Sometimes when I’ve had a long exhausting workday, it feels all to easy to just reach for my trusty refridgerator magnets…ultimately leading me down a path towards a big, cheesy pizza. I love pizza – don’t get me wrong – but I’m making a concerted effort to cook healthier more frequently…which means coming up with faster recipes that after a long day will entice me back into my own kitchen with the promise of – not instant, but speedy gratification.
My recipe below is for a super-quick and super-healthy weeknight meal of perfectly flaky white fish, served over tender beans & garlicky kale. (I used flounder for this one, but you could also use tilapia, sole or even thin fillets of hake). Start to finish, the fish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. The beans take more like 30 minutes (I start with dry beans), but if you wanted to cut down on that time too I don’t see why you couldn’t sub-in some canned small white beans instead. Just make sure you rinse them really well first.
I have to mention here that the success of the entire recipe hinges on a single, crucial ingredient – which is very high quality tomato sauce. I’m sorry guys, but Prego or Ragu won’t cut it here…you have to splurge and buy the good stuff. Rao’s, shown below, is my absolute favorite. Other good options include Monte Bene or Scarpetta - both great brands. Essentially, the fish is poached in the sauce and then finished under the broiler. The only other ingredients for the fish are garlic salt, paprika, and a small pad of butter (there isn’t much else to it…hence why the sauce has to be top notch).
POACHED BROILED FISH OVER BLACK EYED PEAS & KALE
1/2lb (half the bag) dry black eyed peas | 3-4 c water | vegetable stock | 5 cloves garlic, chopped | 4-5 large leaves kale, chopped & ribs removed | 1 & 1/2 c good tomato sauce | spices: garlic salt, paprika, pepper
Begin by rinsing the beans clean in a strainer. Add to pot cold and boil in the 4c water for 20 minutes. If liquid reduced too much, add a splash of the vegetable stock. After 20 minutes, reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off & discard any grey residue that has collected on the water’s surface from the beans. Add the chopped garlic & 1/2c tomato sauce to the beans and stir. Continue to let the beans simmer and soften. You want the liquid to become “saucy,” so keep adding vegetable stock as the water cooks off. After another 10-15 minutes, add the kale and stir. Season with salt and pepper, lid the pot and set to low while you cook the fish.
Start by pouring enough sauce (the remaining cup) into a skillet to coat the bottom of the pan. On high, wait for the sauce to begin bubbling around the edges. Once that happens, lay your fresh fish fillets right on top of the sauce and nestle them in, using a spatula or tongs. Allow the fish to cook for just a minute or two, until the fish begins to turn opaque and white along the edges.
At this point, lightly sprinkle the fish with garlic salt and paprika. Then place a small pad of butter on top of each fillet. Set broiler to high. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack, directly under the flame or element. (Stay close & don’t walk away!) The butter will melt over the fish and sizzle, browning ever-so-slightly to form a thin, golden crust. After just a minute or two, the fish is done.
Stir the bean mixture, adjusting with seasonings as needed. Serve with the beans mounded in the center of the plate, with a fish fillet on top.
One sunday afternoon over the summer I had the pleasure of discovering Grillo’s pickles at at food stand inside the SOWA Market in the South End. Can I tell you? What a treat. It may have begun as a snarky chuckle over the idea of “gourmet pickles,” but my attitude changed as I sent a toothpick through the series of flavors to sample; each of them crunchy and salty and tangy and satisfying.
Boston-based Travis Grillo started his pickle company in 2008, and since then Beantown locals have been raving about his spears all over the interwebs. The pickles - now widely distributed in these parts – are available at City Feed, Whole Foods, and few other food retailers for around 7 bucks. I of course found them and bought them immediately.
Long after K and I finished our container, the empty jar of juice sat in our fridge for weeks. We’d toss anything into it, hoping to stretch the pickle-y goodness a little farther. I threw in more sliced cucumber, carrots, cauliflower…you name it. When we finally tossed the jar, I felt satisfied knowing I got the most out of my $7 pickles.
Then a couple days ago while running a quick errand at Stop & Shop, I did a quick sweep of the promo-aisle and grimaced for moment at a giant endcap of $3.00 Mt Olive pickle chips. I was remembering Mr. Grillo and thought to myself that I could really jazz them up…so I did.
A few sliced cloves of garlic and one heavy squeeze of Sriracha was all it took to make these puppies worlds better. Now they’re a far more worthy accompaniment to a casual meal at home… with a giant Reuben, or grilled cheese…or whatever. Try it out and let me know what you think. Just one small warning…these are HOT. Enjoy.
