I’m a firm believer in the notion that the holidays are definitely NOT the time to try to keep to a diet. Show me a person that’s genuinely jolly while simultaneously dieting during the holidays, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to convince me that it can be done without utter bitterness—but I’ll still have my suspicions. With all of the various yummy-yummies out there from cookies, to cakes, to chocolate treats, to roasts, to biscuits and all of the delectable accoutrements one could slide into one’s mouth, just the thought of trying to keep from partaking in the holiday food bliss seems like an endeavor comprised of sheer “white-knuckling”, and masochism. No thank you. Holidays are the time when I make inner peace with the idea that I will be adding a few extra pounds to my frame, and curving-up my curves just a little more; I resolve to be alright with the fact that there’ll be a bit more of my rump to squeeze into my jeans, resulting in my giving it the little nickname of “Christmas Cushion” to help me have more of a sense of humor about it, rather than despair or guilt—is that too much information? So to anyone out there that has gained a tad more than just pleasure by eating to their hearts content all of the goodies that this past holiday season has offered and is now ready to take things in a lighter direction, know that you’re not alone. Let’s lose those “Christmas Cushions” together, and lighten things up with some healthy, cozy and comfy food.
Now in full disclosure, I’m one of those people that genuinely finds pleasure in eating vegetables, whole grains and lean meats—I know, I know. However, that’s only true if they taste good, and leave me feeling satisfied and comforted. So the good news is that I’ve come up with some recipes that I’d like to share over the next several weeks that’ll put us all on a healthier track, without us feeling like we’re trying to eat “light” or “be healthy”. I love clean cuisine, and find that it can taste amazing while doing good things for the body; all it takes is a little creativity, and a lot of good choices when it comes to seasonings and flavors. One of my favorite sides to prepare for my family and my clients is quinoa, which is considered a whole grain prepared similarly to rice, but is actually a seed. Quinoa is wonderful because it’s nutrient rich—high in protein and amino acids—and is simple to prepare and a great alternative to rice or couscous. I love the classic “Chicken ‘n Rice” bowls, and thought that a really tasty and healthy twist on those would be to do a Chicken and Quinoa bowl with garlic sauteed veggies and pine nuts; simple, warm and comfy, not to mention filling and deliciously flavorful—yummy-ness in a bowl.
So here’s to starting out 2013 on the lighter side. The holidays gave each of us the permission to enjoy the food riches of the season with complete abandon, but with those holidays now over, it’s time for a fresh start; and time to bring in some leaner meats and bright veggies as both a filling and comforting side. I know that I certainly don’t want to suddenly feel deprived, and a few little yet smart changes can make a difference while still keeping our entire families well-fed, well into this new year. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking I’m ready to pack that “Christmas Cushion” of mine away into some closet somewhere until next year’s holiday season, at which point I’ll merrily pull it back out all over again. Until then…
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Chicken & Toasted Quinoa Bowls with Garlic-Sauteed Veggies and Pine Nuts
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(Serves about 4)
(This can be made one “bowl” at a time, by using a portion of the ingredients and making it to order; also, the individual ingredients can be prepped ahead of time and kept in the fridge, and when you’re ready to have the meal, the quinoa and chicken can be reheated, and the veggies sauteed very quickly.)
• Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
1 ½ cups quinoa (uncooked)
3 cups water
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cooked and diced into small pieces* (see note)
1 medium zucchini, diced finely into tiny cubes
2 ½ cups broccoli florets, chopped into tiny pieces and blanched** (see note)
2 cups dark leafy greens, chopped into bite-size pieces (I used “rainbow” swiss chard)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
• Black pepper
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, for garnish
4 lemon wedges, for garnish
(*To cook the chicken, I sliced the breasts in half length-wise to create 4 thinner cutlets; then, I seasoned them with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and garlic powder, and seared them in a hot pan with a touch of olive oil for about 2-3 minutes per side, and diced them.)
(**To blanch the chopped broccoli florets, add them into a small pot of boiling water for about 20-30 seconds, then drain them and shock in a bowl of ice water; drain them once again, and pat dry.)
-Prepare the quinoa by placing a non-stick, medium-size pot over medium high heat, and adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil; once the oil is hot, add in 1 clove of pressed garlic, and stir; once the garlic becomes fragrant, add in the quinoa and about 1 teaspoon of the salt, and stir to combine and coat the quinoa in the oil/garlic, toasting the quinoa for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently; next, add in the water, and stir together; bring the contents to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and simmer the quinoa until all water is absorbed, for about 20-22 minutes; once cooked, uncover and allow to sit for about 5 minutes, then gently fluff with a fork; set aside and keep warm.
-Re-heat the diced chicken, if necessary, and keep warm.
-To prepare the bowls, place a large, non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and once it becomes hot, add the diced zucchini in; leave the zucchini undisturbed for a moment in order to create a bit of a brown “sear” or caramelization on the bottom, for about 1-2 minutes; then stir the zucchini a little bit, and add in the chopped broccoli florets to the pan, folding them in to incorporate them into the zucchini; next, add in the 2 remaining cloves of pressed garlic, and stir; once the garlic is aromatic, add in the chopped leafy greens and the halved cherry tomatoes, and stir the mixture together to incorporate all the flavors; add a pinch or two of salt and pepper, as well as the chopped parsley and cilantro, and cook for about 30 seconds more; turn off the heat.
-To serve, spooning equal portions of the quinoa into bowls; spoon equal portions of the diced chicken into each bowl, as well as equal portions of the sauteed garlic veggies; garnish with about 1 tablespoon of toasted pine nuts, as well as a wedge of lemon to squeeze over top to brighten up the flavors.