My love affair with food began with a bowl of sweetened whipped cream. Early in my babyhood, my grammy discovered that a few spoonfuls would instantly quiet my fussing— until she stopped feeding me, at which point the tears would flow anew. As soon as I was old enough to hold a mixer, she taught me how to whip cream into soft peaks. From there, I graduated to layering it atop homemade shortcake, and finally to folding it gently into the most perfect, airy chocolate mousse. On the other side of the family, my grandma was busy showing me how to prod and poke at bowls of billowy, yeasty dough to determine the moment when it was ready to be shaped into the most ethereal homemade cinnamon rolls. By the time I headed to college, I was a seasoned baker with a deep love of breakfast goodies and desserts.
While my baking skills made me highly sought after in college study groups, once I graduated and began living on my own, I quickly discovered that a diet of scones and snicker-doodles was not as sustainable as I wished. In an effort to “eat healthy” (and to lose a few of the cookie pounds that had settled around my middle), I turned to what I assumed were the pillars of a balanced diet: plain chicken breasts, salads with the dressing ordered on the side, and as little fat as possible. Instead of being a part of the meal that I celebrated, dessert became something I avoided. I lost weight, but I wasn’t happy. When a friend commented that I was too thin, I knew something had to change.I took a hard, honest look at my post- graduate pantry, fridge, and freezer and didn’t like what I saw. It was essentially a bizarre col-lection of premade diet meals and grocery- store discount- bin items. I had single- serving microwave lunches, brightly branded card-board boxes ﬂashing promises of “health,” and cans of this- and- that I’d bought on clearance then haphazardly tossed into my cart without any tangible idea of what I’d do with them. Healthy pantry staples and fresh, and even fro-zen, produce were noticeably absent.I knew I could do better. I slowly taught myself to ignore the “lessons” I’d learned from magazines and slogans printed on shiny wrap-pers about which foods were “good” and which were “bad.” I stopped purchasing premade lunches and instant oatmeal packets and ﬁlled my pantry with basics like brown rice, beans, and spices. I visited farmers markets, checked out cookbooks from the library, and called Grandma and Grammy to ask for their recipes. I realized that in my frenzy to cut the fat, I missed the foods of my childhood, the special recipes that had led me to fall in love with food in the ﬁrst place.
These days I’ve found the happy in- between. Instead of focusing on calories and fat, I’ve learned to build my meals around a collection of trusted, wholesome ingredients that leave me feeling nourished, inside and out. Rather than avoid my childhood favorites, I’m wild about creating balanced versions of classic comfort foods that swap in more nutritious ingredients. From macaroni and cheese (page 000) to that original chocolate mousse (page 000), these modern makeovers taste every bit as satisfying and scrumptious as their originals and offer bonus servings of vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains.Years of long work hours, student loan pay-ments, and the constant effort of growing my blog have also taught me that maintaining a wholesome diet over the long- term requires more than a well- stocked pantry or even a stel-lar collection of recipes. Even in the best of sce-narios, there are nights (and weeks) when meal planning simply does not happen and the refrig-erator has more empty shelves than full ones.This book is for the easy weeks and for the hard ones, too. I know that families are busy, budgets are a reality, and kids often don’t want to eat their vegetables. That’s why, along with a crowd- pleasing collection of lightened- up fam-ily favorites like Buffalo Chicken Burgers (page 000) and a slam- dunk Caprese Chicken Skillet (page 000) that you’ll make again and again, I’ve ﬁlled this book with clever cooking resources, rapid- ﬁre meals, and ﬂexible techniques for when you have little to no time to cook at all. With busy- day features like 4 Unboring Ways to Use Shredded Chicken (page 000), 4 Things to Do with a Can of Chickpeas (page 000), and Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (5 Ways!) on page 000, you’ll be able to enjoy healthy meals on even the most hectic days.This is a book of nutritious food and use-ful tips for real life— no gimmicks, hard- to- ﬁnd ingredients, or Iron Chef– level kitchen skills required. I’ll never ask you to buy an ingredient you’ll use only once, spend hours fussing over a recipe, or trek across town looking for an obscure specialty item.If there is anything I’ve learned about maintaining a healthy diet over the long haul, it’s that in order to be sustainable, it needs to be practical. That’s why you’ll ﬁnd many ingredi-ents repeated and streamlined throughout the book. This is intentional, because I want you to always have what you need in your pantry and not spend money when it isn’t necessary. I’ve even put careful thought into the ingredi-ent amounts so that the recipes avoid awkward, partially- empty containers whenever possible (half- used can of beans, I’m looking at you).In addition to useful Pro Tips to help you cook the recipes with conﬁdence and success, I’ve also included ideas to adapt the recipes to different ingredients, called Market Swaps. You can master a single technique, then change it up to suit the season, personal preferences, or whatever leftover vegetables you have lurking in your refrigerator. Once you cook a recipe, I want you to enjoy the maximum reward for your efforts, especially the leftovers! I’ve given suggestions for storing and reheating leftovers, as well as complete spin- off recipes called Leftover Love that use them. All of these recipes are special to me because they are not only nourishing and delicious, but at one point or another, I enjoyed them with someone I loved. I hope the stories that I’ve included alongside the recipes will inspire you to invite others into your kitchen (or take your kitchen on the road, potluck style) to create a well- fed community of your own.My goal is to share the ways I’ve learned to cook faster, fresher meals that still feel special. I hope to take some of the mystery and stress away from healthy eating. Most of all, I hope to give you a big, juicy, double- napkin bite of the ﬂavors and ingredients that make this world such a deliciously captivating place to live.
