Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall food: tortellini soup

This is the time of year when I've been known to fly into a rage at the mailbox. Why? Because my food magazines start arriving, chock full of gorgeous, fall-inspired stews, soups, and hearty dishes meant to nourish the belly and the soul on those crisp fall nights when you can't quite shake off the chill. And there I am, dripping sweat from walking to said mailbox in the 100+ degree temps, unable to fathom sitting down to a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup any time soon.

Well this year, I'm going to take on a new attitude and pretend that it's fall, despite what the thermostat says. I'm even feeling grateful for my hot, but mostly harmless weather in light of all of my east coast friends who have been inundated with rain, floods, and other unpleasant weather events over the last few weeks.

Interestingly enough, the recipe I found most exciting in my newest Food Network magazine was part of an ad by Sam's Club. Not only did it look tasty and family-friendly, but I noticed that I already had most of the ingredients on hand; the ones I was lacking were easily substituted or omitted. I whipped it up this afternoon while the girls were eating lunch, and having already tested out a bowl, I can vouch for it being yummy as well as simple and quick to make. And if it were raining outside, or I was looking at colored leaves instead of a cactus, it would probably make me feel warm, fuzzy, and fall-ish too.

Tortellini soup (adapted from Sam's Club ad in Food Network magazine)

1 lb ground beef
3 tbsp Italian Seasoning (I didn't have any Italian Seasoning on hand, so I used some Mrs. Dash (spicy), and some oregano)
1 tbsp paprika (I used smoked paprika because I love it)
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes)
1 can corn, drained (I omitted this because I'm not a huge fan of corn in soups)
2 cans (14 oz each) chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp garlic, minced
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup carrots, sliced
Several handfuls of tortellini or pasta of choice (I wanted to use tortellini, but was too lazy to go to the store, so I just used elbow noodles. Tasted great, but not as pretty as the tortellini would've been)
1 cup Italian blend cheese, or parmesan, for topping (optional)


In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and onions, stirring in the seasoning, paprika, and a few hearty dashes of salt and pepper. Once the beef is almost fully cooked, drain the mixture and transfer to a large pot.

In the pot, combine the beef mixture with the tomatoes, corn, chicken broth, water, garlic, spinach and carrots. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and boil until pasta is cooked. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and seasonings until you're satisfied with the flavor.

Top each bowl with cheese, if you so desire. And, as always, I recommend serving with a nice big chunk of crusty bread.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to eat spinach like Popeye without really trying

A long time ago, I posted about my unfortunate waste of a package of organic baby spinach. Since then, I've put in a concerted effort not to repeat my mistake. The result has been kind of surprising: I find it's pretty easy to get through a pack of spinach in a matter of days. And here's the kicker - I don't even like spinach that much!

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to learn to eat veggies and other healthy foods in ways that were truly nose-holding or grimacing; no bribing myself (or my kids) with treats as a reward for choking down some stinky vegetable in the name of a well-balanced diet. In this vein, I have sought out ways to genuinely like eating spinach, and I can proudly say that my relationship with this nutrient-dense little leaf has reached new heights. I no longer buy a package of spinach because I feel obligated, but because I've found so many yummy and easy ways to incorporate it into my diet. Here they are:

1) Pile it (I mean REALLY pile it) on a sandwich.

I got this idea when I ordered a turkey avocado sandwich from my gym's cafe. It was served on ciabatta bread, and simply heaped with spinach. At first I thought it was too much. But then I took a bite...and I hardly even noticed it was there. In fact, it really added to the sandwich - gave it a little crunchy texture and some moisture, since spinach is so water-dense. From now on when I make a turkey sandwich, I don't just slap a sad little lettuce leaf on there; I go crazy with the spinach. It's like having a sandwich and salad all in one.

Another little tip: If you are like me and looooove a good crusty bread, but are trying to avoid white bread and the carb overload that comes along with it, ciabatta rolls are a good choice. They're light and airy, not super heavy. And what I usually do is slice it in half, then pull out chunks from the inside of each half so it's mostly just the outer crust that's left. Then I broil it in the oven for a few minutes to give it some added crunch. It's all the pleasure of crusty bread without all the calories.

2) Throw it in a smoothie.

Spinach has become a regular ingredient in my smoothies, both for myself and for my girls. If you make a dark smoothie and can't actually see the spinach, you'll never guess it's in there. I promise. I know a lot of people will be skeptical about this, but it's true. Here's one of my favorite concoctions: blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate juice, spinach, banana, yogurt, and enough ice to make it cold (if you're not using frozen fruit). It's a perfect way to get your veggies, fruits and protein all in one.

3) Saute with garlic and serve with ravioli or tortellini.

I've never really been into sautéed spinach as a side dish. Just picking up a forkful of spinach and eating it doesn't appeal to me (although I'm hoping some day it will). However, picking up a forkful that contains spinach and some yummy pasta is super appealing. Ever since I've discovered this, I no longer feel like I need to eat a salad alongside my pasta. Instead I do this: heat some olive oil and chopped garlic in a pan on medium-low. Add a lot of spinach (you'll be amazed how small it gets when it wilts) and slowly stir until it starts to wilt. Add a few dashes of lemon juice and some white wine (if you prefer). Season with salt. Serve underneath a few raviolis or some tortellini. Now you can turn your bag of Costco ravioli (we all have one, right?) into a well-rounded, semi-homemade dinner.

4) Chop up and add to soups, sauces, and eggs.

As I mentioned above, what seems like lot of spinach turns into a teeny tiny bit of spinach when it's cooked. And I find the taste of it to be fairly innocuous when paired with something else. I love stirring some into scrambled eggs, especially when you add some smoked salmon. I also throw it into jarred pasta sauce when I'm heating it on the stove. Pre-made soups are another great chance to add some spinach in your life.

Here's to no more spinach in the garbage!