Tag Archives: food challenge

plenty: multi-vegetable paella

To celebrate my new job(!!), my in-laws took Andrew and I to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, Jose Andres’ Jaleo. This is how I finished a memorable night of tapas:

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Back in our apartment days/my unemployed-days, I often stayed up to watch Chef Andres’ PBS show Made In Spain. His dishes looked remarkable, and I was especially envious of his children digging their forks into the paella he made on their backyard grill. Unfortunately for me, his paella consisted of many meat-lover’s ingredients, assuring me I might go my entire life without experiencing paella. Paella, meaning “frying pan”, is a saffron-flavored Spanish dish made with varying combinations of rice, vegetables, meat, chicken, and seafood. Those last three key ingredients just don’t fit in to my picky palate.

Then I bought this beautiful book last year that has rocked my kitchen over and over and over. To continue my series featuring the brilliant cookbook Plenty, I’m first going to tease you with this upcoming pistachio couscous recipe from said Cookbook-That-Delivers-Every-Time (then we’ll talk paella).

I did not have paella rice (though I realized yesterday I had risotto rice hiding in my pantry all along. Out of complete desperation I used long-grain white rice (you could use jasmine or basmati, though basmati has a strong flavor). I know using long-grain white rice means my chances of shaking hands with Chef Andres are now as slim as ever, surely I have embarrassed the entire country of Spain. But people: this is still the best damn rice you’ll have in your life, so don’t let a little grain get you down. Yes there are numerous ingredients, but this is very, very special. Bring this one out for company.

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Multi-Vegetable Paella

from Plenty, serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1/2 fennel bulb, cut into strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup short-grain paella rice (however, I used jasmine)

6  1/2 tablespoons sherry (I used sherry vinegar)

1 tsp. saffron threads

2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

3/4 cup fava beans (fresh or frozen)

12 plum tomatoes, halved

5 small artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered

15 pitted kalamata olives, crushed or halved

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 lemon wedges

Saute the veggies.

Heat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow skillet, and gently soften the onion for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to cook on medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the spices and cook the rice.

Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables, and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add the stock and ⅓ teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan, and don’t stir the rice during the cooking.

(I omitted this step:) Meanwhile, pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it.

Steam the vegetables.

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed, but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, and fava beans over the rice, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil with gusto to reveal this exquisite presentation. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Remove the bay leaves and serve with wedges of lemon.

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Andrew and I haven’t been to Spain—yet—but this dish provided a divine cultural experience. We have been traveling abroad recently, more on that next time 😉

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all is revealed

I679859_522448151100932_725830429_o had a food processor at age four. I should have seen food in my future.

My name is Lindsey, I’m 27 years old, and it finally happened: The Job. Your reading and supporting this blog is a huge part of it, so THANK YOU.
Let’s rewind:

new 525In 2008, I graduated from college with my Social Work degree. Like most grads interested in future employment, I began job-hunting midway through senior year. I really wanted to work for a small nonprofit, with a special interest in homelessness or senior citizens. I went to the job fairs, wrote a stellar resume, e-mailed organizations left and right. (Oh, and this is during the height of America’s current recession). Nada.

Later in 2008, Andrew and I married and he got The Job shortly before our wedd369_526374195049_468_ning. He majored in film and landed a spectacular job in television (that he still loves), while Little Miss Social Work Major has no luck. For several months I was churning out resumes full-time, my heart filled-to-the-brim with discouragement and self-doubts. Planning our nightly dinner menu was the most exciting part of my day. And then I realized I had a knack for cooking. Later, at Andrew’s insistence, I began this blog about that passion.

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Is it becoming clear now how I spent my time?

