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Turkey Meatballs with Spinach & Ricotta Pasta

Turkey MeatballsTHE VERDICT:
For the last month or so, our menus have focused on clean eating. Our current favourite clean eating recipe is from one of our newest cookbook purchases, and we thought we would pass it on. We know that ground turkey has a reputation for being flavourless and dry, but these turkey meatballs are so tasty and flavourful we guarantee that you won’t miss the boring old ground beef version that you are used to. The pasta they are served with is reminiscent of another of our favourite dishes, so the combination is a real winner.

My cousin, Jenny, is also a fan of clean eating and she used the meatball recipe to whip up some pretty tasty burgers the other night when we were at her house for a BBQ. So really you get two great recipes in one.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Turkey Meatballs with Whole-Wheat Spaghetti, Spinach and Ricotta (source: The Best of Clean Eating)

1 tsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. extra-lean ground turkey

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram

1/2 cup whole-grain bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 egg

1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or pasta of your choice

4 cups baby spinach

3/4 cup low-fat ricotta cheese

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, but not browned, 3-5 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, place turkey, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, bread crumbs, tomato paste, egg, salt and pepper. Using your hands or a large spoon, gently mix together until combined.
  • Using a small ice cream scoop or a table spoon, portion out turkey mixture in golf-ball-sized increments. Use clean hands to roll mixture into 20 meatballs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving a half-cup of pasta water.
  • In a large serving bowl, add spaghetti, spinach, cheese, zest and juice, and a 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Gently toss to combine, allowing heat of pasta to wilt spinach and cooking water to melt ricotta into a creamy sauce. Add more reserved pasta water, if necessary, to reach desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Add meatballs and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Hands-on Time: 20 minutes    Total Time: 40 minutes

Per serving (5 meatballs, 2 oz. pasta): 477 calories; 44 g protein; 8 g total fat (3 g saturated fat); 63 g carbs; 10 g fibre; 3.5 g sugar; 126 mg cholesterol; 787 mg sodium

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Ham, Green Beans and Cleaner Scalloped Potatoes

Ham DinnerTHE VERDICT:

We don’t really have a recipe for the ham or the green beans to pass along. We just steamed the green beans until tender and cooked the ham in the oven until it was heated through. The real recipe involved was for the potatoes.

I saw a recipe for a “cleaner” version of scalloped potatoes (a favourite of mine) and was curious to find out if they would actually taste any good. I must say I was quite impressed. Clean Eating magazine is now two for two in our books when it comes to creating healthier versions of classic, but fatty fare. We had similar success when we tried their version of Buffalo wings. Even without a ton of cheese and cream, these potatoes were packed with all the flavour you’d expect from scalloped potatoes and made an excellent addition to our Sunday dinner.

I only made one change when following the recipe. I opted to use red-skinned potatoes and chose not to peel them to add some extra vitamins and a little colour to the dish. The good scrubbing it took to get all the dirt off the potatoes was a lot less time consuming than peeling them would have been, so the decision also reduced the amount of prep time I had to put in.

For Z, we simply cut everything up into bite-sized pieces and he was able to feed this meal to himself (except for the potatoes, which he was spoonfed as the sauce made them too messy for finger feeding), something he heartily enjoyed doing.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Cleaner Scalloped Potatoes (source: Clean Eating magazine)

Olive oil cooking spray

2 tsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (dice the onion if planning to serve this dish to young kids)

1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3/4 tsp. dried thyme

1 1/2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour

2 cups low fat milk

3 oz. low fat Monterey Jack or white cheddar cheese, grated

2 1/2 lbs. Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced as thin as possibly (1/8″ or less)

2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

2 Tbsp. whole wheat panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Heal oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add garlic, thyme and flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes or until onions are coated with flour. Add milk and increase heat to medium-high. When liquid begins to simmer, reduce heat to low and cook until mixture thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Add three-quarters of Monterey Jack and remaining salt, and stir until melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  • Arrange half of potatoes in an even layer in prepared baking dish. Cover with half of onion mixture. Repeat with remaining potatoes and remaining onion mixture.
  • In a small bowl, combine remaining Monterey Jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano and panko; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Bake potatoes in centre of oven for 70-85 minutes or until potatoes in center of dish feel tender when pierced with a fork. When finished baking, remove potatoes from oven and sprinkle evenly with cheese-panko mixture. Preheat broiler to high and return baking dish to oven and broil until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Hands on time: 45 minutes. Total time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Nutrients per serving (1 cup): 201 calories, 4 g fat, 33 g carbs, 9 g protein, 248 mg sodium, 9 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: This version has 285 fewer calories than traditional scalloped potatoes.

