Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

Creamy brown rice risotto is possible, but you have to know the secret…  Parboiling.

Parboiled brown rice for Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

^^ parboiled rice

Basically, the trick is to boil the brown rice for 15 minutes before you begin the recipe. This gives the rice a nice head start. After all, it has a long way to go to get from nutty and chewy to tender and creamy. Don’t be fooled, risotto is still a sweat-inducing labor of love! But if you have ever wanted a healthy whole grain version (and I hope you have!), it is actually quite easier than you think.

Staying true to the season, pumpkin is the star here. Not only does it give this recipe a punch of autumn goodness, it also lends a velvety, milky texture to the risotto. I used a can, but feel free to use a fresh pumpkin and puree it yourself! As for the veggies, the mushrooms and spinach were a no-brainer, but the zucchini was a fun little addition that I threw in after coming across this recipe. After all, when it comes to vegetables, the more the merrier.

This recipe is hearty, healthy, and completely filling! For a little protein boost, I recommend topping with a poached egg (6g protein), or serving alongside a simply prepared fillet of fish, such as sole (11g protein for a 3 oz fillet), or a rotisserie chicken (23g protein for 3 oz of chicken breast).

Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Zucchini

Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

(Inspired by this pumpkin risotto & this zucchini risotto)

Serves 4 (makes 6 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
  • 4 cups (32 oz) low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 10 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (or 1 1/2 cup pureed, cooked pumpkin)
  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups tightly packed baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for topping

Method:

  1. In a small pot, bring the rice and 3-4 cups of water to a boil. Let boil for 15 minutes, then drain off any excess water and set aside.
  2. In a small pot, heat the broth until it is hot, but not boiling, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. In a medium or large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms, and cook until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the parboiled rice and stir for about 1 minute to coat with oil.
  5. Add the wine, and stir continuously until the liquid has absorbed and the wine has evaporated, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add 1/3 cup of the warm broth the rice mixture, and stir continuously until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process several times, until the mixture becomes creamy, and nearly all of the broth has been used. Periodically taste the rice to check the texture. If hard and undercooked, continue adding broth. (Note- this entire step took me 35 minutes, and I used all 4 cups of broth. If 4 cups is not enough, add water.)
  7. Once the broth has been absorbed, add the pumpkin, zucchini, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to combine, then continue stirring until the mixture has thickened up a bit and reached a desired texture, about 5-10 minutes depending on preference.
  8. Add the chopped spinach, and stir until spinach has wilted, 1-2 minutes.
  9. Remove risotto from heat, divide into 4 bowls, then top each bowl with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese.

Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

Serves 4 (makes 6 cups)

Serving size: 1 1/2 cups

Nutrition: 290 calories, 6g fat (1.5g saturated fat), 48g carbohydrates (5g sugar, 5g fiber), 11g protein, 120mg sodium, 0g cholesterol, 10% calcium, 16% iron, 23% vitamin C, 211% vitamin A

- Kelly

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Eat Healthy Designs

If I didn’t have a career in nutrition (which I love, by the way), I would definitely want to be working in the design world. That’s why I was so excited to discover the new stationary company, Eat Healthy Designs.

This charming Southern California based company was started by nutrition and dietetics student (and aspiring dietitian) Elise Lindsey, and her business partner, Travis Lowe. Lindsey’s passion for nutrition shines through, not only in the delightfully nerdy food puns splashed across her products, but also in the beautiful, original watercolors of fruits and vegetables. However, I’m equally excited by the back of the cards and prints, which feature nutrition information about the artwork.

The product line-up is still pretty small right now, but you can bet that I’ll be frequently stalking the website for new designs. Check out some of my favorite products below:

EAT Healthy Designs Food Pun Pencils

Food Pun Pencils, $5 for set of 5

EAT Healthy Designs Birthday Card

EAT Healthy Designs Birthday Card

Birthday Card, $4

EAT Healthy Designs Thank You Note Set

EAT Healthy Designs Thank You Note Set

Thank You Note Set, $14 for 6 cards + envelopes

I’m filing this under “Businesses that I didn’t start, but wish I had.” Do you have a favorite stationary company?

