Cooking the Books

  • cooking the books 01

    So here we are in March, and I am surprised and delighted to say that my decision to cook more, eat better, and lose weight is still holding out. Did I still eat Wendy’s for lunch today? Yes, yes I did. However, I’m down 15 lbs. from the beginning of January. It’s slow progress, but it’s still progress!  

    To keep on top of my goal, I checked out SKINNYTASTE FAST AND SLOW. I love the very concept of this book, which is filled with slow cooker meals (for those days when you have a bit of time in the morning but a hectic afternoon) and quick-fix meals (for those days when everything is hectic). I’ve already planned to make at least three more recipes from this book.  

    If you’ve been following along for my series so far, you’ll know that I’m always on the hunt for simple, quick, and tasty recipes. This one fits the bill quite nicely; with only six ingredients, the prep work for this one is as fast as you can chop an onion and dismantle a head of cauliflower.  

    I’m not going to lie, when I got all the ingredients in the pot it looked like an insane amount of cauliflower. Looking down at the pot, I wondered if this was going to be one of those times that a recipe billed as “healthy” just ends up tasting like nothing.  


    This is an actual depiction of the cauliflower:liquid ratio.

    Happily, I was wrong. Everything comes together for a soup that gives the feeling of a cream soup without most of the calories that make cream soups so delicious. At 91 calories for a 1 ½ cup serving, you can pair this with a grilled cheese sandwich (which I did) and have dinner on the table 30 minutes from the time you started chopping vegetables, and if that’s not a win for a weeknight dinner I don’t know what is.  

    skinnytaste fast and slow

    Dad’s Cauliflower Soup
    by Gina Homolka




    1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    4 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    1 medium head cauliflower, chopped (about 20 ounces)
    ½ cup chopped onions
    ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    microgreens for garnish (optional)  


    In a medium nonstick pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until golden in color, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, cauliflower, and onions. Increase the heat to medium, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth (or in a stand blender, in two batches). Season with the salt. Serve hot. Ladle 1 ½ cups into each of 4 bowls and garnish* with microgreens, if desired.    

    *let’s get real here; I garnished with cheese. I'm losing weight, but ain't nobody got time to find microgreens.

  • cooking the books 01

    Growing up, there are some foods that I just assumed were gross. Foods I associated with bad cafeteria fare; you know the ones. Meatloaf. Chicken Fried Steak. And, of course, Sloppy Joes. 

    As an adult, I’ve come to realize that these foods are not inherently gross! In fact, ever since trying this recipe for Sloppy Joes, I’m convinced that there are tons of ways that Sloppy Joes can go right in such a way that I actually prefer them to their less messy hamburger cousins. 

    When I was restocking our Used Book Store this month, I was delighted to find that the adult department has been weeding our cookbook section, which means that the nonfiction section of our book store will be full of a variety of gently used cookbooks for the next month or two. The title PARENTS NEED TO EAT TOO (by Debbie Koenig) jumped out at me, as I’ve found myself in that terrible time of parenting a toddler that has me constantly saying things like, “Chips are not real food,” and “You have to eat something other than cheese!” After these endless conversation loops, I find myself with less and less motivation to cook something real for the adults in the house that will actually eat real food. Am I willing to pay $1 for a cookbook written by someone who gets me? Why yes, yes I am! 

    This book is divided into chapters that helpfully propose a variety of solutions to the lack of time/energy that new parents often face. There is a chapter on cooking with pantry staples, a chapter devoted to slow cookers, etc. This recipe comes from the chapter devoted to big batch cooking, an idea that you cook one recipe but make enough to stock your freezer with a few ready-made meals for those days when you just can’t even. 

    These Sloppy Joes were nice and tangy, and the chipotle pepper adds just the right amount of smoke and spice. I was initially worried that the sauce-to-meat ratio would be off (it just didn’t look like enough sauce!), but it turned out to be just enough to coat everything nicely without being TOO sloppy. We halved the recipe, and it still made enough for us to have a generous amount of leftovers. We’ll be making these again soon! 