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The Mediterranean Crackers That Never Were

Zayden chows downTHE VERDICT:

We never ended up making the crackers themselves. Zayden has recently transitioned for three naps down to two, which has moved his bedtime a little earlier, so we’ve been sitting down to dinner earlier and the afternoon snack is no longer needed. We did end up making our own hummus using a recipe I’ve had for ages and have always used with great success. I got it out of Seventeen magazine (*blush*) when I was in high school, and it has been one of my staple party foods ever since. I often add a little more garlic than the recipe calls for because I believe there is no such thing as too much garlic, and I think it tastes better if you use fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of the kind from a bottle.

I ended up using the hummus and veggies that we bought for this recipe to make a pretty tasty lunch: I smeared a pita with hummus, topped it with sliced tomato and cucumber, sprinkled on some salt and pepper and folded it up like a taco and took it on a picnic. Very yummy. Zayden also enjoyed the hummus. It’s definitely a very baby-friendly food. It’s a puree with few ingredients, so great for a little guy just starting solids. It’s also an excellent protein alternative if your little one hasn’t quite warmed up to meat yet.  And I know lots of moms with older kids who use hummus to trick their kids into eating more veggies because it’s such a popular dip. Definitely a food that will please the whole family.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPES:

Hummus (source: Seventeen magazine)

1 pound can of chickpeas

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup tahini

3 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp. salt and pepper

paprika

olive oil

freshly chopped parsley

  • Pour some of the liquid from the chickpeas into a food processor or blender. Then drain the chickpeas.
  • Add lemon juice, garlic and tahini to the food processor or blender. Blend together.
  • Add chickpeas, salt and pepper. Blend again.
  • Spoon into a bowl. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika and parsley.
  • Chill.
  • Serve with pita or veggies for dipping.

Mediterranean Crackers (source: Clean Eating magazine)

5 Armenian whole-wheat crackers, or similar, topped with:

2 Tbsp. hummus

1/4 cup chopped tomato

1/4 cup chopped cucumber

1 tsp. lemon zest

Makes 1 serving.

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Curried Bison Biryani with Broccoli Spears

Curried Bison Biryani with Broccoli SpearsTHE VERDICT:

I think in the future we should remember that curries do not make good 20-minute meals. Good curries need time to simmer and stew for the flavours to develop. This quick curry was foul to say the least. The cooking liquid mentioned in the recipe never materialized (looking at the ingredients, I’m not sure where it was supposed to come from), so instead of a nice saucy curry, we ended up with more of a pasty spice rub. It was a huge disappointment because all the ingredients (bison, mango, delicious curry spices) sounded so promising.

As I managed to boil the pot dry when cooking the barley and the curry in general was a massively disappointing bust, I can only conclude that this recipe is cursed. At the very least, they must have left out a liquid on the list of ingredients. Once we have put this sad affair behind us for a bit, Justin may try to improv a better version of this curry using similar ingredients. If that’s a success, we’ll post it.

If, for some reason, you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Curried Bison Biryani (source: Clean Eating magazine)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 cup dry quick-cooking barley

1 medium onion, sliced into rounds

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

5 cloves garlic, sliced into thin rounds

1 cup fresh mango, cubed or 1 cup frozen mango (about 1-inch cubes)

1/2 cup frozen peas

16 oz. bison sirloin tip, trimmed of any visible fat and cut into 1/4 inch strips

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

BIRYANI SPICE BLEND: 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground turmeric, 2 tsp. ground ginger (or substitute 5 tsp. of curry powder)

  • In a medium pot, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, add Biryani spice blend and salt to a small bowl, mix and set aside. When water comes to a boil, add barley, stir, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
  • While barley is cooking, in a large nonstick sauce pan over medium heat, saute onion in oil for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent garlic from burning.
  • Stir in spice-salt mixture, mango, peas and bison. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir again to make sure all ingredients are nestled in cooking liquid. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Combine barley with bison mixture before plating, then top each portion with tomatoes and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Hands on time: 20 minutes. Total time: 20 minutes.

Nutrients per serving: 354 calories, 11 g fat, 37 g carbs, 29 g protein, 305 mg sodium, 80 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: 1 Tbsp. of paprika has 71% of your vitamin A requirement.

