chocolate tiramisu

Had I known that my family hated tiramisu, I probably wouldn't have made it for Christmas.

I might note that this is the same family that loves coffee. And cake. And whipped cream. I'll let you ponder that one.

So, anyway, as I was saying: I made this for Christmas not knowing that my family hates tiramisu. So there we were. Post dinner and gingerly touching the tape lines of our doled-out presents, and everyone but me (who loves tiramisu) was preparing themselves to choke down the dessert.

And, now, looking back on it, I do remember some semi-private moments of them staring down the tiramisu as if it was it or them. Note that I was completely oblivious at the time.

I had half a piece down and a couple of presents ("prizies," as my family has come to call them) opened before I noticed that my stepfather was already going for slice number two, mumbling sweet nothings at the remaining coffee-laden hunk that it "just went down so fast."

I really wish I could take credit for this one, guys. And I really wish I could say this one is healthy. But this recipe is Giada's and is just perfect for a special gathering like Christmas. Give it a try when you want a spectacular dessert and can make it a day in advance. And serve it just before eating to keep it looking fresh.

While this was fantastic - yes, with italics - be warned that this one isn't for the faint of heart. It is time-consuming and dishes producing, yet it's so. so. so. worth it. Merry (caffeinated) Christmas to all!

Chocolate Tiramisu
  • 6 ounces container mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Chocolate Zabaglione, recipe follows
  • 2 1/2 cups espresso coffee, warmed (I used a bold, decaf Starbucks coffee in a pinch)
  • 24 ladyfinger cookies
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, for garnish
  • Optional: dark chocolate shavings, for garnish
  1. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Then fold in the chilled Chocolate Zabaglione. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Whisk the warmed espresso and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in another medium bowl until blended. Line a 9 1/4 by 5 by 2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to extend over the sides. Working with 1 cookie at a time, dip 8 cookies into the espresso, and arrange in a single layer side by side over the bottom of the prepared pan. 
  3. Spoon 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture over the cookies to cover. Repeat dipping 8 of the cookies in the espresso and layering the cookies and remaining mascarpone mixture 2 more times. Dip the remaining 8 cookies in the espresso and arrange side by side atop the tiramisu. Press lightly to compact slightly (the last layer will extend above the pan sides). Cover the tiramisu with plastic and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
  4. Unwrap the plastic from atop the tiramisu. Invert the tiramisu onto a platter. Remove the plastic. Sift the cocoa over the tiramisu, and with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, make dark chocolate shavings and sprinkle over top.

Chocolate Zabaglione:
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream, or heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dry Marsala
  • Pinch salt
  1. Add cream and chocolate to a heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the chocolate chips are melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, Marsala, and salt in a large glass bowl until blended. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Whisk the egg mixture over the simmering water until it is thick and creamy, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate to chill completely.


infused liquors

For Christmas this year, I went crafty. Craftier than usual. Maybe it was the alcohol that got my creative juices flowing.

We made infused liquors as gifts for friends and family members, a treat which can be enjoyed for weeks (or months, if it lasts that long) to come. And a little recipe book that provides ideas for using the seasonal spirits. Here's how you can make it for someone special in your life.

First, choose your liquors and flavors. I chose tart, cherry-red cranberries for vodka; fresh, piney rosemary for gin; and spicy cinnamon sticks for rum. We infused the gin and vodka in their original bottles, but put the rum straight in their gift jars with the cinnamon sticks, since they don't degrade as easily as the fresh ingredients.

A week before you are ready to give the gift, combine ample amounts of liquor and the add-ins to air-tight, clean jars. Gently swirl the jars a couple of times a day. In a couple of days, the liquors will begin to take on the color of their bottle buddies. 

When the liquor is ready for packaging, start with freshly cleaned (preferable classy or cute) jars. I chose ones with a nice square shape and a pretty cork. Make sure that your jars can be sealed tightly.