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In 2010, I began graduate school for Nutrition. I still had a great interest in working with the homeless, but actually began the program thinking I might start an independent company to serve marginalized seniors. I focused most of my grad projects on food insecurity and hunger in the District of Columbia, as my full-time job in Elementary Special Ed had me interested in meeting the nutritional needs of children. Getting a full-time job as an instructional assistant (4 miles from my house) while in grad school was an amazing and fulfilling opportunity. But the lingo was frustrating; I didn’t complete 7 years of collegiate work to think about standardized tests or gain know-how on severe behavioral issues. And I worked for three years beside many passionate, inspiring teachers so devoted to their work. I admired how much joy they took in their work, because it was the profession they had set out to do. Despite my absolute dedication to my very special students, I felt afflicted like Shel Silverstein’s Missing Piece, wanting so much to find the place where I really felt my life’s calling.

And then it’s that chance thing: I ran into my friend Nate Ho at our gym’s water fountain when he asked me about my job hunt. I shared my discouragement, having now completed graduate school and always making it to the final round of job interviews with limited experience leaving me out in the end. Nate said, “Try informational interviews.” And that, my friends, nearly a year later, finally did it. IF YOU ARE SEEKING EMPLOYMENT AND KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO: CONSIDER INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS! So I went to nearly every foodbank in Virginia, Washington D.C., and one in southern Maryland; I introduced myself to Executive Directors, asked them to talk for an hour  (often more!) about the work they do and how my skill-set might fit into the food assistance field.


I began my informational interviews in August 2012, and got The Job Offer just two weeks ago in May 2013. Since 2007, I had sent out countless resumes, cover letters, and applications—then I changed my approach. That’s six years, people. Six years. But it happened.

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Now I am the NUTRITION EDUCATOR for a large foodbank. (And it’s one of those nonprofits Doing It Right, I love that.) I just started this week! My job will entail traveling to homeless centers, women’s shelters, schools and community centers to demonstrate healthy cooking techniques and do food tastings. Back at the warehouse, I will also do food demos and tastings for clients waiting in line for food boxes, and hold regular nutrition classes for clients. It is humbling and rewarding work already.

THANK YOU for allowing A Pear to Remember to be a place where I really began the journey of teaching others to cook and explore healthy eating habits. Your comments and encouragement strengthened my confidence in this field, and gave me something pretty groovy to put on my resume. You’re the best.

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the only exception

I’m not usually drawn to recipes that require specialty ingredient substitutions to make a dish healthier. Brewer’s yeast, soy cheese, nut cream—not my thing. I often find little other uses for expensive health alternatives.

Oh, but today’s cookie—a whole different (do-able) story.

Pear readers know not to bother visiting this spot for dessert recipes. It’s not that I don’t like desserts—if I could bake, I would eat the entire pan of whatever chocolate-y goodness popped out of my oven. Thankfully, I flop at nearly everything I bake, which means it’s easier to be healthy when there’s no cookies in the house.

Let’s also clarify something: ours is a healthy home, so I don’t really endorse daily cookie eating. Or recipes that call for funky ingredients and substitutions. BUT HERE’S WHERE I’M WILLING TO MAKE A PERMANENT EXCEPTION.

When Vegetarian Times magazine called this “The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie in the World”—let’s say I was intrigued.

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I am an oatmeal-for-breakfast girl through and through (berries + cinnamon + honey = mmm mmm), and typically I would raise an eyebrow at you if you ever tried to put my breakfast in a dessert. But seriously, people: the exception.

Besides that this is deliciously chocolatey and moist, let’s talk nutrition facts for a sec. Take a Mrs. Fields’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (65 grams) made with butter, brown sugar, whole eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda—standard cookie ingredients…

MRS. FIELDS                                   THIS COOKIE

280 calories                                      173 calories

13 g fat                                                 10 g fat

8 g sat. fat                                           3 g sat. fat

40 g carbs                                           21 g carbs

140 mg sodium                                122 mg sodium

35 mg cholesterol                           0 mg cholesterol

1 g fiber                                               2 g fiber

17 g sugar                                           12 g sugar

Two big points I take away from this cookie comparison is the fat content—both cookies are high in fat per serving, but the cookie with walnuts and oat flour has less saturated (artery-clogging) fat. The cookie here is also cholesterol free.

