Recipe: Baked Quinoa ‘n Cheese

My family loves mac ‘n cheese, but they are picky about what kind. I have made both home-made and boxed versions.  I am always trying to doctor it up with ‘nutrition boosts’ like high fiber pasta, pureed beans, flax seeds and veggies.  Today, I am using quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), the pop star of grains – as it’s a perfect protein source and jam-packed with iron, fiber – and it’s gluten-free – for those that need to steer clear of this wheat protein.

So what is quinoa?  It’s a versatile, ancient grain which originated from the Andes Mountains of South America and was among one of the staple grains (with corn and potatoes) of the Incan civilization. It’s simple to make, too.  Just add a liquid like water or low-sodium broth and allow it to simmer until all the water is absorbed.  It expands before your eyes.


The beauty of quinoa is that it mixes and matches well with other grains, nuts, beans, veggies and fruit.   You can add it to salads, soups, chili, casseroles and smoothies.  Whether sweet or savory, quinoa pops in your mouth!

In this recipe, I use Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese*. (For a lower fat version, you can use Cabot’s Sharp Light Cheddar.)   This sharp cheddar imparts a unique and distinct flavor, as well as hardy mouthfeel, to the dish.


Baked Quinoa ‘n Cheese



Serves 2

1/2 cup dry quinoa, rinsed

1 1/4 cup water

1/8 cup golden flaxseed, ground

1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3/4 cup milk, 1 percent fat

1 cup Cabot “Seriously Sharp” cheddar cheese

2 Tablespoons bread crumbs

4 cherry tomatoes, quartered (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the rinsed quinoa in a pot with 1 cup water and bring to a boil.  Then simmer and cover until liquid is dissolved and quinoa is expanded and fluffy.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup of water and the flax seed,  mustard, milk and cheese in a blender.  Puree on high for 3 – 4 minutes until mixture thickens.

Mix cheese sauce into cooked quinoa in the pot.  Transfer to ramekins and top with breadcrumbs.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and top with tomatoes before serving.

Nutritional Information (per 1/2 cup serving): Calories: 455, Total Fat 17 g, Saturated Fat: 6 g, Cholesterol 28 mg, Sodium 311 mg, Total Carbohydrates: 54 g, Dietary Fiber: 8g, Sugar 13 g, Pro: 22 g

Enjoy evolving your eating today!


*Disclosure: I am a proud supporter and member of the Cabot Cheese Board, however all opinions are my own.





Five (Fab) Foods for a Happy Heart.

Happy 50th Anniversary of American Heart Month!  As we celebrate heart health in February, we are focusing on food and lifestyle behaviors that can keep heart disease at bay.  The statistics are real: heart disease is the number one killer of Americans – and it poses a risk at any age. So let’s look at five fabulous foods that can keep your heart happy and healthy…


1) Avocados: These sleek fruits are hot right now in health and culinary circles – and for good reason.  Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and plant-based goodness, avocados contain the “good” fats – monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) – which can help keep your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in a healthy range.  Avocados are versatile and fun, check out some fun recipes and facts here.

2) Olive oil: Studies have shown that olive oil, particularly extra-virgin olive oil, contains powerful antioxidants that help keep the walls of the arteries soft and pliable – which is good for keeping the heart youthful.   Olive oil’s cardio-protective fats called monounsaturated (MUFA) decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease.  Be careful to measure out olive oil as a tablespoon is 120 calories – so watch the drizzles, dips and spoonsful.  Here’s more on olive oil.

3) Oats: Infamous for their soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which dissolves in water to form a gel that sweeps through your arteries taking some cholesterol with it as it goes, oats have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure, two major risk factors for heart disease.  Steer clear of the sugar-sweetened oatmeal, instead sweeten it yourself with a teaspoon of dried fruit, a dollop of fruit puree or a handful of frozen fruit.  Take a look at closer look at oats here.

4) Leafy greens: With nearly 1,000 species of plants with edible leaves, the types of greens you can eat and enjoy for heart health run the gamut from spinach to Swiss chard to romaine lettuce to kale.  Leafy greens are packed with vitamins A, C, K and potassium (good for naturally lowering blood pressure) – and low in calories and sodium; a cup of spinach has 14 calories and 1/2 cup of collard greens has a mere 38 calories. The beauty is they can be stir-fried, stewed and steamed for heart healthy meals. Try some of these Top Leafy Greens.

5) Black beans: All beans are good for your heart – not only do they offer tons of soluble fiber (the cholesterol lowering type), but they are low in calories and saturated fat and high in plant protein.  You can’t go wrong with beans!  Toss them into soups, chili, salads and pasta dishes.  They are a great meat replacement – and fill you up.  A cup of black beans contains 15 grams of fiber – that’s about half the fiber you need for the day!  Aim for 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories you eat.  Check out more on beans here.