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Buffalo Chicken with Buttermilk-Feta Sauce and Spicy Escarole

Buffalo Chicken with Buttermilk-Feta SauceTHE VERDICT:

Most of the time, when you try to make a healthier version of a favourite junk food, you end up eating a bland and unfulfilling imitation of your favourite calorie-laden treat. Luckily, that is not the case with this recipe. Okay, it’s not exactly the same as eating hot wings with blue cheese dip, but the dish is flavourful and pleasing and will satisfy your cravings when you can’t make it to the pub. The spicy escarole (or in our case, romaine, because we couldn’t find escarole) was a unique side dish that complemented the main course very well. We will definitely be making this again.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Buffalo Chicken with Buttermilk Feta Sauce (source: Clean Eating magazine)

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt

2 Tbsp. nonfat buttermilk (substitution: 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice, let stand for 10 minutes)

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/3 cup low-fat feta cheese, crumbled

3 green onions, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 tsp. sea salt

4 Tbsp. hot sauce

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. paprika

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.), each cut into 2 3-inch pieces)

Olive oil cooking spray

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar, feta, onions and salt. Cover and refrigerate mixture until ready to serve for up to 2 days.
  • In a small bowl, combine hot sauce, oil and paprika.
  • Place chicken in a large shallow dish. Pour hot sauce mixture over chicken, tossing to coat. Cover and marinate for at least 30 minutes at room-temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 400F. Mist a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Remove chicken from hot sauce marinade, discarding marinade, and place chicken on baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (no need to flip). Top with buttermilk-feta sauce, dividing evenly, or pour sauce into a separate bowl for dipping. Serve with Spicy Escarole (see recipe below).

Spicy Escarole (source: Clean Eating magazine)

2 tsp. olive oil

1 head escarole, cored and coarsely chopped (Note: escarole is a type of endive characterized by wide pale-green leaves)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. hot sauce

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted

  • Heat oil  in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add escarole and saute for 5 minutes or until slightly wilted. Add garlic and hot sauce, stirring occasionally, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until escarole is completely wilted. Sprinkle pepper flakes and sesame seeds over top and serve immediately with Buffalo Chicken.

Makes 6 servings.

Hands on time: 20 minutes. Total time: 1 hour.

Nutrients per serving (4 oz. chicken [about 2 pieces], 2 Tbsp. sauce, 1 cup Spicy Escarole): 274 calories, 10 g fat, 11 g carbs, 34 g protein, 605 mg sodium, 68 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: 1 Tbsp. of paprika has 71% of your vitamin A requirement.

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Rotini with Peas, Carrots and Goat Cheese and Wilted Spinach & Arugula Salad

Rotini with Peas and Goat CheeseTHE VERDICT:

This meal was edible, but not amazing. The pasta dish was bit bland and the arugula overwhelmed the spinach in the salad. We liked the saffron broth base for the pasta dish and will probably try using it in other dishes before we completely write it off. As for the salad, we were just trying to use up some leftover greens from last week’s shopping trip, so we weren’t hugely disappointed when it didn’t turn out. To fix for next time: twice as much red onion, half as much arugula and some other ingredient (bacon?) to round it out.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPES:

Rotini with Peas, Carrots and Goat Cheese (source: Clean Eating magazine)

8 oz. pasta

2 diced carrots

2 cups fresh shelled peas

1 1/2 cups Simple Saffron Broth (see recipe below)

2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

  • Cook pasta according to package directions adding peas and carrots to the pasta water during the last 3 minutes of cooking.
  • Drain and toss with saffron broth and goat cheese.
  • Top with fresh parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Simple Saffron Broth (source: Clean Eating magazine)

2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

4 tsp. arrowroot flour (corn starch may be substituted)

1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crushed

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

Fine sea salt, to taste

  • In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk together broth, arrowroot and saffron, set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm oil. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in broth mixture, increase heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens slightly and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and season with salt. Cover and set aside to steep for at least 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Yield: About 2 cups. Hands on time: 15 minutes. Total time: 30 minutes.

Nutrients per 1/3 cup serving: 37 calories, 2 g fat, 3 g carbs, 0.25 g protein, 67 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol

Wilted Spinach & Arugula Salad (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

3 cups baby spinach

3 cups arugula

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/8 tsp. pepper

  • Wash and dry spinach and arugula. Add to salad bowl. Set aside.
  • Saute onions in a splash of oil. Add remaining ingredients and heat until it is bubbling.
  • Just before serving, pour hot dressing over salad, tossing gently to wilt the greens.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

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Breakfast Pita

Breakfast pitaTHE VERDICT:

A fairly quick breakfast to throw together, but not the most flavourful one. The 2 tsp of Parmesan cheese barely registers on the taste buds, so we were basically eating eggs with a couple slices of tomato. The second day we decided to add some diced green onions to jazz it up a bit without breaking the clean eating mandate of the week. It was a little better with the onions.

It’s not a bad breakfast. The basic idea is good, but it needs a lot of dressing up before we’d put it in our regular breakfast menu rotation, but if we added all the bacon and cheese we’re envisioning, it probably wouldn’t be considered a “clean” breakfast anymore.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Breakfast Pita (source: Clean Eating magazine)

2 egg whites and 1 whole egg, scrambled

2 tsp. Parmesan

2 slices tomato

Diced green onions, if desired

1 whole wheat pita, folded in half and stuffed with the first 3 ingredients

Makes 1 serving.

