Monday, February 27, 2012

Apricot Cilantro Quinoa Pilaf

Happy Monday!

It's a cloudy, rainy one here in to Los Angeles, but a change of pace is nice sometimes. What news do I have? Firstly, Meatless Monday is featuring my soup recipe from last week (which they are calling Orzo Spinach Soup), and my photograph is on their homepage. Love those guys.

And I'm halfway through my new book (quite an accomplishment I think).

Anyway, I've been cooking up a storm and have lots of great recipes waiting in the wings. But today, I'm writing up this one for Apricot Cilantro Quinoa Pilaf.

You see tons of rice pilaf recipes, but I love using quinoa instead. It's super high in protein and has a great nutty flavor. I used an organic tri-color quinoa blend from Trader Joe's that I just love! But any sort will work.

For this recipe, I combine apricots, cilantro, and toasted pumpkin seeds, giving it a little bit of a Middle Eastern flair. This dish is great on its own (lots of protein), as a side dish, or served with eggs for breakfast.

Apricot Cilantro Quinoa Pilaf
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: about 20 minutes
Vegan; gluten-free

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock or water
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • lemon juice (optional)

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute for a few minutes, until softened. 
  2. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa for 2 minutes under cold water.
  3. Add the stock, quinoa, and apricots. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes (per quinoa package instructions). 
  4. Once the quinoa has finished cooking, remove from heat and fold in the pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. 
  5. If desired, finish with a little fresh squeezed lemon juice and garnish with chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tuscan White Bean Spinach Soup

My mother sent me a picture of snowy Floyd county yesterday, reminding me that it's still winter in much of the country (it's easy to forget when you live in Los Angeles).

The picture made me remember how lovely fresh snow is, and also how nice it is to get a day off to hole up inside and eat warm and toasty things by the fireside. That is another thing about LA—we don't get snow days. It's always go, go, go!

And I've been on the go lately. Over the weekend, I caught a fabulous Ryan Adams concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, my favorite venue in the city (the night was made even more stellar by a great meal beforehand at Lazy Ox Canteen, one of my favorite restaurants).

But I had a quite night at home last night. Got back to cooking by whipping up a great pasta dish with fresh pappardelle pasta, jumbo asparagus, red peppers, and spicy chicken sausage. I also made a side salad of mixed greens with dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and feta (I love making winter salads with dried fruit and nuts and tangy cheeses). It was nice to have a night off from the world.

Today, I'm off to the farmers market to stock up for the week. While a part of my just wants to stay home and work on my book (halfway through!!), I know that I'll regret it if I don't go. Where else can you get produce of that quality at that price point? And the freshest fish ever? I'm going...

This week's recipe is a warm and comforting soup that's perfect for snowy winter days. I'm sure there will be a few more ahead before winter has said its piece. This Tuscan White Bean Spinach Soup also contains whole wheat orzo, though regular will work, too. It's made with a tomato-broth. There's something about the white bean-spinach-tomato combo that just works.

I like to finish it with freshly shaved parmigiano reggiano and cracked pepper. One other note on the recipe—if you have a parmesan rind lying about, you can toss it into the soup for an extra rich broth.

Now I'm hungry...

Tuscan White Bean Spinach Soup
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: about 40 minutes


  • 1/2 cup whole wheat orzo (regular works, too)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • pinch of chili flakes
  • 1 can (28 oz.) of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans (14 oz.) of white beans (any sort will work)
  • 4 cups of fresh spinach
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • parmigiano reggiano for grating

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until beginning to soften (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute for one more minute.
  2. Add the tomatoes, stock, and white beans. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about twenty minutes. 
  3. Add the orzo and simmer in the soup for about ten more minutes, or until the orzo is becoming tender. Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes until tender. (Note: the consistency may be adjusted by adding more or less stock).
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, ladle a generous portion of soup into a bowl. Top with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sesame Tamari Bok Choy

The other day, I got a wonderful gift in the mail:

A huge box of greens.

Now many a child might cry had they opened this box to behold the packages of kale, beet greens, spinach, pea tendrils, chard, and bok choy. But not me. If I cried, they were tears of joy. The samples came courtesy of Cut 'n Clean Greens and Jade (both from San Miguel Produce).

