If you're looking for a bargain, my Trader Joe's sells frozen wild Alaskan salmon filets for $7/lb, which is amazing.  You can also buy canned wild Alaskan salmon for very reasonable prices, which I think is still better than buying farmed salmon - check out my recipe for salmon cakes for one idea of how to use it!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vegetable Risotto

Some of you may be under the impression that risotto is unhealthy and way too hard to make at home.  Well, I'm here to dispel both of those myths.  Ellie Krieger came up with this recipe for vegetable risotto that is both healthy AND easy to make at home.  I won't lie, risotto is a bit labor intensive - it's not the type of dish that you put on the stove and come back later to find ready to serve.  But if you're going to be in the kitchen making something else anyway, it's just a matter of regular stirring to make creamy, delicious risotto.  There is absolutely nothing complicated or difficult.  But what's so amazing about this recipe is that it turns out that despite what restaurants may have you believe, you really don't need tons of cream, butter, or cheese to make risotto seem incredibly indulgent!  This recipe has a drop of olive oil and less than a tablespoon of cheese per serving, and is packed full of veggies.  And if that's not enough, it is impressive enough to serve to company - I just made it for New Year's Eve dinner and got rave reviews!

Here is the recipe with my modifications - let me know what you think!

Vegetable Risotto
adapted from Food Network

6 cups low-sodium, low fat chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice*
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 pound package frozen asparagus cuts
3 lightly packed cups baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano

Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Once it starts to simmer you can cover and turn off heat.

Heat the oil in larger saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5-10 minutes.  Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute until it starts to look translucent. Add the wine and simmer, stirring regularly, until absorbed, about 1 minute.  Add 3/4 cup of the hot broth, the salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and simmer, stirring regularly, until broth is absorbed.  Continue simmering and adding hot broth about 3/4 cup at a time.  Stir well each time you add more broth, and regularly after that until it is absorbed.  I found that sometimes it helps to actually let it sit and bubble for a minute in between stirring to let the broth cook into the rice.  You're ready to add more broth when the rice still looks runny and creamy, but not much bubbling occurs when you let it sit for a minute.  Once you've added about 2/3 of the broth, start tasting the rice for done-ness.  It should be al dente - not crunchy, but with a little bite.

Add the frozen asparagus and peas and stir to combine.  Then add in the baby spinach and cook, stirring regularly, until the spinach is wilted and the frozen veggies are hot.  Stir in the cheese.  Add more broth as needed if the risotto gets too thick.  Serve with additional cheese on top if desired.

Serves 6 as a main course, and 8-10 as a side dish

*Note - Risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice, which is a white rice.  After touting the healthfulness of this recipe, the one caveat is that refined grain is still not the best choice for every day!  After doing some digging, I found some recommendations for substituting pearl barley in risotto recipes (e.g., here).  Check here for my reviews on this healthier alternative!