It is not time to start substituting cookies for breakfast or a nutritious snack, but this is a great dessert alternative for get-togethers—a huge hit among a crowd of family members that might have freaked if I mentioned the word “vegan”… With nine people in the house the weekend I cooked these in Delaware, they were gone by morning! This cookie is work, but not complicated work. This cookie is worth it.

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Note: I found oat flour in Giant’s “Natural” health aisle. (Does it drive anyone else bonkers that a commercial FOOD store has a single aisle devoted to “healthy” products?)

The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World

Vegetarian Times, February 2009

makes 30 cookies, active time: less than 30 minutes

3 Tbs. canola oil

2 cups walnuts

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups oat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups rolled oats

3 3.5-oz. bars bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped, or 12 oz. dark chocolate chips

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Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

Blend walnuts in food processor 30 seconds, or until ground into a fine meal. Add canola oil, and blend 2 to 3 minutes more, or until mixture has the consistency of natural peanut butter, scraping down sides of food processor occasionally. Transfer to bowl.

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Whisk together brown sugar and ½ cup water in small saucepan, and bring mixture to a boil. Pour brown sugar mixture over ground walnut butter, add vanilla extract, and stir until no lumps remain.

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Whisk together oat flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in separate bowl. Stir oat flour mixture into walnut mixture. Cool 10 minutes. Fold in oats, then chocolate chips.

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Shape cookie dough into 2-inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Flatten cookies with bottom of drinking glass dipped in water.

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Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies begin to brown and tops look dry. Cool 3 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

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There aren’t too many desserts here, as baking is simply not my strong suit (ironic that I was employed as a baker four years ago…) Still, there are a few desserts I love to recreate. Find my galette, brown-butter krispies, fresh berry tart, watermelon bites, chocolate peanut-butter pie and more here.

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the can-can gratin

My food snobbery diminishes by the day. I like to think.

In the past eight months, I visited six food banks—even as recent as yesterday. I’m learning how they operate, feed, support, and educate the hungry working poor they serve. In two weeks, I get to demo “creative cooking with canned spinach” at an incredible food bank in Maryland with a strong Nutrition Education emphasis. It has me thinking about canned food—where and how it has a place in the American diet.

In my blog profile, I reference my soggy canned corn/green bean childhood. (Allow me to mention here that I was raised in a loving, stable, incredible family and blessed to have canned vegetables as my main complaint). Indeed, my fresh-food-filled adulthood has thus far proven crunchy and delightful. I love witnessing how many food banks are providing seasonal produce to their clients when there are abundant markets. They wisely save canned products for colder seasons. Some local food banks are even sorting canned produce by nutrient priority: orange vegetables, beans, low-sugar fruit, low-sodium soup.

Canned vegetables are not ideal: fresh and frozen are more nutrient-dense and contain less sodium. However, my feelings here resemble my feelings toward the organic-local movement. That’s great if you have access to fresh, local, organic foods. That’s seriously awesome you can afford it. I, in fact, envy this privilege—my farmer’s market has been beyond our budget for the past two years. Hunger is a real and prevalent problem for more Americans than we imagine. Yes, canned vegetables are more susceptible to BPA and sodium. But for thousands of families living within ten miles of me, rent payments and medical bills take precedence over seemingly invisible issues like BPA.

It’s important to note that I don’t believe for a minute economically disadvantaged families should have to choose between nutrition and every other financial matter. I find it appalling it’s often acceptable to donate our leftovers and junk food to “the poor”.

As I am turning my own home into a novice test-kitchen for interesting and healthy canned-food recipes, it only seems appropriate to revisit this dreamy artichoke gratin I made in Brennan and Alejandro’s kitchen. Oh yes, a gratin—pronounced gre-tan—from a can.

