Weekly Winner: Conquering Quinoa – and Banishing the Bland

Quinoa and Zucchini. What do these two things have in common (besides being incredibly awesome Scrabble words)? They are good-for-you ingredients that, while I don’t mind, I’m not overly enamored with either. What little taste they do have does not offend me, but I’d just as soon eat something that has more inherent flavor. Enter: Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Almonds and Mint.

I think this recipe caught my eye and interest because, cunningly, the title has absolutely no mention of zucchini. Turns out, however that it is an integral part of the dish. The recipe comes from Milk Street Magazine so you know it is going to work have loads of flavor.

I have to admit, when I read that the quinoa gets cooked with cinnamon I thought that odd. I was afraid the quinoa would come out smelling and tasting more like a dessert. It doesn’t. You can smell the cinnamon but it’s subtle and you barely notice the taste at all. The important trick with this recipe is to make sure the avocados and zucchini sit in the marinade for a while (the amount of time it takes to cook the quinoa is fine). This ensures non-boring zucchini bites. The almonds, raisins and mint add hidden little surprises throughout the salad.

Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Almonds and Mint

Serves 4


1 cup quinoa

1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium zucchini (about 8 oz), halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup salted roasted almonds, chopped


  • In a large saucepan over medium-high, stir together the quinoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1-1/4 cups water. bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low until the quinoa absorbs the liquid, 13-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the avocados and zucchini with the vinegar, oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  • When the quinoa is done ,remove the pan from heat. Scatter the raisins over the quinoa, then drape a kitchen towel across the pan and re-cover. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Using a fork, fluff the quinoa. Transfer to the bowl with the avocados and zucchini, then gently fold to evenly distribute. Gently stir in the mint and almonds, then taste and season with salt and pepper

Weekly Winner: A Big Bowl of Satisfaction

ground turkey-quinoaThis is time of year that planning lunch gets hard.   I’m tired of soups and want something I can sink my teeth into.  The problem is it’s not quite “salad weather” yet.  There are still days I want some warmth to my lunches and to have something cooked rather than simply “assembled”.  I also want my lunch to be healthy and something that won’t weigh me down on the off-chance it warms up above freezing outside and I can actually go out and run around.  What’s a girl to do???  It’s simple… and its delicious…. make this Spiced Ground Turkey-Quinoa Bowl with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce.

This recipe, from Fine Cooking, hits all the right notes.  It has some warm elements (the turkey-spinach mixture) and some fresh elements (the tomatoes and olives) and even something creamy to round it all out (the yogurt-tahini sauce).  I also like the fact that everything is not all mixed together.  Keeping everything separate keeps it interesting – every bite has a different taste and a different texture.  There’s nothing new or revolutionary here but it is a nice combination of ingredients that you may not think to put together.  It is quick to make and serves as the perfect bridge from winter lunch to spring lunch.

Spiced Ground Turkey-Quinoa Bowl with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

Serves 4


1 cup quinoa

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb ground turkey

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp sweet paprika

1-1/4 tsp ground cumin

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 oz fresh spinach, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)

1/2 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)

2 Tbsp tahini

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

5 oz cherry tomatoes, halved (about 1 cup)

2 oz Kalamata olives, chopped (about 1/2 cup)


  • Cook the quinoa according to package directions
  • Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the turkey, 1 Tbsp of the garlic, the paprika, cumin, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper, and cook, breaking up the turkey into small pieces, until fully cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until just wilted.  Keep warm
  • In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, tahini, and lemon juice with the remaining 1 tsp garlic.  Season with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.
  • Divide the quinoa and the turkey mixture among four bowls.  Dollop with the yogurt sauce, and top with the tomatoes and olives.

Weekly Winner: Green Goddess Goes Hipster

IMG_0459People generally fall into two categories with salad dressing: you’re either on Team Vinaigrette or Team Creamy.  Me? Definitely Team Creamy — ranch, blue cheese, French, Thousand Island (don’t judge!), I love them all.  Perhaps my favorite is Green Goddess.  This rich, herbaceous dressing is not as widely known or used as others, but to me, it just screams “Spring”.

