Full Belly Sisters: April 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous

I am so excited to have a guest post from my foodie friend, Sonali, who writes the amazing blog The Foodie Physician. Her recipes are all about fresh ingredients, bold colors, and simple ways to get complex flavors. As an emergency room doctor, she has a very special point of view; she truly celebrates good food as an important component of good health. Her recipes have been featured in magazines including Everyday with Rachel Ray, Better Homes & Gardens, and Taste of Home. We're absolutely honored that she would develop this amazing recipe for our blog!

Hi everyone!  My name is Sonali aka The Foodie Physician.  I’m an ER doctor, culinary school graduate, recipe developer and board-certified foodie.  I have a blog where I share my original recipes that are nutritious and full of flavor.  I also enjoy discussing the health benefits of foods and encourage people to know what they're eating so that they can make smart food choices.  I was so honored when the Full Belly Sisters invited me to write a guest post for their fabulous blog.  I’m going to talk about seafood because it’s one of my favorite things to eat and it’s so good for you! 

The American Heart Association and the newly updated 2010 USDA dietary guidelines both recommend that adults eat at least two servings (3.5-4 ounces each of cooked fish or ¾ cup flaked fish) of salmon or other omega-3 rich fish per week.  The twice-a-week recommendation for seafood used to be limited to people diagnosed with heart disease but now it’s recommended for everyone. 

So why is seafood being emphasized so much?  It’s because salmon and other fish like mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna have high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have incredible health benefits.  Our bodies don’t make omega-3s so we must get them from our diet. Here are just a few of the things that omega-3 fatty acids do:

   They are associated with reduced cardiac death.  Specifically, they decrease the risk of irregular rhythms, may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques
   Did your parents always tell you that fish is “brain food?"  It turns out they were right!  Omega-3s are important for neurological development, especially in fetal development and also in young children; research shows they may improve learning ability in children and may also help reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly
   They reduce inflammation and boost immunity and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and improve arthritis symptoms

In addition to all of the health benefits provided by omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is also high in protein and has an abundance of vitamins and minerals including B-complex vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium.  And on top of all of these health benefits, wild Alaskan salmon is a sustainable fish, which means it can be eaten relatively guilt-free with regards to the environment.

Recently, there have been many concerns about mercury and other contaminants in fish.  Eating foods high in mercury on a regular basis can cause accumulation of mercury in your bloodstream.  If you’re pregnant, this can cause damage to your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.  The amount of contaminants found in fish depends on the type of fish and where it’s caught. Fish higher up in the food chain such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, tend to have higher levels of mercury because they eat the smaller fish and therefore their levels build up.  Industrial pollution can also produce mercury that contaminates water and for this reason every state issues advisories about the safe amount of locally caught fish that can be consumed.  Salmon, however, is typically low in mercury.   

The updated USDA guidelines state that the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women.  For most people, it’s unlikely mercury would cause any serious effects but it is still recommended by the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency that women who are pregnant or nursing and children under 12 should avoid high mercury fish.  If you’re pregnant, you can enjoy the heart healthy benefits of salmon and other low mercury fish but should limit your intake to 12 ounces/week and limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces/week.  Some other healthy seafood options are cod, tilapia, catfish, flounder, shrimp, clams, oysters, and crab. 

My Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous is a simple, flavorful salmon dish with a hint of the exotic.  I was inspired by warm, earthy Moroccan flavors when I created this dish.  I make an easy spice rub by combining dried cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon and rubbing it onto the fish before cooking it.  Although cinnamon is mostly used in sweet dishes in American cooking, it is commonly used in savory dishes in Moroccan cuisine and adds a warm flavor that nicely complements the other spices.  I love using spice rubs because they are a great, fast way to add flavor without adding calories.

To balance the spices on the salmon, I serve it with Greek yogurt mixed with a little lemon juice and harissa.  Harissa is a traditional North African chili paste made with chili peppers, spices and sometimes red peppers.  It’s traditionally used in stews and soups but it adds great flavor to everything from sandwiches to pasta.  Because of it’s increasing popularity, it can be found in many specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods and in stores like Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel.  There are also many recipes for homemade harissa online.  If you can’t find it, you can substitute another hot sauce such as Sriracha.

And, finally, I like to plate the salmon on a bed of pearl couscous, also called Israeli couscous.  Pearl couscous is a larger grain than traditional couscous and feels more like a pasta.  It works great in both cold salads and warm dishes and can be found in most regular grocery stores next to the traditional couscous.  However, if you can’t find it, you can substitute any type of grain.  To add bright flavor and a burst of sweetness, I stir some chopped scallions and grape tomatoes into the couscous after it’s cooked. 