- Kelly

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Whole Grain Pasta Salad: An Easy, Healthy Make Ahead Lunch

As a kid, I always avoided pasta salad at potlucks and parties. Too vinegary for my taste, and undoubtedly loaded with child-repelling olives. But then in college I got hooked on pasta primavera, the gateway pasta, and before you know it, I was whipping up portable penne salads in my own home.

When packing my lunch for work, I like to choose meals that don’t require too much assembly in the crowded office kitchen. But they still have to be tasty enough for me to look forward to eating, filling enough to last me till dinner, and healthy enough for me to feel nourished and happy with my choice. Pasta salad fits the bill. It also makes great picnic food, which I verified this weekend at the Arnold Arboretum while soaking up the unseasonably warm weather.

This makes a great pantry clean out recipe (read: inexpensive), because like most salads, it’s super adaptable. I start with whole grain pasta (any shape will do, but the whole grains are mandatory), and then add whatever vegetables I have on hand (cherry tomatoes are a favorite when they’re in season). For protein, I like to toss in canned chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans. (Chickpeas and pasta are a highly underrated combination, as I learned from a college classmate who would sprinkle them onto spaghetti like little meatballs.) Lastly, I finish with olive oil or pesto, and sprinkle with cheese or fresh herbs if I have them on hand. Easy peasy.

The more vegetables you can add in, the healthier it will be. Looking for ideas? See below for two pasta salads that I’ve made recently.

 Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Broccoli, Chickpeas, Feta, and Olive Oil

Whole grain farfalle (bow-ties) with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli, a sprinkle of feta cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Artichoke Pesto

Whole grain shells with cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, chickpeas, and artichoke parsley pesto (inspired by this recipe)

Next up, I’d love to try a pasta salad with butternut squash, cannellini beans, and kale pesto. What are your favorite add-ins? Share in the comments!

- Kelly

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Healthy Eating on a Budget

The fact that I live exactly 0.3 miles away from a Whole Foods Market is both a blessing and a curse. With a paradise of healthy ingredients right around the corner from my apartment, I’m often tempted to stop by the store multiple times a week so that I can try a new recipe. But it’s adding up.

Pantry Cleanout: Chili roasted sweet potatoes and onions with corn, black beans, and spinach

Rather than face the prospect of a rapidly dwindling bank account, I have been trying to cook more from what’s in my pantry, rather than constantly getting lured into the grocery store. Above is one such dish I made this week. I had a small Tupperware of chopped bell peppers and onions in the fridge (the remaining bits that didn’t make it into my weekend omelet), so I roasted them up with a forgotten sweet potato, along with ample chili powder, paprika, and cumin. For protein, I tossed in a can of black beans (a pantry staple!), and I finished the dish off with corn from the farmers market (thank you, prepaid gift card) and baby spinach (another omelet remnant).

Getting creative in the kitchen is probably the best way to stretch your grocery dollar. But if you’re not quite comfortable enough to start experimenting, sometimes it helps to have a guide. Enter the Good and Cheap cookbook. This cookbook is a FREE downloadable PDF with recipes for people on a food-stamp budget (roughly $4/day).

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a day

Unlike most resources for people on nutrition assistance programs, this cookbook is filled with beautiful, color photographs, and is actually a treat to flip through. The book itself isn’t a “healthy” cookbook—in fact, butter makes appearances much more frequently than this dietitian is comfortable with. However, the recipes are largely plant based, often giving fruits, vegetables, and whole grains the starring roles. Additionally, the cost per serving is given for each recipe.

