From the Food Editor: New Cooking Light book, spice blends make family meals easier

Updated 10/10/2012 2:18 PM
  • "Cooking Light: Real Family Food" by Amanda Haas

    "Cooking Light: Real Family Food" by Amanda Haas

  • McCormick Perfect Pinch is a line of salt-free spice blends.

    McCormick Perfect Pinch is a line of salt-free spice blends. Courtesy of McCormick

If working more vegetables into evening meals and generally eating healthier is on your to-do list, you'd be wise to pick up a copy of "Cooking Light: Real Family Food" (Oxmoor House, $21.95).

Cooking Light magazine teamed up with Amanda Haas, founder of the popular website, to put together this colorful, breezy and helpful cookbook. My family enjoyed the Baked Penne with Turkey and the Turkey Sausage Lasagna (what can I say, I've been on a turkey kick lately) -- and both clock in at less than 400 calories a serving. I'm already planning the pasta casserole as a post-Thanksgiving way to use leftover turkey and peas.

There are plenty of recipes in the pack of 150 or so that aren't turkey. Start the morning with Pumpkin Muffins or Crunchy Maple Granola; lunch on Lemon Caesar Salad or Crunchy Couscous Salad with Currants and Mints. Whip up Pomegranate Orange Martinis and Black Bean Dip for happy hour with the neighbors and move onto Chicken Divan and Herbed Rack of Lamb for dinner. Dessert is covered as well, with selections like Frozen Vanilla Custard and Kitchen-Sink Oatmeal Cookies. Recipes are labeled with icons indicating those that are gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian, easy entertaining, make ahead, 15 minutes or less and kids-can-help.

The book includes color photos of every recipe (always a nice touch), as well as tips for stocking the pantry and meal planning and budgeting.

Perfect in a pinch: I use a handful of shortcuts in the kitchen to help me get dinner on the table and my favorite go-to of late has been McCormick Perfect Pinch Southwest Sweet and Smoky.

I've used this salt-free, MSG-free spice blend to perk up corn chowder and give an extra kick to breaded chicken breasts. On a recent camping trip I used it to season packaged grilled chicken I reheated for fajitas and shook it over scrambled eggs. I've found so many ways to use it I haven't even tried the recipes for Southwest Grilled Shrimp or Sweet and Smoky Salmon with Orange Salsa printed under the label.

The Southwest blend is just one in the line of salt-free seasonings. You can find them in the spice aisle priced at about $4 for a 2.5 ounce shaker.

Tailgate with the Wolves: Head to Allstate Arena in Rosemont Saturday for a cheese-themed tailgate with Vermont dairy farmer and seasoned chef Mark Hackett and Cabot Cheese.

Look for the big tent in the lot between 2 and 6 p.m. -- the puck drops at 7 p.m. as the Wolves take on Rockford. Hackett will be passing out cheese samples, making "Heaven in VT Grilled Cheese" and 5-Point Spread, sharing the Cabot Creamery Coop story and demonstrating the many ways to make grilled cheese. There also will be giveaways and other fun to be had.

Sweet visit: The sister-owners of Georgetown Cupcake, a bakery made famous by TLC's reality show "D.C. Cupcakes," will share tales from their kitchen and their TV adventures when they roll into Wheeling next week.

From 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne will be at Indian Trails Library, 355 Schoenbeck Road, Wheeling. The pair will chat with visitors and sign copies of their new cookbook, "Sweet Celebrations." Copies of the book will be available for purchase and autographs. Space is limited and registration is required; book at (847) 279-2232 or

Attendees are encouraged to bring a copy of their favorite cupcake recipe to the event. The library will compile the recipes and make them available on the library's website in time for holiday baking.

Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend on or follow her on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram @PankeysPlate.

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