Add fresh ingredients (in this case, rosemary and cranberries) to the gift jars. After removing the older ingredients from the original bottles, slowly pour the infused liquors through a sieve and funnel into the gift bottles. This will help the gifts to look nice and fresh for the lucky gift-getters.

Seal tightly and tuck into cute baskets with raffia, ribbon and a note. I also made little drink books to go along with the treats.  

Merry Christmas!


bacon-stuffed portobello mushrooms

Bacon for the win. Again.

This time in an almost-vegetarian dish. (Vegetarians eat bacon, right? They should.) Our produce box this week provided two beautiful portobello mushroom caps, onions, green peppers and garlic. They provided the inspiration (bacon added the ka-pow!) and an easy, and relatively healthy, weeknight meal was born. Especially when served with a green side dish and a small roll for dipping into herby olive oil. Yummmm.

Though the meal does have natural bacon in it, the two-person recipe only calls for two to three slices, which is less than most people would consider a serving size. Three slices average less than 10 g of fat, less than a quarter of which is saturated, and lots of protein. (Just watch the salt and buy low sodium when possible.) And portobello mushrooms are incredibly low in calories, yet high in nutrition, and are very filling - thanks to their high fiber and density. They are packed with B-12 (think energy), potassium (relieves muscle cramping and high blood pressure), copper (helps red blood cells deliver oxygen) and Vitamin D (helps to absorb calcium). Bingo.

Here's how to do it.

Bacon-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, destemmed and gently wiped with a paper towel
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large or 3 small center-cut, natural bacon slices, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 c each onion and bell pepper, diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c whole-wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 c Parmesan, plus more for garnish
  • 1/8 c fresh herbs, like rosemary or parsley
  • 1/2 tsp seasoning salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten 
  • Salt, pepper
Start by sauteing bacon in pan. When halfway cooked, add the onion and bell pepper. Salt and pepper lightly. When onion appears translucent, add the garlic. Stir for 30 seconds and remove from heat.
Next, add the bacon mixture to a food processor with the breadcrumbs, herbs, Parmesan, season salt and a swirl of olive oil. Pulse until finely chopped and the ingredients are combined. Remove from processor and place in a bowl with the beaten egg. Stir to combine. 
Gently rub the portobellos with a little olive oil and place in an oven-proof dish. (I prefer pretty ones, like my new orange one shown above.) 

Divide the bacon mixture evenly on top of the portobellos and grate a little Parmesan on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve hot!

Ready for a bacon tip? Buy a good quality, natural bacon with no nitrates, hormones or antibiotics and freeze the slices together in sets of 2-4 pieces. This eliminates waste (therefore saving money) and provides you with pre-portioned amounts for recipes and splurge Sunday-morning breakfasts!


pumpkin streusel bread

Pumpkin bread is a favorite this time of year. I love it. but always felt guilty eating it. The typical holiday loaves are loaded with sugar and oils, and very little of anything good, like the bread's namesake fruit. Then, I discovered this recipe.

This is a Cooking Light recipe, made even healthier with a swap of whole-wheat pastry flour. Yes, that's right - it's whole wheat, people. Oh yeah, and most of the oil is replaced with yogurt and the majority of the refined sugar is replaced with honey. And no one will ever know the difference. This is a company-worthy recipe. It also freezes well, not that you'll have any left over.

Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving! (Oh, and with the leftover pumpkin, make this seasonally spicy baked pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast.)

Pumpkin Streusel Bread
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter or stick margarine, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (can use half whole wheat, half all purpose for an even more tender loaf)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins or cranberries (I skip this)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To prepare topping, combine first four ingredients until crumbly. Set the mixture aside.
  3. To prepare bread, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next seven ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.
  4. Combine the pumpkin and next five ingredients (pumpkin through eggs) in a bowl as shown above; add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist.
  5. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350° for one hour (it make take up to 15 minutes longer) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.


garlic-ginger marinated chicken thighs

This super-fast recipe is a great tailgate food if you have a grill available. Start marinating the chicken in a zip-top bag the night before the game and throw the whole thing in a cooler on the way out the door. Practically instant lunch! Great with just about anything, this is a yummy and versatile marinade.