    9.21.17 Parents need to eat

    Chipotle Sloppy Joes
    by Debbie Koenig





    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 onions, finely chopped
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
    2 celery ribs, finely chopped
    2 pounds extra-lean ground beef or lean ground turkey 

    ½ cup water
    ½ cup ketchup
    1 chipotle in adobo, minced (remove the seeds if you’d like less heat), plus 1 ½ tablespoons adobo sauce
    3 tablespoons tomato paste
    2 tablespoons brown sugar, or pure maple syrup
    3 tablespoons cider vinegar
    2 teaspoons paprika
    1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
    2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    Salt and pepper

    Hamburger buns, for serving 


    1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skilled over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the onions, garlic, pepper, and celery, and cook until softened, 5 to 8 minutes.
    2. Add the ground meat, raise heat to medium-high, and cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until it’s no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.
    3. Stir in the remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until flavors meld.
    4. Serve on hamburger buns 


    Koenig recommends mixing all your sauce ingredients together in a 2-cup measuring cup while your other elements are cooking. I second this recommendation. I do not necessarily recommend allowing a toddler to help you with said mixing, but we avoided major disaster and only forgot the chili powder.

  • cooking the books 01


    This week, I was going to cook something healthy for you. Something that featured kale, or maybe an ancient grain, or maybe that adhered to "the Nordic diet" which, according to my quick search for "healthy food trends" revealed that "Nordic is the new Mediterranean." That article claimed that "eating like a Viking" was linked to lower blood pressure and weight loss. Guys. Eat like a Viking? First we were supposed to go Paleo and eat like Cavemen; now it's Vikings. The day someone tells me to eat more like a Conquistador, I'm done. 

    Anyhow, I had plans to make a wholesome, healthy dinner. And then Allison wrote this post celebrating International Chocolate Day, and you know what happened? Chocolate won. In the battle between kale and chocolate, chocolate always wins. So I wandered to the 641.6374's, which is the ingredient-specific Dewey Decimal classification for books devoted to chocolate, and I picked up one of Allison's recommendations, CHOCOLATE NEVER FAILETH (actually, I picked up several of them, but since I didn't have zucchini or exotic flours the "healthy" chocolate goodies weren't really an option). 

    This book did not fail me, and neither did the chocolate. Every recipe features chocolate in a prominent way; there are easy recipes and complex recipes and even inedible recipes, which made me giggle. The instructions for chocolate-scented playdough contained warnings that you should tell kids that even though it LOOKS and SMELLS like chocolate, we shouldn't eat it. That just seems like a cruel joke!

    Since my toddler and I were spending some quality alone time together while my husband worked, I decided to look for something quick and easy. The Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies did not disappoint; they come together quickly, even with the "help" of a toddler. They're hearty enough that they can stand up to maybe a little bit less flour because said toddler dumped all your remaining flour on the floor, leaving you 1/4 cup shy of the required 1 1/4 cups. There's just a hint of cinnamon, which adds a welcome twist to a traditional chocolate cookie. They satisfied my craving for chocolate, and since they've got oatmeal they qualify as a breakfast food! Right? Right? 

    Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
    by Annette Lyon


    1 stick butter
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 egg
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 1/4 cups flour
    3 tbsp cocoa
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 1/4 cups oats
    1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


    1. Preheat oven to 350.

    2. Cream the butter and the brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. 

    3. Add the flour, chocoa, baking power, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix well. 

    4. Add the oats until completely moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips. 

    5. Drop onto a cookie sheet by spoonfuls and bake for 9-11 minutes. The cookies will still be very soft. Let them finish baking on the cookie sheet for an additional 10 minutes before letting them cool completely on wire racks. 

    Makes about 1 1/2 dozen (unless your toddler keeps snatching spoonfuls of dough. Then it will make five.) 


  • cooking the books 01

    I promise that I cook my family more than meatloaf. Really, I do. In the small handful of recipes I’ve shared with you here from library cookbooks, it seems like meatloaf is really over-represented. I solemnly swear that the next recipe I share will not be meatloaf. 

    Right now, I am very pregnant. I’m the kind of pregnant where just standing up for more than 5 minutes makes me tired and winded. The kind of pregnant where people passing me in the hallway look at my belly and then give me sympathetic looks. With only a few weeks until my baby is due, you can bet that the meals that I’m cooking for my family are getting few and far between and are starting to consist of things I can mostly prepare sitting down. 

    That’s why the concept of a “dump meal” appealed to me; something simple that didn’t require constant tending and simmering and checking on things. Something I could mix, pop in the oven, and then leave alone while I took a short nap on the couch. 

    I chose this recipe because I already had most of the things on hand. I would put it in the solidly “okay” category. I probably needed to amp up the seasoning a little bit; I put in 2 lbs of ground beef instead of 1 ½ and though I tried to compensate by adding a little bit more of everything, I still wished for a little more flavor. 