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

The cookbook was created by Leanne Brown, in fulfillment of a Masters project for the NYU food studies program. As someone that graduated with a similarly obscure foodie graduate degree (whoop, BU Gastronomy!), I have so much respect for Leanne and the amazing project that she undertook. Like Leanne, I believe that cooking is one of the most effective (and more importantly, fun!) ways to take control of your health. And if you can do it on $4 a day? Even better!

What’s your favorite budget-friendly recipe?

- Kelly

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Upcoming Appearance at Let’s Talk About Food Festival, 9/27

Let's Talk About Food Festival

If you’re interested in cooking, nutrition, food justice, the environment, and making our food system healthier and more sustainable, you should definitely check out the upcoming Let’s Talk About Food Festival in Copley Square on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Speakers include former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook, Chef and Sustainable Seafood Advocate Barton Seaver, America’s Test Kitchen’s Dan Souza, and more. Events run from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM on Saturday (click here to see the full schedule). There will be cooking demonstrations, expert panels, and film screenings of acclaimed documentaries Cafeteria Man and Fed Up.

I will serve as an ‘expert conversant’ on childhood obesity from 10:00 – 11:00 AM at the Endless Table, then I will be manning the Ask-a-Nutritionist booth from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM. Stop by and say hello!

Let's Talk About Food Festival

Images: 1 // 2

- Kelly

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Mediterranean Veggie Burgers with Sweet Potato, Red Lentils, and Quinoa

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers with Sweet Potato, Red Lentils, and Quinoa, served on Whole Grain bun with Avocado and Spinach

This recipe is a close adaptation of Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for the New York Times. I actually had the pleasure of meeting her last week (#starstruck), because she’s moderating a panel at an upcoming conference that my company is hosting. Our lunch meeting was catered by SweetGreen, so basically it was an all-around perfect day.

In my version of the recipe, I decided to lighten things up a little bit and bake the patties, rather than coating in breadcrumbs and pan frying them. Shulman recommends serving the patties with raita, chutney, or a garlic mint yogurt sauce, but I went classic veggie burger style, and served them up on toasted whole wheat buns with avocado slices and fresh spinach.

My only previous attempt at veggie burgers was an awesome black bean burger recipe (with avocado mango salsa, might I add), so this was a totally different experience. But a delicious one, at that. The feta and chives really give these veggie patties a flavorful kick, and the lentils and quinoa provide that ever-important protein.

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers

My boyfriend was actually licking the bowl at this point. I’m telling you, these veggie burgers are GOOD!

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers with Sweet Potatoes, Red Lentils, and Quinoa

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 2/3 cup red lentils
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, baked (I just poked holes and microwaved them, about 4 minutes on each side)
  • 3 cups tightly packed, chopped fresh spinach, plus more for garnish
  • 3 oz crumbled feta (about ¾ cup)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 8 whole-wheat hamburger buns, toasted (I like this brand)
  • 2 avocados, sliced

Method

  1. Combine water, quinoa, and lentils in a small pot and bring to a boil. Then cover and reduce to a simmer, until the outside germ of the quinoa separates into a curly tail, the lentils are tender, and the water has been absorbed (about 15-20 minutes).
  2. While the lentils and quinoa are cooking, skin the potatoes and place them in a large mixing bowl. Then add the spinach, feta, chives, mint, and lemon juice to the sweet potatoes.
  3. Once the lentil and quinoa mixture is cooked, let cool, then add it to the sweet potato mixture. Mash all ingredients together with a fork until mixed well.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop ½ cup of the vegetable mixture, then roll and flatten into a patty. Continue with the rest of the mixture. Recipe makes 8 patties.
  5. Let patties refrigerate for at least an hour- the longer the better. (They can also be made up to two days ahead of time. In fact, they actually turn out better this way, as they have more time to set.)
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes (no need to flip).
  7. Serve on a toasted whole grain bun with fresh spinach and sliced avocado.