Keep your heart healthy and happy today.  Choose foods that count – a healthy heart will thank you over and over again!


Shake Up Your Breakfast.

Let’s face it, mornings are super busy.  One of the top things I hear from my clients is that breakfast is hard to fit in.  I completely understand as I am a working mother of two – so I am always creating fast tricks to eat something quick and healthy for breakfast.  In working with MJ Tam, a busy mom, host of the on-line show, Chicagonista Live!, and lifestyle blogger, on healthy ways to get protein at breakfast – milk is a focus – as part of the National Milk Mustache “got milk?”® Campaign’s The Breakfast Project.   MJ is making great progress with balancing meals with high quality protein, whole grains, veggies and fruits – and bringing snacks with her on the go, too.

Here’s a simple breakfast trick – whip up a milkshake!  You can pair it with whole grain toast and nut butter and head out the door.  It’s tasty, quick and jammed-packed with calcium, vitamins A and D, potassium, as well as good quality protein (8 grams per cup). The best part is it’s portable – I pour my milkshake into a thermos and go!

Milkshake combos are endless.  Here are morning milkshakes you can whip up at home…no ice cream required (use frozen fruit instead).  For creamier milkshakes, use whole or 2 percent fat milk.


  • One cup milk + frozen cherries + handful semi-sweet chocolate chips + a mint leaf
  • One cup milk + frozen pineapple chunks + coconut (optional)
  • One cup milk + freshly brewed coffee, cooled, + a teaspoon vanilla + a drizzle of honey + handful of ice

Blend all these in your blender or Vitamix – on the “Frozen Dessert” setting.

If you have other milkshake ideas that you enjoy, let us know.  Shake up your breakfast today!


Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by the National Milk Mustache “got milk?”® Campaign. As always, all opinions are my own.



5 Ways to Wake Up with Milk.

Welcome!  I am talking about powering up with protein today, especially at breakfast.  After an over-night fast, taking in some high-quality protein will fuel your body well and fill you up longer.

I have the pleasure of working with MJ Tam, a food blogger, mom of two and host of ChicagonistaLive! in partnership with the National Milk Mustache “got milk?” Campaign to create a healthy new year.  Milk is a great way to do that!


With 8 grams of protein per cup, milk adds a good deal of protein to any meal.  As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I enjoy crafting simple ways for people to get vital nutrients into their meals and snacks. With milk, you get protein plus vitamins A and D, and the bone-building mineral, calcium.

Here are 5 milk-enhanced breakfast ideas for you or 5 Ways to Wake Up with Milk:

Cafe-Au-Lait.jpg   Milk-Cereal.jpg  Oatmeal-.jpg  Berries-milk-flax.jpg Fruit-smoothie.jpg

Hopefully, this gives you some new and tasty ways to get your milk – and more protein, at breakfast.

Please let us know how you like to get your milk every day…and I will be updating you on MJ’s progress, too. She’s off to a great start forging a healthier 2014 already!


Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by the National Milk Mustache “got milk?”® Campaign. As always, all opinions are my own.

7 Healthy Ways for the Holidays

‘Tis the season of indulgence – and all too often, weight gain.  Research in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the scale can creep up by at least a pound (if not more!).  That doesn’t seem like a lot of excess weight, but the fact is if you don’t lose that pound every year they can add up quickly!

Here are 7 tips for combating the weight gain while still enjoying the holiday season:

1 – Indulge in less.  With all of the eating opportunities: parties, holiday gatherings, office treats, and outings, change your mindset to take less on your plate.  Try your favorite holiday fare, but be aware to take smaller servings sizes – and make this a social time versus an array overeating episodes.

2 – Eat regular meals. Stick with a regular schedule of eating – regardless of your after-work plans, evening party going or weekend party throwing.  By eating every 3 – 4 hours your won’t allow yourself to get too hungry and overeat when the vast array of food is in front of you.  The name of the game is appetite control (it works!).

3 – Say “no” sometimes.  It’s perfectly fine to miss the annual cookie exchange or holiday drinks every Thursday night this month.  By saying no to one or two events this season, you’ll save unwanted to calories and make more time to indulge in sleep, holiday card writing or creating a new healthy recipe at home.

4 – Feast on plants.  Unleash the herbivore in you this holiday season by planning plants into every meal.  Aim for at least 2 1/2 cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruits per day.  Not only are colorful plants fiber-filled, but they offer your cells relief from holiday stress by giving them a powerful dose of antioxidants. From morning smoothies filled with kale, berries and flax seeds to lunchtime bean burritos or quinoa-stuffed peppers to dinnertime salads loaded with beans, greens and a sprinkling of nuts.

Try Curried Brussels Sprouts on your holiday table.


