Posts Tagged ‘eatingwell’

Lessons from Cooking at Home and My Eating Well Challenge (Preparation is the Key!)

July 14th, 2010

For four weeks I cooked at least three nights a week, using recipes from EatingWell’s cookbooks. There were several reasons for this challenge, the most important being that I wanted to:

  • Eat consciously and locally. With full-time jobs, kids, and other obligations, too often we rely on convenience foods and take-out, not paying attention to where the food came from.
  • Eat healthfully. By preparing meals myself, I could control what ingredients went into the foods we ate.
  • Cook regularly at home, for pleasure. By challenging myself to cook at home, it had to be made interesting, fun, and satisfying, rather than a chore.
  • Cook from recipes in cookbooks I own. I own bookshelves full of cookbooks but usually wing it, or find recipes on the internet at the last minute.

I certainly achieved these goals, but some of the lessons I learned enlightened me about the further benefits of cooking at home:

Let your meals plan your cravings, not the other way around.

In order to stick to my plan, I had to make a list and go to the market on Sunday to purchase ingredients for the week. The only thing I did not purchase in advance were meats that needed to be cooked later in the week, as I didn’t them to spoil. The upside to this is that I had all my ingredients and recipes ahead of time. Before I would let our cravings guide our meals, and be running around shopping and getting food on the table late, if I cooked at all. My meals were now guiding my cravings. I looked forward to dinner, knowing what was on the menu.

Your pantry is personal and will build itself.

We’ve all seen those articles in newspapers and magazines, or chapters in cookbooks, that list “what every pantry should have.” They are written to make our lives easier by giving us the basic ingredients for meals. But what if you don’t like some of those ingredients or don’t eat them often? By challenging myself, I selected recipes I knew we would like, and by Week Two of the challenge, my shopping list was cut in half, simply because our tastes were reflected in my pantry by what I had purchased for our weekly meals. I also took this as an opportunity to discard or give away some one-time use ingredients that I knew I wouldn’t use, but had hung on to like fine heirlooms, providing me with more shelf space for necessary ingredients.

It doesn’t cost as much as you think.

Once our pantry began to build, the shopping costs decreased dramatically. Our main purchases became vegetables and proteins. Had I shopped using coupons and supermarket circulars, I would have saved more, but I was not planning with budget in mind, and I was buying premium ingredients; particularly local or sustainably raised meat, which can be expensive, but supporting our local farms is important to me. I’m sure even this cost will decrease as I find in-season deals for produce and meat that can be frozen for the winter months, and “shop” in my own freezer for ingredients I already have on hand.

Cooking can become a part of the routine.

I cannot begin to tell you how tired I am when I get home. Just about everyone I know feels the same way. By planning ahead, I was able to choose easy meals, have all the ingredients on hand, and have a cooking plan. I was mentally prepared not to sit on the couch when I got home. As with the weeknight chicken from January, my plan might involve turning on the oven to pre-heat, or begin a marinade before I changed my clothes. Many recipes don’t need much attention. If I was really on my game, I’d chop my vegetables on Sunday when I brought them home from the market, but let’s not get carried away.

Feel better instantly.

The best advantage to cooking at home is this: You will feel better instantly. I don’t think we realize how much our eating habits change us, until we change them. I enjoyed feeding my family more often. I felt proud that I was accomplishing a goal. My skin was clearer and I was walking taller. Do I still want chocolate chip cookies? Of course! But I am more likely to make them myself and share them than to purchase ones that have a biblical shelf life.

Don’t limit yourself.

There was really only one downside to my challenge, which was cooking from the same series of books. Although the EatingWell series casts a wide culinary net, when recipes come from the same place they tend to have a common theme, whether it is the ingredients, textures, or flavors. I must admit I gained a little more respect for people who tackle making every recipe from the Joy of Cooking or The Art of French Cooking. While the lessons from this practice were invaluable, I’ll be cooking from several different sources from now on.

It saddens and perplexes me that Americans, and apparently people over the better part of the planet, have gotten away from home cooking and real food. I’m glad there are people like Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman championing the cause, but real change can only be made by doing the work yourself. I know I’ll be happily cooking at home more often. I’ll never give up restaurants or take-out, but they should be a treat, not the larger part of our diets. My family may not be 100% there yet, but we’re working on it.

Click here for the original challenge and a list of recipes.