KALE…. I absolutely love it. Years ago I thought its only practical use was as a garnish on Weis’ catering platters. Now, it’s my most frequently purchased green at the grocery store – easily beating out my old stand-by’s, green leaf lettuce and baby spinach.
When I first tried Kale I think I had it sautéed, which really wasn’t much more exciting than your standard prepared collard greens. Cooked, it loses it’s sturdy shape and vibrant green hue, part of what I think makes it special in the first place. But raw, kale is a superfood showcased at its very finest; incredibly nutrient dense and a downright gorgeous green. I have a number of ways I like to incorporate kale into my weekly diet… here are just a few:
1. dressed up for the holidays in a simple salad with pommegranate seeds, almonds, and my favorite vinaigrette
2. blended into my morning smoothie of raw oats, banana, and almond milk (kale ribs removed before blending for better texture)
3. tossed with olive oil, sea salt and sumac and baked in the oven at a low temp for perfect tangy kale chips
4. finely sliced as a chiffonade, tossed right into hot pasta with shrimp & garlic
5. drizzled with raita as a healthy accompaniment to my regular indian takeout order
6. cooked this time – thrown into a pot of any tomato-based soup, like this one
Last but not least, I’ll leave you with a little story from a while back: Did you happen to heard about the poor VT man who got bullied by Chick-fil-a for selling his “Eat More Kale” T-shirts to promote his small business? It’s funny – I actually had to google “Chick-Fil-A” to figure out how that was even spelled, so if it isn’t totally obvious, now you know which side of the argument I stand on. What a sin! I may have to buy one of those T-shirts….
How much nutrition can you pack into sunday’s breakfast? I made it my mission, today, to find out.
K and I have been logging some substantial bike mileage over the weekends we’ve recently spent at home, so I’ve been trying my hand at a bunch of healthy, homemade, high-powered meals & snacks we can devour before our rides. One involved a recipe for Bryan Cranston’s peanut butter power balls, which I read about on a flight home from a recent work trip. (The recipe can be found about half-way down the link’s page). They’re incredibly tasty, but very dense….so I’d recommend shaping them into small bite-sized gumball shapes, rather than the gigantic cookie-dough balls we rolled.
For today’s brunch, I went the savory route – drawing inspiration from an Israeli Shakshuka that caught my eye on the cover of Vegetarian Times. Instead of following the recipe, I just scoured my fridge for an assortment of nutrient-dense veggies I thought would make a nice salsa-like hash. I sauteed everything together in less than 10 minutes, adding the eggs last. My take is below. Feel free to sub-in anything you have lying around that sounds good to you. For me, it was a the perfect way to make use of some fresh garden vegetables a coworker so kindly surprised me with last week. When you live in a city, there’s not better friend to have than a friend with an overabundant garden!
VEGGIE & EGG POWER BAKE
2 cups diced canned tomatoes | 2 small anaheim or banana peppers | 1 green bell pepper | 1/2 a small white onion | 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped | 1/2 tsp cumin | 1 c beans (I used garbanzo’s, but would have used pinto or black beans if I had them around) | 1 big handful baby spinach | 4 shiitake mushrooms | 4 organic, cage free eggs | paprika | garlic salt | black pepper | chopped scallion | 1 heavy drizzle olive oil
Finely chop all of the veggies and set aside. In a heavy skillet, heat a big drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the onion, garlic, and peppers in the olive oil until softened. Add the cumin, mushrooms and tomatoes, and stir. When the liquid from the tomatoes begins to reduce and the mixture loses about half its moisture, sprinkle the mixture with garlic salt and throw in the spinach and beans. Stir everything until the spinach wilts. At this point, use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to flatten the mixture into an even layer. Use the spoon to create 4 empty cavities in the mixture. I sprayed a little coconut oil (you could butter or any nonstick spray) inside each hole to prevent sticking. Crack eggs into each cavity. Cover, and heat on low (or, bake at 400) until eggs are cooked to desired doneness (about 3-5 minutes). Garnish with fresh ground black pepper, paprika, and chopped scallion. We spashed on some hot sauce for an added kick. Enjoy!
In the summertime, fresh produce is in such delightful abundance that K and I ease up on on our carnivorous tendencies and adopt a much simpler, veggie-centric dinner menu . So when July rolls around, I find myself looking for new ways to incorporate vegetables into hearty, satisfying main courses. This recipe caught my eye in the June issue of Better Homes and Gardens. A fresh and spicy take on pasta primavera – this version lacks a cream sauce, which makes it less far less heavy than other versions we’ve tried. I love the recipe most of all because it allows me to recycle last night’s grilled vegetable leftovers. Swap your traditional pasta for perfectly al dente whole wheat spaghetti, and you have yourself a wholesome and satisfying summer dinner; perfect for fueling tomorrow morning’s early AM bike ride.