What to do: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take two cups of Brussels sprouts, cut off ends – if large ones, you can cut them in half. Rinse them in cold water.  Toss them in a baking dish with 2 medium garlic cloves, diced, 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of curry powder and a pinch of salt.  Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes, uncovered.  Take out, toss and cover and replace for 10 minutes. Repeat until sprouts are tender.  

Nutrition Information (per 1/2 cup serving): 93 calories, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 62 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugars, 2 g protein

5. Savor sweets for special times.  Minimize the processed sugar in sweetened coffee drinks (i.e., peppermint lattes), regular soda and fruity festive cocktails and instead savor one homemade cookie, sip a small hot cocoa or a fruit-sweetened dessert.  Remember, there are about 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon.  Look at how many grams of sugar are in your favorite sweet indulgence and you can determine how many teaspoons of sugar you are eating in one sitting!

6. Hydrate with water.  How much water you need depends, well, on YOU.  Each of us has different water needs based on gender, age and activity level (and even where you live – warmer versus colder climates).   A good rule of thumbs is sip water throughout that day, and have a cup before, during and after a workout – as well as in-between alcoholic libations!  The Institute of Medicine recommends that men get about 13 cups per day and women drink 9 cups a day – but that varies with every person. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s water guidelines.

7. Swap out salt for spices.  Who wants to feel bloated and puffy over the holidays, especially in your fancy new holiday duds?  One of the biggest culprits of swollen fingers and toes – and waistlines, is too much salt.  Of course, we need salt every day, but not more than 2,300 mg – that’s 1 teaspoon – the average person eats double that amount!  Flavor your food with herbs and spices like turmeric, curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne – and a pinch of salt to enhance the flavor.  By exciting your senses with spices – you’ll never even miss the extra salt.   Plus, they contain a ton of benefits for a lifetime of good health for your heart, blood vessels, circulation, digestion and diabetes defense.  Here’s more on spices from my friend, The Spicy Gourmet.

I’d love to know what tips work for you.  Happy and healthy holidays!






Simple Diabetes Recipe & Tip #4: Factor in Fish

Fish is good food, not only for your heart with their stellar omega-3 fats (especially the cold-water dwellers like salmon, halibut, and tuna), but the high quality protein fish offers is good for fending off blood sugar fluctuations. Are you getting at least two 6-ounce servings per week of fish? I encourage your to experiment with different seafood.  Take a look at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for the abundance of sustainable fish options that are available to you.

Lose the fear factor of making fish at home and keep it simple. Purchase fresh fish from a reputable fish monger or store. I like to season it will a drizzle of lemon juice and honey and a pinch of salt and pepper.  To add a kick, add a few red pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne pepper.  Fresh fish should never smell ‘fishy’ and the flesh should be a uniform color.  If you purchase frozen fish be sure to thaw it in the refrigerator before cooking it.  For ease, you can purchase fish in cans or pouches, too – however beware of canned fish in oil as the fat and calories will be higher.

Here’s a simple salmon salad that’s great for a quick lunch or casual dinner.  Pair it with a cup of tomato, lentil or broccoli soup and a small whole grain pita bread.


What to do: Mix 3-ounces of cooked salmon (for ease use canned in water or pouch variety) with 1/4 cup of sliced scallions, 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes – halved, 1 heaping tablespoon plain low-fat yogurt, 1 teaspoon fresh dill weed – minced, 1 teaspoon curry powder, and a pinch of salt.   Spoon over a bed of baby greens. Enjoy!

Nutrition Information: 172 calories, 7 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, cholesterol 50 mg, 133 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 5 grams sugars, 21 grams protein  

What are your fish faves?  I’d love to know…


Simple Diabetes Recipe and Tip #3: Go Nuts!

Another way to ward off or thwart the effects of diabetes is to eat an ounce of nuts every day. Nuts (including legumes like peanuts) are notorious for being high in protein, fiber and low in carbs – which can help keep your blood sugar under control.   A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who ate nuts or peanut butter, which are jam-packed with “good” mono and polyunsaturated fats, at least five times a week had a 20 to 30 percent lower risk of diabetes. Be careful to stick with an ounce as nuts and/or nut butters as they are high-calorie, so watch the portions! Here is a glance of what an ounce of some my nut faves look like …


Evolve your eating by replacing fatty cuts of red or processed meats, full fat dairy products and/or refined grain products with nuts. As much as you can eat them whole and raw, enjoy nuts in the ground form as a flour for baking, chopped over salads, pureed in pesto to top roasted veggies or whole grain pasta.  Your blood sugar levels will be better off for it!

My family loves pesto. The beauty of this recipe is it’s simple and you can use any nuts you like.  It’s worth breaking out your food processor – I promise!