Artichoke Gratin

from Plenty, serves 4-6

2 pounds frozen artichoke hearts (sold out, so I used 32 oz. canned in water, rinsed well)
4 lemons, grate zest and reserve juice
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons thyme, chopped (the thyme is crucial!)
6 tablespoons flat-leafed parsley, chopped (I omitted the parsley)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (lower fat is great)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup ricotta
6 tablespoons parmesan, grated 

Place frozen artichoke hearts in a large pot and cover with water. Add the lemon juice to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until tender. If using canned artichokes, no need to boil just rinse well. Drain.

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While artichokes are cooking, heat saute pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Add onions and some salt and pepper. Saute 15 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Add cooked onions and artichoke hearts to a bowl and mix with lemon zest, thyme and parsley. Add salt and pepper as needed.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and then add the flour. Stir mixture constantly for 2 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking as you pour. Add salt and whisk on low heat for 10 minutes or until sauce is thick and creamy. When the sauce coats the back of a spoon, it’s good to go—give it a taste (I like to add an extra tablespoon of parmesan into the sauce at this point).

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Mix bechamel—the groovy french word for the white sauce you just made—with the artichoke mixture.

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Lightly grease a medium-sized casserole dish and pour in mixture. Make small holes in mix and drop in teaspoons of ricotta. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

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Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and remove foil. Top gratin with Parmesan. Continue baking for 20 minutes or until golden brown and bechamel bubbles. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The thyme is a surprising match to the artichokes—and believe me canned vegetables deserve to be featured in such a decadent meatless entrée. Even Andrew and Alejandro—carnivores of carnivores—scarfed up spoonfuls. The best part? Company in the kitchen.

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For more recipes from the cookbook Plenty, check out this zucchini pasta and this unforgettable yogurt-pomegranate eggplant.

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radical radishes

“What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.” —Samuel Beckett.

Despite abundant radishes atop this blog page, I never before enjoyed these reddish roots (beyond their photogenic appeal). Oh but my destiny was to find a simple recipe where they would shine!

Friends, those of you popping over here for the convenient, 10-minute dump-and-stir recipe will quickly click over to my prior post. And those Tuscan beans are true winners. Oh but here, my adventurous home cooks, my “I’ve never tried quinoa and it’s about dang time” flavor-seeking readers, HERE is a truly delicious undertaking.

My love for feta cannot be overstated. I think there is surely no more delicious combination to enjoy feta (God bless Gourmet for tossing feta with only brown butter and egg noodles)… and then here is this crunchy, fresh, tangy salad you must double because a One Night Only performance does not satisfy. And it’s charming served cold.

The recipe truly works as written, despite my skepticism about steaming multiple grains. But I am certain this recipe would not be diminished by using couscous or quinoa alone, as the dressing and veggies pack the [tastebud] punch.

Note: I just scooped a bit of bulgur from the grocer’s bulk bin, don’t worry about purchasing large containers of multiple grains if you’re trying them for the first time. I do not typically enjoy olives, but a few silky oil-cured babies from the olive bar were lovely to savor with the minty lemon dressing. I also added more olives and more radishes when I fell in love on the first bite.

Quinoa and Bulgur Salad with Feta

from Gourmet, October 2005 serves four

active time: 20 min total time: 40 min

1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed well

4 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup medium bulgur

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint (or ¾ tsp dried mint, crumbled)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 oil-cured (or brine Kalamata) black olives, pitted and cut into slivers

2 radishes, quartered and thinly sliced

2 oz feta, coarsely crumbled (1/2 cup)

2 cups baby spinach, (or shredded Bibb lettuce)

Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve between changes of water. Stir together quinoa, 4 cups water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, and simmer, uncovered, until quinoa is just tender and germ starts to separate from grain, about 20 minutes. Drain well in sieve, then transfer to a medium bowl.

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While quinoa is simmering, cover bulgur with warm water by 2 inches and soak until tender and chewy, about 10 minutes. Drain well in a sieve, then stir into drained quinoa. Cool grains completely, about 20 minutes.

