My husband Tim has been on a bit of a low carb/high protein kick. In addition to working out like a madman, he eats Greek yogurt for breakfast, and snacks on vegetarian jerky.  If I make cookies, he doesn’t even try one. In other words, he is making me look like a total slacker (damn you, Tim!)

Which brings me to black soybeans. Tim kept wanting me to come up with a recipe that included these super low-carb beans. I guess I was a bit resistant, because the can I bought languished in the cabinet month after month. But one day I gave in and decided to try them in a simple quinoa salad.

Um, black soybeans, where have you been all my life?

The beans were delicious (she admits, sheepishly), and it’s hard to go wrong with the Mediterranean flavors of lemon, olives, red peppers and feta cheese. And with loads of protein, fiber and vitamins, this salad is a heart health superstar.

I may never catch up with Tim in the weight loss department, but he has definitely inspired me to eat more protein and fewer carbs.  I’m not quitting cookies altogether, and I’ll never be a protein bar eater, but thanks to this salad, I will happily eat black soybeans for lunch.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Black Soybeans

1 cup quinoa (I prefer red, but any type will do)
1.5 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup of cooked black soybeans, rinsed (if using canned, recommend BPA-free Eden brand)
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fat-free feta cheese

Place the quinoa and broth in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12-14 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked but still a bit crunchy. Cool slightly.

In a serving bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Add olives, red pepper, parsley, salt and pepper, then gently stir in quinoa and beans. Top with feta cheese and serve. (Note: keeps well for three days, but I think it’s best served immediately, as flavors can fade slightly with refrigeration.)

Serves 4

Here’s what happened. I had little bits of lots of things. Two nearly-black bananas. A bit of canned pumpkin puree. Some chocolate chips. A handful of fresh cranberries. At first I thought of baking a few different things all in one weekend.

Pumpkin cranberry bread?
Chocolate chip cookies?
Banana pecan muffins?

But then, it came to me. Why not attempt a crazy kitchen-sink quick bread recipe?! The worst that could happen is that it would go into the trash. But if it succeeded, just think…it could become an internet sensation. I’d be famous!

Well, people, believe it or not this bread is awesome. I mean, I will make it again, even if it means buying lots of ingredients next time. OK, it may not make me famous, but it sure makes me happy. It’s super moist, and the cranberries and chocolate play nicely with each other. Not sure you can taste both the banana and pumpkin individually, but the combination works.

So I urge you to give this recipe a try yourself. Or make up a version of your own. It’s easy, you just have to go for it.

[Note: I waited too long to post this recipe – fresh cranberry season is over. But it will work well with frozen cranberries, so I hope you'll still consider making this wacky bread!]

Pumpkin-Banana-Cranberry-Chocolate-Pecan Bread

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
puree
½ cup mashed super-ripe banana
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cranberries, roughly chopped (if frozen, do not thaw)
½ cup dark chocolate chips (60% to 72%)
½ cup chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix pumpkin, banana and sugars in a medium bowl. Vigorously whisk together the flax and water, and add to pumpkin mixture. Stir in the vanilla and oil.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and baking powder, then mix into the wet ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips cranberries and pecans.

Pour into oiled 9 x 5″ loaf ban and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and remove to a rack. Let cool before serving.

When I went to visit my father, who had just been released from the hospital, comfort food was definitely in order. Risotto came to mind, but it’s generally laden with butter and cheese – a big no-no for my family of heart disease sufferers.

Luckily, it’s easy to turn risotto from a “heart attack on a plate” to a nutritious meal. This farro risotto is the perfect example. It’s super comforting, but completely guilt-free! It’s got whole grains, vitamin-packed squash and mushrooms, and no dairy in sight.

I love the texture, too. The farro has the chewiness of barley, while the squash melts into the dish a bit, giving it a wonderful creaminess.  Every bite is sure to make you feel cheerier on a short winter’s day.

Farro Risotto with Delicata Squash and Mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 delicata squash (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cubed
1 small fennel bulb
2 cloves garlic
1 medium yellow onion, diced
10 ounces mushrooms (shiitake, crimini or a combination)
1 1/2 cups pearled farro (can substitute barley)
1/2 cup vermouth
4 cups vegetable broth (plus more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt, or less if your broth is salty
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the base off the fennel bulb, cut a V-shape in the bottom to remove the core, and cube. Toss the squash and fennel with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté 5 minutes. Add the farro and sliced mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes.

Raise the heat, add the vermouth and cook until it has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add ½ cup broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, until it is absorbed. Repeat this with the remainder of the broth, in ½-cup increments. It should take about 25 minutes; the farro should be cooked through but al dente.

Add the roasted squash and fennel, and simmer for three minutes longer, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if the risotto seems too dry.

Add parsley and black pepper, and serve.

I started out with a good basic recipe for a vegan molasses cookie. Then I went and fiddled with it…again and again. I was out to make it a more “adult” cookie, and boy did I succeed. Some extra spices including a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little cocoa powder, espresso and pecans did the trick. I used heart-healthy whole wheat pastry flour and extra virgin olive oil (I very rarely use Earth Balance or vegan shortening – don’t want the palm oil, etc.)

These are some intense cookies, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next time I might up the ante and add some fresh ginger, too. Watch out, kids!

I hope you’ll make these for your next holiday party. You’ll definitely blow the minds of any butter-lovers who taste them, because you’d really never know these are vegan cookies.

Two words of advice. First, make sure your spices are fresh. If you’ve had your ginger and cloves in the spice cabinet for over six months, buy some more. It really makes a difference, I swear.  Second, the brand of molasses seems to matter – a LOT. The first time I made these I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Molasses, which is a blackstrap type, and the cookies were appropriately intense.  The second time I used Grandma’s brand and they had a milder taste that wasn’t nearly as appealing. So it’s worth seeking out a flavorful molasses.

