FOOD: Healthy or Hearty… Why Choose?

There are a handful of times in life when an everyday cook takes an ordinary recipe to a transcendental state of pure bliss. A just-right tweak of the ingredients, a bold addition of a new spice, a crafty technique that makes a recipe sing. Whatever it is, my mother-in-law achieved it last Thursday at our weekly dinner. I should be distraught that she has perfected the buttermilk biscuit to a level my husband now considers the standard in biscuit-making. But instead, I unashamedly savored each bite and buttery crumb with pure abandon. The steamy, flaky layers drizzled with honey or raspberry jam, the slightly salty bite, the crusty, golden brown top—it was absolute biscuit nirvana.

Food LoveWhen I got home, nirvana recipe in hand, I ceremoniously threw away my go-to canned biscuits in the fridge (they were expired anyway, but it felt like a powerful moment just the same). Besides, it’s January and we’re all supposed to be munching on broccoli after a vigorous workout, not dreaming of baked goods.

Biscuits aside, it’s somewhat easy this time of year to get excited about turning over a new leaf and eating healthier, especially since healthy food has nearly become a fashion statement. Next to a good handbag, you want to be seen carrying an eco-friendly container of fruits or veggies into the office each day. It just feels right, looks right. But despite our penchant for healthy, trend-setting fare, we eventually get bored or busy and go scrambling for a quick carb or cheesy fix to satisfy our craving. After all, we can only put so many fabulous fruits, nuts and luscious dressings on a salad before we want to gorge on a slab of pot roast to feel human again.

In this foodie-centric, yet health-conscious age, we desire nutritious, earthy ingredients but still gravitate to dishes with a sense of comfort. I once marveled over a pan of perfectly seasoned, roasted cauliflower and swore I’d met my new food soul mate. But by the next week, after I’d roasted everything from sweet potatoes to asparagus, I was back into some creamy chicken concoction forbidden on my diet. It just seems easier to make a delicious casserole than to find a dozen ways to make Brussels sprouts exciting.

Luckily, the popularity of TV food shows, the growing presence of specialty supermarkets and the continual, chic re-invention of under-discovered veggies and ingredients keep our heads turning year-round. With such a buffet of tastes and textures at our disposal, diet boredom may be an excuse of the past. Healthy food trend predictions for 2016 tout everything from bottled soups and floral-infused cheeses and chocolates, to root vegetables, seaweed and mushrooms as some of the style-makers to watch this year. Spiralized veggies that mimic pasta noodles will continue in popularity, too. Hyper-local sourcing of meats and produce is set to gain even more momentum in 2016, as is the interest in African and Middle Eastern flavors and ethnic cuisine and condiments.

If you like the sound of a food trend that involves mushrooms but prefer that they are swimming in a creamy pot pie, don’t despair. Ideas for making healthy meals with comfort food appeal are endless. Turkey chili satisfies cold-weather blues without devastating the diet, as does spinach and artichoke macaroni and cheese made with whole wheat pasta. Recipes for whole wheat crust pizza dough are also a comforting go-to on chilly nights, especially when topped with tangy tomatoes and fresh veggies.

To perk up other favorite foods and keep versatility in your diet without getting stuck in a salad-and-grilled-chicken rut, experts suggest experimenting with exotic spices and fresh herbs to add depth and flavor to roasted veggies and meats. Try new sauces, make your own salad dressings or create something special with kebabs. They’re bite-sized, portion-controlled and food is just plain fun when on a stick. A little creativity might yield a healthy nirvana all its own. And hopping on the treadmill afterwards won’t be so daunting.

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