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While grains cool, stir together oil, lemon juice, mint, pepper, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and let stand 15 minutes, then stir into grains along with olives, radishes, feta. Serve over lettuce (and keep the spinach / lettuce separate for leftovers).

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Cooks’ note: Grains can be made ahead and kept, chilled and covered, 1 day. Bring to room temperature while dressing stands.

Hooked on quinoa? Try this very different, equally surprising grain salad…

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the food of our forefathers

Let’s close our eyes and imagine this monumental moment in American history: It’s July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress closes its session for the day and John Adams takes a moment to write his dear Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, curried quinoa salad, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Yes, from our remarkable forefather, and determined by the democratic votes of dear Pear readers, this Fourth of July was one of cornhole, fireworks, and curried quinoa salad. You voted, I made it, neighbors loved it.

While a number of new foods and flavors crossed the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century, the combinations here were likely uncommon. If only I could time travel to Mr. Adams’ day and gift him with a subscription to Bon Appetit

curried quinoa salad with mango, bok choy, fourth of july

Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango

from Bon Appetit, makes 2 servings

1 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces)

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mango chutney, chopped if chunky

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 cups chopped peeled mango (peaches are a perfect substitute)

1 cup chopped unpeeled English hothouse cucumber

5 tablespoons chopped green onions, divided

2 cups baby spinach, chopped

Note: I bought mango slices in the deli section, having not planned ahead for ripe mangos. I also recommend adding any or all of the following for extra sweet crunch: diced peaches, dried fruit (apricots or cranberries), red bell pepper.

It is important to rinse quinoa well before cooking. (I used the steam method and found it makes the quinoa too gummy). Cook quinoa in medium pot of boiling salted water (I used chicken broth for flavor) over medium heat until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Drain well and cool.

curried quinoa salad with mango, quinoa, le cruset, purple

Transfer to medium bowl.

curry powder, mango dressing

whisk, whisking dressing, blue bowl

Whisk oil and next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

chopped mango, spring onion, scallion

diced cucumbers

dried apricots, chopped

Add chopped mango, cucumber, green onions, any other fruits and veggies you are including, and 1/4 cup dressing to quinoa; toss to coat. Divide spinach between 2 plates. Spoon quinoa salad over spinach. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve. Or, toss it all together in a big bowl and serve the next day!

curried quinoa salad, mango, red pepper, scallion, dried apricot

I spent my Independence day crying to Mao’s Last Dancer, painting furniture for my music room, and serving this salad to new friends. (Even my father-in-law loved this salad!) How did you celebrate?

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kitchen block, help!

Some holidays are at the beach with my folks, others are here in (hot, storm-struck) Virginia. This year it’s the latter, meaning I will not be parading the boardwalk with this modest portion of vinegar-soaked potatoes.

french fries, Gus boardwalk fries, beach, Rehoboth

No matter where I am, I’m cooking. Every Fourth of July, I am tempted to repeat this nutty fruit tart from Vegetarian Times magazine. It is about my favorite dessert ever. Then, out of the corner of my eye, there they are: The Cookbooks. By the dozen on my kitchen shelf, filled with recipes yet to make.

Last year, two hours before heading to a neighborhood cookout, I decided to make something. With few groceries in the fridge, and that tiny kitchen apartment, I resorted to making crackers. Salty blue cheese and walnut crackers.

How did July 1 arrived so fast! At least I’ve still got a few days to plan this year. With the summer off from school and time on my side, I’ve got writer’s kitchen block: so you decide. Fair and square, the dish with the most votes by Tuesday night will rinsed and on the (literal) chopping block Wednesday morning. And I’ll be right back to tell you about it.

Don’t worry, there is plenty more from Plenty to which we’ll return after the holiday!

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pizza: it’s what’s for dinner

Let’s get in the mood with a scene from a beloved childhood film. In this clip from Back to the Future II, we glipse at the McFly family in the Future: the year 2015. Ha!

