A Boredom-Busting Meal for Mid-Winter

Easy, Fun, a Little Fancy + Vegetarian and Gluten Free

So you’re bored–with restaurant food (see previous post) as well as your weekly rotation of 5 standard meals.  If you can saute and deglaze, two simple Cooking Basics we learn about in Whole Kitchen classes, you can break out of that rut in a heartbeat.  Begin by thinking outside the meat-starch-vegetable triangle, as in this meal that lifted me out of my cold-weather blues:

  • Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears
  • Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre
  • Spicy Mushroom and Walnut Saute
Spinach in Salad Spinner

As a cold-weather crop, spinach is reasonably-priced and sweet-tasting now. A salad spinner is perfect for washing out all the dirt that collect in spinach.

Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears and Mushrooms

As the star of the meal, this dish requires the most time.  So start by preparing all its pieces, but hold off on the last step until everything else is ready to go.  Also, take the cheese from the refrigerator now so it can warm to room temperature.

Step 1–Prep Spinach

  • 1 bunch spinach

Cut into 1-2″ squares, wash and spin very dry.

Step 2–Prep Celeriac

  • 1 med. celeriac, shredded on box grater
  • 1-2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Combine celeriac and lemon juice in a small bowl and toss to coat, then toss with spinach.

Step 3–Saute Onion and Pear

  • 1 med. to lrg. red onion, sliced 1/4″ thick, then cut into 2″ lengths
  • 1 large Bosc pear, diced to 1/2″
Cleriac with Utiity Knife

While a tough-looking character, celeriac is also a long-storage vegetable that can be eaten raw for nice, wintertime crunch. Remove the skin by cutting away with a paring or utility knife.

  • For meat eaters:  1/4 lb turkey bacon, diced into 1/2″ pieces
    • 2-3 lrg. galic cloves, minced

Saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil for 3-5 minutes, add pear and saute another 5-7 more minutes until everything is browned.  (If using bacon, add and saute 2-3 more minutes to cook through.)  Push everything to sides of pan, add a little oil to center of pan and saute garlic just 1-2 minutes.  Turn off heat and stir everything together.

Step 4–Deglaze Pan

  • 1/4 cup vegetable, mushroom or chicken broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbsp. good-quality olive oil or toasted walnut oil, as desired

Deglaze pan with broth, then add vinegar and oil and stir to mix thoroughly.  Reserve until serving time.

Step 5–Dress and Toss Salad

At serving time, if vegetables have cooled, re-warm just 1-2 minutes, then toss with spinach mixture along with:

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice, to taste

Spicy  Mushroom and Walnut Saute

Bosc Pears

Bosc pears, a winter storage fruit, are best when there is no longer a green hue to their skin and they "give" slightly when pressed gently from the sides. Buy several and store in a paper bag so you always have some of these sweet gems for winter cooking.

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter.   So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you’re a chili lover.

  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced about 1/8 to 1/4″ thick
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Saute mushrooms in a large saute pan for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned but not shriveled.

  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. chili flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup walnut pieces

Push mushrooms to sides of pan, pour about 1 tsp. olive oil into center of pan and warm slightly.  Add chili flakes and cook about 30 seconds.  Immediately stir in walnuts and continue cooking about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nuts begin to brown and smell toasty.  Stir mushrooms and walnuts together, turn heat to lowest setting and keep warm until ready to serve.

Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre

This idea came via a comment on last month’s parsley article, where Jill Swenson shared another great use for parsley:  her favorite creamed cheese and parsley sandwich.  Since I can’t eat cow milk products, I substituted sheep milk chevre (from Sunny Breeze, a family farm in Craig, Colorado, sold at Vitamin Cottage).  Goat milk chevre would also work.  Because of their bold flavor,  very little is needed.

  • 2-3 oz. sheep or goat chevre or creamed cheese (warmed to room temperature)
  • 1-2 tsp. stoneground mustard
  • 1-2 Tbsp. plain soy milk
  • 2-4 Tbsp. chopped fresh, flat-leafed parsley
Mushrooms and Chili Flakes

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter. So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you're a chili lover.

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine cheese and mustard in a small mixing bowl and mash and blend with a large fork to combine, adding soy milk as needed to make a spreadable mixture.  (It helps if the cheese can be left at room temperature for an hour or so.)   Stir in parsley and add salt and pepper or more mustard and/or parsley, to taste.

  • 4-6 slices whole grain bread, toasted and cut in quarters

Serve bowl of spread on a tray, surrounded by toasts and small bowls of additional parsley and mustard to use as desired.

