Jan 312011

I’m sure you’re shocked–another soup recipe from Marissa. But really, can you blame me? 56 inches of snow so far in New York, and more to come. Someone upstairs must have beef with New York, because they keep throwing more and more of that white stuff at us, cackling as they watch me stand on a corner as a bus flies by spraying nasty gray slush all over me (true story, had to go home and change). So the only thing that can make it seem a little better–soup.

I have to admit, my soup preference is usually something tomato based. 99% of the time I’d pick a chili or minestrone over anything else. But for the sake of the blog (and variety in my life) I decided to branch out and make a hearty mushroom barley soup.


It starts out pretty predictable…garlic, onion, celery, carrots, thyme, and mushrooms.  I changed it up a little by adding some white beans and spinach at the end, to bump the nutritional value and make it a complete meal.  I didn’t have huge expectations for this soup, but I have to admit it was pretty delish and completely satisfying for a miserable winter day.  Also, as always, froze 4 little bowls of this for easy work lunches.

Nutritional Highlights: I have to say, barley has gone under the radar in my life thus far.  No more.  Half a cup of cooked barley has less than 100 calories, tons of fiber, and even some protein.   Cooking it in a soup like this makes the soup seem creamy, when there was no dairy or thickening agent added.  In addition to the low-calorie mushrooms, heart-healthy garlic, beta-carotene filled carrots, and fibrous celery in this soup, I added a can of protein-packed white beans and a bag of antioxidant rich baby spinach to make it a truly complete and filling meal. This one gives my tomato based favorites a run for their money.  

  • Mushroom Barley Soup (with Spinach and White Beans)
  • adapted from Eating Well

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 16 ounces mushrooms, chopped (I used a mixture of baby portabello and white)
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Marsala, or cream sherry (see Note)
  • 1 qt low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1 can white beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 1 bag baby spinach or box frozen spinach

  1. Heat oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add garlic, carrot, celery, onion, mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables release some of their juices, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add Marsala (or sherry) and cook, stirring, until reduced, about 2 minutes. Add broth, beans, spinach, and barley; bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables and barley are tender, about 15 minutes.  

Jan 262011

As some of you may know, Monday was my first day of school!  I started NYU’s clinical nutrition program, and since I’m doing school part-time and working full-time, I decided I needed some healthy on-the-go snacks. So I decided to make some energy packed, high fiber granola bars…

Here’s what went into them:  Oats, wheat germ, flax seed, almonds, high fiber cereal, coconut, dried cranberries, apricots, honey, and vanilla.

 You start by toasting the oats, almonds, and coconut.  My kitchen smelled amazing, like toasting coconut.  Things seemed to be going great so far…

 Then you press it all into the pan to bake.  Looking good? So you think…

Ok so here is where things started to head a bit downhill.  As I cut the granola bars, they started to crumble.  I’m not sure if I over toasted the ingredients so they were to crispy, or cut back on the sugar (glue) too much so they didn’t stick.  That being said…the flavor was amazing and the crunchiness was something I had never achieved when actually intending to make granola.

Soooo, the bars that were completely unsalvageable were crumbled into the tastiest granola I’ve ever made.  I’m not sure what I’m telling you to do with this recipe…have a go at the bars (which Ina and Deb from Smitten Kitchen seemed to have better luck with) or just make it into granola.  To each his own, but either way it’ll taste great!

 Nutritional Highlights:  Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat so it provides similar benefits as eating fish like anti-inflammatory effects, promotes bone health, and protects against cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Other powerhouses in this recipe include oats (fiber), wheat germ (heart health), almonds (protein), and high fiber cereal (more fiber).  And the dried fruit–have to admit it’s not as healthy as fresh fruit since many of the water soluble vitamins are diminished when the fruit is “dried” and the sugars become more concentrated so it’s higher calories.  BUT, it’s still a great source of fiber and a much more natural way to get your sweetness fill than most other options. Overall, these bars are relatively low in calories and fat, and will give you tons of energy, fiber, and fill you up for your first day of school (or whatever).

Apricot-Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars:
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Ina Garten

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed (I used unsweetened)
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2/3 cup honey (I cut to less than 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cup dried fruit, or a mix of dried fruit (I used chopped apricots, cranberries and raisins)

(I also added 1 cup Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal, and 1/4 cup toasted flax seed…might have contributed to the crumbliness but definitely upped the healthy factor)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch with parchment paper.

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. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish andpress, press, press it in (wet fingers and/or a silicon spatula work great for this) until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares — your best serrated knife is great for this.

You can store these in an airtight container at room temperature for a week or two, as you would cookies, however, I prefer to store mine in the freezer. I find that they stay the most crisp this way as all granola tends to soften at room temperature after a day or more.