I am impressed the writers in 1987 foresaw caller ID. Still waiting on Black & Decker to release The Hydrator.

Yes, it’s a cherished dish since I was born in the 1980s when Mom, Dad, Jason and I would lay the picnic blanket on the family room floor to watch TGIF around a piping hot pizza box. Even on a scorching summer night, 26 years later, pizza is still the ultimate end-the-week dinner. Now that I’ve wrapped up nutrition classes, it seems an apt time to talk about up-ing the nutrient value of our favorite foods. Let’s start perfecting the pie.

OVERLOAD

Carry-out pizza, despite the presence of carbs, veggies, dairy and in one serving, can be nutritionally void and calorically perilous. Fat and salt reign. The sodium overload in the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese cancels out much hope of absorbing calcium. Pizza also often lacks fiber so crucial to our diet; I found a way to include it in my version, with a flavor just as appealing.

RETHINK PIZZA

What do we love about pizza? The crust’s crunch, rich tomato flavor, the alluring salty cheese? Here’s just one way to enjoy this essence without sacrificing our heart’s health. Using an appropriate portion of salty cheese provides ample cheesiness and significantly decreases the saturated fat. I added toppings high in vitamins, low in calories—then baked it to that golden brown we all adore.

Heart-Healthy Pizza

A  Friday Night Linvention

1 cup baby spinach leaves (use arugula for peppery kick)

1 cup mixed basil and mint leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bell pepper, sliced thin

½ cup shaved parmesan cheese (pecorino, romano, asiago are all great options)

1 prepared pizza crust (mine was only about 9 inches diameter; whole wheat is a great choice)

budget tip: purchase a wedge of romano or asiago cheese and shave with a vegetable peeler. this can be several dollars less than pre-shredded parmesan.

Note the sodium per serving size on this Trader Joes’ pizza crust! It would have been all too easy to eat this entire pie. It’s not just about fat: it’s about the whole picture.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a food processor (a 2-cup machine is sufficient), puree the spinach and herbs with 2 tbsp olive oil. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all of greens and stir into the olive oil. A traditional pesto with nuts and cheese would add much more fat than I desired here.

Spread the pesto over the crust. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the sauce along with the peppers. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher or sea salt over the tomatoes—this will help them roast in the oven. Scatter the cheese in between the tomatoes and peppers, leaving the tomatoes exposed.

Bake directly on the rack according to the crust’s package directions, or until the cheese browns. I place a large baking sheet beneath the pizza to catch any dripping oil or cheese as it bakes. Cool slightly before cutting; I prefer a long knife instead of a pizza wheel.

Other ideas:

Rather than high-sodium pizza sauce, top your crust with thin slices of salted beefsteak tomatoes (and herbs if you like) and bake until the tomatoes begin to dry out. Top with ½ cup of salty cheese, and the veggies/meat of your choosing and bake until brown. Of course, the tricky part is not eating the whole pie! Serve with a salad and munch on fruit or nuts before dinner. Eating a salad (tossed with peaches or berries) while our pizza is in the oven helps with smaller portions.

Pizza is a favorite is our home, and we’re always playing around with new ways to make it memorable in our own kitchen. Find more pizza inspirations here and recent medical news on life-saving fiber from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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the other white meat

Last weekend, we ventured to Delaware to celebrate Pop’s birthday. What could I cook for him? I needed a second dinner request when his favorite “bratwurst and and sauerkraut” sounded less crowd-friendly. Second pick: Pork chops. Andrew was concerned, having only had dry, flavorless pork chops. I’d never even seen a pork chop, but surely it’s all a matter of the right recipe?

It is indeed. Thank you, Gourmet magazine.

This was a fast, flawless meat dish. Because it’s a striaghtforward recipe, and sometimes that’s what really makes great cooking. The carnivores in my family agreed this was genuinely better than any restaurant chop they had ever experienced. And this is a do-able dinner: sear it, roast it, sauce it.