Also, for the record: the jury is still out on whether white meat is better for you than dark meat. The former has slightly less calories and fat (an ounce of boneless, skinless breast meat contains about 46 calories and one gram of fat, compared with roughly 50 calories and two grams of fat for an ounce of boneless, skinless thigh), but dark meat has more iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, and B vitamins. No wonder I always reached for the drumsticks!

Garlic-Ginger Marinated Chicken Thighs
  • 2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed (or any dark-meat cut of chicken)
  • 1 cup red onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp, minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp, fresh chopped ginger
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1/4 orange juice
  • Black pepper
Combine the above ingredients in a small bowl and then pour over chicken in a zip-top bag. Squish around to ensure even distribution and place in the fridge for one hour, or as long as overnight. Grill and serve!


baked pumpkin oatmeal

A healthy, fall-inspired weekend breakfast, this baked oatmeal is good enough to come back for seconds. Change it up however you like, as shown below, or come up with new creations. No matter what, you'll have an easy weekend breakfast that reheats during the week in just a few seconds. It's one gift that keeps on giving ... (Oh, and with the leftover pumpkin, make this homemade, healthy pumpkin streusel bread. You won't be disappointed.)

Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal
  • 2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar (or maple syrup or honey) - try using a little less
  • 1/3 cup cranberries (or raisins)
  • 1/3 walnuts (or pecans)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. fine salt
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (or applesauce)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 banana, sliced (or shredded apple, peach slices, or berries) - optional
  1. Combine oatmeal through salt in a medium bowl and mix to combine.
  2. Combine the milk, pumpkin, butter, vanilla and egg, and whisk until incorporated. Add milk mixture to oat mixture; stir well.
  3. Pour half of the oat mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Add a layer of sliced bananas, then top with the remaining oatmeal mixture.
  4. Bake at 375° for 18-20* minutes. Serve warm. 
*Note: For more moist oatmeal, cook it for a shorter amount of time; for a firmer more cake-like oatmeal, cook it for a little longer.


tart cranberry-orange muffins

Yes, people. I am well aware that I have an obsession with muffins. I guess I could make more loaves or scones, but I just like the neatness of a muffin. It's like a snack-sized little treat that's ready when you are. Plus, they're kinda cute.

I've actually made these muffins before, but they were too sweet the first time around for me. A bag of fresh cranberries in my organic produce box led to another attempt, this time with less sugar. Bingo - we have a winner. These are tart and citrusy, rather than sugary and sticky. But the crunch of raw sugar on top makes it feel like a sweet treat, even though it's packed with whole-wheat flour, antioxidant-rich fruits and heart-healthy oil. Good stuff can come in pretty packages!

Tart Cranberry-Orange Muffins
  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar (I used unprocessed cane sugar)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (about one large orange)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
  3. Combine rind, juice, oil, vanilla, and egg in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in cranberries and walnuts.
  4. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with raw sugar. Bake at 400° for ~18 minutes or until the muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Run a knife or spatula around outer edge of each muffin cup. Carefully remove each muffin; place on a wire rack.
Wanna see my other muffin obsessions? Check them out here:


white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies

The credit for these really goes to my sister-in-law. Her husband (the coconut-hater), adores these cookies and so do I. The key to these is to use a really good quality white chocolate. They taste like butter and white chocolate - probably because there is so much of both in them - and are sinfully good. Make these when you have company so you're not forced to eat them all by yourself, or stick half of the baked cookies or batter in the freezer for another time. These are a splurge, so enjoy in moderation.