Jan 202011
As much as I love to and try to eat healthy food, I’m not one of those people who can honestly say they’re disgusted by some of those famous, giant dishes from chain restaurants.  A single Cheesecake Factory salad may be portioned for a family of five and drowning in dressing with more fat than a burger, but hey, it’s tasty.  A blooming onion from Outback?  If you don’t know what that is, it’s probably for the best (it has 2210 calories!!).  And one of my favorites, lettuce wraps from PF Changs.  So, I decided I’d try to recreate a version of those tasty lettuce wraps that aren’t quite so guilt-inducing.  

My version has more vegetables, less sugar, and omits the crispy noodles (and replaced with some bean sprouts for crunch).  I also had it as a dinner entree instead of an appetizer…because who really needs to eat all this, and thennn a whole asian feast?  

This is a fun meal for guests or for any night of the week.  If you have kids (or a picky boyfriend, perhaps) this could be a great way to sneak in veggies since they’ll be distracted by the fun of making the wraps…kids/boys are easily fooled.  I served with a side of vegetable brown fried rice and it was a perfect healthy meal.  

Nutritional highlights:  These lettuce wraps are filled with vegetables and lean organic chicken.  The sweet/spicy sauce satisfies your eat-out craving without the lofty bill or insanely high calorie count.  By replacing the crispy noodles you usually find with bean sprouts, you still get the crunch without the fried.      

For the lettuce wraps
  • 1 head iceberg or bibb lettuce
  • 2 chicken breasts, diced into small pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 inch ginger root, finely chopped or grated (optional)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, fine dice
  • 1 small can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (white or shitake would be fine)
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons oil for stir frying (peanut or vegetable oil)
  • Mixture of: 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • bean sprouts and cilantro for garnish (optional)
For the Sauce (based on PF changs dipping sauce)
  • 1/4 cup water mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/8th teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon hot mustard (to taste)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
Start by making the sauce.  Dissolve the sugar in the water, and then add the rest of the ingredients.  Set sauce aside. 

Chop the chicken breast into small cubes (if you’re a raw chicken phobe…I guess you can cook the chicken first and then cut it up).  Heat the oil in a wok.  Add ginger, garlic, and scallions, and cook about 30 seconds until aromatic.  Add the chicken and stir fry for about 1-2 minutes.  Add mushrooms, peppers and stir fry until chicken is cooked and vegetables have softened.  Add water chestnuts, and soy/sugar/vinegar mixture.  Cook for another minute so sauce becomes incorporated.

Serve with iceberg or bib lettuce pieces and sauce.  Enjoy!
Jan 142011
Baking, when you have a so-called “healthy” cooking blog, can get a little tricky.  Baked goods without sugar and butter just aren’t as tasty. Period.  But, you don’t want to seem like a total hypocrite and make something totally indulgent and disgustingly delicious.  It’s about finding the balance, and these bars are it.

For my coworkers birthday (insert shout-out to Meera here) I wanted to make something fruity, nutty, and with the perfect healthy/decadent balance.  These bars have a base and crumb of oats, pecans, whole wheat flour, flax seed meal, and (cough..butter and brown sugar).  The center is thinly sliced granny smith apples coated in cinnamon.  Not terrible for you, but not too healthy to be considered a birthday treat. 

To make the production a little easier, I designed the bars so the top and bottom could be the exact same mixture, but seem a little different.  I mixed the dry ingredients (pecans, flour, sugar, oats, salt, baking soda) and took half of the mixture to grind in a food processor.  That way, the oats and nuts because flour like giving the bars a consistently textured, cookie-like base.  I left the top chunky for a crumbly affect.

Nutritional Highlights:  While there’s a decent ammount of butter and sugar in this recipe, I would still venture to say it’s a much better choice than many other desserts out there.  Aside from the few unhealthy ingredients, there are a lot of good ones in there like whole grain oats and flour, raw pecans, flax seed, and fresh apples.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these to someone trying to be SUPER regimented, but if you want to make a treat that won’t totally ruin your healthy diet, then these are a great option.  Cut into small squares or triangles for good portion control.  Guess that doesn’t help though when you go back for a second…or third. 


For the Oatmeal-Pecan Crust:

  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, divided
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tspn baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (could substitute all purpose or half and half)
  • 1 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons of flax seed meal or wheat germ for extra healthiness

For the apple filling:

  • 3 large or 4 small granny smith apples
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking pan with parchment or coat with cooking spray.  (The pan I used was 11×7 but you could also use a square pan).  Prepare the crust by mixing all crust ingredients except butter.  Put half of this mixture in your food processor and grind so it is fine flour-like consistency.  Mix 1/2 of the softened butter (6 tablespoons) into this fine mixture and press into your pan for the crust.

Then peel and thinly slice your apples.  Toss in cinnamon, brown sugar, and corn starch (this is so it doesn’t get runny), and spread evenly over the crust. 

