Weekly Winner:  A Clean Start to the New Year with some Nutty Chicken

It has taken me a while, but I finally think I have figured out the Food God’s evil, master plan.  It makes you crave – then gorge on – all of that excessive, sugar-laden, rich, gooey, nostalgic food over the holidays simply so that come New Year’s, you actually crave healthy, clean meals. And it works…..every time.

Last night was the first night we either weren’t traveling, entertaining house guests, eating out with friends, or simply trying to clear out the fridge of the holiday dregs that still lingered..tempting us.  We needed a clean break, literally and figuratively from all the crap we’d been eating (and loving, I might add).  The problem is, after such a gluttonous long week, bland boring “diet food” would not cut it.  I wanted something healthy-tasting but with loads of flavor. Something that felt hearty yet wouldn’t weigh me down.  My “dinner in shining armor” arrived in the form of Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Salad.  Since hubby prefers farro to barley (and yes, I take full credit and much pride in that fact!), I made that swap.  The dish is amazing.  Perhaps the best testament is that even though its insanely healthy, I’ll gladly make and eat this dish anytime — not just when trying to cut back and clean up my act.  The recipe comes from Eating Well and is a wonderful mix of flavors, textures and all-around wholesome yumminess.

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Farro Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Olive oil or canola oil cooking spray

2 cups water plus 1 Tbsp, divided

1/2 cup quick barley (or pearled farro)

1 cup salted shelled pistachios, divided

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 large egg white

2 8-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half crosswise

1/2 tsp salt, divided

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 Tbsp white-wine vinegar

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Bring 2 cups water and barley or farro to a boil in a small saucepan.  Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 10-12 minutes.  Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, pulse 3/4 cup pistachios, breadcrumbs, orange zest and garlic powder in a food processor until the pistachios are coarsely chopped.  Transfer to a shallow dish.  Whisk egg white and the remaining 1 Tbsp water in another shallow dish.
  4. Place chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.  Pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet to an even 1/2-inch thickness.  Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 tsp salt, coat with the egg mixture and dredge in the pistachio mixture, patting to adhere.  Place on the prepared rack.  Coat both sides of the chicken with cooking spray.
  5. Bake the chicken until and instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165F, about 15 minutes.
  6. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add tomatoes and vinegar.  Cook until the tomatoes just start to collapse, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.
  7. Drain barley or farro, if necessary, and stir into the tomatoes along with the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt and parsley.  Serve with the chicken.

Weekly Winner:  An Odd Little Dinner without a Country

So the beginning of the new year always brings with it tons of healthy and light recipes that I am all-too-willing to try.  I am always ready to discover new combinations of flavors, or the new “it” ingredient and find ways of incorporating them into my diet.  This recipe, while definitely healthy and low-calorie, did not introduce anything new to the party.  I’ve had every ingredient listed a hundred times but for some reason, it just sounded intriguing.  I thought it would be a good dish to try out when I was short on time but wanted something light and new.  Which was just where I found myself last night.

As we sat down to eat, I was stumped.  It’s good…very savory and tasty and extremely familiar, but then in other ways it seemed quite unique.  My husband was also confused.  He saw the pork cut up along with the mushrooms and carrots and I think he was expecting either a stir-fry or a stew.  This however was neither.  There was not one single Asian ingredient to bring the dish over to the stir-fry team, and it certainly wasn’t any kind of stew.

So what exactly was this dish?  I have no idea.  The name certainly didn’t give any clues: Pork with Mushrooms and Barley.  It wasn’t Asian, Indian, French, German or Italian.  Perhaps it was a new take on a good-old American dinner. Regardless, it was delicious in a perfectly harmonious, unassuming sort of way.  I’ll be making it again I’m sure.  The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine.

Pork with Mushrooms and Barley

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup quick cooking barley

4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

4 tsp packed light brown sugar

1 large pork tenderloin (about 1-1/4 pounds), trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch chunks

Kosher salt and ground pepper

1 cup chicken broth

2 tsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

8 ounces cretinism mushrooms, sliced

2 leeks (white and light green parts only), chopped

3 carrots, chopped

Chopped fresh parsley, for topping

Procedure:

  1. Cook the barley as the label directs.  Cover and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce with 2 tsp brown sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the pork, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Whisk the chicken broth, cornstarch and the remaining 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp brown sugar in a small bowl until smooth; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add the pork and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 4 minutes.  Remove to a plate.
  4. Wipe out skillet and add the remaining 1 Tbsp vegetable oil.  Add the mushrooms, leeks, carrots, 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes.  Return the pork to the skillet and add the broth mixture.  Cook, stirring, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Serve with the barley; top with parsley.

Weekly Winner:  Stealthy, Healthy, Comfort in a Bowl

I truly believe that the right bowl of soup can save your soul. There is something wonderfully comforting and nourishing about hunkering down over a big bowl of steaming goodness.  Usually, my favorite, go-to comfort-food soups include cheese or cream, or at the very least pasta — heck, some include all three!  But this soup, while it does contain a bit of cheese, is satisfying, cozy and surprisingly healthy.  Most importantly, however… it is amazingly tasty!

The recipe for White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens comes from Real Simple Magazine and there is no false advertising there.  Besides all the attributes I’ve listed above, this soup is a breeze to pull together.

White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth [full disclosure:  I used chicken broth – sue me!]

1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

1 small bunch collard greens or kale, stems discarded and leaves cut into strips (4 cups) [I chose kale]

1 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 oz) plus more shaved for serving.

Procedure:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the broth and tomatoes with their juices and bring to a boil.  Add the barley, reduce heat, and simmer until the barley is tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Add the collards or kale and the beans and cook until the greens are wilted and the beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • Serve the soup drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with shaved Parmesan.

Weekly Winner: Superfood Salvation

Travel wreaks havoc with my best intentions. I always think I will make wise choices while traveling and visiting my family but alas, it never happens. Between running through airports to grab a quick bite and festive reunions with too many tasty temptations (and plenty of wine) around I always fall way off my healthy eating track. So on my first full day back at home, I needed salvation. I craved something that inherently tasted healthy and would reset my system.

IMG_0571.JPGEnter Seared Salmon with Lemony Barley Salad With Kale Pesto.  The seared salmon was just that:  salmon seared with salt and pepper.  Therefore there is no recipe for that.  The Barley Salad however comes from Food & Wine Magazine.  I adore salmon and it is always my go-to thing to prepare when I want something healthy.  The barley salad was a total surprise awhile ago.  I made it for a client, tried it, and adored it.  The two together saved me.  Salvation on a plate!

Lemony Barley Salad with Kale Pesto

Ingredients:

1 cup pearled barley (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup currants

1 tablespoon minced shallot

6 ounces kale, stems discarded and leaves torn into small pieces (4 cups)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

Procedure:

  1. In a medium saucepan, cook the barley in salted boiling water until al dente, 30 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Let cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over low heat, stirring, until lightly golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the currants and shallot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the shallot is golden, about 3 minutes. Scrape into the barley and add the pine nuts.
  4. In a food processor, pulse two-thirds of the kale with the lemon juice until chopped. With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil until smooth. Season with salt. Scrape the pesto into the barley. Add the remaining kale leaves, season with salt and toss well. Serve.