Archive for Dinner

The Missing Week: Magnesium’s turn in the spotlight

There are several rockstar nutrients – calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C – who can’t seem to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast. But somewhere a few steps off the red carpet, there’s a lesser known but hard-working mineral that deserves some attention: magnesium.

This salad will make a lot more sense after a few paragraphs.

Magnesium keeps bones strong, helps nerves zzzzap like normal, and is needed for a few other minor tasks like, oh, keeping your heart beating. (Lots more info here) But apparently that isn’t glitzy enough for the average eater, because nearly half of people age 1 and older have inadequate intakes (pdf).

Why? Well, our love of refined grains may be one culprit – wheat’s germ and bran are rich in magnesium, but those get stripped out when processed into flours and such. Green Veggie Phobia is another contributor, because if you aren’t eating your greens, you’re not getting the magnesium-rich chlorophyll.

I think we all agree that we like non-brittle bones and still-beating hearts, so what should we eat to get more magnesium? In general, whole grains, vegetables (especially the green ones), legumes, seeds and nuts are the way to go.

And that brings us to the salad I tossed (har) together that boasts several magnesium-rich foods on the marquee: garam-masala-roasted cashews, curried black lentils, and spinach, along with sweet potato and a simple dressing. Not only does this salad have a sweet and spicy crunch, but it delivers approximately half the magnesium required daily by the average adult.

The salad recipe follows below, and here’s a few additional ways to add more of the magnificent mineral to your meals:

  • “Good morning blend” yogurt parfait from Rodale (here)
  • Poached egg with walnuts and spinach from Cooking Light (here)
  • No-bake molasses, dates, seed and nut bites from Oh My Veggies (here)
  • Jumbo prawns with balsamic-orange onions from Eating Well (here)
  • Grilled halibut with roasted tomatoes from Rodale (here)
  • Papaya avocado salad from Eating Well (here)

Spiced cashew, curried lentil and sweet potato salad

(4 servings, approx. 460 calories each)

1 cup cashews (unsalted)
1 Tbs garam masala
3 Tbs orange juice, divided
½ cup dry black lentils
2 cups water
1 tsp curry powder
2 medium sweet potatoes
6-8 cups fresh spinach
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

Roast the cashews: Heat the oven to 250F. Mix the cashews, garam masala and 1 Tbs orange juice in a bowl. Spread the cashews on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time.

Cook the lentils: Combine the lentils, water and curry powder in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-22 minutes.

Cook the sweet potato: Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Microwave each for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and microwave another 2-3 minutes.

Mix up the dressing: Whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar and remaining 2 Tbs orange juice in a small bowl.

Put it all together: Divide the spinach among four bowls. To that add ¼ cup of the roasted cashews, one fourth of the cooked lentils, ½ of a sweet potato (sliced/cubed), and ¼ of the dressing (roughly 1.5 Tbs).


Don’t Snow on my Chili Week

I didn’t really need any prodding to try out Cooking Light’s roundup of their 30+ best chili recipes. I’ve been anticipating the inevitable late autumn cool-down that would sweep aside “enh, I don’t need a jacket” and replace it with “a hot bowl of something sure would warm my blue-tinged fingers right about now.” And chili can be a pretty nutritious hot bowl when you’re packing it with lean meats and/or powerhouse beans plus several different types of veggies.

So I bookmarked the list, and got to work mixing up hearty ingredients with complex spice mixes for the smoky slowcooker chili (which I then fed to omnivore Tim, who liked it).

I also served up a Moroccan vegetarian version of chili which, despite not including any actual conventional chili powder, had plenty of tangy, cumin-infused, flavor mixed into the pleasing mix of just-crunchy-enough vegetables and soft cooked chickpeas.

But juuuuust to make sure I appreciated the impetus behind this chili exploration, Mother Nature showed up just today with a timely reminder that “bowl of warm stuff” weather wasn’t impending – it was here.

Yes, ok, got it! Sheesh, couldn’t even let me finish cleaning up after Halloween, huh?

Well, no matter, because I feel pretty well-prepared, chili-wise, thanks to the CL roundup. If you want to have a look at the week’s worth of recipes that especially caught my eye, don’t wait too long because the snow’s already upon us!

  • Moroccan chickpea chili (here)
  • Smoky slow cooker chili (here)
  • Three-bean vegetarian chili (here)
  • Chipotle chocolate chili (here)
  • Chicken green chili with white beans (here)
  • Black bean and chorizo chili (here)
  • Quinoa and roasted pepper chili (here)


A week on the side: new salads for the “thing, thing and thing” rule

“A thing, with a thing and a thing.” That’s how Tim, my husband, describes his meal philosophy. He doesn’t mean a plate of Dr-Seuss-themed foods, but rather a simple meal consisting of an entrée and a couple sides.

This came up because I tend toward all-in-a-bowl meals – big salads, stir fries, pasta loaded with veggies and seafood. Maybe it’s because our dinner table is small, or because I don’t like slogging through a billion dirty dishes, but give me a meal with minimal plateware and I’m good to go.