Now take the chunky dry mixture you have left and cut in the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter.  Using 2 knives or a pastry butter cutter thing (I obviously don’t have one), cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.  Sprinkle the crumb over the top, enough to cover completely but don’t feel forced to use it all. 

Pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until brown on top.  Allow to cool COMPLETELY before cutting or you will have a crumbly mess.  Cut into small squares or triangles and serve.  Prepare to be loved.

Jan 102011
I think I’ve touched on my indecisiveness before. Well, in case you forgot, I can’t make decisions, no matter how simple they might be. That’s why I love things that allow me to avoid the burden of decision making entirely. Can’t decide between jeans and leggings? Put on some jeggings! Not sure if that meal needs a spoon or a fork? Use a spork! And my favorite of all–Can’t decide if you’re craving breakfast or lunch? Brunch it is.

That was a really cheesy opening paragraph, and I apologize for that, but in all seriousness, one decision I can make is that brunch is my favorite meal. I look back lovingly on my days, or should I say meals, at Duke, and used to love this egg white/portabella breakfast burrito at Mad Hatters. This week I tried to recreate it along with some snazzy sweet potato chips with avocado-grapefruit salsa.

The chips were surprisingly easy, although a mandolin would have simplified the process a bit.  All I did was slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, toss with a little bit of olive oil, chili powder, cayene, cumin, salt, and pepper, and spread in one layer on a pizza stone to crisp up in the oven. To go with the chips, I made what seemed to me like a brunchy dip–a salsa of avocado, grapefruit, cilantro, and red onion.

Then for the burrito.  You can make almost any variation you like, but I melted some cheese on a wrap and topped with black beans, egg whites, roasted portabellas, and fresh tomato salsa.  Other variations could include turkey or turkey sausage, avocado, any type of salsa, peppers and onions…get creative with your breakfast wrap!  I put mine on a high fiber, low carb, whole wheat wrap.
A picture pre-wrapping because I was afraid as soon as I wrapped it it would fall apart

But it didn’t fall apart (although was a little messy to pick up and eat)! It looked great and tasted even better.  The sweet potato chips and dip were a great brunch side because chips kind of fit in with the lunch side but the grapefruit salsa kept it in the breakfast world at the same time.  When I make brunches like this, sometimes I wonder why I pay 16 dollars for an egg white omelette…

Nutritional Highlights:  I love going out for brunch, but the danger is that even if you make the seemingly healthy choice, you might still get egg whites drowning in butter and covered in high fat cheese with a side of soggy, fatty potatos which  you obviously eat because they’re there and they’re delicious.  There goes your attempts at being good.  Like most other meals, brunch is best, and healthiest, when you do it yourself because you can control what’s going in. This burrito has protein from the eggs, beans, and cheese, plenty of vegetables, some vitamin packed grapefruit, and good fat from the avocado.  The baked sweet potato chips have very little added oil and still satisfy your craving for crispy potatoey goodness at brunch. 

Spicy Baked Sweet Potato Chips:
  • 1 Sweet potato (try to pick a thin one for nice sized chips)
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil or olive oil spray
  • Spices: I used a mixture of mostly chili powder, and a little cumin, cayene pepper, sea salt, and black pepper
Instructions:  Preheat oven to 400 with pizza stone inside (if you don’t have a pizza stone you’ll just use a baking sheet).  Slice potato as thinly as possible.  Toss with olive oil and spices.  Sorry, I didn’t measure but just season them to taste!  Once preheated, pull the pizza stone out of the oven and spread your chips out in one layer.  Put back in the oven.  Let cook for about 7-10 minutes until starting to brown and fold, flip the chips and cook for another 7-10 minutes, watching closely). 

Avocado-Grapefruit Salsa

Dice one avocado into small cubes.  Cut segments out of one large grapefruit and cut segments into pieces about the same size as the avocado chunks.  Mix together and squeeze in some of the grapefruit juice from the grapefruit discards.  Mix in about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped red onion and about 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro.

Breakfast Burrito (for one)
  • 3 Eggwhites, scrambled
  • 1 whole wheat wrap (I like La Tortilla Factory)
  • Black beans
  • Canned or fresh salsa
  • Roasted or sauteed Vegetables: any that you like/have–portabello mushrooms, peppers and onions, zucchini…
  • Cheese: Monterery Jack, Cheddar, or anything else you have.
To assemble the burrito, sprinkle some of the cheese all over the wrap, put a few tablespoons of black beans in the center and pop in the microwave for 30 seconds until the cheese melts (this will help stick your burrito shut).  Top with the cooked eggwhites, vegetables, and salsa–do not overstuff.  Wrap the wrap–here is my attempt to describe how.  If the wrap is sitting in front of you, fold the right and left sides toward the center.  Then start from the bottom and roll upward, atempting to keep all the ingredients in side.  It’s really an art that takes practice.  You can also just fork and knife it to avoid the rolling process all together.  Enjoy your healthy brunch!!