    The plus side? These took approximately 5 minutes to mix, 3 minutes to put in the muffin tins, and 15 minutes to bake. They made enough that we’ll be eating leftovers for a few days, which means I don’t have to cook again, and at this point in my pregnancy that’s the kind of mealtime math I like. 

    12.21.17 Dump DinnersEasy Pizza-style Mini Meatloaf Cups
    from Dump Dinners
    by Julia Grady



    1 egg, beaten
    ½ cup pizza sauce plus extra for topping
    ¼ cup bread crumbs, Italian-seasoned
    1 teaspoon basil
    1 teaspoon oregano
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    1 ½ pounds ground beef
    1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded 


    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat muffin tins with cooking spray.
    2. In a bowl, mix together egg, pizza sauce, bread crumbs, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add ground beef and mix well.
    3. Divide mixture evenly into muffin tins. Press down in center of beef mixture to make indent in center. Fill center with shredded cheese.
    4. Bake for 15 minutes or until meat is cooked through. Serve topped with additional sauce and cheese. 

    Makes 12 servings.

  • cooking the books 01


    As I write this second post documenting my efforts to cook at least one recipe from every cookbook the Library owns, it strikes me how impossible this task may be. Ah, well. If I fail, I hope to fail deliciously. 

    In the last month I've hardly done any cooking, and I think it's due to a condundrum summed up so well in Seinfeld's "Nighttime Guy vs. Morning Guy" routine. When it comes to cooking, there are several different Erikas. 10 AM Erika thinks she can do anything; she has boundless energy, she's working in a mostly clean and organized office, and she comes up with ideas like, "Cook a recipe from every cookbook ever!". The problem is that 10 AM Erika has a tendency to make plans that 6:30 PM Erika can't possibly follow through on. 6:30 PM Erika is tired; 6:30 PM Erika goes home to a house ruled by an energetic toddler, and inbetween feeding him and stepping over various configurations of Lego, 6:30 PM Erika isn't remotely interested in cooking anything, let alone cooking something that might require her to julienne carrots or "stir constantly for 10 minutes or until thickened." 

    At first I thought that the slow cooker would be my answer, but 7 AM Erika is even less with-it than these other Erikas, and is working hard just to get to work on time because midnight Erika thought it would be a good idea to watch "just one more" episode of The Good Wife. So, finally realizing that I needed to try to different approach or resign myself to endless dinners of frozen pizza and mac and cheese, I wandered into the 641.555 section which contains nearly every book by Rachel Ray and an assortment of other "fast and easy" meal cookbooks. While browsing this section, THE THREE INGREDIENT COOKBOOK by Jenny White caught my eye, because in addition to cooking, guess what else 6:30 PM Erika hates? You got it: grocery shopping. Three ingredients seemed right up my lazy alley. 

    As I browsed the recipes, some of them seemed to be cheating a little bit (does it count as three ingredients if one of the ingredients is pancakes? Seems like a sneaky way to put in 7 additional ingredients to me...), and some of them called for fancy ingredients I don't typically stock in my pantry, but I did find several recipes that seemed fast, easy, yummy, and that used things I already had in my pantry. Bonus: this cookbook has a whole section on simple accompaniments to help you go beyond main-dish planning and round out your meal. 

    I finally decided to make Honey Mustard Chicken because it calls for things that I almost always have. If you're not the kind of person who always has a nice wholegrain or course ground mustard in your fridge, repent immediately and buy some; it's an easy way to pack a lot of flavor into a dish without a lot of effort. As I watched this dish cook I was a bit worried that it wouldn't be very flavorful because the honey mustard mixture kept slipping off the chicken, but I kept basting as the recipe suggests and was happy to discover that it was really flavorful. I served this with a simple pasta salad made with vegetables from my garden and some fresh mozzarella, and my husband and I were well-fed. The toddler ate the salad and kept saying he was eating "snakes", which was adorable and maybe just a bit terrifying. 

    honey mustard chicken

    Honey Mustard Chicken
    by Jenny Smith


    8 chicken thighs 
    4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
    4 tablespoons clear honey


    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the chicken thighs in a roasting pan in a single layer. 

    2. Mix together the mustard and honey, season with salt and ground black pepper to taste and brush the mixture all over the chicken thighs. 