That won’t always cut it for Tim, though, so we’re often serving up our default sides: a spinach and carrot salad with soy sauce (me) or blue cheese dressing (him), and a slice of toast. But there are only so many times a person can eat the same salad night after night, so I went in search of some new Things 2 to accompany our Things 1.

I landed first on this edamame slaw from Diabetic Living, via Pinterest. I liked the sound of a mix of colorful produce, a shot of protein from the edamame, and sesame oil-based dressing. It wasn’t nearly as quick to throw together as out spinach-and-carrot deal, but it was a welcome change. The leftovers even made for a good refuel after this weekend’s 9-mile run.

Then I realized I needed a list of Things 1 through 7 to round out the usual week’s worth of recipes, so I dug this list up. Let me know if any of them help break you out of a salad rut (extra points for comments left in the style of Dr. Seuss):

  • Edamame slaw in lettuce cups from Diabetic Living (here)
  • Greens & green bean salad with blueberry dressing from Disease Proof (here)
  • Zucchini, mango & avocado salad with beet chips from Fueling Endurance Performance (here)
  • Brussel sprouts salad with warm bacon vinaigrette from Cooking Light (here)
  • Lentils with fennel, apple and herbs from Serious Eats (here)
  • Three-bean salad with jalapeno-cilantro vinaigrette from Cooking Channel (here)
  • Celery and parsley salad with golden raisins from Cooking Light (here)

Shortcut Week: Do as I say, not as I cook

Do you know people who just can’t seem to take the shortcut? They’re never going to use a gift bag, insisting on hand-stamping some wrapping paper they made from pulp. Four hours to hand-wash and detail their car is totally reasonable. Hanging out for half a day making chicken soup from scratch? Of course.

Well, it turns out I may be among the afflicted. I had every intention of slapping this post together in 7.4 minutes, predicated on shortcut recipes and minimal time in the kitchen. I almost made it, too – there’s only one recipe this week that I actually bothered to cook.

Shortcut empanada, from Real Simple’s recipe

But instead of picking up some ready-made pizza dough at the store, like the empanada recipe directed, I just had to make it from scratch, thereby obliterating the one-hour advantage of the shortcut. Why did I do this? Like everyone else, I’m long on to-dos and short on time pretty much chronically. But does that mean I’d trust anyone else to undertake the highly technical feat of mixing yeast and flour? NOT ON YOUR LIFE.

So even if I won’t take my own advice, I bet many of you have more sense in your heads. I’ve found several less-time versions of tasty recipes for this week’s list, so please do not go and make your own crepes, pesto or pizza dough. Just veer onto the shortcut and don’t look back; I’ll still be here, staring at rising dough for another 55 minutes:

  • Cranberry scones from Sweet T Makes Three (here)If the whole cutting-in-butter thing is going to trip you up, I’d suggest just getting in there with your fingers instead. That’s the technique I use, and it’s much quicker.
  • Chicken corn crepes from (here)There are frozen pre-made crepes? How did I not know about these?
  • Empanadas from Real Simple (here)
  • Green pesto pasta spirals from Lunchbox Bunch (here)Pesto isn’t really time-consuming to make; it’s just that keeping fresh basil around can be a real pain. Pre-made does the job in this recipe.
  • Inside out lasagna from Eating Well (here)Lasagna always falls over, all sloppy on your plate, no matter how meticulously you layer it in the pan. So why bother?
  • Mediterranean barley with chickpeas and arugula from Cooking Light (here)Barley, in my opinion, isn’t really a shortcut grain – it needs a good 40+ minutes to cook. But if you’ve got it pre-cooked, this would be quick to throw together.
  • Tacos al pastor from Serious Eats (here)I’ve never long-versioned or short-cutted these, but apparently they’re drool-on-your-TV awesome.


Lettuce Week: Salads are great, but…

Lettuce  just get the pun out the way up front, so we can jump right in and make good use of the leafy green bounty in the spring garden.

From the Lynch Farm

I’m pretty thrilled that our little lettuce crop survived the bizarre hot-and-dry-then-rainy-and-cold spring, and didn’t end up as groundhog food. But now there’s the question of how to use all of it. We’ve been eating plenty of simple green salads, and tried a strawberry and goat cheese salad from Eating Well that was very tasty. Some of our lettuce also has ended up in tacos when we had make-your-own taco bar recently.

From there, though, I ran out of lettuce ideas besides just eating green salads for 27 days in a row. Thankfully, Teh Internets provided a week’s worth of recipes that make creative use of the leafy green stuff. Head past the jump for the list & a recent award.

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Smoothly Subversive Week: Drink your dinner with curried lime mango spinach smoothies

It’s time for some rebellion, unorthodoxy (actually a word; did not know that until today), and subverting the dominant paradigm. For too long, we’ve been hemmed in by the rigid confines of Appropriate Smoothie Timing. Breakfast? Have at it. Post-workout? Blend away. But dinner time? Whoa, there, tough guy.