White Chip Macadamia Cookies
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups macadamia pieces, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In medium-size bowl, beat butter with brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed until combined. Add vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to creamed mixture, and fold until combined. Fold in chips and macadamia pieces.
  2. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a cookie sheet. Bake ~10 minutes until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and allow to set 3-4 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.
Need other cookie ideas? Check these out:


feel-better chicken noodle soup

I have a cold. A sore throat, oh-so attractive cough and nasal congestion have left me craving a tried-and-true recipe, inspired by my mom: chicken noodle soup. But not just any soup, this one is made from scratch down to the broth and home-grown herbs. The only thing not homemade about it was the dainty orzo pasta, which is what my mom traditionally used in hers. To make this soup takes a bit of planning, but it's so, so worth it. It makes Campbell's canned soup taste like dog food.

It's all about the broth. I made the broth, which is my mom's recipe (and her mom's before that), weeks ago from the leftovers of a roasted chicken and stuck two-cup portions in the freezer. Homemade broth isn't like any bland, salty store-bought kind. Actually, it's so different, the first time I made it I thought I did something wrong. That's because homemade broth turns gelatanous when it's cooled - it actually jiggles, like Jell-o! But the minute it's heated up, it smooths out into a rich, flavorful and nutrition-packed powerhouse food.

Don't stop at making soup with the broth, though. Use it in recipes - everything from rice and risottos, to sauces and more - and keep your freezer stocked with it (each recipe makes nine to 10 cups). Once you build up a supply of it, it's easy to whip it out and use it as needed, just like I did today for the soup.

We roasted a whole chicken earlier this week on a bed of carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic and celery. A yummy meal on it's own account, it also provided a hefty amount of leftovers which came together nicely in this soup (and now I'll be tucking away extra soup in the freezer!). Here's how to make it, start to finish.

Feel-Better Chicken Noodle Soup
Make it in advance and tuck away in the freezer until you're ready to use it.
  • Chicken bones, skin and meat - whatever you have
  • 3 tbsp. white vinegar (this pulls the minerals from the bones)
  • 4-5 tbsp salt
  • Water
  • Optional: leftover root vegetables
  1. Add bones to a large pot and cover with water. Add the vinegar and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer, continually adding water when it gets low, for at least eight hours. The longer the better. Some people do this for a full day!
  2. When the broth has been made, strain it through fine mesh into another large pot to separate the bones, fat and skin from the liquid. Cover and place in the refrigerator until cool, which should take several hours. (I usually just leave it overnight and continue with the last step the next day.)
  3. Once cooled, the fat will rise to the surface and the broth should become gelatanous. Skim the fat from the top and portion the broth into containers for later use. (You may need to warm it slightly to measure it out if it's very gelatanous.) Yield: 9-10 cups

Chicken Noodle Soup
This took ~15 minutes because the broth was already made. Perfect "sick food."
  • 9-10 c chicken broth
  • 4 c shredded, cooked chicken
  • 2-4 c chopped garlic, onions, celery, carrots (add any raw or cooked veggies you like)
  • 1 c uncooked orzo (or other pasta)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp each dried thyme and rosemary
  • Optional: fresh, chopped parsley when served
  1. If starting with raw veggies, saute them together in soup pot with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. When tender, add the broth and chicken, herbs and pasta.
  2. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a very low simmer until you're ready to serve.


turkey burgers with avocado and manchego

I normally prefer a medium-rare beef burger piled high with sauteed mushroom and onions, but not today. A lighter option, this lean turkey burger is filled with moisture-giving, fiber-packed mushrooms and onions, and then punched up with chopped sage and garlic, avocado and manchego cheese. Yes, please. You won't even notice that's it's on a toasty, crunchy whole-wheat English muffin instead of a bun. Talk about portion control.

Turkey Burgers with Avocado and Manchego

  • 1 large portobello mushroom cap
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped shallot or onion
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/4 pounds lean ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 thin slices manchego or white cheddar cheese
  • 4 whole-wheat English muffins, split
  • Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and sliced avocado, for topping
Use a spoon to scrape out the gills from the underside of the mushroom cap. Cut the cap into 1-inch pieces and transfer to a food processor. Add the shallot and parsley and pulse until chopped.