Read more about Superfood Parsley and check out the easy recipe for Parsley Pesto.

Learn how to quickly and easily make meals like this.  Learn basic cooking techniques like saute and deglaze, and also how to use new and different ingredients like chevre and bosc pears.  There’s all this and more in Whole Kitchen cooking classes.  New classes are starting soon.

Gluten-Free Bread

Since white bread products have little nutritional value, be sure to use a 100% (or at least partially) whole grain bread. We used gluten-free Vegan Oat Bread from Colorado Springs- based Outside the Breadbox, found at Vitamin Cottage. Note how they are cut in triangles for a little flair.

Eating Out: Not All That Great?

Going out to eat.  It’s supposed to be so great.  That’s what all the ads sing, over pictures of sizzling steaks, creamy pasta, or tomatoes raining gaily down on cheese smothered nachos.

Typical Restaurant Meal of Cheesy Beef Nachos

They look good, but are you bored with the taste of monotone restaurant foods?

So why comments like those I heard last week from some new clients, parents of a 1-year old:  “We eat out way too much,” they both agreed.  What’s going on here?  According to popular culture, we should never tire of eating out.  It’s the epitome of good living!

  • “It’s boring,” said the husband.  Not surprising.  Most restaurants are now chains that can only profit by moving mass volumes of food.  The only way to move masses of food, in turn, is by keeping flavors within a narrow mid-range, so they appeal to masses of people.  So eat at chains long enough and your taste buds will surely get bored.
  • “It’s expensive,” said the wife.  You bet it is.  Nobody cooks food for free.  And when eating in huge chains, you’re paying not just cooks, hostesses, busboys and dishwashers but a lot of corporate upkeep, from marketing to CEO salaries to stockholder communications.
  • Finally, the wife-mother concluded,  “I feel better when I eat at home–and I think that it’s better for my nursing son, too.”  Again, not surprising.  It’s tough to profit off of vegetables (all that labor for chopping and cooking!), whole grains (not produced in quantities that allow for cut rate prices), and moderate portions of clean meat  (where’s my supersized portion?)   Besides, who would actually eat that stuff, and who knows how to cook it and make it taste good without lots of cheese, butter, salt and sugar?

As a child, I remember eating out as an enormous treat, i.e., a special something we got to do on special occasions.  But my mom was always prepared and capable of feeding her family without the helping hand of a restaurant.

In the brave new world occupied by these new parents, however, eating out is no longer an occasional, enjoyable option, but an inescapable trap.  Trapped is what happens when we and our kitchens aren’t set up for manageable meal-making.  We’re left completely vulnerable.  At that point, time pressures, lack of confidence, uncertainty and chaos are all free to gang up and leave us without any option but eating out.

Do you have options?  Are you as bored at home as at the neighborhood chains?  Can you efficiently produce meals that meet your healthy eating ideals?  Can you feed your children the way you want?  There’s help!

  1. Check out the easy mid-winter, boredom busting meal in the next post
  2. Come to a Whole Kitchen cooking series, which is all about acquiring skills to make satisfying meals day in and day out
  3. Call Mary Collette for some one-on-on kitchen coaching
  4. Tell your company or organization to contact Mary Collette for a good eating workshop; reduce health care costs and make employees happy at the same time

More on How “Food Is Good for You”

Food Is Good For You BannerRemember last month’s article, “Food Is Good for You?”   We’re always surprised to hear about the nutritional marvels of, e.g., blueberries or grass-fed beef, or tofu or squash.  But honestly have you ever heard of a real food that doesn’t contain vital nutrients?  This is exactly the takeaway you get from a blurb in the Denver Post listing several popular foods and their popular nutrients:

  • Salmon, tilapia and tofu:  Omega 3
  • Milk, cheese, broccoli:     Calcium
  • Bananas, shellfish, cucumbers:     Potassium
  • Red meat, citrus fruits, apples:     Magnesium
  • Eggs:    Vitamin D
  • Yogurt, Scallops:  Vitamin B-12
  • Spinach, liver, grapefruit:    Folic Acid
  • Cinnamon, pecans, cranberries:    Antioxidants

Amazed at what you can get from plain old, unsexy food?  Turns out even cucumbers are a good nutrient source, even though they seem like nothing more than water in a green skin!  No doubt this is why many doctors and nutritionists  are recommending that we get our nutrients from foods.  In fact, the Post’s blurb was titled  “Why Bother With a Pill?”    Indeed.

“Good Eating.  It’s Easier Than You Think.”

Come discover how to make luscious meals from real, whole, nutritious foods–a treat for taste buds as well as your body.  Check out the next Whole Kitchen cooking classes.


