On the Menu: Finding the right recipe for those New Year's resolution goals is tricky

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New Year's Eve brings with it certain traditions: Staying up until midnight, toasting with something sparkling, and about 8 to 12 hours after the ball drops, going on a diet.

Of all the New Year's resolutions made each year, one of the most popular -- and most doomed -- is the quest to remodel our meals and our waistlines.

We all have the urge to make substantial changes, but few have the will to commit to them. Losing a substantial amount of weight is difficult for most people. If that's your goal, don't rely on willpower. Seek professional help from a doctor, a nutritionist, and, if possible, a personal trainer. A support group is also a good idea.

For those whose goals are more modest, make small changes and don't expect immediate, substantial results.

One of the easiest ways to eat healthfully is to find recipes and foods that are both good for you and delicious. Of course, figuring out whether a recipe is "good for you" can be tricky. In general, look for recipes that include lots of vegetables, small portions of protein, whole grains and little added sugar.

Recipes that include nutritional information can be useful, just keep in mind that the recipe must be followed exactly. A few extra tablespoons of oil can add a substantial number of calories.

Try to cook a new, healthful dish just one or two times a week. If you find recipes you enjoy, it will be no burden to add them to your diet. And don't swear off dessert entirely. Ending the meal with something sweet can act as a signal that the meal is over and may even help you avoid late-night snacking. Just choose desserts that are small and simple -- and preferably homemade (you'll eat cookies and ice cream a lot less if you only eat sweets you make yourself).

Finally, remember that weight is just one indicator of health. Rather than focusing on losing a few pounds, consider a goal with fewer variables, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Keep it simple, and 2011 may just be the year you actually keep your resolution.

Wild Mushroom and Barley Risotto

PG tested

"The Simple Art of EatingWell Cookbook" is full of delicious recipes that will make it easy to get off to a healthier start in 2011. I loved this faux-risotto that was just as warm and comforting as a risotto, with a lot more nutritional oomph. According to EatingWell, a 3/4-cup serving of this risotto has only 200 calories and 5 grams of fat, while also containing 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber and 19 percent of recommended daily amounts of Vitamin A.

-- China Millman

  • 6 cups vegetable, mushroom or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups mixed wild mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 6 cups baby arugula
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring broth and water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute more. Reduce heat to medium.

Add 1/2 cup of hot broth to the barley and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cup hot broth at a time and stirring until the liquid has been absorbed after each addition, adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until the barley is tender and creamy but still somewhat firm, 35 to 45 minutes (you might not use all the broth).

Stir in the arugula and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese, butter and vinegar. Season with pepper.

Makes 10 servings, 3/4 cup each.

-- "The Simple Art of EatingWell" by Jessie Price and the EatingWell Test Kitchen (EatingWell, 2010, $35)

Steamed Vegetables with Peanut Butter Dressing

PG tested

Steamed vegetables might sound like the worst sort of diet food, but here the vegetables are just a pleasant excuse for a delicious sauce. Yoshihiro Murata originally called for steaming the vegetables in a microwave by combining them in a heat-proof bowl with three tablespoons of water, covering them with plastic wrap, then microwaving until tender (about 2 minutes). I don't own a microwave, so I used a traditional steamer insert and steamed them for about 8 minutes, just until tender.

-- China Millman

  • 3 tablespoons salted peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon crushed peanuts
  • 1 medium all-purpose potato, peeled
  • 1/2 medium carrot, peeled
  • 3 1/2 ounces kabacha squash or other winter squash
  • 10 green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, white wine vinegar, sugar and crushed peanuts in a small bowl.

Cut the potato, carrot and squash into thin sticks, 2-inches long. Steam all vegetables until tender in a steamer insert over a few inches of simmering water.

Divide into two portions and top with some of the dressing, serving the extra on the side.

Serves 2.

-- Adapted from "Japanese Home Cooking with Master Chef Murata" by Yoshihiro Murata (Kodansha International, 2010, $19.95)

China Millman: 412-263-1198 or cmillman@post-gazette.com . Follow her at http://twitter.com/chinamillman .


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