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers

Nutrition per serving (1 patty on a 100% whole wheat bun with 1/6 avocado): 300 calories, 6.5 g fat (3g saturated fat), 46g carbohydrates (8.5g fiber, 8.5g sugar), 12g protein, 460mg sodium, 500mg potassium, 228% Vitamin A, 33% Vitamin C, 20% Calcium, 28% iron

 

Mediterranean Veggie Burgers

- Kelly

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Finally… a healthier granola!

Healthy Granola

The word “granola” has become synonymous with a health conscious lifestyle, and is often used to describe individuals that have an aversion to processed foods and a soft spot for REI.

Despite the healthful moniker, this popular snack is often riddled with as much added sugar as children’s breakfast cereal, and the oils used to roast the oats can multiply calories quickly. So much for being a health food. Sure, granola is a satisfying source of fiber and whole grains. But the dessert-high levels of sugar have kept granola from being a pantry staple at my house. Until now.

Healthy Granola

Yes, I could make my own recipe. But a friend recently introduced me to the “Wheat Free Classic Granola” in the bulk bins at Whole Foods Market, and well, why fix what’s not broken?

While the calorie and fiber count of this granola is comparable to other brands, what stands out is the low level of added sugar: Only 4g per half cup (55g) serving! Compare that to 14g per 55g serving of Cascadian Farms Oats and Honey Granola, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

Healthy Granola

Unlike most granolas, where honey plays a starring role, this granola has sunflower seeds, cashews, sesame seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, giving this traditionally sweet treat a surprisingly savory twist. I like to dress mine up with raspberries and organic nonfat milk (above), or bananas, figs, and plain organic nonfat Greek yogurt (below).

Healthy Granola

Do you have a favorite granola or granola recipe? Share in the comments!

- Kelly

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Evidence that Nutrition Assistance Programs Can Help Improve the Food Environment

What good are food stamps doing to nourish the hungry if participants spend it all on junk food?

This is a common critique of nutrition assistance programs, and for a good reason. That being said, many hunger advocates counter that today’s hungry often live in communities where fresh, healthy foods aren’t available, and that tightening the nutrition criteria for these assistance programs will leave participants with nowhere to turn. After all, a little bit of junk food is better than no food at all. However, a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior demonstrates that when nutrition assistance programs update their offerings to reflect the latest in nutrition research, the foodscape improves to benefit everyone.

FRUIT SELECTION

Background from the study:

“Based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, the US Department of Agriculture changed the WIC Program’s supplemental food packages, addressing nutritional concerns of the panel by offering low-fat milks and whole grains, and including cash vouchers for fruits and vegetables. Before the change, WIC offered juice, milk, cereals, eggs, beans, and other foods. However, the milk was whole milk, cereals were not whole grain products, there was no option to include whole grain bread or rice, and there were no fruits and vegetables. This set of changes, the first in a generation, went into effect in most states, including Louisiana, in October, 2009.”

So what happened after these changes were introduced?

For this study, researchers visited small stores in New Orleans right when the change was introduced, and then again a year later. In 2009, only 3.7% of stores participating in the WIC program carried whole wheat bread or brown rice, but a year later, 70.4% offered whole wheat bread and 92.6% offered brown rice!

These drastic improvements aren’t just a sign of the times, but can largely be attributed to the changes in the WIC program. That’s because at non-WIC participating small stores in New Orleans in 2010, whole wheat bread was only offered at a meager 1.5% of stores, and brown rice was only offered in 12.1% of stores. Additionally, the study found that the number of varieties of fresh fruit significantly increased (from 3 to 4) at WIC stores, but not at the non-WIC stores, and average shelf space of all vegetables increased in WIC stores by about 1.2 meters.

VEGETABLE SHELF SPACE

These improvements in healthy food selection benefit all shoppers, not just those in the WIC program. Could similar improvements be made to other nutrition assistance programs? Weigh in!

Note: Despite these hopeful findings, food choices in depressed communities are in dire shape. For more on this topic, see my blog post on the link between hunger and obesity. Also, to learn more about the WIC program, see here.

