Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eat...Healthy Starts Here (a book review)

I love cookbooks. I can't get enough of them, really. It seems that while I am constantly trying to acquire less and rid my life of excess stuff (electrical cords for tech unknown, lidless lunch containers, hole-ridden tights...), cookbooks are exempt from my anti-hoarding aims. This month, while everyone is thinking about eating better, I thought I would share reviews (and recipes!) from some of my latest finds. 

In December, a lovely little gift arrived at my door: my copy of Healthy Starts Here by Mairlyn Smith. Mairlyn is a professional home economist and a Second City alum and she has long been writing on health and creating healthy recipes. I have a very dog-eared (well, no...I take really good care of my books but that doesn't mean they aren't well used!) copy of Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health, that she co-wrote with Liz Pearson RD. 

Healthy Starts Here is a breath of fresh air where health-focused books are concerned because there are no gimmicks. No low carb, raw-everything or protein overloads here. Mairlyn's recipes are always accessible, healthy and tasty.The recipes are full of fresh produce, whole grains and there are plenty of vegetarian options. The book is organized by ingredient and each section offers information on the health benefits of a variety of foods: from greens to yogurt to berries, there are recipes for each season and appetite. 

Where Mairlyn's background as a home economist and educator really shines through is in the book's opening section where she advises on basic kitchen equipment and stocking a pantry; she also demystifies terms that are commonly used in recipes. With more and more of us spending less and less time in a kitchen, this book is a great crash course in re-introducing yourself to cookery. The recipes come with plenty of helpful tips on, as Mairlyn describes, "how not to wreck them". Mairlyn is encouraging and humorous in her writing and graciously self-effacing in sharing some of her own kitchen mishaps. If nothing else, let the image of Mairlyn in her onion goggles forever be engrained  in your mind as your culinary cheerleader, encouraging as you embark on another meal's prep! 

The recipes all include nutritional information and, even more impressively, Mairlyn enlisted the help of a dietitian to ensure that there are diabetes food choice values for each recipe so that it is easy for diabetics on a meal plan to incorporate these recipes into their daily lives. These are recipes for real life and the book includes treats like cookies and chocolate chip muffins that are family friendly. The quality of ingredients is good and generally whole food focused; Mairlyn does use margarine in some of her recipes and I might argue that butter would be a less processed and better quality choice. 

In choosing a recipe to feature, I thought I would give you something that will keep you warm and healthy this winter and that includes one of my favourite unsung heroes of a grain, barley.


Tuscan Supper
From Healthy Starts Here! by Mairlyn Smith, PHEc 
Used with permission from Whitecap Books

Makes 6 cups (1.5 L) | One serving = 1 cup (250 mL)

4 large cloves garlic
1 cup (250 mL) pot barley
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cups (1 L) sliced cremini mushrooms (about 24 mushrooms, or one and a half 8 oz / 227 g packages)
1 tbsp (15 mL) dried basil leaves (see below)
1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano leaves (see below)
¼ tsp (1 mL) cracked black pepper
One 19 oz (540 mL) can diced tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) lower-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (see page 7)
½ cup (125 mL) lightly packed grated
Asiago cheese or really good
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Mince the garlic and set aside.

Place the barley in a wire-mesh colander and rinse it well under cold running water. Set the barley aside to drain.

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then the onion, and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. (This extra bit of time browning the onion pays off in the end as it gives the dish a deeper flavour.)

Add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes. (I know what you’re thinking: this pot isn’t big enough. Trust me, the principle of shrinkage applies here and in about 3 minutes the mushrooms will have shrunk down.)

Add the basil, oregano, and pepper, and sauté for 1 minute. Add the barley and sauté for 1 minute.

Stir in the tomatoes and broth, making sure you scrape up all the little browned bits stuck to the bottom of the saucepan.

Bring to a boil and stir again. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the barley is cooked through and soft but not mushy, 45 to 50 minutes. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat so it doesn’t burn.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir once, and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Spoon into bowls and top each serving with 2 tbsp (30 mL) grated cheese. (Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

Per serving: 207 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 309 mg sodium,
33 g carbohydrate, 8 g fibre, 5.5 g sugars, 9 g protein

Diabetes Food Choice Values per serving: 2 Carbohydrate, 1 Meat and Alternatives, ½ Fat

Tips from Mairlyn:

“Can I use fresh herbs?” Yes, you can. Use 3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped fresh basil and 1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh oregano, but add them just before serving so the flavour isn’t completely cooked out of the herbs.

Full Disclosure: Whitecap Publishing generously supplied my copy of Healthy Starts Here but they did so because I am already such a fan of Mairlyn's and my views, expressed here, are entirely my own. 
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