THE FIVES: TIPS FOR BETTER COOKING AND HEALTHY LIVING
Volumes have been written about the best ways to better our eating habits, organize our kitchens, and enhance our culinary prowess. As much as I might like, I don’t have time to read them all, and I suspect you might not either. Instead of giving you an encyclopedia, here are a few short, simple ways to improve your cooking and add more nutritious foods to your diet.
5 Instant Ways to Be a Better Cook: Easy, Immediate Ways to Improve Your Cooking
1. Toast your nuts. Nuts are one of my favor-ite ingredients in both cooking and baking. They add texture, warmth, and complexity to almost any dish, but they are also some-what expensive and high in (good) fat. Make them count! Toasting nuts prior to adding them to a dish richly intensiﬁes their ﬂavor and enhances their crispness. Apply this technique to nuts used for salads, pestos, mufﬁns, and quick breads, or try sprinkling a handful over your breakfast cereal for a ﬁll-ing, tasty boost. The only time you shouldn’t toast nuts is if they will bake in the oven as part of a coating or a topping (such as on a fruit crisp), as the oven will do the toasting for you while the recipe bakes.
2. Shred your cheese directly from the block. Instead of buying preshredded cheese, spend an extra two minutes shredding your own. I promise it will be worth your time. The tex-ture and ﬂavor of freshly shredded cheese is noticeably superior, especially when melted. Preshredded cheese is often coated with an unappetizing starch- like substance to keep it from clumping, which in addition to being an unnecessary additive, keeps the cheese from reaching its full gooey potential. As a bonus, block cheese is usually less expensive than preshredded. To save even more time, you can shred entire blocks at once with the grater blade of a food processor, use what you need right away, then refrigerate the rest for use later on.
3. Taste as you go. It’s no fun to arrive at the end of a recipe and realize that you should have added more of X at step 2, or Y at step 3. Taste your food the entire time you cook it to ensure the dish is coming out as it should. (Provided it is safe of course! No sampling the raw chicken, please.) If you are just begin-ning to cook, this practice is harder because you might not yet know what a dish “should” taste like at any given moment, but perse-vere! Tasting along the way will help you learn how ﬂavors evolve and tune you in to your own preferences.
4. Read the recipe. All the way through. Before you begin cooking. This may be pain-fully obvious, but I must state it. Reading the recipe from start to ﬁnish before you begin will prepare you for steps that come in quick succession, alert you to portions that need to be completed in advance (some recipes require overnight resting, for example), and prevent mistakes like forgotten ingredients or missed steps.
5. Trust your instincts (and taste buds). Nowthat I’ve lectured you to carefully study your recipes, I’m going to remind you that you are still in charge of your meal, and you know your own kitchen and palate best. I’m unfa-miliar with the tricky spots in your oven, and the brand of ingredients you use may differ from mine in taste and performance. I can and do, however, provide clear guidance as to what your food should look and smell like along the way.Recipes are the map and you, the cook, are the driver. Don’t be afraid to do a U- turn— or to break the speed limit. Love cinnamon? Add an extra pinch to your Gingerbread Cookie Overnight Oats (page 000). Think those Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Brownies (page 000) smell done? Walk over to the oven and check on them, even if the buzzer hasn’t yet sounded. Trust yourself and your intu-ition, and your taste buds will reward you.
5 Healthy Swaps to Make Right Now: Improve Your Diet Without Adding a Minute to Your Prep Time or Altering the Menu
1. Use whole wheat pasta in place of regu-lar “white” pasta. Whole grains are higher in ﬁber and protein than their white counter-parts, so they will keep you full and happy for longer.
2. Swap in nonfat plain Greek yogurt for sour cream. High in protein, plain Greek yogurt offers the same tang and creamy mouthfeel as sour cream, without the added fat. Use the same amount of Greek yogurt in baking recipes that call for sour cream or spoon a big dollop over your favorite hearty soups, chilis, and Mexican- inspired dishes.
3. Trade in white rice for whole grain options.Instead of serving your stir- fry, soup, or curry with cooked white rice, try a whole grain option. Brown rice is the most direct exchange, but other options, such as farro and quinoa, can add another dimension of texture and a twist in ﬂavor to your meal. Be sure to take note of cooking times and instructions and plan ahead, as whole grains often take longer to cook than their white counterparts.
4. Replace vegetable oil with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana. Trading veg-etable oil for unsweetened applesauce is one of the oldest and best healthy- baking tricks. In almost any quick bread, cake, or mufﬁn recipe, you can swap half of the vegetable oil with the same amount of unsweetened apple-sauce with no noticeable difference in taste or texture. Mashed ripe banana is another excellent, though lesser- used option. Not only does it keep baked goods incredibly soft and tender, but when you make recipes with mashed banana, such as Chocolate Chip Coconut Banana Bread Pudding (page 000), you can add less sugar, since ripe bananas have a sweetness of their own. For a change of pace, try replacing half of the oil or even butter with the same amount of mashed ripe banana in your next quick bread or mufﬁn recipe. You will taste the banana, so be sure that it’s a recipe such as a chocolate mufﬁn or berry quick bread that will beneﬁt from the burst of fruity ﬂavor. Important note: While this swap works well for quick breads and oil- based cakes, it is not the best option for cookies and other rec-ipes where the butter and sugar are creamed together. In those recipes, the butter is also used for texture. Don’t worry— this book still has plenty of healthy dessert options for you!
5. Skip the meat (sometimes). Go meatlessfor dinner at least once a week. You’re likely to consume more fruits and vegetables and less saturated fats this way, plus eating less meat has been shown to be kinder to your body and to the environment too. When dishes are as tasty and ﬁlling as my Portobello Philly Melts (page 000) and Slow Cooker Golden Coconut Lentil Soup (page 000), no one will wonder where the meat went.
Copyright © 2020 by Erin Clarke. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.