I’m still waiting for Spring here in Chicago, so this recipe served as a nice reminder that yes, eventually, warmer weather will arrive.

Chicken-Quinoa Salad with Green Goddess Dressing comes from Southern Living magazine.  It’s very light and fresh-tasting and the quinoa and chicken both add substance to make it more filling.  Then there’s the fabulous, herby, dressing — no need to feel guilty about drizzling on this rich dressing since it is only enhancing all the healthy goodness in the salad itself.  And should you feel the slightest bit guilty about using rotisserie chicken, just stop!  It’s my secret weapon.  Cheap, delicious and ready instantly.  Honestly, if you’re picky about where you get your rotisserie chicken, I dare say you can’t make it better yourself, so why even try??

Chicken-Quinoa Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Serves 4


  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 Tbsp. fresh juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, divided
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 5 cups torn butter lettuce or butter lettuce mix
  • 3 cups pulled rotisserie chicken (from 1 chicken)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced English cucumber (from 1 cucumber)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 5 radishes)


Process mayonnaise, chives, vinegar, anchovy paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, black pepper, 1⁄4 cup of the fresh parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon of the fresh tarragon leaves, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt in a food processor until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

Bring water, quinoa, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Stir and cover. Reduce heat to low, and cook until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Remove lid, and fluff with a fork.

Toss together butter lettuce and remaining 1⁄4 cup each fresh parsley leaves and fresh tarragon leaves. Toss lettuce mixture lightly with about 1⁄4 cup dressing. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle cooked quinoa over lettuce mixture; top with pulled rotisserie chicken. Arrange thinly sliced English cucumbers and thinly sliced radishes on top and around sides. Drizzle salad with an additional 1⁄4 cup dressing, and serve remaining dressing on the side, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  A Perfect Power-Packed Punch of Lunch

We all have them.  Those derailing weekends.  Weekends where you totally planned on staying on track – eating healthy and exercising.  Getting outdoors, breathing fresh air, and revitalizing yourself for the week ahead.  Then, well…there are street fairs, baseball games, barbecues, air conditioning to relax in , and chilled wine and beer in the fridge.  Monday comes along and it is time to redeem yourself.  This is the salad to do that with.  Basically, if it’s healthy for you, it’s in this salad.  But more importantly– it is delicious. This does not seem like a punishment for your over-indulging, it actually seems like a reward for surviving it all! Good for you! You made it!  Now let’s get your act back together!

I have to admit I wasn’t sure how blueberries and tomatoes would work together but with everything else going on it this salad (poppy seeds, chickpeas, avocado, sunflower seeds, etc…) it just works.  It also makes every bite a bit different.

No surprise the recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  The article was focusing on salads you can take to work with you but since I work in the kitchen — packability isn’t a problem.  I just needed to transport it to the table. Therefore I didn’t bother layering, I just mixed it all together.  However I did pack up a bunch of this salad for a client who will take it to work.  And no doubt will love every bite!

Packable Power Salad

Serves 4


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup rinsed and drained chickpeas

1 cup cooked quinoa

4 cups packed fresh baby spinach

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup chopped heirloom tomato

2 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds

3/4 cup thinly sliced ripe peeled avocado

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves


1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a small jar. Cover with lid; shake well.

2. Combine chickpeas, quinoa, and 2 tablespoons dressing; toss well.

3. Arrange 1 cup spinach in each of 4 quart-size containers. Top each serving with 1/4 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup tomato, 1 1/2 teaspoons sunflower seeds, one-fourth of avocado slices, 1/2 ounce goat cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons mint, and 1/2 cup quinoa mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle each serving with about 2 1/2 tablespoons dressing.

Weekly Winner:  Marvelous, Mellow Marsala – Modernized

Most of us have had a version of Chicken or Veal Marsala and it’s always good.  Pieces of meat in a mellow sauce of garlic, mushrooms, Marsala wine … What’s not to like? It’s never overpowering, the flavors meld nicely and makes for a comforting, familiar dish.

