The Best Cookbook Organization Trick

Cookbooks are an underutilized treasure trove of culinary expertise, recipe ideas, and winning flavor combinations. But as the printed word gives way to Pinterest and recipe blogs, cookbooks have been pushed to “coffee table book status,” collected as much for the pictures as the recipes within.

Cookbook Organization Tips

Not one to let a book go to waste, I devised a simple tactic to make sure that I get the most out of my ever-growing cookbook collection. In fact, until I make at least 5 recipes from every cookbook I own, I don’t plan on buying another. Here’s how it works…

Cookbook Organization Tips

When I first get a new cookbook, I curl up in a cozy chair and flip through it like a magazine, marking the recipes that I want to make with a flag on the side of the page. Once I actually make one of these recipes, I move the flag up to the top of the page.

Cookbook Organization Tips

With just a quick glance at the top of my shelf (see above), I can tell which cookbooks I’ve used the most, and which need a little more love. When I want to try a new recipe (which I aim to do once or twice a week), I look for a sparsely flagged book top, then start flipping to some of the recipes that I marked. With this system, it’s easy to track my progress towards my 5-recipes-per-cookbook goal.

So far, my favorite, most used cookbooks are:

We’ll see how this list changes as I get closer to reaching my goal…

Cookbook Organization

What is your favorite cookbook?

– Kelly

Detox Dinner: Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Vegetables and Marinara

Detox Dinner: Spaghetti Squash with Veggies and Marinara

For many, the ultimate detox meal is a huge raw salad or a bottomless green smoothie. But it’s too cold for that business. I’ll take my veggies cooked, thank you very much!

With the winter holidays upon us, where rich, heavy foods lurk around every corner, it’s great to have a comforting, healthy recipe at the ready to offset any indulgences. Looking for a way to feel clean and nourished after one too many helpings of mashed potatoes and holiday pie? Let this delicious detox dinner be your reset button for a healthy holiday season.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Veggies

This meal couldn’t be simpler. Just cut a spaghetti squash in half, remove the seeds, then place flesh side down onto a lightly oiled baking tray. On a separate baking tray, pile on all of the chopped veggies that you please (I use mushrooms, broccoli, onions, bell pepper, and zucchini), with a little bit of olive oil and Italian seasoning. Put both trays in the oven, and cook at 400 degrees F. Pull the veggies out after 30 minutes, but continue cooking the squash until it is tender when pierced with a knife. (The squash will take about 30-50 minutes total, depending on size.)

Spaghetti Squash

Once the squash is cool enough to handle, run a fork back and forth across the flesh of the squash. This will separate the flesh into spaghetti-like strings. Transfer the strands of squash to a plate, and top with roasted veggies and marinara sauce. If you’re looking for a protein boost, feel free to add lentils or chickpeas.

Spaghetti Squash with Veggies and Marinara

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Vegetables and Marinara

Serves 2-4 (depending on size of squash)

Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti Squash
  • 1-2 pounds of raw vegetables, chopped (I had zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, and bell peppers)
  • Marinara Sauce (look for one that has no added sugars and a minimal amount of oil – it should be about 50 calories per 1/2 cup serving)
  • Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage)
  • Olive Oil
  • Optional: lentils or chickpeas

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lenghthwise, remove the seeds, then place flesh side down onto a lightly oiled baking tray.
  2. Place the chopped vegetables on a separate baking tray, and toss with a little bit of olive oil and Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage).
  3. Put both trays in the oven to cook, and pull the veggies out after 30 minutes.
  4. Continue cooking the squash until it is tender when pierced with a knife. This could take anywhere from 30-50 minutes of total cooking time.
  5. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, run a fork back and forth across the flesh of the squash. This will separate the flesh into spaghetti-like strings.
  6. Transfer the strands of squash to a plate, and top with roasted veggies and marinara sauce. If you’re looking for a protein boost, feel free to add lentils or chickpeas.

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and Veggies

There is no nutrition data for this recipe, as it really depends on how much of each ingredient you use and which vegetables you choose. However, with a dinner this healthy (it’s only veggies, after all!) there is no need to count calories or grams of this and that. So grab a fork and dig in to this nutritious and delicious detox dinner!

– Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Nectarines and Corn

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Nectarines and Corn

Ashley and I spend our workdays reading about atrazine contamination and pesticide poisonings, so when I found out that she had never seen Erin Brockovich, I knew we needed a movie night. And what goes better with a girl-power, kick-corporate-butt movie than a beautiful, healthy, plant-based dinner?

Because Ashley recently acquired a sourdough starter (from 1890!!!), she brought homemade whole-wheat sourdough bread and homemade sourdough crackers. Yum! A hearty summer salad was a natural pairing. This picture on Pinterest was my jumping off point, but I threw in cheesy chickpeas to up the protein factor. Chicken would taste delicious on this salad too (as would avocado), but I was looking to keep it vegetarian with the garbanzos. In fact, subbing nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan would make this vegan, although I haven’t experimented with that yet.

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Corn and Nectarines

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Nectarines and Corn (inspired by eats well with others)

Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • 3 large nectarines, thinly sliced
  • 1 recipe cheesy chickpeas (see recipe below)
  • 1 recipe honey mustard vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Method:

  1. Boil the corn until cooked (about 5-7 minutes), and then slice kernels off of the cob. My other favorite trick for cooking corn is to steam it in the husk by microwaving it (with the husk still on) for 5 minutes (for 2 ears). Once it cools, you can peel it and cut it as usual.
  2. Massage the kale with olive oil until it turns a dark green color and reduces by about half.
  3. To assemble, toss the kale with the nectarines, basil, corn, cheesy chickpeas, and honey mustard vinaigrette.

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Nectarines and Corn

Cheesy Chickpeas (inspired by Clean Eating)

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Spread out chickpeas over several layers of paper towels to dry, for about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375. In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive oil and cheese until the oil is absorbed.
  3. Once the oil is absorbed, break up the cheese a bit with your fingers, then add in the garbanzo beans and mix until well combined.
  4. Evenly spread the chickpeas onto a greased baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes.

Cheesy Chickpeas

Cheesy Chickpeas pictured prior to baking

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard

Method:

  1. To make the honey mustard vinaigrette, pour the champagne vinegar, olive oil, honey, and mustard into a small mixing bowl and whisk until combined.

Cheesy Chickpea Kale Salad with Nectarines and Corn

Serves 4

Nutrition Per Serving: 330 calories, 14g protein, 11g fat (2g saturated), 49g carbohydrates (10g fiber, 13g sugar), 418mg sodium, 215% Vitamin A, 145% Vitamin C, 20% Calcium, 18% Iron

Yes, Keep Eating Fruit

Yes, Keep Eating Fruit (@kellytoupsrd)

Fruit is bad because it has so much sugar, right?

Aren’t bananas fattening?

Shouldn’t you cut back on fruit if you’re trying to lose weight?

I get questions like this all the time. No seriously, I do. While it’s upsetting to think of how the media and food faddists have led well-meaning dieters astray, it’s actually pretty liberating when friends and clients realize just how easy good nutrition is. More fruits and veggies, less junk food. It’s that simple!

Think about it logically. America doesn’t have an obesity problem from eating too much fruit. It’s our ever-increasing portion sizes, penchant for sugary beverages and endless snacking that did us in.

Yes, fruit has sugar. But it also has loads of vitamins, minerals, water, and most importantly, fiber. The fiber in the fruit will slow its release into your bloodstream, so that you don’t get the spike and crash associated with other sugary foods (such as soda or candy).

However, do not confuse fruit with fruit juice. Juice lacks the fiber and some of the micronutrients of the whole fruit. While a cup of fresh fruit is a healthy, low-calorie snack, do not be fooled into thinking that juice is a low calorie or no calorie beverage. Many juices pack just as much sugar and calories per cup as soda. And without the fiber (and additional water in whole fruits) to trigger fullness cues in your stomach, it is much easier to overindulge in fruit juice than fruit. Additionally, the amount of juice you drink has a direct relationship with diabetes risk, but the amount of fruit you eat actually decreases the risk of diabetes.

Next time you find yourself unsure of what to eat, remember the sweet truth and fill up with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.

– Kelly