Transfer the mushroom mixture to a large bowl. Add the turkey, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; gently mix with your hands until just combined. Divide into four balls, then lightly press into four-inch-wide, one-inch-thick patties. Put on a large plate, cover and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat a grill to medium. Brush the grates with olive oil. Grill the patties, undisturbed, until marked on the bottom, four to five minutes. Give the patties a quarter turn and cook until marked again, four to five more minutes. Flip the patties and grill until cooked through, six to seven more minutes; top each with two slices cheese during the last three minutes of cooking and cover with a disposable aluminum pan to melt.
Toast the English muffins on the grill, then spread with mustard and mayonnaise. Serve the patties on the English muffins; top with avocado.

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coconutty granola bars

Yes, I admit it. I adore coconut. It's sweet and flaky, and just so ... tropical. Love it.

And I fell in love with these granola bars in part because of it. But I also love that granola bars test better when they're homemade, not to mention they're better for you and cheaper. What's not to love?!

Make these when you want to work with your hands - it's the best way to mix all the ingredients together. Enjoy!

Coconutty Granola Bars
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed (depending on how sweet you like them)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates*
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots*
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries*
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 300.
  4. Place the oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least two to three hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.
*Use whatever dried fruit you have on hand.

Need more snack ideas? Try these:


mama mia! homemade turkey meatballs

Best. Meatballs. Ever. Protein and flavor packed, you won't have any reason to feel guilty over these. They start with lean turkey mixed and are mixed with fresh herbs, cheese and breadcrumbs, and an egg to hold them together. Just like my imaginary Italian grandmother would have made them!

The trick to these is to make sure you have lots and lots of sauce. They simmer in the sauce just before serving time and in doing so they soak up some of it. So, make sure to make a little extra so your pasta gets its share, as well.

Also, the pasta sauce shown was a roasted-roma one that took several hours to make ... and then it wasn't that mind-blowing. I'm still experimenting with the best homemade sauce from fresh, whole tomatoes (my usual starts with a jar and is seriously doctored up). I'd love ideas if anyone has them, especially bold, not-so-sweet sauces.

Mama Mia! Homemade Turkey Meatballs
Serve this with your favorite pasta and sauce.
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 slice fresh whole-wheat bread, crusts removed, pulsed into crumbs (or a shot glass full of bread crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup finely grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the broiler. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Combine the turkey with all other ingredients in a large work bowl. Form into 2 1/2 -inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Broil for 10 minutes, or until browned and almost entirely cooked through.
  2. Add the meatballs to prepared, warmed sauce, cover, and cook additional 10 minutes, or until sauce has slightly thickened and meatballs have absorbed some of the sauce. While the meatballs are cooking, cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sauce and meatballs, toss and heat through over medium heat. Divide evenly among four pasta bowls and garnish with parsley and one tablespoon grated Parmesan.
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banana-nut crumb muffins

A friend at work brought these babies in to share and I fell in love with them pretty much immediately (I actually ate it on the elevator between two floors ... yeah ... ). One morning this past weekend, two browning bananas were calling my name and I was kicking myself for not having asked her which recipe she used. A quick search gave me the one below, but I quickly modified it to make it heathier. Just as good, but with lots of extra goodies baked inside. Score!

Banana-Nut Crumb Muffins
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 c ground flax
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 bananas, mashed (supplement apple sauce if you're short)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar or sucanat (dried cane sugar - a minimally processed, natural sweetener)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/8 c chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and canola. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and canola. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean. 


seared chicken with tomato-balsamic reduction over greens

After a big fat meal for Sunday dinner yesterday, it was time for something light. Not to mention we had a great run tonight that put me in a "healthy" state of mind. (And, have I mentioned I bought a mountain bike? I think a mini-triathlon might be in my future!)

