Spinach Salad with Mahimahi, Grapefruit, and Avocado

I’ll be honest. This is a rather polarizing salad. At least in my house it is. I contend that the flavors of tart grapefruit, mild mahimahi, creamy avocado, and a lime-honey vinaigrette all mixed up together make for an explosion of deliciously contrasting flavors and textures. The rest of my family, on the other hand, is not so keen.

Grapefruit isn’t just an acquired taste. Apparently our taste perception of it and several other bitter foods depends on our genetics. (So I can give my husband and kids a pass.) But if you’re one of those fortunate people who can enjoy grapefruit, now is the time to do so–at least in Arizona, where we live.

This grapefruity recipe comes from Real Simple, a magazine that generally lives up to its name. But to take a simple recipe and make it even easier for weeknight dinnertime, I swapped out grilled fresh mahimahi for Trader Joe’s frozen mahimahi burgers. They may not be quite as pretty as grilled fillets, but these burgers, diced, turned assembly of this salad into a total breeze. Plus, they’re a WHOLE lot less expensive than what my regular grocery store charges for mahimahi.

I enjoyed this flavor combo so much on Thursday evening that I recreated it for my Lenten Fish Friday. If you observe Lent or just need a light, refreshing, easy lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with this healthy salad…

…unless you’re genetically predisposed to hate grapefruit.


Print Recipe
Spinach Salad with Mahimahi, Grapefruit, and Avocado
An explosion of varying tastes and textures, this salad is a light, healthy meal!
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Instructions
  1. Prepare mahimahi burgers according to instructions on box. Meanwhile, spread spinach on a large platter. Top with grapefruit segments and diced avocado. When mahimahi burgers are done cooking, slice them into pieces and spread over salad.
  2. Make the dressing: in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients. Toss salad with dressing or serve on the side.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Real Simple.

Share this Recipe

Book Review: Stir

Normally, I have a bit of an aversion to food memoirs. Often they’re cloyingly sappy, with too-tender tales of lessons both culinary and clichéd on grandmother’s knee. Or they make improbable leaps from food to philosophy: “As I kneaded the dough with my fingers, I was reminded that life’s possibilities are always at our fingertips.” Then again, maybe my distaste for food memoirs has to do with a secret jealousy that people out there are writing whole books about their relationship with food. Entirely possible.

So when I picked up a copy of Jessica Fechtor’s Stir at my local library, I wasn’t really prepared to like it.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the food aspect that made me toss Stir onto my pile of books for checkout in the first place. What drew me in was instead the fact that Fechtor’s story centers on recovery from a brain aneurysm that rocked her life in her late 20s. I’ll confess: I love reading or watching anything that showcases the gruesome or bizarre. My husband tells me I have the Netflix queue of someone planning a string of axe murders. So, brain aneurysm? Yes, please!

I toted Stir along with me on our road trip to Disneyland this past week, and didn’t even need the drive to and from California to read it. Forty-eight hours was all it took to polish off this immersive narrative.

Unlike the many food memoirs I’ve read before, Stir resonated with me. Fechtor manages to make deep, true statements about food’s role in bringing her back to her “normal” self after her aneurysm–without clunking sentimentality. Her eye for describing her own experiences struck me as probing and sincere, and her intelligence comes through on every page. It’s no surprise she’s A PhD candidate in Jewish literature at Harvard. Plus, her descriptions of food are nothing short of poetry, like this passage about a macaroon:

“The Hi-Rise almond macaroon is plump and squat, a round, rosy cookie with a whole almond pressed into its belly and dusted with powdered sugar. Squeeze, and and the crisp outer crust sinks into the chewy center.”

Does that not make you perfectly picture (and want to eat) a macaroon?

Several times, coming upon recipes featured at the end of nearly every chapter, I suddenly realized my need for whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, butter almond cake, cherry clafoutis. It made complete sense that these baked goods would serve as comfort food in a time of the author’s suffering and recovery. (Then again, some recipes were way out of my league, or would involve hours of preparation. To each her own.)

As someone who has had bizarre, hit-you-out-of-nowhere health issues, I must say I also found Fechtor’s life-altering surgeries and hospital stays relatable. Her resilience is incredible. There’s no way I could have responded to losing half my vision and a large chunk of my skull with anything like her optimism.