So what happens when Chicken Marsala decides to become a hipster and reinvent itself into the popular, seemingly ubiquitous “grain bowl” that seems to be popping up everywhere?  It morphs into this, a Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowl which finds the familiar Chicken Marsala amped up with spinach and nestled atop a bed of quinoa.  Still mellow, still satisfying and savory, just a bit more modern. Having said that, I think this would be even more awesome on top of a mound of creamy mashed potatoes, but I’m old-school like that.

This recipe, not surprisingly, comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  It’s quick, yummy and well worth a try.

Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowls

Serves 4


2 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach

1 pound mushrooms, quartered

8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Add 1 1/4 cups stock; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add spinach; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until beginning to wilt. Remove spinach from pan.

3. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove mushroom mixture from pan.

4. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 4 minutes, browning on all sides. Add shallots, thyme, and garlic; sauté 1 1/2 minutes. Add wine and remaining 1/4 cup stock, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds and becomes slightly syrupy. Remove from heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, mustard, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring constantly until butter melts. Stir in mushrooms and spinach. Serve over quinoa.


Weekly Winner: A Second Scrumptious Stuffed Supper

There I go with my love of alliteration again.  But ever so slowly, it appears I’m becoming a fan of stuffed vegetables.  You may remember that it was just about a year ago that I sang the praises of Sausage and Basil Stuffed Tomatoes.  Now, I’ve found a stuffed pepper recipe that totally took me by surprise. Apparently I’m going to have to reconsider my stance on this issue.

My only complaint with this recipe is its name.  Chicken-Stuffed Bell Peppers with black beans and corn.  Really?  That’s it??  Boring!!  I cannot recall where I came across this recipe, but it needs some serious rebranding!  How about Fiesta-Filled Boats of Deliciousness?? OK, maybe not. But still, this dish is a fabulous blend of southwestern flavors and is relatively easy.  To top it all off, it’s incredibly healthy and low-calorie thanks to the Greek yogurt and quinoa.

Go ahead and treat yourself to something tasty and different by making this for dinner soon.  And if you think of a better name, please let me know!

Chicken-Stuffed Bell Peppers with black beans and corn

Serves 4


1/2 cup dry quinoa

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (8oz)

2 tsp olive oil

2 Tbsp seeded and minced jalapeño

2 Tbsp chopped scallion whites

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

3/4 cup shredded pepper-Jack cheese, divided

1/2 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt

1tsp each ground cumin and chili powder

1/2 tsp each ground coriander, kosher salt, and black pepper

4 red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, ribs and seeds removed

2 Tbsp chopped scallion Green’s (for garnish)


  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Cook quinoa according to package directions, set aside
  3. Cook chicken in oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165, about 7 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate to cool; shred
  4. Sauté jalapeño, scallion whites, and garlic in same skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant; 2-3 minutes.  Deglaze skillet with lime juice.
  5. Combine beans, corn, 1/2 cup cheese, yogurt, cumin, chili powder, coriander, salt and pepper with quinoa, chicken and jalapeño mixture in a large bowl.  Arrange bell peppers in a 9×13-inch baking dish; spoon filling into bell peppers. Add 2 Tbsp water to bottom of dish; cover with foil and bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil; bake bell peppers until fork tender, 10-15 minutes more.
  6. Garnish bell peppers with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and scallion greens.

Weekly Winner: Elevating Quinoa Beyond Celery Status

I have never been a fan of eating something simply because it is healthy.  It also has to taste good.  Case in point, celery. By itself, I don’t like the taste of celery but I understand the benefits of adding it to soups and such.  I just would never, ever eat celery by itself. Even slathering it in peanut butter, while definitely improving the taste, is simply a vehicle for eating peanut butter.  In my opinion, a spoon is a better tool for that.

I had the same ambivalent feelings toward quinoa.  I understand it is stupidly healthy, high in protein, and a revered “ancient grain”.  It’s also incredibly boring!  I guess that’s one thing it has over celery….I don’t dislike the taste on its own, because it has no taste on its own.  It’s sort of like eating cardboard pellets. I just didn’t know why I would want to willingly do that.  That is, until last night.