    3. Cook for 25-30 minutes, brushing the chicken with the pan juices occasionally, until cooked through. (To check the chicken is cooked through, skewer it with a sharp knife; the juices should run clear.)

     *Chicken thighs have a rich flavor, but if you want to cut down on fat, use four chicken breast portions instead and cook for 20-25 minutes. 





  • cooking the books 01


    I will just begin this post by saying that I am probably crazy. Nevertheless, I've decided to embark on a new blogging adventure called "Cooking the Books," wherein I endeavor to cook at least one recipe from every cookbook the Library owns. A casual consulting of our catalog shows me that the library currently owns 1,735 cook books, which means that if I cook a new recipe once a week I will be finished in approximately 33 years (just in time to retire!). 

    I haven't done something ridiculous like giving myself an unattainable deadline—this isn't some Julie and Julia experiment (though if Amy Adams would like to play me in the slightly boring movie of my life, I'm all for it). You won't hear about all the recipes—because they won't all be winners—but every month I'll bring you an update on my progress working through our entire 641 collection. 

    Of course, I chose an incredibly busy week to start this experiment (because why not?), and so as a full time working mom my mind naturally turned to the slow cooker. Slow cookers can be amazing for those busy, busy days when you don't have a lot of time but still want a great dinner. Plus, during the summertime I'm often reluctant to turn on my oven because I live in a shoebox of a house and the oven heats it up ridiculously fast. 

    My first recipe comes from Taste of Home's THE NEW SLOW COOKER. If I'm being totally honest, this wasn't my favorite thing I've ever cooked, but it did fit the bill for a very busy day. The recipe came together in just under 15 minutes, which made it pretty easy to fit into my morning routine. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, and I did enjoy this Asian-inspired twist on a traditional pulled pork. I have an electric pressure/slow cooker that has a saute setting that made the sauce come together in about 5 minutes (instead of the 30-40 the recipe recommends). As a bonus, I smelled like seared pork the whole day. This made A LOT of food, and I think it actually tastes even better left over. No picture for this one, because pulled pork is notoriously difficult to photograph appealingly. 

    Teriyaki Pulled Pork Sandwiches 
    by Taste of Home


    1 boneless pork shoulder roast (3lbs), trimmed
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1 cup finely chopped onion
    1 cup teriyaki sauce, divided
    1/2 cup pineapple juice
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    8 whole-wheat hamburger buns
    1 can (20 oz) sliced pineapple, drained

    1. In a large skillet, brown roast in oil over medium-high heat. Cut in half; place in a 5-qt slow cooker. Add the onion, 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce and pineapple juice. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or until meat is tender. 

    2. Remove roast; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flour and remaining teriyaki sauce until smooth; stir into cooking juices. Cover and cook on high for 30-40 minutes or until thickened. 

    3. Shred meat with two forks; return to the slow cooker and heat through. Spoon 1/2 cup onto each bun; top with a slice of pineapple. 

    Yield: 8 servings
    (or, you know, 50, depending on how much you eat. My husband and I are going on 50). 

  • cooking the books 01


    In previous Cooking the Books posts, I’ve tackled all the big issues: no time. No ingredients. No self-control. No fat.  No motivation. The anticipation of no motivation. No beef. And just to continue that tradition of hard-hitting journalism that you’ve come to expect from this periodic series reviewing library cookbooks, I decided to tackle a subject I’ve never tackled before: 


    “Cute” is not a word I expect to use to describe a cookbook, but it’s what I found while browsing the children’s cookbook section for recipes I could have my son help me make. I decided on COOK ME A RHYME by Bryan Kozlowski, and I was not disappointed. 

    Each recipe in this cookbook is based on a nursery rhyme, even down to the steps in the recipe. For example, in the recipe for Sing a Song of Sixpence (Blackberry Sandwich Pies), you slice a banana into six round pieces as you “sing a song of sixpence”, and then roll out a slice of bread for the “pocketful of rye.” Or when making “Cockle Shell Pasta Salad,” you line the “pretty maids” (snap peas) up in a row around the bowl before chilling. I’m going to try to replicate this as I post the recipe, but just know it’s really adorable in the book. This book has full-color illustrations and easy-to-follow directions and its recipes would be perfect for a Mother Goose-themed party. It would also be great to use with a beginning reader, especially if they’re at all familiar with some of these rhymes. 