This is a nicely-balanced dish that the whole family will enjoy.  It’s full of flavor but not too spicy, so your kids should like it, too.   Enjoy the dish and a big thanks to Full Belly Sisters for having me over!   

Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous
Makes 4 servings

Pearl Couscous:
1 box pearl couscous
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pint grape tomatoes, halved (about ¾ cup)
1/3 cup chopped scallions
Salt and pepper

Harissa Yogurt:
¼ cup fat free Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons harissa
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Moroccan Spiced Salmon:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
4 boneless, skinless salmon fillets (5-6 oz. each)
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

To make the couscous, heat the couscous, stock (or water) and olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Cook according to package directions.  Stir the tomatoes and scallions into the cooked couscous and season the mixture with salt and pepper. 

To make the harissa yogurt, stir the yogurt, harissa and lemon juice together in a small bowl. 

To make the salmon, mix the cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon together in a small bowl.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper and then sprinkle equal amounts of the spice mixture onto the top side of each salmon fillet.  Rub the spices into the flesh.  Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat (don’t let the pan get too hot otherwise the spices will burn).  Add the salmon fillets to the pan, spice side down.  Cook 2 minutes then flip the fillets over.  Cook the salmon another 2 minutes on the second side and then cover the pan.  Cook an additional 2-4 minutes to desired doneness.  Remove salmon from the pan. 

Serve the salmon on a bed of couscous with harissa yogurt on the side. Dive in!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Grilled Zucchini with Goat Cheese and Balsamic-Honey Syrup


Grilling is such a simple way to prepare veggies, and it seems to appeal to everyone. The caramelization adds sweetness to veggies that might otherwise be a little bitter; it adds flavor to veggies that are kind of bland. Zucchini tend to fall into that "kind of bland" category. But it's that lack of strong flavor that makes them such a good foundation for so many dishes. In this dish, I pair the lightly charred squash with creamy, tangy goat cheese and the sweet and sour balsamic syrup. 

It's a very low-calorie dish (if you ate the entire platter it would only be about 500 calories) that is flavorful and fresh—perfect for a summer lunch with some crusty bread and fresh fruit, as an appetizer for a dinner party, or as a side dish at a barbecue. Summer squash are loaded with carotenoids, which are key antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C and manganese. Zucchini also offers a significant amount of lutein, which is key for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, as it helps protect babies' eyes and has also been found in infants' brains in the regions associated with memory and learning. 

Need I also mention that zucchini are usually very inexpensive, especially in the summer months? Because it's true.

*I should note that I used a stovetop grill for my zucchini; if the weather is cooperating, feel free to throw these on your outdoor barbecue. Or, if you've got a panini press, you can try grilling them on that, as my friend Yani (of Help! Mom's on a Health Kick) does with her veggies.*


  • 2 medium to large zucchini
  • 1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
  • about 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • salt
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey

Slice your zucchini into rounds on a slight diagonal, about 1/2" thick. 

Toss in a large bowl with the oil and some salt and pepper (and red pepper flakes, if using). I like to mix them around with my hands, to make sure that the oil is evenly dispersed among the slices.

Heat your grill pan over medium-high heat. When it's fairly hot, place your zucchini rounds on it. You don't want to overcrowd the pan, so you'll probably have to grill these in batches (I find after the first batch, I usually have to turn my heat down to medium, as the pan is very hot). Leave them to cook for about five or six minutes on the first side before flipping them and cooking for another three to five minutes on the second side, until they're tender and show grill marks on each side. Note: leave the slices undisturbed when they're cooking or you won't get the grill marks. And, believe me, you want those cool lines!

While you're cooking your batches of zucchini, put the balsamic vinegar, honey and some freshly-ground pepper in a small pot. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, stirring often. Let it reduce by about 1/2-3/4; it should be thick and syrupy. Take off heat.

Arrange on a large plate or platter. I like to do sort of a flower pattern, but whatever floats your boat!

While the slices are still warm, sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese all over, so that it gets a bit melted. Nom nom. If you're grilling the zucchini before you plan to serve it (it keeps just fine for a day in the fridge), just warm it slightly before you toss the cheese on top. Then drizzle a few tablespoons of the syrup over the top and you're good to go!

You'll probably have some syrup left over; try serving it over a chunk of salty cheese like parmigiano reggiano, on top of steak, or even on desserts like fresh berries or our Strawberry Basil Sorbet.

Fresh and light and easy and good for you. What else do you want from me?!? (I'm kidding, people, just kidding.)