My primary criticism of the book is for its title. It seems a few more descriptive words could have better expressed the depths of Fechtor’s experience than simply Stir.

Overall, however, I highly recommend reading Fechtor’s well-told journey. Sometimes we could all use a jolt of gratitude that, whatever our troubles, at least most of us don’t require brain surgery–and a reminder of the many wonderful gifts food can bring under any circumstances.

Jerk Salmon Bowl with Avocado-Mango Salsa

Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s really trendy to eat things in bowls right now? Poke bowls, burrito bowls, Buddha bowls (what even IS a Buddha bowl?) Taco Bell has “Power Menu Bowl,” while KFC offers a mashed potato-chicken bowl, which has the dubious honor of making Time Magazine’s 10 Worst Fast Food Meals). Burrrrn.

The take-home message of the Bowl Movement (don’t think too hard about that phrase) seems to be that you can throw a wide variety of foods together in a bowl and watch them play nice as a one-dish meal. I don’t really care about being trendy, but I can definitely get behind the idea of protein, starch, fruits, and/or veggies all mixed up in one tasty package. Kinda like some other recipes I like.

This bowl I’m featuring today combines jerk-seasoned salmon, black beans, rice, and a zesty mango salsa for a refreshing, healthy catch-all dinner or lunch. The pan-frying method of cooking the salmon in this recipe gives it a restaurant-quality, almost-but-not-quite crispy on the outside texture that complements the cool sweetness and tender texture of the avocado-mango salsa. Sturdy staples of black beans and rice round out the equation. When serving, separate it into sections (as pictured), or stir it all together. There’s no wrong way to eat a bowl.

Especially if you’re observing Lent, this is a great one for meat-free days, or any time you’re looking for a light meal packed with nutrition.


Print Recipe
Jerk Salmon Bowl with Mango Salsa
This one-dish meal of salmon, beans, rice and mango salsa is packed with nutrition!
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the salsa:
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together avocado, mango, red onion, and cilantro. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lime onto mixture and stir again. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
Cook the salmon:
  1. In a small bowl, combine spices (curry powder through cumin). Rub over both sides of salmon. Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large non-stick skillet. Add salmon and cook 3-5 minutes per side. Break salmon into chunks and continue to cook until no longer translucent. Remove from heat.
Assemble the bowls:
  1. Divide rice, beans, salmon, and salsa between four bowls. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Pinch of Yum.

Share this Recipe

What’s in Your Bread? A Closer Look

It seems like it should be so simple. Flour, yeast, water. What more do you need to make bread? A lot, if ingredient labels are to be believed. 

If you purchase commercially prepared bread, as most Americans do, perhaps it’s time to explore what actually goes into this everyday staple. Reading the ingredient list on many store-bought breads can leave you wondering what in the world certain ingredients are, and what purpose they serve. Though sometimes it feels like you need a chemistry degree to make sense of unheard-of substances (calcium propionate? sodium stearoyl lactate?), you really don’t have to be an expert to make informed choices when it comes to your daily bread. A little education goes a long way.

Here’s a closer look to clarify several mystery ingredients that commonly appear in store-bought breads, and settle the score on whether they’re nefarious, harmless, or just…okay.

L-cysteine: Let’s start with the worst and get it out of the way. L-cysteine happens to be my favorite food additive to pick on because it’s just so quintessentially disgusting. An amino acid used to extend the shelf life of baked goods, it sounds fine until you realize that it’s made of–ready for this?–HUMAN HAIR and DUCK FEATHERS.

I get that it works to keep bread fresher longer, but frankly I can do without the feathers of water fowl in my diet. L-cysteine tops my list of weird bread ingredients to avoid.

DATEM: “Datem has a natural ring to it…like dates,” you might think. “But why did you capitalize it?” Well, DATEM isn’t exactly natural, and capitalized because it’s an acronym of diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides…which, according to my calculations, works out to “DTAEMAD,” but apparently DATEM is easier to say. This ingredient serves as an emulsifier that creates a chewy texture in bread. For my part, I prefer a bread with as few additives as possible, but the FDA lists it as “generally recognized as safe,” and the Center for Science in the Public Interest concurs.

