Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Comfort food can be healthy

Spring is not here yet and that means it's still time for cozy comfort foods — but they don't have to be packed with fat and calories

What a journey the last 16 days has been. I’ve enjoyed watching the Olympics every minute I could squeeze in, and what a show our athletes have given us; I salute them all!

However, as I write this I know it’s time to get back to a regular routine. After eating quickly prepared simple meals, fast foods and/or restaurant meals for two weeks, my body is feeling way out of whack. It’s time to indulge in planning and preparing good nutritious meals again. With that in mind I’ve chosen two recipes for you to try that are nutritious, low in fats, and are healthy comfort foods. Enjoy.

Parmesan Chicken

and Rice Casserole

Cooking spray

1 cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 (3-1/2-ounce) bags boil-in-bag brown rice*

1/3 cup dry white wine

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1-3/4 pounds)

1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

3 Tbsp. whipping cream

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds.

Remove rice from bags; add to pan. Sauté 30 seconds. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds or until liquid almost evaporates. Spoon rice mixture in an even layer into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Arrange chicken thighs in a single layer over rice mixture; sprinkle evenly with thyme and salt.

Combine broth and cream, stirring well; pour over chicken and rice mixture. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake additional 5 minutes or until chicken is done. *I use 3 cups of my own cooked brown rice.

Celery Root

Shepherd’s Pie

3 medium russet potatoes (about 2 lbs), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium celery root (about 2 lbs.), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 tsp. salt, plus more for salting the water

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1/4 cup 2% milk

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

8 oz. mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 pound ground beef or lamb

2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 sprig rosemary

Pinch nutmeg

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup Gruyère or Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Begin mashed vegetables: Place cut potatoes and celery root in large pot; add cold water till covered. Bring to boil, salt generously, cover and simmer until potatoes are easily pierced with fork (10-12 minutes). Drain well; return pot off the heat to dry.

Begin the stew: Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden and soft (about 8 minutes). Remove and spread along bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in the same skillet; add the beef or lamb, carrot, rosemary, and nutmeg; cook until beef is brown and carrot is tender (about 8 minutes). Stir in tomato paste. Layer over mushroom-onion mixture.

Finish the mashed veggies: Pass potatoes and celery root through a food mill into a bowl, adding butter as you go. Stir in yogurt and milk for a purée. Season with salt and pepper. Swirl mashed potatoes and celery root over stew with back of a spoon; sprinkle on cheese.

Bake until cooked through and cheese is golden brown (15 minutes). Serve warm.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

Vernon Morning Star