Enter: Fiesta Quinoa Salad.  Look out, because quinoa is now hosting a fiesta!  It’s fun!  It’s festive!  I dare say it is company-worthy!  And the best part is that the stuff you add to the Fiesta Quinoa to make it a fiesta and to actually improve the taste not only doesn’t detract from its inherent healthiness, it actually adds to it!

The original recipe called for grilled, skewered shrimp on top.  I had a hankering for salmon and it was pouring outside so I called an audible and made it with seared salmon. I also had a bag of frozen, roasted corn that sat in nicely for the fresh grilled corn (and so much easier!). Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I used a yellow bell pepper instead of red, but threw in some red grape tomatoes that I had to add some more color.  I know, I’m such a recipe rebel….switching proteins, adding veggies!  Total recipe anarchy!  And if you’ve read a single other post I’ve written you know I omitted the cilantro!

Speaking of the original recipe, it comes from Fine Cooking Magazine. If you are suffering from quinoa fatigue or boredom, here’s the answer to your quinoa conundrum. The recipe I’ve included is just for the salad.  Be bold!  Top it with whatever you want (not that the grilled skewered shrimp would have been bad).

Fiesta Quinoa Salad

Serves 4


1 cup white quinoa, rinsed

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

2 medium cloves garlic, smashed to a paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large ears of corn (or about 2 cups frozen roasted corn, thawed)

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium red bell pepper (or yellow, as the case may be), finely diced

4 medium scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro leaves (very, very, optional)


In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender and all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, the lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and whisk until combined.

If using fresh corn, brush them with 1 Tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill the corn, turning occasionally, until charred in spots, about 8 minutes.  Let the corn cool briefly, then cut the kernels from the cob.  Or, simply open a bag of frozen roasted corn and run briefly under warm water, drain and proceed).

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, beans, bell pepper and scallions.  Toss with the dressing and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.


Weekly Winner: My First Foray into Farro … Fabulous!

Tis the season.  What season you ask?  Marathon training season.  Oh good God, not for me!  But for several of the clients that I am currently cooking for.  Now, while that means different things to different people, what it means for my clients is that they are looking for healthy, filling (but not heavy) recipes to power them through the added mileage they will be putting in.  Some want carbs, some do not — but all want seriously healthy, tasty food.

Of course kale is popular as is quinoa.  I’ve made more quinoa in the last few months than I ever thought I’d make in a lifetime.  I’ve gained a new-found appreciation for the ancient grain.  It’s basically a blank canvas.  But I digress.  This entry is not about quinoa but about farro.  One of my clients asked if I did much with it and I had to admit that I did not.  But that made me curious.  Then Martha came to the rescue.  Martha Stewart that is.  Not her personally, but her magazine Martha Stewart Living.  It was there that I found this recipe for Kale and Farro Salad with Feta.

Kale and FarroWhen I found myself with a free afternoon on the same day that my favorite Green City Market was going on, I knew what I had to do.  Test the recipe!  All for myself.  Dang it was tasty.  Really quite extraordinarily good.  The farro was wonderfully toothsome and nutty.  All around an incredibly satisfying dish and one that you just couldn’t help but feel good about eating.  I immediately put it on my marathoners’ menus and have a feeling I’ll be making a lot of this salad in the coming months.

And don’t worry — I’m proof that you don’t need to be a marathoner (or even a runner) to enjoy this recipe.

Kale and Farro Salad with Feta

Serves 4 -6


1 cup farro

2 cups packed torn Tuscan kale leaves (about 2 ounces)

1/4 red onion, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup packed mint leaves, thinly sliced, plus whole small leaves for serving

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup crumbled feta, preferably French


Cover farro with 3 inches of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until grains are tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.

Transfer farro to a large bowl and add kale, onion, sliced mint, lemon zest and juice, and oil. Toss until farro is well coated. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with feta. Let stand 30 minutes before serving, topped with small mint leaves. Salad can be stored in refrigerator up to 2 days.