“Why bother With a Pill?” FitFinds, The Denver Post, February 1, 2010, p. 2C

Feeding Kids? What Parents Might Be Missing

True or False: It’s really important to feed our kids nutritious foods.

Of course every parent agrees on the importance of feeding our kids well–at least on an intellectual level.  It’s putting principle into practice that’s so disagreeable.  Consider this scenario:  It’s late, you’re driving home from soccer (or basketball, piano, day care, or wherever) and Ronald McDonald beckons with fun and social acceptance for the kids and convenience and respite for the parents.

Our food culture couldn’t make it harder to choose dietary virtue over things like fast foods, take out pizza, frozen meals and boxes of mac ‘n cheese.  They’re cheap, easy and everywhere, everybody feeds their kids this stuff; and hey, kids are little and don’t have to worry about their health like we adults, right?

Clearly, withstanding the toxic influences of our food culture takes conviction and commitment from a level far deeper and stronger than mere intellect.  I was “lucky,” you might say, because my children had food allergies.  Succumbing to the siren call of our toxic food culture quickly lead to sick, grumpy, miserable children, while sticking with wholesome, real foods translated directly into healthy, happy, delightful children.  Not surprisingly, I quickly acquired a deep-rooted, unshakable commitment to a natural, whole foods diet.

The food-health connection is this real for all kids, the only difference being one of timing.  Will the ill effects of poor diet show up in an hour, a couple days, or only after a month or a year?

It is indisputable fact that growing children cannot be deprived of vital nutrients without negative consequences.  Parents, as the adults in a family, are charged with knowing this simple fact and then having the foresight and discipline to  do the right dietary thing, even if immediate gratification must take a back seat to long-term benefits.

Many parents might be missing the unshakable good-eating commitment that will gird you for the fight against Ronald’s goofy grin.  Need help developing it?  Here’s an easy tip:  Talk with your kids! Food conversations are perfect teachable moments.  I continually shared nutritional studies and information with my kids.  They appreciated being treated as adults and soon became allies in our good eating adventure.  Here are a few interesting gems to begin some conversations with your kids:

  • For those who think heart disease is just an old people’s problem:  In a recent study, children who consumed fruits and vegetables once a day were found to have healthier arteries as young adults than those who reported eating fruits and vegetables less than twice a month.*   In another study, children with weight issues as young as nine were found to have hardening in the arteries.
  • Meanwhile, those training the next generation of soldiers responsible for securing our nation have noticed two disturbing trends:  In 2010, 62% of recruits had significant enough dental problems that they couldn’t be deployed without having substantial work done.  While a decline in access to dental care was one contributing factor, Gen. Mark Hertling, director of Army training, largely blames soda and junk food.  Army studies show that 85% of recruits eat fast food regularly.
  • Fast food is also responsible for unusual health issue:  Hip injuries and fractures spiked among recruits–and not because recruits are asked to carry heavier packs, but because of an alarming problem with bone density, yet another effect of long-term bad nutrition.**

Do these statistics sound a lot like those of a country suffering from mass malnutrition?  You’re right!  Our proud country, the wealthiest in history, is also the biggest (and probably only) site of widespread, voluntary malnutrition.  As parents, we can make a difference.  Share this information with your children–then stick to your guns.  Remember, it is not just our children’s future at stake.  Who is going to care for us, keep our businesses going and run the government when we retire? 

Next month:  Turning the food conversation positive.

Need some support making good meals fast?  Wonder what “healthy eating” looks like?  Want to get on the same page with your child and work together to prepare and enjoy delightfully nutritious meals?  Check out these two great sessions coming up:

Kids Can Cook

  • 4 Wednesday Afternoons: February 16 to March 9
  • 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Erie Community Center
  • Fee:  Erie Residents $89.00/Non-Residents $111.00
  • Register: Online or at ECC Guest Service Desk (Class #7551.102)
  • Questions: 303.443.0353
  • More Info:  EveryDayGoodEating.com

30-Minute Meals Series

  • 5 Tuesday Mornings: February 22 to March 22
  • 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • Erie Community Center
  • Fee:  Erie Residents $95.00/Non-Residents $119.00
  • Register: Online or at ECC Guest Service Desk (Class #7529.102)
  • Questions: 303.443.0353 EveryDayGoodEating.com
  • Onsite Childcare Available for Parents


* “Predicting Heart Health in Children,” Ron Winslow, The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2010 p. D4.

** “Michelle Obama Sees Military as Fitness Model,” Mimi Hall, USA Today, Chase Edition, January 28, 2011

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