Usually, I'm very picky about what products I will sample, but if I am anything, I am a greens aficionado, so these products fit right in my sweet spot. Many of their greens are organic. I also love that they come pre-washed and lots of them are already cut for you (hence the name Cut 'n Clean Greens). One of the best things that anybody can do for their health is to eat more green stuff, and any product that removes the impediments to doing so gets a huge gold star from me.

For example, the chopped up rainbow chard could be quickly cooked up in a pan, or tossed into soups or pasta dishes with no prep work required. I loved the mix of beet greens and spinach. Though it's advertised as salad, I ate them voraciously alongside eggs for breakfast a few mornings in a row.

And that leads me to the baby bok choy.

I'm quite obsessed with this vegetable. And the bok choy that they sent me might have been the most beautiful that I'd ever seen—tiny, delicate, dark green. I almost didn't want to eat it it was so lovely.

I love bok choy for breakfast. I saute it up in my cast iron skillet with olive oil, tamari, and sesame seeds. Yup, it's that simple but also that delicious. I'll eat this along with a piece of Ezekiel toast and an organic egg every morning. This can also be a great side dish.

Sesame Tamari Bok Choy
Serves 2 people
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Gluten-free, vegan

  • 4 cups baby bok choy, chopped with white parts separated from leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon tamari (if you're not gluten-sensitive, regular soy sauce works, too)

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the bok choy stems (the white parts) and saute until beginning to soften (about two to three minutes).
  3. Add the leaves and stir to combine. Saute for a minute, until beginning to wilt.
  4. Add the tamari and the sesame seeds and cook for another minute or two, until the bok choy is tender. Enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Healthy Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Everybody loves comfort food—not everybody loves what it can do to their waistline.

I must confess here that Shepherd's Pie, a dish that dates back to the 1700's, is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. There's something about the thick layer of mashed potatoes atop the comforting mixture of meat, vegetables, and gravy that makes it irresistible.

It's winter. I was craving it. Enough was enough.

Last night, I had to take matters into my own hands.

And here's the result—a healthy take on this classic dish that is so delicious, you won't notice what's missing (hint: butter, cream, and red meat). And my additions, like smoked paprika and tons of veggies, actually improve upon the original (if you ask me).

For my protein, I chose lean, ninety-nine percent fat free ground turkey. This also makes this dish very friendly to your wallet (in addition to your waistline).

Without further ado, here's the dish that I made last night. I hope that you love it as much as I do.

Healthy Turkey Shepherd's Pie
Serves 8-10 people
Cooking time: about one hour

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
  • 1 bunch of carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme 
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 recipe Healthy Mashed Potatoes

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Brown the turkey until cooked through (about five minutes).
  3. Add the onion, carrots, and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften (about 5 minutes). Then, add the garlic, paprika, and thyme and cook for one more minute. 
  4. Add the red wine and cook for a few minutes, until it's mostly reduced and absorbed. 
  5. Stir in the flour.
  6. Add the the peas, corn, and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five to seven minutes, until the stock reduces and thickens slightly.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  8. To assemble the Shepherd's Pie, transfer the filling into an oven proof dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Sprinkle with a little paprika if desired.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes until the dish is burbling and the potatoes have set. Remove from the oven. Serve family style or spoon into bowls. Enjoy!

Healthy Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Paprika

No, I haven't lost my mind.

It is possible to health up this classic comfort food food.

And no, it doesn't taste like cardboard.

That's thanks to chicken broth, smoked paprika, and my secret ingredient: nonfat plain Greek Yogurt. I'm posting this recipe here so that it can go with my healthy (and delicious) version of the classic Shepherd's Pie. But these mashed potatoes are an easy and healthy treat perfect for any night.

Healthy Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Paprika
Serves 6-8 people
Cooking time: about 30 minutes

  • 6 medium russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 (6 oz.) carton of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Place the potatoes and the stock in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about fifteen minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  2. Remove the potatoes from the pot and preserve the stock. Place the potatoes into a bowl with the yogurt and paprika. Add in some of the stock and mash them to desired consistency. 
  3. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Enjoy!