    We have a 6-month-old baby at our house, so we play a lot of “Pat-a-Cake Pat-a-Cake” every day. I decided to recruit my older son to help me make "Mark It With a “B” Breakfast Cake", hoping that the familiar rhyme would prove delightful to him and keep him from asking to watch TV. This only sort of worked, but it was a good effort.

    This recipe was incredibly easy; unfortunately, because I let my three-year-old have some input, we made things harder on ourselves. For example, because he was pretending to be a member of the Paw Patrol at the time, my little helper insisted that we cut the puff pastry into dog bone shapes and not the 8-inch circle the recipe indicates. In the end, we had a few circles, a few doggie bones, an actual dog shape, and a heart. All of these small shapes were harder to fill than a regular circle would have been, and it was harder to know if we’d gotten the right ratio of ingredients. They were also harder to seal and baked at different rates, so we ended up with a few underdone pastries and some spilled filling. 

    That said, this recipe was easy and yummy, and a bit of underdone pastry didn’t stop us from consuming them all. 

    A final note: there is a bit of a copyediting error with this recipe. Though the recipe instructions call for sugar, it’s not mentioned in the ingredients list. I ended up just adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time until the filling tasted good, so we ended up with about six cups of sugar. I jest! It was two tablespoons. You may adjust your own sugar level depending on the sugar content of your raspberry jam and your preference for sweet flavors. 

    cook me a rhymeMark It with a “B” Breakfast Cake
    by Bryan Kozlowski



    2 (17.3 ounce) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
    4 ounces cream cheese, softened
    2 tablespoons sugar*
    2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1/3 cup raspberry jam
    2 tablespoons water 


    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.


    1.  Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake...      

    Unfold the thawed puff pastry sheets on a cutting board and, one at a time, cut out an 8-inch circle from each sheet. Place one pastry round on a nonstick baking tray and set it aside. 


    2.  Baker's man...      

    To make the baked-in filling, mix the softened cream cheese and sugar in a bowl with a spoon or electric mixer until combined. Add 2 teaspoons of flour and mix it into the cream cheese. 


    3.  Bake me a cake, as fast as you can...      

    Spoon the cream cheese mixture onto the middle of the pastry round on the baking tray. Spread the cream cheese evenly with a butter knife, leaving about a 1-inch space around the edge of the pastry. Dot the raspberry jam onto the cream cheese and spread it evenly to the edge of the cream cheese. 


    4.  Pat it...      

    Place the second pastry round over the first, covering the jam and cream cheese. Pat and press the edge of the two pastry rounds together with your fingers to make a thing, tight seal around the crust. 


    5.  And prick it...      

    Using the tip of a small knife, poke about 20 tiny holes into the top of the cake. 


    6.  And mark it with a B...      

    Stir the water and 3 tablespoons of flour in a small bowl until a thick paste forms. Scoop the paste into a small plastic bag, cut a tiny hole in one corner of the bag, and squeeze the paste to form the letter "B" on the top of the cake. 


    7.  And put it in the oven for baby and me!                  Put the cake into the oven and bake until golden brown, about 17 to 20 minutes. Using oven mitts, remove the baking tray from the oven and let the cake cool for 30 minutes before sliving it "for baby and me." 


  • cooking the books 01

    If you’ve been following this series at all, you’ll be aware that in my last postI wrote about being very pregnant and not really wanting to cook. If I thought cooking was hard then, it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier since having the baby about a month ago. We were well taken care of for several weeks by kind friends and family, but eventually I knew that I would have to start cooking again, so I decided to turn to someone whose specialty is cooking for families: the Pioneer Woman. 

    I honestly haven’t followed the Pioneer Woman that much. I know she has a blog; I know she has a show; I know she has several cookbooks; I know she has a line of kitchenware. After checking out her cookbook, I see why she has all those things. Her cookbook is conversational and relatable, and filled with full color photos of hundreds of recipes that I want to try. This is a cookbook I’m going to put on hold as soon as I return it, because I didn’t get to try everything that I wanted to. THE PIONEER WOMAN COOKS: DINNERTIME offers a variety of yummy dinnertime solutions to make things work for a busy family.

    This recipe comes from the freezer section of the cookbook, and operates on the idea that you spend a few hours making meatballs and then have easy dinners ready for later. If you follow the instructions, you really will spend a few hours making meatballs, but it will be worth it! These are nice, subtle-flavored meatballs. We tried them with the Sweet and Sour Sauce (included below! Bonus recipe!), and we’ve also had them with the easy chili sauce/grape jelly gravy that you know from every potluck you’ve been to. Both were delicious!