UPDATE: This recipe was featured in a healthy Father's Day recipe round-up over at Food Done Light!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bosom Buddy or Breast Frenemy? (Sometimes it's Hard to Tell the Difference)

Most people have a group of friends that they love and support and who love and support them back. You know, the good friends who focus on your positive attributes instead of what they perceive to be your deficits. After your childbirth is behind you—and parenting is ahead of you—your gentle, respectful, kind friends become the emotional hug you rely upon. You call them with the little successes that you experience in the first few days of your baby's life; sometimes you call them when nothing is wrong and you just need someone to listen while you cry. And they listen. No judgment. They just listen.

Almost always in that group of friends, though, there are a few gals who seem a little confused as to what friends are supposed to do for each other. They’re usually the ones who describe themselves as "opinionated," “telling the truth” or “keeping it real.” They are the self-proclaimed mavens on virtually every topic (and somehow almost always the least informed regarding said topics), and just loooove to give unsolicited advice.

This in-your-face personality is difficult to be vulnerable around at any time, but especially after you become a new mom. It’s tricky. They’re your friends and you love them and value their opinions and (in ways) you’re looking for approval. Never is this experience of vulnerability in friendship more profound than when you first become a mama.

Mostly they call with good intentions. Sometimes they call with an agenda. Asking questions. Collecting “intel.” At some point, when you’re trying to be open with your emotions to these friends (you know who they are and you’re apprehensive to be vulnerable) they bust out the “s” word. Should.

“You should keep that baby skin-to-skin.”
“You should put that baby down so it doesn’t get spoiled.”
“You should breastfeed only on demand.”
“You should breastfeed every 2 hours.”
“You should pump.”
“If you know nothing else you should know that you should never pump.”

You walk away from these conversations feeling frightened about your choices, afraid that you’ll make the wrong decision at any moment and your parenting will be ruined forever. You feel lousy and sad. Why wouldn’t you feel bad? Your friend just “should” all over you. (Yes, I lifted this from “Sex and the City”—it’s just so appropriate.) This is not a bosom buddy situation at all. This conversation that leaves you feeling lousy is the kind of convo that only happens with…a breast frenemy! Dun dun DUN!

The breast frenemy not only “shoulds” all over you, she also frequently employs the word “I.” As in, “I breastfed for 12 months” or “I began pumping immediately so my husband could feed the baby and I could sleep” or the ever-popular classic “I wanted to be safe. I wanted my baby to gain weight so I made sure to supplement with formula.”

Sorry, I can't get enough of this meme. It's as addictive as the Ryan Gosling "Hey, girl" ones.

Here’s the deal: these people who leave you feeling rotten are almost always experts only in their own experience. The fact is, what works for one person occasionally works for another. The good news is that there are many ways to do one thing and that is true for breastfeeding, as well. What worked so well for your friends may or may not work for you. The advice should probably be left to the experts, like Lactation Consultants.

Here’s another fact: Lactation Consultants are experts in breastfeeding. They are not experts in you. Who you are in your breastfeeding experience is special to you; the story of your breastfeeding experience is the one that you write.

So, maybe you’re expecting your first baby or you’re newly home and the reality of being a mom is settling in. Perhaps you’re a mother–in-law who exclusively breastfed or you’re a mother-in-law who exclusive formula fed your children. What I hope you take away from this piece is that the important thing for every new mom is her experience. There is no question that breastfeeding is the normal way to nourish a baby—our bodies were designed for it. The question that I think we often forget to ask when supporting new moms is “what do you want to do?”

This question can be asked at any time, once a week or once a day. In moments of stress—whether it’s sore nipples, engorgement, a fussy baby, difficulty with pumping—try asking it. “What do you
want to do?” or “Can you just try to do this for another day?” or “Can you do this for another week?”

Reminding that new mom that she can always decide to stop nursing is not the same as telling her she should stop.

Reminding that new mom that she can probably get through this tough period—to a point where nursing will be easier and enjoyable—is not the same as telling her she should push through.

Now I’m going to should on you all: You should be gentle with yourself and your friends; you should focus on positives and strengths (instead of your perception of deficits); most importantly, you should be open to the winding trail of your experiences as you blaze forward.

Special thanks to Sara and Sarah. Your dedication to parenting your babies in a way that felt right for you inspired me to write this!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Almond Joy Bites: I *Always* Feel Like a Nut

I really wanted to make a new candy for my son's healthier Easter basket and I decided to go for one of my own faves: an Almond Joy. Chocolate, coconut and almonds—what's not to like? Well, in the commercial version, what's not to like is icky stuff like corn syrup (the first ingredient listed) and partially hydrogenated oil. 