SIMPLE SUMMER VEGGIE SPAGHETTI (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)
1 pkg whole wheat spaghetti | 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil | 3-5 large cloves of garlic | heavy dose of crushed red chili flakes (to taste) | 2 big handfuls of last night’s leftover grilled vegetables (asparagus, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash all work well…I also added 2 cups of baby kale for some extra nutrition) | 1 pint of grape or cherry tomoatoes, halved and salted | handful fresh basil, chiffon | grated parmesano reggiano (to taste)
Cook pasta to your preference and drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water. I usually stop my pasta from cooking a minute or two shy of directions on package. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and toss in chopped garlic along with red pepper flakes. Cook for just a minute, then add baby kale and saute, stirring until kale is bright green and slightly wilted – about 2-3 minute more. Before garlic has a chance to brown, stir in your chopped vegetables & tomatoes. At this point, kill the heat and add a ladle of your pasta water to the mixture. Add pasta + cheese, and toss. Finish with a garnish of additional cheese and chiffon of basil. Enjoy!
veggies grilling up
saute the baby kale
halved grape tomatoes
Why, hello world.
After taking what I’m going to call a 4-month “hibernation hiatus,” I’m back from the dead and ready to dust off this keyboard….
Now that it’s finally summer, I figure what better way to acknowledge this awakening than a recipe for a rejuvenating “cleanse” of sorts. (The truth is that I just arrived home from a week-long sales meeting in Monterey, and I am in dire need of a total body reset. A week away in the name of “work” can mean only one thing: too much food and too much wine). I flew home friday completely exhausted – dehydrated, puffy, and irritable. Change was in order.
Last year around this same time and this same meeting (funny coincidence), I signed up for a 4 day juice cleanse through a nearby yoga studio. I had done some reading on the benefits of juicing and was totally swayed by the promise of a feel-good sense of clarity and renewal in the body – not to mention weight loss, a down-played side effect that I found particularly enticing. The cleanse itself was a cool two-hundred bucks and came with a complicated pickup scenario involving a 30 minute drive to the studio every single day to pick up a day’s supply of fresh juices). It was a little bit of a hassle, but not enough to deter me. I followed the instructions to a T: I began each day reading a thoughtfully written inspirational newsletter from the yoga studio, drank a tall glass of water with lemon, followed by 1 green juice for breakfast, followed by an 11am fruit smoothie, followed by a 1pm nut milk, followed by 2 green juices that evening for dinner. I’m not going to lie about this – it was really tough. I distinctly remember cooking dinner for K, then obsessively watching him eat every bite while trying not to lunge at him, fangs out. Everybody thought I was completely nuts to attempt a liquid, all-plant diet for four days straight, and I will admit that at some point – I was complete nuts. Hunger pangs peaked early evening on Day 2, which was the height of my brush with insanity – but it subsided soon after, and by the following morning I began to feel like a whole new person. True story.
The juice cleanse did several things for me:
1) it made me appreciate my food. I think in recent years I’ve started to forget how sacred “the meal” is in my daily life. I’m always trying to squeeze in breakfast over emails, lunch during errands, etc. I’m never paying attention - I’m just gobbling and moving on to the next thing on my agenda. During the cleanse, you’re supposed to “chew your juice” and really think about the nourishment coming from the fruits, nuts, and vegetables blended into each smoothie. On day 5 when you finally take your first bite of solid food again – you chew it forever in appreciation. You really take your time! That part has really helped me.
2) it made me crave vegetables. If I am reaching for a snack in this house, 9 times out of 10 I’m going for tortilla chips and some sort of dip – whether it’s salsa/guacamole/hummus. I’m a corn chip addict. It’s a serious problem. The cleanse somehow reprograms my brain to desire what is good for me. I don’t know how this happens or what exactly is taking place upstairs, but it has worked for me and I love this change. It probably has something to do with the fact you’re going from liquids to solids – and anything solid feels like a treat at first. Who knows. It has really helped me make better snacking choices.
3) it helps me drop a few pounds without depriving my body of vital nutrients. I’m not a doctor, or a nutritionist, or any kind of certified expert on this subject – but I know a crazy diet when I see one. What I like about 4 days of juice is knowing that I’m eating greens (vitamins), fruits (sugars) and nuts (protein + fat) and getting what I need to sustain myself during a moderate workout. I’m sorry, but if a diet has me so deprived that I can’t muster the energy for a 2 mile jog – it is not going to work out for me. These juices will keep me going, which is my minimum requirement.