What to do: In a food processor, pulse 1/4 cup of shelled pistachios for a few seconds and toss in a bunch of fresh basil leaves – about 2 cups.  Pulse until combined and add a cup of freshly shaved parmesan cheese (use a microplane for simple and delicate shavings).  Mix in a garlic clove and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil and mix well.  Scrape the sides with a spatula and pulse for a few seconds to combine the excess. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Enjoy over baked tofu, chicken or veggie pasta.

Nutrition Information (per ounce serving): 152 calories, 14 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 148 mg sodium, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 grams sugar, 5 g protein 



Spice Up Your Health Today

If variety is the “spice of life”, adding a variety of spices to your daily life can bring life to your cooking, eating experiences and overall health.  If you think spices are only in Indian, Thai and Mexican foods – think again.  Although, it’s true that these cuisines naturally incorporate herbs and spices, you can adapt them into any recipe to  tantalize your taste buds anytime. Mill or grind spices, such as cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds and whole cloves into your favorite dishes; not only will this tickle your senses, but they contain virtually no calories or fat.  The best part is watching your calories does not have to mean tasteless, bland foods!  I encourage you to experiment with the natural world of spices.  What greater gift can you give your health today than using spices?  Try pure, unadulterated, organic spices as you’ll get the true health benefit without any chemicals or wear and tear on the planet. 

I have recently discovered that grinding my own with a spice mill leaves you with more fresh and aromatic spices.  You know why?  I asked organic spice expert and purveyor, Dinesh Perrara, founder of The Spicy Gourmet.  Here’s why: the pre-ground spices on the store shelf have already lost some of their flavor, aroma and essential oils – and once you open the bottle you lose more!  So using whole spices is the way to go to get the biggest flavor and health bang for your buck.  There’s nothing like smelling a handful of whole nutmeg seeds (they look like acorns) –  be careful not to grind them in your spice mill like I did.  I soon found out that whole nutmeg seeds is too big to mill (and can beat up your spice mill blade)!  So purchase a nutmeg grater or fine-mesh grater for your nutmeg.  Try transforming  spices to a fragrant powder in your mill or roasting freshly milled spices in a dry skillet over low heat and blending them for a more sophisticated juxtaposition of flavors.  It’s truly amazing how much the flavors ignite in your mouth.

To make the famous Indian ‘hot spice mix’, Garam Masala, The Spicy Gourmet recommends combining the following Ceylon (from Sri Lanka) spices:

3 cinnamon sticks  (3-inches each and broken into 1/2 inch pieces)

2 teaspoons whole cardamom seeds 

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole mace blades

And then…roasting each spice separately in a dry skillet for a few minutes until fragrant with a deep rich color.  Transfer to a bowl to cool.  Once all have been roasted, place them into a spice mill  and grind to a fine powder.  Mix the roasted ground spices together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark space.  If stored properly, this spice blend can last forever – until you use it up ofcourse.   Try Garam Masala in roasted vegetables, baked chicken, fish and lentil dishes.   To start, use only a small amount at first to test the taste and heat if it in on your tongue; slowly add more if you can handle the heat. 

I encourage you to check ou my new spice finds at for more spicy facts and recipes using some of the world’s best spices.  

What spices to you use regularly and how?  I’d love to know.  The health possibilities are endless…


Simple Switches to Eat With Your Lights On

How many times have you eaten and not even realized what you ate or better yet, how much?   As a student of eating behavior, I encourage people to “eat with their lights on” (and that means someone is home).  In the dark crevices of your day there may be a mini-candy bar or two, a handful of jelly beans, a half-bag of Sunchips and a dollop of heavy whipped cream in your coffee.  It all creates an excess…and that can mean one thing: weight gain – if you are not actively burning up the extra energy.  So turn the lights even in the smallest of eating moments…

Let’s face it food takes us to a different place, at least temporarily.  That’s not always a bad thing — as rekindling that feeling of grandma’s brownies or mom’s apple pie or family meals is perfectly life enhancing.  It’s when, we eat often without intention or purpose that weight and health can spiral out of control. 

Here are some simple switches you can flip to create a more mindful, well-lit eating path for life.

  • Allow eating to hold special, sacred moments in your day — carve out time when you eat only (and don’t do other things like watch TV or work on your computer or talk on the phone).
  • Sit down and savor.  Use your eating time as a break from standing, walking and running to/from places.  Create a kitchen nook, a work place table or window side seat for a nutritious respite in your day.
  • Choose what you eat like you choose other important things in your life.  Think about your most prizes possessions, i.e., your car, home, clothes, shoes, or spouse.  What you eat reflects your personality,style and health intentions –  so choose your food with respect and love for yourself.
  • Break bread together.  Share your favorite food with family, friends and your community.  Research has shown that when people cook, eat and enjoy food together they live happier, healthier and longer lives.   

So whenever you want to eat in the dark, at least light a candle — it will spark some good eating intention.