This chicken recipe, another from Ellie (adore!), takes canned tomatoes to a whole new level - the balsamic makes them rich and they are simmered until they are thick and sweet. Served with a side of whole-grain couscous doctored up with pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, this is a winner.

Seared Chicken with Tomato-Balsamic Reduction Over Greens
Serves 4
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Chicken seasoning (or salt and pepper)
  • 2 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved
  • 8 ounces baby spinach*
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup low-sodium canned chopped tomatoes with juice
  • Sprinkle of oregano as a garnish
  1. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. Season chicken liberally with chicken seasoning or salt and pepper. Add the chicken and cook about four minutes per side, or until cooked through and juices run clear. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. To the same pan, add the spinach* and cook just until wilted, about one to two minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the garlic, balsamic vinegar and chicken broth to the pan and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook three to five minutes until thick and rich.
I served this with a side of whole-grain couscous, seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and basil.

*I didn't have spinach, so I used spring mix, simply arranged on a plate. The chicken and sauce made a great topping.


ooey-gooey potatoes au gratin

The hubs wanted steak tonight. (Pull my arm, why don't-cha?) He selected a great-looking porterhouse to sear in a cast-iron skillet with a little butter and garlic, and I set out to determine how to use the four Russets I had sitting on my counter. It is the weekend, after all, so easy mash was out. It was time to pull out the big guns: potatoes au gratin.

I've had this recipe for years, and frequently pull it out for family get-togethers - even though it's lighter than the traditional, buttery version. It's always great and can be modified to fit in with the meal and what you have on hand. Enjoy!
Potatoes au Gratin
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 c 2% milk (in a pinch 2 c skim milk, 1/2 c half-and-half can be used)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots (or yellow onion if you don't have shallots)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 2 Yukon or Russet potatoes, sliced into 1/8-inch thick slices
  • 1/8 c sliced chives (optional)
  • 1/2 c Gruyere cheese*
  • 1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese*
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease an 11x17-inch baking dish.
  2. Combine butter through potatoes in a heavy pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Add the chives, reserving a few pieces for garnish.
  3. Pour potato mixture into the baking dish and top with cheese. Sprinkle with chives. Bake 35 minutes.
  4. Turn on the broiler and broil for three minutes until golden. Let stand for 10 minutes and serve.
*I would also suggest 3/4 c sharp cheddar or swapping in smoked Gruyere cheese.

Need other side dish ideas? Click here.
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avocado cobb salads with garlicky dijon dressing

"You had me at avocado." That's what I thought about this when I was browsing through one of my beloved Ellie Krieger's cookbooks this weekend looking for healthy lunch ideas. Currently I'm in a mid-day meal rut - I might turn into an Amy's bean and cheddar burrito and I can't take another peanut butter and jelly sandwich - and wanted something fresh. (See bad iPhone photo above for the solution.)

The dressing alone on this is worth saving for other salads. The modified version of Ellie's recipe made enough for two big salads for lunch - with no leftovers.

Avocado Cobb Salads with Garlicky Dijon Dressing
For the Dressing:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
  • 1/4 pound Black Forest or other smoked ham, chopped
  • 1/4 pound turkey breast, chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into quarters
  • 6 cups romaine lettuce (about 6 ounces) coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 avocado, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese  
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients and set aside.

  2. Assemble the salad ingredients, wrapping the avocado tightly in plastic wrap if not eating immediately. Dress salad before eating.


dark chocolate-cranberry cookies

A recent trip to South Florida to visit my grandfather on his 90th birthday (go, Gramps!) - and advice from my ever-practical mom to "just bake him something" as a gift - had me cooking up a storm after work the night before we left. I found a cute gift basket and stuffed it with a loaf of homemade banana bread and my sister-in-law's favorite white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies. And these dark chocolate-cranberry cookies.

