Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Today was my first day back in the kitchen after a two-week accidental cooking hiatus. It wasn’t that I was purposely trying not to cook, just that I haven’t really been home. And I have to say, picking up my chef’s knife felt great.

One of the dishes I made was a long time coming. The inspiration of making a spinach and pesto salad stemmed from one I’d had at Protein Bar a few weeks back (Protein Bar is a fairly new fast food chain in Chicago and a brilliant concept at that). That dish came with quinoa, but I wanted to change it up a bit to incorporate a different whole grain I haven’t used before – wheat berries.

I started by cooking the wheat berries (which I got for about 65 cents from the bulk foods section at Whole Foods), then moved on to the pesto, which was a bit different from a traditional basil pesto. While it does include basil, I also added spinach and arugula to give it a light and super fresh taste, which went wonderfully with the slightly earthy taste of the wheat berries. When the wheat berries were done, I mixed in the pesto, a handful of baby spinach, quartered cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to round out the dish. You can also easily bulk this up into a main dish by adding chicken, which is exactly what I’m going to do for lunch tomorrow. :)

So, about those wheat berries: 1) They come in different varieties, but for this recipe look for hard red winter wheat berries if available; 2) A general ratio for cooking wheat berries is 1:3 (1 cup wheat berries to 3 cups water), but if there’s water leftover at the end simply drain the wheat berries through a strainer; 3) The cooked texture should be chewy but not too firm; 4) Wheat berries are a whole grain – you can read about why they’re good for you here.

Here’s the recipe. Give wheat berries a try and tell me what you think.

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Balsamic Egg, Revisited

One of my favorite quick-and-easy egg dishes – and in fact one of the few I like – is a balsamic fried egg. Usually I make it with mushrooms because I often have them around, but sometimes I like to change it up a bit, such as this delicious incarnation of asparagus, garlic and cherry tomatoes.

The concept is the same: saute the vegetables, fry the egg, combine everything in the pan and add a dash of good quality aged balsamic vinegar. Two minutes later and a healthy dinner (or breakfast) is served!

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White Beans, Spinach & Two Pounds of Buyer’s Remorse

White Beans & Spinach

White Beans & Spinach

What is it about Costco that can trick your mind into believing you need a 12 pound bag of anything? Do they change the oxygen levels in the store or something? I usually try to keep my purchases simple and only buy products I’ll either use quickly or actually have room to store, and if you saw my apartment you’d know it doesn’t leave room for much.

But why is it that I almost always leave Costco with something I don’t really need, and often don’t want? I think the biggest factor might be that I only go to Costco after a weekend workout because it’s convenient, and going hungry can definitely be a hindrance.

In this case the “accidental” purchase was a grape tomato bruschetta mix. Not exactly a coincidence as this particular sauce was one of the sample items served with grilled salmon. Being famished from the killer workout, I tried the sample and really enjoyed it, so much so that I bought it – a freakin’ two pound jar!

The second I got home I was struck with buyer’s remorse, for that and the case of juice, but that’s another story. What was I going to do with this? Surely, I wasn’t going to be buying baguettes every day and making crostini with the bruschetta topping. I needed to find another use for it.

The first thing I tried was to mix a little in with cooked quinoa. It was fine, but not something I was overly eager to try again. The next experiment was to add the mix to one of my favorite combinations: white beans and spinach!

I make this often with slight variations depending on what I have on hand: garlic and lemon juice, olive oil and halved cherry tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, bacon with any of the above combinations, and more.

In this case, I cooked down a half bag of baby spinach over low heat until wilted, added a can of rinsed and drained white beans, and then heated it with about 2 tablespoons of the bruschetta mix. It was really good!

Granted, I’m going to have to make this twice a week until September to use up the jar, but it was a deliciously healthy solution.

And when the jar is gone, I’ll continue to make the dish but with my own bruschetta mix. It’s actually quite easy: mix diced tomatoes with olive oil, chopped basil, and maybe a little minced garlic. Simple, clean and very healthy.

Here’s the recipe for White Beans and Spinach:

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Sour Cherry Trail Mix

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced lately has been finding healthy snacks. This is especially true when my daily 3:00 chocolate craving hits and there I am, trying to focus on work with the only options nearby a candy machine and tube of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies I hid in the office freezer. And sadly, neither presents a healthy choice to squash the craving.

Enter trail mix. I used to make this nut, dried fruit and chocolate mixture all the time, then sadly let it fade from memory.

It’s back now with a new twist: dried cherries! I found them during a recent outing to Costco, otherwise known as my excursion of random purchases, and thought the sour cherries would make a great substitution for my standard dried cranberries and work just as well with the almonds, peanuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

The dried cherries are delightful. They’re a little sour, a little sweet, and much larger and chewier than the cranberries and hold up better next to the whole almonds.

My work station is going to be such a happier place this week.

Here’s the recipe/ratio for this healthy, go-to snack:

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Pretending It’s Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

I’m over winter. Quite frankly, I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore.

Now I get that this is what happens when one chooses to live in the Midwest. And generally I can accept it. What I get sick of is the tease. Yes, Weather, I said it. You’re a tease and I don’t appreciate it. You give us two gorgeous days when I was able to leave the house in jeans and a sweater MINUS a coat and scarf, then it snows. Snow! And wind! Lots and lots of wind.

I’m over it. I just am.

So in protest I made a summer quinoa dish with avocado, tomatoes and black beans. It was delicious and even made me temporarily forget that my winter boots are still sitting by the front door because, you know, just in case… (we don’t like to jinx things here in Cubs land).

If you’re anything like me and aching for Spring to start in reality and not just on the calendar, then make this dish. It’s easy, is great as leftovers, and can be served cold or heated if you really need to ward off the winter’s chill.

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Here’s the recipe:

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