This tough guy loves green smoothies any time of day

This prohibition makes no sense, though. With just a few minutes, (generally) no cooking, and a lot of flexibility in terms of ingredients and measures, smoothies can put food on the table and some more fruits and vegetables into our diets. Dinner is often an end-of-day struggle against limited time and waning patience for the effort of healthy home-cooking, so what better thing than a smoothie every so often?

Curried lime mango spinach smoothie

If we’re really going to stick it to The Smoothie Authority, maybe we need some dinner-appropriate recipes. So I set out to find liquid equivalents to some of the best flavor combinations in typical dinner fare.

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Stalking the Week: Waving the magical celery wand

Maybe it’s the wand-like shape of a celery stalk which suggests it is imbued with magical, “negative calorie” powers. Let’s just get this out of the way up front: it’s a myth that you burn more calories digesting celery than are actually in the celery itself. And nutritionally, it’s not really a big standout – there’s a reasonable amount of water and vitamin K in each stalk, but mostly it’s just a fiber delivery system.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this relative of carrots and parsley for its other merits, like the crunchy texture and clean, distinctive flavor. Those firm green ribs stand up great to all sorts of dips and schmears, making celery a perennial favorite on the veggie-and-dip tray at parties. But there are several other ways to enjoy it, especially in crunchy salads with fruit or other veggies.

The recipe that got this all started for me was a vegan creamy celery soup in the recent issue of Vegetarian Times. But that recipe isn’t yet posted on their site, and I’m not a big fan of copyright infringement, so I can’t share it with you here. I did manage to find a very similar recipe from Pamela Goes Primal, however, linked in the recipe list at the end of this post.

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Cauliflower Week: The wallflower steps out

For me, things like kale, sweet potatoes, Greek yogurt, spinach, nut butters, beans, and carrots are always top of mind. They get scribbled onto our grocery list week in and week out, and their absence in the fridge or pantry is immediately noticed. But on the other end of the spectrum is a food that rarely emerges from the recesses of my edible memory, one that when I stumble upon a recipe using it, I honestly think, “Oh, right, people eat that.”

Cauliflower doesn’t really deserve the wallflower treatment – inside those nubbly white florets are the nutrients common to the cruciferous vegetable family to which it belongs. Plants in this family are rich in sulphoraphanes (or in cauliflower’s case, precursor glucosinolates), which are associated with a lower risk of many cancers. But what finally snapped my neck in cauliflower’s direction was not the nutrition nerdery, but a simple roasted cauliflower soup:

Thick, earthy, and crunchy with the hazelnut topping, this soup from Sprouted Kitchen was all that. The mushroom-y flavor makes no sense (because there are none in there), but it is fantastic. The leftovers were nearly turned into a 10:00 am lunch, I was so eager to dive back in.

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Weekloaf – Bringing meat loaf into the 21st century

I had half a mind to hold this post until Halloween, given how scary meatloaf seems to be. On Teh Internets, there are countless “meatloaf-phobic” writers rehashing tales of weird/dry/awful meals in the past, shortly before imploring readers to “try this recipe, it’s not scary, I swear!”


It’s understandable, given how far our collective culinary mindset has swung from the 1950s. Meatloaf is one of the poster children for the Formed Meats and Space Food era (see Gallery of Regrettable Food for more).

Luckily, there are many modern takes that have brought this simple classic up to date with healthier ingredients and novel flavors. Many recipes cut the traditional beef or replace it entirely with poultry to decrease the saturated fat. Packing a meatloaf with vegetables not only provides more veggie servings, it’s also key to keeping the loaf from getting dry. There are even vegetarian “meat” loaf recipes, including (surprise!) the one pictured above.

If you’re interested in a home-cooking classic fit for our modern age, I’m pretty sure these recipes will help anyone past their meatloaf apprehension:

  • Blue ribbon meatloaf from Eating Well (here)
  • Black rice curried meatloaf from Eating Well (here)
  • Asian style meatloaves from Cooking Light (here)
  • Magical meatloaf (vegan) from Squidoo/Vegan Lunchbox (here)Scroll down to the Magical Meatloaf recipe; that’s the one I made for this post.
  • Feta-stuffed turkey meatloaf with tzatziki from A Sweet Life (here)
  • Tuscan meatloaf with mushroom sauce from Simply Recipes (here)
  • Cheesy turkey meatloaf bites from Weelicious (here)


Happy as a nutrition nerd eating clams

The phrase “happy as a clam” is baffling – really, who’s happy about living in a scraggly shell wedged deep in briny, sandy muck? But these guys certainly can bring a smile to the face of nutrition nerds.

Clams (and a few other shellfish)

Did you know that ounce-for-ounce, these little mollusks boast more iron than the red meats we typically think of as good sources? You’d probably guess that, as seafood, they’d have a favorable fat profile (read: lots of omega-3 fatty acids, little of the bad-for-you fats). But unlike many other seafoods, clams are typically low in contaminants and can be grown and harvested sustainably.

So what kind of foods can we prepare that take advantage of the nutritional value, substantial texture, and simple flavors of clams? Head past the jump.

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