I'll just go ahead and say it: these are good, old-fashioned cookies and, as such, they are made with admirable amounts of butter and refined sugar. So, relax and enjoy in moderation. And if it still bugs you, I hope you can find solace in the dark chocolate and cranberries. Just remember that a happy human sometimes requires foods that simply taste good, regardless of the ingredients. Enjoy.

Dark Chocolate-Cranberry Cookies
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Mix in the dark chocolate chips and cranberries. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. For best results, take them out while they are still doughy. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.


carrot cake muffins for breakfast (or anytime)

Ok, so with a name like Carrot Cake Muffins, I bet you're thinking that these are super unhealthy, right? Think again. These orange-crowned little beauties are stuffed with whole wheat flour, flax, walnuts, shredded carrots and crushed pineapple, cinnamon and heart-healthy canola oil. It really is a breakfast of champions, especially because it's not too sweet. A good source of fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants, I topped mine with a dollop of my sister-in-law's homemade fig jam. Delish.

Carrot Cake Muffins
Makes 12
I think I might have made these up ... or it's a recipe that I modified a long time ago.

  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2/3 c dark brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 4-5 medium carrots, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz can crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained
  1. Preheat oven to 350*. Line 12 muffin tins with liners.
  2. Whisk flours, brown sugar, flax, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla. Quickly and lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry with a rubber spatula. (The batter will be very thick and will seem dry at this point.) Fold in carrots, pineapple and walnuts. (The batter will become wetter at this point, but will still be thick.) Add to muffin tins.
  3. Bake 25-30 minutes and remove from tin after 10 minutes out of the oven.
Need other healthy baked good ideas? Try these:


summer salads, part five: thai chicken salad with peanut dressing

If I could never have peanut butter again, I think I would die. Easily one of my favorite foods, this salad brought it into my life in a wonderful way: a peanut-buttery and coconut salad dressing. Yes, please. This is an easy one to whip up when you have some leftover chicken to use, or just pick up a rotisserie bird from the store like we did. Annnnd the expandable pants make another appearance.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing
  • 6 cups torn romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
  • 2 cups fresh, trimmed snow peas (or bean sprouts)
  • 1 cup carrots, shredded or chopped into thin rounds
  • 3/4 cup sliced celery
  • 2/3 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • 4 lime wedges (optional)
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine coconut milk and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper) in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and cool for 2 minutes. Pour warm coconut milk mixture over lettuce mixture. Sprinkle with peanuts; serve with lime wedges, if desired. Serve immediately.
Need more ideas? Check these out:


lemony chicken piccata with spring risotto

Fancy. And shmancy. And lemony! Have a dinner party with this one, folks.

Lemony Chicken Piccata
  • 2 (8-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/3 cup sauvignon blanc or other crisp, tart white wine
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Split chicken breast halves in half horizontally to form four cutlets. Place each cutlet between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound each cutlet to 1/4-inch thickness, as shown in the photo, using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle cutlets evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge cutlets in flour. 
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add two cutlets to pan, and sauté two minutes. Turn cutlets over; sauté for one more minute. Remove the cutlets from pan. Repeat the procedure with remaining one tablespoon butter and two cutlets.
  3. 3. Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook for one minute or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in chicken broth; bring to a boil. Cook until broth mixture is reduced to two tablespoons (about four minutes). Stir in juice and capers. Serve over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley.
Spring Risotto
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  1. Bring four cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add asparagus, and cook for two minutes. Drain. Bring two cups water and chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan. 
  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, and swirl to coat. Add onion; cook four minutes. Add garlic, and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in rice, edamame, and salt; cook for one minute. Stir in one cup broth mixture; cook for four minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
  3. When you can part the risotto clearly with your spoon, as shown above, add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding more (about 20 minutes total).
  4. Stir in asparagus, cream cheese, and pepper; cook one minute. Spoon one cup risotto into each of four bowls. Top each serving with one tablespoon Parmesan cheese; sprinkle evenly with thyme.