EatingWell’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

June 21st, 2010

EatingWell's Baked Mac & Cheese

Week 4, day 3 of My Eating Well Challenge.

EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy cookbook has redeemed itself with this version of mac and cheese. It may have simply been the luck of the draw that the two other recipes I chose from this book were lackluster. I was beginning to feel that EatingWell’s definition of comfort food meant gluey sauces, but this recipe is a winner.

I was very concerned about this recipe, as I dislike cottage cheese, but most of that has to do with its texture. It is used in this recipe to lighten the fat, and does not make the sauce curdy in the least. Even so it should be noted that this is not a low fat recipe. However, by using whole wheat pasta and adding spinach, it is a high-fiber recipe, and I found that a smaller portion is very filling. I inadvertently used hot paprika in the breadcrumb mixture; a happy accident as it wasn’t spicy at all, but gave the dish an added punch.

The sauce is wonderfully cheesy, and the spinach makes the flavor reminiscent of Ina Garten’s incredibly luscious spinach gratin. This is a delicious baked mac and cheese.

Baked Mac & Cheese
From EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy
View the recipe and nutritional information at

3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs, (see Tip)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

2/ Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.

3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.

5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Tip: To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about 1/3 cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs. We like Ian’s brand labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.

Baked Mac & Cheese with a Spinach Layer

Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

June 21st, 2010

Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

Week 4, day 2 of My Eating Well Challenge.

Well, it had to happen sometime. Most of the EatingWell recipes have been very good, but this Stroganoff was very disappointing.

First, there is too much dried thyme, which can be acrid. Second, three tablespoons of flour is way too much thickener. As with the gravy for the chicken fried steak, I found myself skimming lumps of flour that simply would not dissolve, and the sauce was like glue. Third, the cut of meat seemed off. Flank steak is not tender and has a very pronounced flavor. Each bite of beef yelled “beef!” instead of being an integral component of the dish. Lastly, the clearest indication for me of a successful recipe, as I can be overly picky, is my family going back for seconds, which they did not.

If you wish to read more about the recipe or try it yourself, it may be found here. I am reluctant to post a recipe that I would not recommend.

Chicken “Fried” Steak & Gravy

June 14th, 2010

Chicken Fried Steak

Week 4, day 1 of My Eating Well Challenge. As a rainy, overcast week, I decided this weeks’ recipes would come from EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy.

I’ve eaten chicken fried steak twice. The first time as kind of a lark when I found it on a menu in New York City, having never seen the dish before. The second time was in Texas when a friend’s mother made it for dinner. It was delicious both times, but it did not become one of my favorites, probably because it is phenomenally heavy. One cannot deny that it qualifies as great comfort food. Could it be made with less fat and still taste as good?

I’m pleased to say that I liked the crust of the EatingWell version better than the others. Rather than just seasoned flour, this recipe uses cornmeal, which adds crunch as well as great flavor. The texture is really outstanding. But I had a terrible time with the gravy. The creaminess of the half-and-half didn’t really come through, and I found the beef stock a little overwhelming; I’d be inclined to use chicken stock if I ever make this again. Lastly, even though I whisked it in, the cornstarch became lumpy and I found there was just too much of the slurry (easily resolved by straining the sauce). That being said, cornstarch is my nemesis. I find sauces made with cornstarch to be a little too gluey. If you’ve got nothing against cornstarch, this gravy will be right up your alley (just use a couple of teaspoons rather than a full tablespoon). My family went back for seconds..

Chicken-Fried Steak & Gravy
From EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy
View the recipe and nutritional information at

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound cube steak, cut into 4 portions
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Place all-purpose flour on a large plate. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Whisk cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch and paprika in another shallow dish. Season both sides of steak with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dredge the steak in the flour, shaking off excess; dip in the egg whites, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add 2 pieces of the steak; cook until browned on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the steak to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pieces of steak. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, add broth to the pan and boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk water and the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in half-and-half; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve the steak topped with the gravy.

Ham & Swiss Rosti

June 8th, 2010

Ham & Swiss Rosti in the Pan

Week 3, day 3 of My Eating Well Challenge.

Rösti, at its simplest, is shredded potatoes which are pressed into a layer in a saute pan, and fried with some type of fat to make a potato cake that is crispy on the outside, and is generally served as a side to an entree. By adding ham and cheese and serving it with a vegetable or salad, the dish becomes hearty enough for dinner.