- Kelly

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Root: Vegan Food for Carnivorous Palates

It’s refreshing to come across a menu that doesn’t use cheese as a crutch for vegetarian meals. At Root, a vegan restaurant, that’s not even an option.

Tortas

Tostada: Crispy corn tortillas topped with chili-spiced sweet potatoes, black bean and corn salsa, avocado, and (tofu based) crema, served with greens

If you have visions of rubbery “veggie meats” and endless tofu dishes, think again. In fact, you won’t even find tofu on the lunch or dinner menu (except cleverly blended into the house made aiolis). Clean eaters can still find superfood darlings, such as kale, quinoa, and beet juice. However, by creating whole-food versions of carnivorous favorites (hush puppies, burgers, tostadas, and more), the menu is approachable to people of all dietary patterns. The word vegan doesn’t even appear anywhere on the menu, so as not to isolate customers.

Tucked away in grungy Allston, Root is a clean oasis, with an atmosphere that reflects the food they serve. The small space is industrial, yet inviting, contrasting square, copper tables with an abundance of natural wood accents. Bicycle wheels decorate the walls. Water is served in mason jars. Root is counter service at lunch and dinner, but switches to table service for the weekend brunch.

At some vegetarian restaurants, such as Life Alive, all of the food tastes overwhelmingly of umami, with little differentiation between menu items. What distinguishes Root from its meat-free peers is that each dish has a unique flavor profile. Like the popular Boston vegetarian chain, Clover Food Lab, many dishes are Root are deep fried, and aren’t as healthy as the clean atmosphere and vegetable emphasis would have you believe. However, for the health conscious consumer like myself, there are many nutritious options.

Warm Kale Salad

Warm Kale Salad

One such item is the warm kale salad ($8). A hearty way to enjoy leafy greens during the winter months, this dish is a delightful bowl of lightly steamed kale, caramelized onions and bite-sized nuggets of roasted butternut squash. Dried cranberries, pepitas, and citrus miso dressing complete the bowl. Somehow, this generous salad leaves your body feeling nourished and content, even if you have just indulged in the artery clogging, yet oh so addictive, herbed fries and house made ketchup.

1406673311.030589.IMG_3750

Sweet Potato Quesadilla

Kale takes on an entirely different persona in the sweet potato quesadilla ($8). This appetizer-sized dish consists of a flour tortilla filled with sweet potato, kale, and sautéed onion. Rather than relying on a processed, vegan soy cheese to bind the quesadilla together, the dish is served with a creamy thyme sauce made from cashews. This rich, hearty sauce is also the secret to the delicious eggplant caprese sandwich.

If you’re looking for southwestern flavors, your best bet is the torta ($10 with choice of fries or side salad). Chili-lime black beans, tomatoes, avocado, pickled onion, and fried jalapeno, are pressed together in a locally made Iggy’s bun. The toasted bread is the perfect vehicle for the warm black beans and pickled veggies, while the avocado tones down the heat from the perfectly crisp jalapenos.

Other noteworthy dishes include the made-from-scratch black bean and quinoa based “root burger” and the famously fluffy vanilla pancakes (the secret is the coconut oil). With a menu this inviting, plant based diets have never seemed more mainstream. And at this inspired eatery, that is precisely the intent.

Root is located at 487 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA. info@rootboston.com, 617-208-6091. Hours: Monday-Friday: 11am-10pm, Saturday-Sunday: 9:30am-10pm.

- Kelly

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Published

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I am proud to announce that I accomplished one of my major bucket list goals today: getting published in print!

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My food/travel story about Austin, TX is in today’s issue of the Boston Globe (page G 23). You can also read it online here. I first got connected with the Globe after taking Sheryl Julian’s food writing class in the Boston University Gastronomy program (which I highly recommend for any aspiring food writers). While the subject matter of the article couldn’t be much further from health or sustainability, I am pleased to be a published food writer and photographer. I also added a new ‘Press’ page to my website. Any ideas for my next story?

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- Kelly

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