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Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash RisottoTHE VERDICT:

This recipe is definitely a keeper. Of all the clean eating recipes we tried this week, this one is by far the best. We’re big fans of risotto, but have only found a few recipes we truly love and this tasty veggie version will definitely be part of the regular risotto rotation. It’s not a speedy dish to prepare, but you can easily cook the risotto while the squash roasts so your time can be used very efficiently. The recipe calls for fresh herbs, but we used dried and still ended up with great flavour. The final result is a hearty, healthy, veggie-laden dish that doesn’t require a side because it is so filling on its own. Overall, an excellent dish. Treat yourself on a night when you have a little extra time to make dinner or impress your friends at a dinner party.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Butternut Squash Risotto (source: Clean Eating magazine)

3 cups peeled, diced fresh butternut squash

Extra-virgin olive oil or olive oil cooking spray

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (2 cups)

1 tbsp. garlic, minced

1 cup arborio rice

1 tbsp. fresh sage, minced

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed if frozen

1/4 cup shredded fontina or Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted (we skipped this ingredient due to food allergies)

  • Preheat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a little oil or mist with cooking spray; season with salt and pepper. Spread squash in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Set squash aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; keep warm.
  • While broth is heating, saute onion in 1 tbsp oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until they start to soften, 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Add rice and stir to coat with oil and vegetables.
  • Add 1/2 cup warm broth; simmer and stir with a wooden spoon until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in another 1/2 cup warm broth; simmer stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost all evaporated. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cup increments, adding more only after previous addition has been absorbed. Taste rice after 3/4 of broth has been added. Rice is done when it’s tender but still slightly firm and white in the very centre (not chalky). Continue adding broth until only 1/2 cup remains.
  • Add thyme, sage, peas and cheese to pan with last 1/2 cup broth; stir until cheese melts, 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat before all liquid is absorbed. Gently fold in cooked squash and walnuts. Season risotto with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional thyme, if desired, and serve warm.

Makes 4 servings. Hands on time: 45 minutes. Total time: 1 hour. Nutrients per serving: 359 calories, 9 g fat, 60 g carbs, 14 g protein, 163 mg sodium, 8 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: Squash is an excellent source of phytonutrients and vitamin A and a very good source of vitamin C, fibre, manganese and potassium. It also packs a good punch of vitamin B6, folate and niacin.

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Cleaning Eating Challenge Week

We’ve been into clean eating for a while now. For the most part it has meant trying to eat healthier, less-processed food as much as possible, but we cheat all the time. We’re pretty big wine drinkers, so we still indulge in a few glasses a week and my sweet tooth means we’re eating dessert (and refined sugar) more often than we should. That’s why this week we’ve challenged ourselves to truly eat clean for 5 whole days. We’re getting all of our recipes out of Clean Eating Magazine and will be reviewing each one as we go along. Here’s our menu:

Breakfast (all week): Breakfast Pita

Morning snack (all week): 1 Kashi granola bar and 1 kiwi

Afternoon snack (all week): Mediterranean Crackers

Lunch (all week): Leftovers of the previous night’s dinner

Monday Dinner: Rotini with Peas, Carrots and Goat Cheese and Wilted Spinach & Arugula Salad

Tuesday Dinner: Buffalo Chicken with Buttermilk Feta Sauce and Spicy Escarole

Wednesday Dinner: Curry Bison Biryani with Broccoli Spears

Thursday Dinner: Butternut Squash Risotto

Friday Dinner: Vanilla-scented Scallops with Quinoa Creamed Corn

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Site Evolution

Pouring a quicheWhen we first started this blog, we wanted to share recipes with family and friends and maybe a few random people out in the blogosphere. But over the past few months, our goals for this site have evolved, mostly due to questions and suggestions from the very people this blog was designed to inspire. We realized that if we truly wanted to encourage people to cook from scratch more often, we needed to share more than just recipes. Now you will be able to find reviews of helpful kitchen tools, sample menus and (hopefully) everything else you will need to start feeling more confident in the kitchen.

We also wanted to share some of our cooking-related passions, like eating clean and eating local. That’s why we’ve started posting about our trips to the farmers’ market and some of our favourite local businesses and restaurants. And sometimes we might just share a personal story or two about the successes and challenges we face as we strive to meet these goals.

Basically, we realize that our blog is evolving into a place where you can find a recipe to help you throw together tonight’s dinner as well as a place to learn something new about healthy cooking and healthy eating. That being said, we’re still holding on to hope of our own cooking show. Or at least a deal for our own cookbook series.

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