Robby’s Butternut Squash Cassoulet

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My friends Robby and Brittany had me over for a veggie-based feast last week when I got home from Spain to help ease three weeks of ham overload. Robby, who is known for freestyling gourmet recipes like a rapper spits rhymes, did his usual throw-a-few-things-in-the-oven dance and produced this incredible cassoulet, which I couldn’t get enough of. He used pancetta, which I replaced with ham to lower the fat content of this dish (goodbye, crispy morsels of heaven). A splash of dry white wine like Pinot Grigio adds flavour without fat.

The availability of butternut squash is one of the upsides of winter. Packed with Vitamins A and C and boasting significant values of potassium and fiber, this veggie is a prime candidate for your weekly recipe rotations. Here, it’s made decadent by my favourite cheese, gorgonzola. Caramelized onions add a gourmet twist, and the white wine makes for a deep and rich flavour. I suggest serving the cassoulet as a main course alongside a green salad and a small dish of Whole Wheat Cranberry-Walnut Couscous to boost the fiber and protein content!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course):

5 cups cubed butternut squash, brushed with 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 1/4 cups thinly sliced yellow onion, sauteed in 1 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP olive oil

1 cup chopped ham (cold cuts work fine)

1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP crumbled gorgonzola

2 TBSP dry white wine

black pepper

olive oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop butternut squash and brush (or dot, if you don’t have a brush) with olive oil. Roast for thirty minutes, until squash is soft.

2. The roasting time gives you plenty of time to prepare the rest of your meal. Start by slicing your onions, and caramelize them by adding equal parts olive oil and sugar to a small frying pan and stirring constantly until sticky and slightly brown. Set aside.

3. Chop ham into small cubes. Prepare a medium-large glass baking dish by coating it lightly with cooking spray (I like to use one made with olive oil). When the squash is done roasting, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and transfer to the baking dish. Add ham, 1/4 cup gorgonzola and onions. Drizzle with white wine, add freshly ground pepper and stir well. Top with the remaining 2 TBSP gorgonzola and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then finish under the broiler for 5 minutes to brown the cheese.

Sweet Potato Home Fries

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Nothin does this southern girl right like a good ol’ fashioned brunch-time heart attackfest. Biscuits and gravy? Don’t mind if I do. Country fried steak? Yer darn tootin. Being health-conscious, of course, I try to find ways to eat my favourite things sans heart attack. Case in point: sweet potato homefries, a vitamined-up, lower-fat version of one of my fave greasy dishes.

Sweet potatoes are packed with Vitamin A and potassium, and contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Turkey (or veggie) dogs add some protein to this dish without all the saturated fat of bacon or sausage. By minimizing the oil content (and adhering to the heart-healthy, extra virgin olive-only rule) we cut out tons of fat. I suggest topping a big ol pile of these potaters with a gooey poached egg for maximum satisfaction.

Note: I used my cast iron pan to give my home fries a nice charred taste. If you don’t have one, try baking your fries at 350 for about 15-20 minutes before finishing them off in a non-stick pan.

Ingredients (makes 4 sides or 3 main course servings):

4 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 cup coarsely chopped red onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 turkey or veggie hot dogs

1 1/2 TBSP olive oil

1/2 tsp old bay seasoning

salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

1. Peel and chop sweet potato and red onion. Mince garlic. Drizzle 1/2 TBSP of olive oil into the pan and spread it around before adding the sweet potatoes. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

2. When sweet potatoes have begun to soften a bit, add the onions to the pan. When the veggies begin to stick, drizzle a bit more olive oil over them and stir.

3. Chop turkey or veggie dogs. If you’re using raw meat, add it to the pan when you add the onions. If your meat or meat substitute is already cooked and just needs to be heated, wait until the sweet potatoes are almost as soft as you want them to get. Then add them with the garlic and spices, stirring well.

4. Your home fries are done when the sweet potatoes are soft (some like their potatoes to maintain a little bit of the crunch–you be the judge!)