I found the rosemary a bit distracting, as it has a particularly aggressive flavor that nearly overwhelmed the cheese and ham. I’d be inclined to leave it out, or cut the amount in half. Otherwise, all the flavors and textures of great comfort food are there, and I’d never have guessed that this rosti is low calorie. You can even forgive yourself for having two pieces if the mood struck you. This would likely be very tasty (and pretty) served for breakfast with a sunny side egg on top, which is what I’ll try next time…and there will definitely be a next time.

Ham & Swiss Rosti
From The EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information at

1 large egg
1 cup diced ham, (about 5 ounces)
1 cup shredded part-skim Jarlsberg, or Swiss cheese, divided
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1. Beat egg in a large bowl. Stir in ham, 1/2 cup cheese, shallot, rosemary, pepper and salt. Add frozen potatoes and stir to combine.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pat the potato mixture into an even round in the pan. Cover and cook until browned and crispy on the bottom, 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Place a rimless baking sheet on top. Wearing oven mitts, grasp the pan and baking sheet together and carefully invert, unmolding the rösti onto the baking sheet. Wipe out any browned bits from the pan. Return it to the heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Slide the rösti back into the pan. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese, cover and cook the second side until crispy and browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Slide onto a platter, cut into wedges and serve.

Ham & Swiss Rosti

EatingWell’s Pepperoni Pizza

June 7th, 2010

EatingWell's Pepperoni Pizza

Week 3, day 2 of My Eating Well Challenge.

When people ask, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?” I often think my answer would be pizza. Between the dough, the sauce, and the toppings, the variations are practically endless. I am also not prejudiced in favor of any one particular style. Although I am particularly fond of the thin-crust style I grew up with in Brooklyn, I can appreciate deep-dish, stuffed, and most variations of toppings.

This recipe has intrigued me since I first read it. According to EatingWell, adding pumpkin puree to the sauce increases fiber and beta carotene, but what about the taste? It turns out it’s quite good. One wouldn’t notice unless they were looking for an odd ingredient, they’d just think it’s a relatively sweet sauce. When I questioned my family, they guessed sweet potato. I believe adding a bit of salt to the sauce would balance the flavor.

The recipe also features a favorite secret ingredient of mine: Turkey pepperoni. I am generally disappointed by “replacement” foods, but turkey pepperoni is an exception. When cooked, its flavor is nearly identical to the pork and beef version, but has significantly less fat.

This pizza is certainly no replacement for my beloved Fascati or Grimaldi, but it’s a very good, satisfying pizza that can be prepared quickly. I’m sure little kids would love this recipe (and they can help make it, too).

EatingWell’s Pepperoni Pizza
From The EatingWell Healthy Heart Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information at

1 pound prepared whole-wheat pizza dough, (see Shopping Tip), thawed if frozen
1 cup canned unseasoned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup no-salt-added tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 ounces sliced turkey pepperoni (1/2 cup)

1. Place oven rack in the lowest position; preheat to 450°F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to the size of the baking sheet. Transfer to the baking sheet. Bake until puffed and lightly crisped on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Whisk pumpkin puree, tomato sauce and garlic powder in a small bowl until combined.

4. Spread sauce evenly over the baked crust. Top with mozzarella, Parmesan and pepperoni. Bake until the crust is crispy on the edges and the cheeses have melted, about 12 minutes.

Warm Chicken Sausage & Potato Salad

June 2nd, 2010

Warm Chicken Sausage & Potato Salad

Week 3, day 1 of My Eating Well Challenge. A head cold, a long weekend, and a bout of spring cleaning slowed me down, but I did manage to prepare a few recipes from The EatingWell Healthy Heart Cookbook. Fortunately, most EatingWell recipes can be made in a very short time with very little effort.

Through my teens, the only potato salad I encountered regularly was gloppy with mayonnaise and chopped egg. Not being a fan of either ingredient, I shunned potato salad for years. So one may imagine my delight when I had my first taste of German style potato salad. Warm potatoes and bacon in a dressing of vinegar, mustard, and bacon fat. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

This is a wonderful variation with the familiar spicy and tart dressing. The greens add a nice mouthfeel and slight bitterness. We felt this salad could even be prepared without the sausage as a side dish.

Warm Chicken Sausage & Potato Salad
From The EatingWell Healthy Heart Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information at

1 pound small potatoes, cut in half
1 5-ounce bag arugula (about 4 cups, gently packed)
12 ounces precooked chicken sausage, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon whole-grain or Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Place potatoes in a steamer basket and steam, covered, until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add arugula; cover with foil to keep warm.