    2.15 Pioneer Woman


    Ready-to-Go Freezer Meatballs
    by Ree Drummond



    5 pounds ground beef
    1 ½ cups plain breadcrumbs
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 teaspoon black pepper
    4 large eggs
    2 heaping tablespoons grainy mustard
    ½ cup whole milk
    ¼ cup heavy cream
    ¼ cup chopped parsley
    ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    Olive oil, for frying 


    1. Combine all the ingredients (except the olive oil) in a large bowl.
    2. Knead it all together well with your hands until it’s well combined.
    3. Scoop out 1-tablespoon portions of the meat mixture and roll them into neat balls.
    4. Place them on parchment-paper-lined rimmed baking sheets as you got, then put the sheets in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm them up before frying.
    5. To brown the meatballs, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add some meatballs to the skillet…
    6. And cook them on all sides until they have great color on the surface and are fully cooked inside, about 5 to 6 minutes.
    7. Drain the meatballs on paper towels when they’re done, then line them up on clean parchment-paper-lined baking sheets.
    8. Place them in the freezer, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until they’re frozen and firm on the surface.
    9. Then just pop them into 5 to 7 separate freezer bags (roughly 25 per bag)…
    10. And freeze them immediately. They’ll be there when you need them! 

    FREEZER INSTRUCTIONS: Freeze the meatballs for up to 6 months. To use them in sauces or soups, simply add them to the hot sauce or soup and allow it to simmer long enough for the meatballs to thaw and heat up. Or allow the meatballs to thaw in the fridge for 2 hours, then use them as you’d like. 

    BONUS: Sweet-and-sour Meatballs 


    2 ¼ cups pineapple juice
    ½ cup packed brown sugar
    ½ cup rice vinegar or white vinegar
    ¼ cup ketchup
    1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    One 25-count bag frozen Read-to-Go Freezer Meatballs
    1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce, more to taste
    1 cup drained canned or fresh pineapple chunks
    4 tablespoons sliced green onions
    1 ½ cups long-grain or basmati rice, cooked, for serving 


    1. In a large skillet (with a lid), combine 2 cups of the pineapple juice…
    2. With the brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, and soy sauce.
    3. Stir the mixture around and bring it to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
    4. To thicken the sauce, make a slurry by mixing the cornstarch with the remaining ¼ cup pineapple juice until smooth…
    5. Then add it to the sauce, whisking to combine.
    6. Add the frozen meatballs…
    7. Then the sriracha…
    8. And toss to combine. Cover the skillet and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are heated through.
    9. Stir in the pineapple…
    10. Then sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the green onions.
    11. Serve the meatballs and sauce over the rice and sprinkle on the rest of the green onions at the end! 
  • cooking the books 01


    It’s the middle of January—how are those resolutions coming? This is usually the point of the month that I forget all my well-intentioned healthy eating and exercise goals and sit down with a sleeve of Oreos, a mug of milk and a fork and tell myself that I am winning at life. 

    However, this year I’m doing better. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. I’m determined to lose the winter weight and stop snarfing McDonald’s cheeseburgers like I did when I was pregnant (it's been several years since I had a good excuse for craving those cheap but satisfying non-burger burgers). It’s hard not only because willpower is hard, but also because my time is limited. Eating healthfully means planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and I only really like to do one of those things. Enter Slow Cooker Taco Chicken by the girls from Our Best Bites. 

    I’m cheating a bit with this blog post because this is actually a cookbook that I own, but I feel like if you’re somehow someone who hasn’t tried an Our Best Bites cookbook yet I just need to convert you. Their recipes are generally easy to follow, don’t require crazy ingredients, and I’ve yet to have one fail me. This Taco Chicken is my go-to slow cooker meal, because even if I haven’t been shopping in a while I almost always have all of the ingredients on hand (well, I didn’t always have ranch packets in my pantry, but ever since I discovered this recipe I buy them in bulk). The fact that it’s also fairly low calorie is just a bonus—it’s super yummy, everyone in my family eats it, and I use the leftovers in quesadillas or taquitos or Latin-inspired quinoa salad. 

    I’ll check back in next month with another healthy recipe. Or maybe a super indulgent dessert; we’ll just see where me and those resolutions stand. 