Omelet Mexicana

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I am a big fan of breakfast for dinner. And breakfast for lunch. Breakfast for breakfast is always a winner, too! Anytime you eat it, this omelet is an easy way to power up with a lot of protein and hardly any fat. I like to squeeze as many veggies into mine as possible. If I have time, I roast some zucchini and squash to give my omelet an extra boost of yum. Fresh or frozen spinach is this meal’s bff if you’re facing a time crunch, and will make your bod purr with Vitamin A and hum with a lil Vitamin C and Calcium, too. For a heavier meal, add a slice of cheese or some shrimp or chicken. I think you’ll be surprised, though, at how skillfully egg whites, beans and veggies fill you up! Add a slice of whole grain toast, and you boost the essential component of fiber found in your beans and veggies. Skip the butter–use your toast to mop up your overflowing omelet, and you’ll never miss the extra fat!

Ingredients (1 omelet):

4 egg whites

1 TBSP skim milk

2 tsp olive oil

3 cups fresh spinach leaves, or 1 cup frozen spinach

1/2 Zucchini or squash, and/or 1/2 head broccoli (any of your favourite veggies will do!)

1 clove minced garlic

1/4 cup reduced-sodium refried beans

salt & pepper to taste

optional stuffing: a slice of cheddar or pepper jack, shrimp, or grilled chicken
optional toppings: salsa, avocado slices, hot sauce, a dollop of fat-free sour cream

1. Assess your veggie situation. Fresh and frozen spinach are both quick-cooking ingredients. If you’re also using heftier veggies like broccoli, sautee them first with 1 tsp. olive oil. When they begin to soften, add the garlic. Transfer them to a plate when they’re done and cover to keep them warm. Then let your spinach have a turn.

2. If you have a microwave, give your beans a quick zap. If not (I know, I know–I’m old fashioned girl) warm them with the spinach when it’s nearly cooked through.

2. While your veggies are cooking, whisk egg whites and milk with a pinch of salt and pepper. Really put some elbow grease into your whisking–it’s good for the ol’ biceps, and makes your omelet super fluffy!

3. I find it easiest to cook my omelets on both sides, making a pancake-like disc, and fold everything in afterward. Coat your smallest frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil (this isn’t necessary in a non-stick pan, but makes it easier to keep your omelet in one piece when you flip.) Cook over the lowest heat possible. Gently loosen the sides of the omelet when it begins to look firm; your uncanny female intuition will tell you when it’s time to flip! I like to double up on spatulas, which makes it easier to get my omelets flipped completely over.

4. After the omelet has cooked through on both sides, transfer it to your plate. Spread one side with beans and fold in your veggies. Don’t worry if your omelet won’t stay closed–I always end up making a mess of mine. Try a strategically-placed toothpick to keep yours neat, or serve it over a bed of your left-over veggies!

Carrot Ginger Soup

carrot ginger soupIt took me a couple of times to get this recipe right, and hoooo, boy, it was worth the work! This soup is perfect for a chilly fall day–hearty, warming and with a big healthy kick of ginger to soothe tummies and clear out those stuffy sinuses! Carrots are a good source of calcium, potassium, fiber, and your immune system’s BFFs, vitamins A and C, which make them an important part of your flu-season diet. This soup is virtually fat-free; its small fat content comes from just a tad of heart-healthy olive oil. A lot of soups get their satisfying qualities from cream, butter and oil, but the carrots and potatoes in this dish provide such a thick texture that you’ll never miss the fat.

This recipe requires little labor, and you can whip up your soup in a blender if you don’t have a food processor. Double or triple the recipe to make leftovers for the whole week; warm a bowlful in the microwave at work for a quick lunch or enjoy a chilled dish if you’re yearning for summer.

I must warn you, this recipe yields a VERY gingery soup, so if you’re sensitive to its spicy quality or looking for something a little milder, cut the ginger quantity in half. I recommend topping your soup with snipped chives, or, for a decadent treat, a sprinkle of shredded coconut. Incredible!!

Carrot Ginger Soup (makes 2 servings)

1 1/2 cups baby carrots

1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed yukon gold potatoes (about one medium potato)

3-4 cloves garlic

2 Tablespoons (for mild flavor) to 1/4 cup (for spice!) chopped fresh ginger

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups veggie stock

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash carrots and peel and chop potatoes. Place them in a steaming basket and crank the heat up to high, cooking until the veggies are soft.

2. Chop onions, garlic and ginger. Sautee them with a drizzle of olive oil until they’ve just begun to turn brown.

3. When veggies are soft and cool enough to transport to the blender or food processor, add the rest of the ingredients and give it a whirl. Your soup may need a minute or two of reheating if you’ve added cold veggie broth. Cozy up by the fireplace (or your candle collection) and enjoy!