Sodium stearoyl lactylate: On to another emulsifier/dough strengthener: sodium stearoyl lactylate. The science behind how this additive works is a bit vague, with one analysis stating, “little is known about the underlying mechanism” of its function. We do know it’s made of a combination of stearic acid and lactic acid, and typically derived from vegetable oil. Again, recognized as safe (but again, if you’re like me, you might prefer to skip it if you dislike unnecessary additives).

Monoglycerides: From your high school chemistry class, you might recognize the suffix “-glyceride” as meaning “fat.” Monoglycerides are a type of fatty acid also used to improve texture in bread. Though they’re typically only added in small quantities to bread, they do contain trace amounts of trans fat. Probably not going to kill you in small doses…and yet there is that pesky association with heart disease and stroke.

Cellulose gum: Ewwww, gum in your bread? Just kidding, not that kind of gum. Cellulose gum is derived from cell walls of plants like wood pulp or cotton (wait, maybe that’s worse?) and is used as a filler or thickener. It hasn’t been proven to be harmful, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists it as an ingredient to consume with caution, since a 2015 study found that it negatively affected gut bacteria. Plus, it might strike you as a little gross to eat something made of wood or cotton–or lint. Did I mention lint?

Modified wheat starch: Who knew bread needed so much thickening? Modified wheat starch is another bread thickener. Since it’s basically just added as filler, it’s not an especially desirable ingredient, but it is recognized as safe.

Wheat gluten: Contrary to popular belief, gluten isn’t some poisonous bogeyman. It’s actually just a protein that helps bread stay nice and elastic. If you have a problem digesting gluten, you’d want to avoid it, but in that case, I don’t know what you’d be doing eating bread in the first place. Added wheat gluten poses no other known problems for consumption.

For my money, bread doesn’t require much (if anything) beyond a handful of basic, familiar ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to look for as short an ingredient label as possible. Anything else can help shelf life and texture, but do we really need it? Nah. If you have concerns about bread going bad, you can always store it in the freezer and take it out piece by piece. Trader Joe’s offers several varieties with less than five ingredients, I’m happy to recommend Dave’s Killer Bread and Ezekiel 4:9 Bread as well. Also, whenever you can, for the healthiest choice, reach for 100% whole wheat.

What’s your favorite bread? Have you taken a look at what’s in it? What did you discover?

Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Sage

Here’s a random tidbit: when you start a Google search with the words “how many people do…” Google does NOT assume you are asking it about potatoes and how many pounds feed how many people. No, my friends, Google wants to answer these other, far more intriguing questions:

Because apparently a lot more people want to know how many of us are getting killed by hippos than how many potatoes to buy to feed a crowd. Not sure how to take this, but I feel like it says something about our priorities?

Anyway, though I am (now) a bit curious how many people die annually from hippo attacks, I really did want to know about mashed potato portions, because it’s an area of culinary expertise that eludes me. Mashed potatoes seem like one of those foods that defy boundaries. There’s nothing exact about them. And since they so often appear as just one item in a multi-item meal (Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, let’s say), anything from a dollop to a pile seems fairly reasonable.

Well, it’s time to settle the score. The OFFICIAL serving size of mashed potatoes, as dictated by the Food and Drug Administration, is 140 grams. Since no one in the U.S. measures their food in grams (get it together, FDA!), allow me to interpret. 140 grams = 5 ounces, which for potatoes equals about 1/2 cup.

Therefore, if you want to make mashed potatoes for eight people, like this recipe does, 5 oz x 8 people = 40 ounces, or 2 1/2 pounds. Assuming no one’s going crazy with a potato free-for-all.

THIS MEANS SOMETHING. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

That’s how, even with creamy goat cheese, whole milk, and a bit of butter, these delicious, sage-kissed mashed potatoes end up with only 200 calories per serving. Portion control, y’all.

This hearty side dish makes a spot-on accompaniment to meat dishes like ham, pork chops, or meatloaf. What favorite meal would YOU serve it with?


Print Recipe
Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Sage
Mashed potatoes get a flavor makeover with creamy goat cheese and fresh sage in this side dish.
Instructions
  1. Cook potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender, 12-15 minutes. Drain and return to the pan. Add goat cheese and butter and mash or blend with an immersion blender (the immersion blender does a much nicer job getting a creamy texture!). Add milk and sage continue to mash/blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Bon Appetit.

Share this Recipe