My college years were wonderful, but the food was not an aspect of that experience I would have chosen to repeat. That’s what happened, though, when I recently took a downtown office job: I plunged back into an absolutely sophomoric (pun intended) relationship with food.
I suppose I had just taken working at home for granted — little things like spending two seconds halfway through the morning to remove something from the freezer, or conducting a visual inventory of the crisper drawer and letting what I found there simmer in the back of my mind until it was time to simmer something for real.
But these days, working downtown like a normal person, I regularly find myself walking in the door with a half hour — maybe an hour — to deal with whatever crisis my 2-year-old is undergoing and then get our family’s dinner on the table.
For the first month, our most frequent solution was frozen pizza. “Whoa, college,” my husband and I would say to each other as we used our fancy kitchen shears — meant to disassemble poultry — to cut the cheesy circles.
“Dude,” I’d say ironically. “Dude!” he’d answer. But it wasn’t that funny.
Then, one fateful day, he called me from the big-box store to inquire about what additional plastic junk was needed to raise our child. “Buy the cheapest rice cooker with a steamer basket they’ve got,” I instructed. “Something’s got to change.”
Something did, and my second month of working downtown was a month of brown rice and steamed vegetables. It turned out we did have the wherewithal to keep “clean convenience” foods like bags of baby carrots, prewashed spinach and presnipped string beans in the house. And, at first, these seemed like successful dinners.
“Now we’re in college, but we’re hippies,” we noted, remarking that our fancy stainless-steel stove was gathering dust while we were vegans living out of a $15 rice cooker. “Dude, get the Grateful Dead tape.” “No, dude, you get it!”
Then my husband came into the kitchen one night, post-baby-bedtime, to find me eating lychees straight from the can. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m starving,” I said. “Yeah, me, too,” he confessed, and we had to face the fact that the brown-rice and steamed-veggie diet left us craving more.
So how can busy families like ours balance a desire to eat healthy, delicious and satisfying meals with the massive time constraints modern life imposes on them? It turns out Ellie Krieger has made a career out of answering just that question, with a show on the Food Network called Healthy Appetite and a series of books, the latest of which is titled The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life (Taunton Press, 2008).
I’m always skeptical of mass-appeal “healthy” cookbooks — I’ve seen too many based on what I can only politely call fibs (like the idea that you can make delicious eggplant parmesan using just eggplant, a few bursts of aerosol-can olive-oil spray, a jar of sauce and some fake chemistry-lab cheese; or that any adult in her right mind is going to spend an hour putting together soup and then eat a mere half cup of it). But when I randomly opened Krieger’s book to the recipe Lamb Stew With Orange and saw that she was cooking with real ingredients like orange zest and recommending a portion size of 2 cups, I realized I might have found someone who actually lived life in the real world.
It turns out that Krieger, in fact, has a young daughter and is a working mom juggling a busy career and family life. She does it, however, with a background as a trained dietitian, which helped her in The Food You Crave to remake foods people actually want to eat, like artichoke dip, weekend-brunch French toast, jambalaya, ketchup-lidded meatloaf and banana cream pie.
I love her Jerk Chicken With Cool Pineapple Salsa [reprinted below] because it has all the flavor of a Caribbean restaurant splurge, but it’s as healthy as a day at the spa. The book is also full of super-quick ideas for weeknight suppers, like how to use whole-grain tortillas as the basis for a veggie-and-goat-cheese pizza.
Now that we have Krieger’s book at home, only one question remains: Can my husband and I graduate from our college-food purgatory and return to our adult tastes? If this book doesn’t do it, I don’t think anything will.
Makes 12 servings (24 deviled eggs)
- 1 dozen large eggs
- 2/3 cup silken tofu, drained
- 1 tbs. mayonnaise
- 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 tsp. prepared horseradish
- 2 tbs. chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 tsp. paprika
Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for nine minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and run under cold water for about one minute, until cool enough to touch. Peel the eggs under cold running water. Pat them dry. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop out the yolks and discard six of them. Set aside the whites. Place the remaining yolks in a medium bowl and mash with the tofu, mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, horseradish and chives. Season with salt and pepper. (You can prepare the filling and store it separately from the egg whites in the refrigerator in airtight containers for up to two days. Spoon the yolk mixture into the corner of a plastic bag and snip off the end. Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with paprika and chives. You can hold the stuffed eggs in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Good source of: iodine, protein, riboflavin, selenium Recipe excerpted from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger (Taunton Press, 2008).
Summer Corn and Vegetable Soup
Makes six servings
- 4 cups fresh corn kernels or two 10-ounce packages frozen corn, thawed
- 2 cups nonfat milk
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 small zucchini (about 1/2 pound), diced
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Put 2 cups of the corn and the milk into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and zucchini, and cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender, about five minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups corn and the broth and bring to a boil. Add the puréed corn and the tomatoes, and cook until warmed through but not boiling. Add the salt and season with pepper. Serve garnished with the basil ribbons.
Excellent source of: manganese, vitamin A, vitamin K
Good source of: calcium, fiber, molybdenum, potassium, vitamin B6
Recipe excerpted from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger (Taunton Press, 2008).
Jerk Chicken With Cool Pineapple Salsa
Serves four For the salsa
- 1 tbs. honey
- 1 tbs. fresh lime juice
- 1 cup finely diced pineapple, preferably fresh
- 1⁄3 cup seeded and finely diced English cucumber
- 1 tbs. chopped fresh mint
For the chicken
- 4 tsp. olive oil
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 11⁄4 pounds), pounded between two sheets of wax paper to 1⁄2-inch thickness
- 1 cup chopped scallions (both white and green parts; about six scallions)
- 1⁄2 Scotch bonnet or habañero pepper, seeded and finely minced (wear gloves when handling)
- 1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
- 1 tsp. peeled and grated fresh (or 1⁄4 tsp. ground) ginger
- 1 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. fresh (or 1⁄2 tsp. dried) thyme leaves
- 1⁄2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tbs. fresh lime juice
To make the salsa, in a small bowl, whisk together the honey and lime juice. Combine the pineapple, cucumber and mint in a medium bowl, pour the dressing on it, and toss to combine. This can be made up to a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. To make the chicken, heat 2 tsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook until browned and just cooked through, about four minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Add the remaining 2 tsp. oil to the pan. Stir in the scallions, pepper, garlic, ginger, allspice and thyme, and cook for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the broth and soy sauce, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about three minutes. Stir in the lime juice. Return the chicken to the pan and coat well with the sauce. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce and the pineapple salsa. Excellent source of: manganese, niacin, phosphorus, protein, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K Good source of: iron, magnesium, pantothenic acid, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B12, zinc Recipe excerpted from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger (Taunton Press, 2008).
Chickpea and Spinach Salad With Cumin Dressing
Makes four servings
- 1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tbs. plain nonfat yogurt
- 1 tbs. orange juice
- 1/4 tsp. finely grated orange zest
- 1/4 tsp. honey
- 2 ounces baby spinach leaves (about 2 cups lightly packed)
- 1 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh mint
In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, parsley and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice and zest, cumin, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the chickpea mixture and toss to coat evenly. In another bowl, stir together the yogurt, orange juice and zest, and honey. Serve the chickpea salad over a bed of spinach leaves. Top with the yogurt sauce and garnish with the mint. Excellent source of: fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K Good source of: iron, protein, vitamin A Recipe excerpted from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger (Taunton Press, 2008).