Food: Cook meals that are ‘simple and clean’

Colleen Turner describes her style of cooking as “simple and clean.”

This doesn’t mean plain and boring however. Her dishes are flavorful with extra attention given to presentation.

One of her unique approaches to feeding her family and friends is to offer interesting appetizers before a meal. “I like to have something for everyone to munch on while they talk and wait for dinner,” she said.

Her appetizer course is often just an interesting collection of sweet and savory items from her refrigerator. “I like to have different textures and colors,” she said while arranging an appetizer tray for her family and a guest.

She started with a large chunk of cambozola cheese, one of her husband Mark’s favorites. The cheese has the moist, creamy flavor of Camembert and the sharp flavor of Gorgonzola.

Another section of the tray holds castelvetrano olives, a buttery, salty olive that is another family favorite.

To finish off the tray, she adds cucumber slices, crackers, red grapes and roasted red peppers. She often uses dates, almonds and figs on appetizer trays, also.

Another one of Turner’s quick and easy appetizers begins with a loaf of French bread that she splits horizontally and drizzles with olive oil before lightly toasting it, cut side down on the grill.

The bread is then sliced and each slice is topped with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a thick slice of cucumber. After arranging it all on a plate, she drizzles it all with olive oil.

“I sometimes vary what goes on top of the cheese — sun-dried tomatoes work really well, too,” she said.

One appetizer that always get rave reviews is her stuffed peppers. Turner drains a jar of hot and sweet cherry peppers. She stuffs each of the soft peppers with honey goat cheese.

“I drizzle on the olive oil and broil them just until they are bubbly — about three minutes. Then I sprinkle on a few crystallized salt flakes. Everyone loves them,” she said.

Turner doesn’t feel that dinner needs to always be a meat, potato and vegetable combo. “I like to have meat but sometimes I have a salad with the meat or two vegetables. I don’t think you need to have a carbohydrate for every meat. If you have a grilled fillet, sometimes a salad is all that needs to be added to the plate,” she said.

When Turner first cooked for her husband, he was a professional football player on a Canadian team. “I cooked for him and his teammates and the meals were much heartier,” she said.

“But after having children, things have changed. We try to eat more healthy.” The 49-year-old mother of four children has perfected lighter options for meals.

For example, she has found that shredded zucchini have a flavor and texture very similar to a pasta salad “without all the carbohydrates,” she said.

Another healthy family favorite has been what she calls “red soup.” The vegetable rich soup gets its name from red color created by the generous portions of beets in the soup. In recent years, she has switched to a mixture of beet colors that changes the soup color to a lighter red but the soup can be made with all red beets.

She says the red soup also can be served cold as an gazpacho-like appetizer. Turner shares her recipes with Zucchini Past and Red Soup for others to try.

Colleen’s Culinary Cue

Keep glass jars on the counter that are filled with healthy, easy-to-eat snack items like granola, almonds or spiced nuts. When the family wants a quick snack, they can grab a handful of these easy-to-find treats.

Red Soup

1 pound ground chicken or turkey

32 ounces low sodium chicken broth

3 red beets

3 yellow beets

2 turnips

9 small carrots

3 cobs of corn

6 cups water

salt and pepper to taste

fresh parsley

fresh mint

fresh chives

sour cream or Greek yogurt

Grill corn until done. Cool and cut kernels from the cob. Set aside. Brown ground turkey or chicken until cooked through. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Peel beets, turnips and carrots and place in a food processor to mince. The vegetables may need to be processed in multiple batches. Mince vegetables, allowing there to be some larger chunks for the soup. Place into broth. Add water and corn. Simmer on low for 60 minutes. Chop fresh mint, chives and parsley. When ready to serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. Sprinkle on chopped herbs and serve. Can be served cold as an appetizer also.

Zucchini Pasta

4 green zucchini

1 yellow zucchini

½ of a red onion

2 green onions, chopped to light green section.

¼ cup sliced kalamata olives

¼ cup fresh cilantro

5 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons balsamic reduction

Ribbon cut zucchini with a peeler into a large mixing bowl. Leave the peeling on the zucchini. Cut red onion into slivers and chop green onions to light green section. Add to zucchini. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl. Top with olives and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Crumble Gorgonzola cheese and sprinkle over mixture. Chop cilantro and sprinkle over all.

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