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Cranberry Reduction

tweaked from Gourmet, 2001

For the pork chops

4 (1 1/4-inch-thick) rib pork chops

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the sauce

2 medium shallots, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries

3/4 cup chicken stock or broth

3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled until added at the end

Before you begin, place the dried cranberries in the chicken stock to plump up for the sauce. 

Cook the pork chops: Pat chops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in your largest skillet over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking. Heat the pan for at least a minute to caramelize the meat. Brown the chops, leaving untouched for about 3 minutes per side.

If the chops are a tight fit in the pan, brown just two at a time or use two skillets.

Transfer skillet to oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into meat registers 155°F, 7 to 9 minutes. Check the internal temperature at 6 minutes so the meat does not overcook.

Transfer chops with tongs to a platter, leaving fat in skillet, and cover chops loosely with foil to keep warm.

in the same skillet…

Make the sauce: This sauce may sound fussy, but having all the ingredients ready to go in the skillet just means pour, stir, pour, stir until the sauce reduces and thickens. Only a few minutes.

Sauté shallots in fat remaining in skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and deglaze by boiling over high heat, scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half.

Add cranberries and stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to swell, about 2 minutes.

Stir in brown sugar and thyme and simmer, stirring about 3 minutes more minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in butter until incorporated, then season with salt and pepper.

Don’t worry my fellow vegetarians, the accompanying creamed spinach is up next! Indulgent, yes, but it made a few spinach converts. Pops included 😉

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is it a brie day or bulgar day?

When I’m not shoveling in pastry-wrapped brie, I try to plan healthy meals for Andrew and I. With our Charleston trip just a week away (and belly-aching memories of monstrous pancakes from last year’s visit), we’re trying to eat light before a week of Southern cuisine. After 350 days, I think I am ready to look at biscuits again.

I love the search engine on Epicurious.com, which provided an abundance of quick, easy and healthy recipes. I chose an herb-packed grain salad to accompany a different take on green beans. With almonds and lemons on hand, edamame in the freezer, and a healthy mint plant on my windowsill, the meal was budget-friendly with ample leftovers.

I grabbed bulgur, a whole grain, in the bulk bin for less than $2 and was pleasantly surprised to find it tastes fluffier than couscous and not at all bland like whole wheat pastas. It tastes buttery.

The following recipes—marrying here for a substantial meal—are adapted from the September 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine. Oh, and you need to be open to cilantro.

Bulgur with Herbs

1 cup bulgur wheat

2 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1 cup chopped scallions (from 1 bunch)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

1 tablespoon store-bought roasted-almond oil or olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus 1/2 tsp. lemon zest

In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the cup of bulgur, and cover, allowing the bulgur to simmer on low heat. Stir occasionally and cook about 20 minutes until the bulgur has expanded. Fluff gently with a fork. Drain any excess water.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then cook almonds, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.

Return drained bulgur to serving bowl and stir in scallions, herbs, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and almonds (with oil).

Season with salt and more lemon juice if desired. Serve at room temperature. Oh how crunchy and loaded with lemony flavor!

Bevy of Beans and Basil

3/4 frozen edamame, thawed (soybeans; shelled saves time)

3/4 pound young fresh Romano beans (Italian flat beans), stemmed and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-to 2-inch pieces (I omitted)

1/2 pound green or wax beans, trimmed and halved crosswise

1/4 cup packed basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil; add thawed edamame for about two minutes, remove with slotted spoon and transfer to serving bowl. Cook Romano beans (if using) in same pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a bowl.

Cook green beans in same pot until just tender, 6 to 7 minutes and add to other beans.

Cut basil into very thin shreds. Cook garlic in oil with a rounded 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.

Add beans, water, zest and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Stir in basil and 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice and remove from heat. Season with salt and additional lemon juice if desired.

Serve beans warm or at room temperature.

It’s a record-hot spring already in Virginia, this is perfect picnic food!

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