Now for the fun part. Despite my newfound love for juicing, forking up the cash for a branded cleanse every few months isn’t really sustainable for my finances – so – I set out to break the juices down and see if I could somehow recreate my own personal version. I should mention here that I don’t even own a juicer (K put the kibosh on the purchase of any new kitchen appliances about 3 hours after our wedding). Instead I just blend everything up in my Vitamix, and strain/press it all through a fine mesh strainer. While I like to make the green juices and fruit smoothies single servings as needed, the nut milk I make in a large batch and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
If I return from a work trip and feel like I’ve overdone it – I replace a meal or two each day with the green juices, keeping dinner as something to look forward to. If I want to be hardcore about it, I drink juice for 4 days straight. 1 green juice for breakfast. 1 fruit smoothie around 11am. 1 nut milk 2 hours later. 2 green juices spaced out through the evening. Drink a lot of water in between and let me know how you make out! Here are the recipes:
GREEN JUICE – 2 whole leaves kale, 1 handful spinach, 1 half cucumber, 1 large stalk celery. Shove it all in the blender. Cover with coconut water. Blend to a pulp. Strain into a large bowl, pressing pulp until any retained juice is pushed through. Mix juice from half a lemon into strained liquid & enjoy! (Sometimes, I will supplement the final juice with a teaspoon of this).
FRUIT SMOOTHIE – 5-7 strawberries, 1 banana, 1 Tbs lucuma powder, cover with almond milk or some other nut milk (not soy), blend alone or with ice.
NUT MILK – soak 2 cups of raw cashews, raw brazil nuts, or raw almonds in clean water overnight to sprout (why sprout? look here). In the morning, discard the soaking water. Add 4 new cups of fresh water to the blender with 2 cups of the soaked nuts. Add 2 pitted dates and 1 tsp coconut butter or oil. Blend until totally smooth. You can drink as a thick smoothie, or strain for a more milk-like liquid consistency. Enjoy!
Nothing disappoints me more than a bad salad in a good restaurant. You know the kind of salad I’m talking about: It comes out and all the leaves are matted down or wilted, (often with a few rotting “surprises” hidden somewhere near the middle), and the whole thing looks pathetically dry and unappetizing, having come straight out of one of those pre-packaged mix bags. At this point you think to yourself, ” Seriously, why did I even bother?” You scan the table, and your friends look so smug with their open-faced sandwiches. You spend half the meal dragging soggy, brown-edged leaves to an ugly mush pile in the corner of your plate. You will not pout. You will steal a french fry from your neighbor.
Well now its Sunday and there’s a good chance you’re watching football and eating something greasy and delicious. Good for you! A safe bet in the sports bar. Even if you do feel guilty about it tomorrow – I am here to save you from the prospect of a another bad salad in the only place where you can help it: your own kitchen. I’m going to include a few suggestions along with a recipe for my standard simple vinaigrette, which I like to keep on hand in a large container. It’s nice to have when you get home from work and don’t feel like going crazy in the kitchen. Here’s how to regularly whip up something nice and clean and green that you can feel really good about when you dive in with a fork tomorrow….
1) buy at least 2 varieties of LOOSE dark greens (stay away from the kinds that come in a rectangular-shaped plastic bag via modified atmosphere. Why? #1), I personally think fresh loose greens taste better. #2) bagged lettuce spoils faster once opened and has a higher risk of this). My favorites are green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, green kale, and spinach.
2) wash your greens. Do this on a sunday and you’ll have clean lettuce for the week. Fill a clean sink with cold water, or, clean leaves individually by rinsing under the faucet.
3) dry your greens. If you don’t own a salad spinner, you need to get one. My Grandma used to slave over washing and drying her tender garden lettuces by hand. She would lay each leaf out on paper towels and then roll them up for storage in the fridge. It was a labor of love, but the invention of the salad spinner put those lost hours back into the day. Once you’ve spun your greens, you can store them in the spinner, refrigerated, for about a week.
4) add crunch to your bowl. I like sliced almonds, carrots, granny smith apple….just to name a few. My salad pictured below includes kale, spinach, almonds, carrots, roasted beets & sliced radish.
4) mix a big batch of homemade dressing you love, and drizzle it over your greens. Toss and enjoy!
SIMPLE VINAIGRETTE – store in a bottle or jar that you can shake up prior to serving.
1/3 c red wine vinegar | 1 c mild olive/canola oil | juice of 1/2 lemon | 1 tsp garlic salt | 1/2 tsp ground black pepper