My version makes some changes (such as swapping milk chocolate for the more nutritious dark chocolate), but retains the spirit—rich, tropical, sweet—of the original. And my technique is very much the same as for my Homemade Peppermint Patties. If you've made those, you know they're pretty darn easy.

(yield: 12 bites)
  • about 2.5T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • 2T raw honey* (preferably local)
  • about 4.5 oz. dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa (I used a 72%)
  • 12 whole, raw almonds

*Remember that raw honey is not recommended for infants under one year of age because of the rare risk of botulism.

In a small bowl, mix the honey and coconut until fully combined.

I used my silicone mini-muffin pan; if you don't have a silicone pan, you might want to try using paper liners for easier removal of the candies once they're done.

Melt the chocolate—about 1.5 ounces should do to for this first step—and drizzle about a 1/2 teaspoon of it in the bottom of each spot in your mold. Chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes until the chocolate becomes firm. Then, spoon the coconut-honey mixture into the center of each, evenly distributing among the 12 cavities of the muffin pan.

Press an almond into the top of each.

Melt the rest of the chocolate and spoon over each one, covering the tops and sides to seal in the soft filling.

Chill until the chocolate has hardened. Feel free to toss them in the freezer - they're yummy frozen!

I wouldn't be a very good cat burglar - check out my fingerprint on the top of my candy! Oy.

Happy holidays, friends!

Update: This recipe has been included by Roxana's Home Baking at her an amazing recipe round-up of 100 Chocolate Recipes. Go check it out!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Greek-Style Baked Fish: Fresh, Simple, and Delicious

I'm thrilled that Ann from Sumptuous Spoonfulsa blog that celebrates food in all its fresh, colorful, textural, delicious glory—has written a guest post for us! I asked her to share a favorite fish recipe. Now, you may have noticed a lack of fish recipes on the FBS blog; it's because I just don't really care for fish much, not because I don't fully recognize its nutritional benefits. I always recommend fish to my clients: it provides omega-3s, protein, and B vitamins—all vital during pregnancy and beyond. Of course, you should choose your fish wisely, to avoid types high in mercury.

So, without further ado, here's Ann's simple (and somehow still absolutely fabulous) recipe for Greek-Style Baked Fish.

Hello, Full Belly Sisters! My name is Ann and my blog is called Sumptuous Spoonfuls. I am a mother of two teenagers and I love to cook healthy, delicious food. I was so honored when Justine asked me to do a guest post on her blog! When she mentioned a fish recipe would be nice, I immediately thought of this one. It’s a fish dish I found on the internet many, many years ago, when my son was little and my daughter didn’t even exist yet. I’ve made this recipe countless times and every time I serve it, my friends rave about it. I love this dish because it’s colorful, delicious, and healthy … and it’s simple. You can even make it up ahead of time (while the kids are napping, perhaps?) and just pull it out of the fridge and bake it at dinnertime. I’ve been meaning to blog about it and Justine gave me the perfect excuse to make it.

It’s pretty enough to serve to dinner guests, yet fast enough for a weeknight meal.

This dish scales (FBS note: "scales" is funny because this is a fish dish! Wonder if Ann did that on purpose...) easily up or down very easily and works well with all sorts of fish. I’ve used silver bass, walleye, northern pike and catfish and they were all good … the original recipe says it works with grouper, snapper, sole … honestly, I think just about any fish would do.  It’s a very forgiving recipe … feel free to adjust the amounts as you please.

(serves about 4)
  • Fish fillets (approximately 1 lb of fish)
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red onion, thinly sliced (about ½ a large onion per pound of fish)
  • Bell pepper, thinly sliced (or chopped) – 1 pepper per pound of fish
  • Tomato, chopped (about 1 medium tomato for a pound of fish)
  • Dried basil and oregano (1 teaspoon each per pound of fish)
  •  ¼ cup white wine per pound of fish (the alcohol from the wine should cook off, but if you’re worried about using wine, you can substitute tomato juice)
  •  2 – 3 oz. of crumbled feta cheese per pound of fish
  •  2 Tablespoons olive oil per pound of fish
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • A wedge or two of fresh lemon (optional)
  •  Fresh basil and/or oregano leaves for garnish (optional)
  • Cooked rice (I like basmati rice with this), for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Choose an oven-proof baking dish that your fish will fit in without overlapping and spray it with cooking spray.

Lay the fish fillets in the baking pan in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, then top the fish with red onion and bell pepper.

Sprinkle with dried basil and oregano, the tomato, and the feta cheese, then drizzle the white wine and olive oil over top. Grind some fresh pepper over the top.

Bake uncovered for about 12 – 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  Squeeze the lemon wedges over the cooked fish, garnish with the fresh basil and/or oregano and serve with hot cooked rice.

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