    400 cals or lessSlow Cooker Taco Chicken
    By Sara Wells and Kate Jones



    2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
    1/2 cup Italian salad dressing (not low fat)
    1 packet Ranch dressing
    1/2 cup water
    1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
    1 teaspoon coriander
    6-8 cloves minced garlic
    1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
    Juice of 1 lime
    Salt to taste
    Hot Sauce to taste (optional)  


    Place all the ingredients except for the lime, salt, and hot sauce in your slow cooker and cook for 5-6 hours on LOW or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. When done, shred the chicken with two forks and sprinkle with lime juice. Taste and season with salt and hot sauce to taste. Serves 8-10.

  • cooking the books 01


    Normally when I set out to write one of these posts, I locate some broad issue in my life and try to solve it with a cookbook. Hurried week? Pick up a quick, easy meals cookbook (we have at least 50). No time for shopping? Go for a cookbook that promises maximum flavor with minimum ingredients

    This time, however, I had a different problem, a very specific problem: my mother sent us home with an armload of leftover mashed potatoes on Sunday, and I needed to make something that would pair nicely with them. I knew I already had ground turkey, so I decided on turkey meatloaf. 

    Here’s my beef with ground turkey: you can’t just use it as a straight-across substitute for red meat. On its own, it’s bland and soft and sad. It lacks the body (but also the calories) of ground beef, and so if you just try to substitute it without making some modifications, you will be disappointed. Fully aware of this, I decided to seek out a recipe intended for ground turkey instead of one intended for beef. 

    I will spare you the minute details of my search for a delicious-sounding recipe for ground turkey meatloaf, a search that found me sitting in the library stacks reading cookbook indexes for longer than I’d care to admit. I thought of all the reasons one might use for substituting turkey for beef, scouring diet cookbooks and budget cookbooks and clean eating cookbooks (Gwyneth Paltrow was of no help here, though I did ask her by way of her cookbook. Aside: Why does Gwyneth Paltrow have a cookbook?). Finally, it was my friends at Cooks Illustrated that came through for me. 

    A word about Cooks Illustrated cookbooks: they test a ton of recipes so you don’t have to. Before giving you a recipe, they walk you through that process, explaining why you should take the extra time to sauté onions and garlic. Also, there will come a point when it tells you to mix the meat mixture with your hands. Do it. It's gross and squishy and really satisfying, and it's absolutely the best way to make sure that you've distributed the bread crumbs evenly so you don't find yourself with a large clump of bread crumbs in the middle of your loaf. 

    The resulting meatloaf was moist and flavorful and reminded me of the meatloaf I ate growing up. My mom always served meatloaf with a bottle of ketchup next to it, and I thought the ketchup glaze was really yummy. This is not a quick meal, but it's that kind of satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that leaves you thinking that all is right in the world. Even if you used ground turkey. 

    best light recipeTurkey Meatloaf with Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze
    by the Editors of COOKS ILLUSTRATED

    Do not use ground turkey breast meat (sometimes also labeled as 99 percent fat free) or the meatloaf will be very dry and grainy. 




    1 medium onion, chopped fine
    2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
    1 tsp vegetable oil
    1/2 cup milk or plain yogurt
    2 large eggs
    2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
    2 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    2 lbs 93% lean ground turkey
    1 1/3 cups fresh bread crumbs
    1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
    1/2 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    4 tsp cider or white vinegar


    1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top; set aside. Fold a piece of heavy-duty foil into a 10 by 6-inch rectangle; set aside. 

    2. Combine the onion, garlic, oil, and 1/8 tsp salt in a medium skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the onion has softened, 8 to 10 minutes; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, thyme, mustard, Worcestershire, hot sauce, pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt together. 

    3. In a large bowl, mix the turkey, bread crumbs, parsley, cooked onion mixture, and egg mixture together with your hands until uniformly combined. Press the mixture together into a compact mass, then turn it out onto the foil rectangle. Using your hands, press the meat into an evenly thick loaf about 2 inches tall and 1 inch smaller than the foil on all sides. 

    4. Transfer the foil and meatloaf to the center of the prepared wire rack. Stir the ketchup, sugar, and vinegar together, then brush half of the mixture evenly over the meatloaf. Bake the meatloaf for 45 minutes. 

    5. Brush the meatloaf with the remaining ketchup glaze, and continue to bake until the center of the loaf registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes longer. Cool at least 20 minutes before slicing into 1-inch-thick pieces.