Molasses-Ginger Cookies

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
3 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
Pinch cayenne pepper
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup well-chopped pecans
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk of choice (can substitute regular milk)
½ cup blackstrap molasses (see note above)
¼ cup demerara sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients (through pecans) in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla, milk and molasses.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon just until combined.

Form into 1-inch balls and roll in the demerara sugar. Place a few inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 9 minutes. They may still look a bit wet inside, but don’t worry.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 3 or 4 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool fully before eating.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

I can’t believe I’ve never posted my favorite cornbread recipe. Well, better late than never.

This is based on a famous recipe published in Cook’s Illustrated, called “Blue Ribbon Vegan Cornbread.” It was created by an 11 year-old girl, who won a contest at the Iowa State Fair. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe, namely using a heart-healthy oil, substituting whole-grain flour, reducing the sugar and throwing in some fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional).

My other secret weapon is a roasted cornmeal called Brinser’s Best. It’s darker than most cornmeal, with a completely distinctive taste. My favorite ratio is half Brinser’s Best, half regular stone-ground cornmeal. I’m not sure why, but the combination is just right in cornbread. Brinser’s is made by a company called Haldeman Mills in Pennsylvania. One great thing about Haldeman is that they don’t use genetically modified corn. Yay. I found Brinser’s at the awesome Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn. Otherwise, I’m not sure where to tell you to look for it, as it’s out of stock on Amazon. In any case, this stuff is worth the search.

I like to serve my cornbread with collard greens and Hoppin’ John. Which reminds me, I haven’t posted my recipes for those yet, either – maybe because they are completely un-photogenic. But I’ll try someday!

Whole-Grain Vegan Cornbread

2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
6 tablespoons water
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose flour works, too)
1 cup cornmeal (see above)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup high-oleic safflower oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking oil spray and place in the oven 5 minutes before you are ready to put the cornbread in.

Vigorously mix the flax and water in a small bowl or mug, and microwave for 30-40 seconds, until thickened. Alternatively, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, add the flax and simmer for a few minutes.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In another bowl, mix the flax mixture, soy milk and oil. Add to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Add corn kernels, if using.

Pour the batter into the heated cast iron pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or  until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before cutting.

Serves 8

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Here, I’ve pulled together all the recipes that were submitted: eleven from contributors and five of my own. Enjoy the slideshow. I’m also happy to announce the three winners for the cookbook giveaway. Of the 62 entries, Dalores B., Jean M. and Gloria P were the winners!

Lastly, people keep asking me what’s on my own Thanksgiving menu. Well, I haven’t 100% nailed it down yet. I probably won’t make any of the recipes I did for this Challenge, because even though I love them all, I want to keep trying new things. Jodi’s Brussels sprouts from this year’s Challenge, and Trudy’s healthy green bean casserole from last year’s are major contenders. Oh, and Stephanie’s chocolate bourbon pecan pie – oh my. But scroll down to see other recipes on my Thanksgiving radar.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

sps butternut

Silky Butternut Squash-Cauliflower Soup from Sweet Potato Soul

wild-mushrooms

Wild Mushroom Croustades from Cooking on the Weekends

ChocBourbonPecanPieSlicePlates34

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie from Recipe Renovator

Lime brussels sprouts

My Lime Roasted Brussels Sprouts

wonderland cranberry_top

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce from Wonderland Kitchen

TasteSpaceCarnival

Carnival Squash Stuffed With Cranberry-Maple Quinoa and Beans from The Taste Space

carrots

Sweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce from Pursuit of Vegetables

brussels-sprouts-cabbage-WCGL

Brussels Sprouts with Cabbage and Toasted Almonds from What's Cooking Good Looking

Liz sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Liz the Chef

roasted grape stuffing sat

My Wild Rice and Bread Stuffing with Roasted Grapes

caras Maple-Mustard-Brussels-Sprouts-with-Pepitas-and-Pomegranate-Seeds-@Caras-Cravings-1

Maple Mustard Brussels Sprouts with Pepitas and Pomegranate Seeds from Cara's Cravings

winter vegetable soup 2

My Pureed Winter Vegetable Soup

Quinoa apple salad 2

My Warm Quinoa Salad With Apples and Chickpeas

jolly tomatosweet-potato-pixlr-600x399

Heirloom Apple and Sweet Potato Tian from Jolly Tomato

Winter salad

My Winter Green Salad with Butternut Squash and Beets

LivApple crumbles

Individual Apple Crumbles from Liv Lives Life

Silky Butternut Squash-Cauliflower Soup from Sweet Potato SoulWild Mushroom Croustades from Cooking on the WeekendsChocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie from Recipe RenovatorMy Lime Roasted Brussels SproutsDIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce from Wonderland KitchenCarnival Squash Stuffed With Cranberry-Maple Quinoa and Beans from The Taste SpaceSweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce from Pursuit of VegetablesBrussels Sprouts with Cabbage and Toasted Almonds from What's Cooking Good LookingRoasted Brussels Sprouts from Liz the ChefMy Wild Rice and Bread Stuffing with Roasted GrapesMaple Mustard Brussels Sprouts with Pepitas and Pomegranate Seeds from Cara's CravingsMy Pureed Winter Vegetable SoupMy Warm Quinoa Salad With Apples and ChickpeasHeirloom Apple and Sweet Potato Tian from Jolly TomatoMy Winter Green Salad with Butternut Squash and BeetsIndividual Apple Crumbles from Liv Lives Life

A few more healthy and delicious-looking Thanksgiving recipes:

Fennel and Apple Slaw

Savory Cornbread Stuffing

Pureed Roasted Squash and Yams with Citrus

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs

Pumpkin Meringue Pie