2. Cook sausage in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until browned and heated through, about 5 minutes. Add to the potato-arugula mixture.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in vinegar, maple syrup and mustard, scraping up any browned bits. Gradually whisk in oil. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until the arugula is wilted. Season with pepper.

Turkey Mini Meatloaves

May 25th, 2010

Turkey Mini Meatloaf

Week 2, day 4 of My Eating Well Challenge.

In 1990, there was a film about an advertising executive whose “truthful” campaigns are accidentally published. One of those was for Volvo: “They’re boxy, but they’re good.” This is exactly the thought I had when I tasted the meatloaf, due to its compact, rectangular shape. I have made this recipe using muffin tins, but I found the small loaf shape is more attractive for serving and makes for more evenly cut slices for sandwiches.

You will be absolutely stunned at how quickly the recipe comes together. Turkey meatloaf tends to be dry, but this recipe is particularly moist thanks to the vegetables and couscous, and just a touch spicy from the mustard and Worcestershire.  Ignoring the color, one does not miss the beef at all.  I replaced the optional barbecue sauce with Heinz chili sauce, as I prefer the tomato flavor with meatloaf. They reheat perfectly, making a satisfying lunch the next day.

Turkey Mini Meatloaves
From EatingWell’s Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information on

1 pound 93%-lean ground turkey
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup barbecue sauce, (optional – I used Heinz chili sauce)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Generously spray a nonstick muffin pan with cooking spray.

2. Gently mix turkey, zucchini, onion, bell pepper, couscous, egg, Worcestershire, mustard, pepper and salt in a large bowl, preferably with your hands, without overworking. Equally divide the mixture among the muffin cups. Spread barbecue sauce on top of each loaf, if using.

3. Bake until the meatloaves are cooked through or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 165 degrees F, about 25 minutes. Let the loaves stand in the pan for 5 minutes before serving.

Five-Spice Chicken & Orange Salad

May 25th, 2010

Five-Spice Chicken & Orange Salad

Week 2, day 3 of My Eating Well Challenge.  I am behind on blogging, but not on cooking!

What a delicious and refreshing salad! The sweet and savory five-spice seasoning is nicely paired with oranges and a tart mustard and cider vinegar dressing. I was a little concerned the combination might taste like Christmas, but the Asian-inspired flavors are quite subtle. Crisp peppers and onions brighten the dish. I disagree with some user comments on that recommend doubling the rub recipe; I feel that would overpower the other flavors. The recipe as-is is well balanced.

Five-Spice Chicken & Orange Salad
From The EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information on

6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon five-spice powder, (see Note)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
3 oranges
12 cups mixed Asian or salad greens
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup slivered red onion
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine 1 teaspoon oil, five-spice powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the chicken breasts.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on one side, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn them over and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast until the chicken is just cooked through (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 165°F), 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board; let rest for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, peel and segment two of the oranges (see Tip), collecting segments and any juice in a large bowl. (Discard membranes, pith and skin.) Add the greens, bell pepper and onion to the bowl. Zest and juice the remaining orange. Place the zest and juice in a small bowl; whisk in vinegar, mustard, the remaining 4 teaspoons oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad; toss to combine. Slice the chicken and serve on the salad.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chive Sauce

May 22nd, 2010

Chicken with Creamy Chive Sauce

Week 2, day 2 of My Eating Well Challenge.

Sauces can make a plain dinner something special, and this one is no exception. This dish is reminiscent of French bistro fare. The pungent mustard is tempered by the sour cream and stock. I was surprised that the shallot and chive did not give the sauce too much onion flavor, and in fact we would have liked a bit more. Next time I would try this with slivered green onion. Roasted fingerling potatoes were the perfect medium to sop up the luscious sauce.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chive Sauce

From the EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information at

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (about 1 pound), trimmed of fat
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped chives, (about 1 bunch)

1. Place chicken between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or heavy skillet until flattened to an even thickness, about 1/2 inch. Season both sides of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow glass baking dish and dredge the chicken in it. Discard the excess flour.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, cover and keep warm.

3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon flour; stir to coat. Add wine, broth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil, stirring often.

4. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until heated through and no longer pink in the center, about 6 minutes. Stir in sour cream and mustard until smooth; turn the chicken to coat with the sauce. Stir in chives and serve immediately.