Friday, December 12, 2008

Random Sauce Experimentation: Success with Spinach

So last night I knew we were having chicken, since I had sagely defrosted some in the morning... but beyond that I had no clue what I wanted to do with it ... and one more stir fry was NOT an option:)

Enter the Baked Cashew & Flax Crusted Chicken Breast with Roasted Vegetables .... mmmmm... all ingredients on hand and easy. But that sounds sort of dry doesn't it? I thought, I'll make a spinach salad and we'll lazily put some of the balsamic on the chicken, right. No. John decided he wanted 'a creamy spinach sauce'. What? It put me in mind of spinach & artichoke dip but as a sauce ... mmmm. That isn't where I went because there were no artichokes around my house ... but I did go to FoodNetwork as usual and see what I could find.

After much seeking where wilted spinach was everywhere but almost never in a sauce, I found one option. Baked Chicken With Green Spinach-Horseradish Sauce. Now their recipe, as often is the case, wasn't quite in keeping with my health standards ... in fact, I don't even own mayonaise, and I am happy that way. The result, some experimentation that yielded a pretty tasty sauce which John and I enjoyed on the chicken & the veggies. Check it out

Healthier Spinach & Horseradish Sauce
1/4 Cup wilted spinach, start with a cereal bowl size and mic it for a minute, done
1/4 Cup Plain Yogurt
2 Tbsps Light Sour Cream
1 Tbsp Hot Horseradish, or a few more of prepared less hot stuff (experimenting is key)
1 Small Clove Garlic or 1 liberal squeeze Gourmet Garden Garlic (that was all I had, o no)
1 liberal squeeze Gourmet Garden Parsley
1 tsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Put all that in your little Cuisinart or blender and blend it baby. I started with the first four ingredients and then added the rest to make it more flavorful and creamy. The end product is something I will probably make again. I could also see using this as the base for a creamy pasta salad if that is your thing:)))

For a simple summary of the rest of the meal:

Cashew & Thyme Crusted Baked Chicken
1/2 c chopped Cashews, I put mine in a coffee grinder
1-2 Tbsps Ground Flax
1 tsp Thyme
Salt & Pepper
1 Egg or prepared egg for dipping

Pound the chicken flat, dip it in the egg to coat and then coat with the herb/nut mixture. Bake at 350-375 for about 20 minutes. Check for doneness ... I like to broil em for just a minute at the end to get that golden edge.

Roasted Broccoli & Bell Peppers
2 cups Broccoli Crowns
1/4 Red Bell Pepper, chopped small
1/4 Yellow Bell Pepper, chopped small
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Mic the broccoli in a little water for about 2 minutes. Combine all ingredients on a tray and mix to coat. When the chicken has about 7 minutes left, turn the oven to broil and put the veggies on the top rack. After 5 minutes, remove the veg and put the chicken under the broiler.

Plate up, top with sauce and serve ... this is really sorta simple. In fact this time around the chicken breading was left over from some I had done before. If you find a mix you like, make a big batch and use it more frequently so you have tasty baked not fried chicken:)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Joining a CSA: Bountiful Unidentified Veggies (& fruits)

About two years ago I heard about this cool service where you could sign up for weekly deliveries of local produce ... about 5 months ago I decided to sign up ... 4 months of waiting list later (turns out these are totally popular) my name came up for the Johnson Gardens Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I am still on another wait list to check out a second area farm ....

Needless to say, today was the second day that I got my bi-weekly installment ... the first was the week before Thanksgiving. So far I still haven't quite finished all of the veggies we got two weeks ago and now I have more. Although, I finished the bell peppers from then tonight and accompanied them with a green salad made up of brand new farm fresh arugula and leaf lettuce.

Tonight was fun because in addition to some usual suspects like bell peppers, lettuce, bok choy and kale...we also got some oranges and grapefruits ... and a German perrenial favorite: Kohlrabi! I am so writing a card to my Oma in the morning to tell her that I have Kohlrabi ... in fact, I may have to call her and get her recipe for this cooky root vegetable (pictured here).

Anyhow, I don't have a specific recipe to share today, I just wanted to tell you all how cool and also somewhat overwhelming it is to get a batch of totally random food every two weeks. The last batch contributed to: Beef Pot Roast with Kale; Veggie Stir Fry with Eggplant, Bok Choy and Bell Peppers; Winter Greens Salad of Leaf Lettuce, Mizuno Greens and Apples and a few random ingredients here and there.

It makes you feel a bit like Iron Chef at home...I think this week we'll possibly juice some of those oranges and figure out something cool to do with Kohlrabi ... look for a post soon!

And wherever you are ... check out your CSA ... very fun way to support local agriculture and add some color and creativity to your table:)))

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rhew Pecan & Carrot Bread . . . with Flax

Last weekend my friend Becca's mom gave me one pound of Rhew Orchards delicious Texas Pecans...(you can find yours at Austin's downtown farmer's market on Saturday mornings) so I decided to try a few different fall recipes involving that delish treat.

While Pecan Pie was luring me - I decided that I'd look for something on the healthier side and I came across a fantastic recipe on Cookie Madness. It was so good, that we only made one tiny modification, replacing some of the oil with ground Flax seed to make it a smidge healthier:))

Try this super bread for the holidays - it is amazing toasted with a little butter!

Rhew Pecan & Carrot Bread with Flax

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots, I used my trusty Cuisinart to chop em tiny
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp Ground Flax Seed
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Combine the shredded carrots, boiling water, brown sugar, oil and orange zest in a medium bowl. Let this mixture cool while you mix the remaining ingredients.

Stir together both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs and stir them with the vanilla into the carrot mixture. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture. Add pecans, then stir until well mixed (do not beat with a mixer).

Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the center rack for 1 hour. Cool, flip out of the pan...serve warm with a little butter.

I have a feeling this would make a pretty phenomenal base for an extra special French toast!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turkey 2.0 . . . Thank you Butterball!!!

I just had to share Butterball's foray into web2.0 communications because it is creative and could be the saving grace for one of us this Thanksgiving:))) A colleague forwarded me the info and it is probably useful this week as you'll all be out buying your birds this weekend . . .

So, Butterball has a Turkey-Talk Line that has been around for years . . . you call in and ask for advice on how to cook that big, intimidating bird that you are probably serving to a large number of people you may be meeting for the first time and are hoping to impress . . . or at least not send to the ER with food poisoning. I have to admit, cooking big birds scares me and I have only ever done it with an experienced co-chef . . . so if I were in charge of Turkey - I would need this service. This year, Butterball is adding a decidedly more techie element to the service with Turkey Texts that send you advice wherever you are, a mobile phone friendly site and even a blog.

Check out the full story or just sign up for Turkey Text advice on Butterball's Site, where they also have a pretty nifty calculator to help you estimate how many pounds of turkey you need based on number of people and even your eating habits (heavy or light eater . . . do you want leftovers?).

I signed up for Turkey Text messages just for fun . . . and because perhaps they'll send me some helpful hints that I can share with my brother Eric, who is in charge of the bird this year. Hoping that all of you are ready to enjoy an excellent holiday next week and that this little Turkey Tidbit might help you out;)))

Gobble gobble . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When Extra Firm is not Firm Enough . . . .

TOFU y'all ... get your minds out of the gutter!!!

Seriously though. John and I have been eating red meat for four days, not intentionally, but because I made stew that lasted two days, we had amazing lamb and goat at the Clay Pit and then we had Lebanese food at my friend Joan's house. That left me wanting protein without the meat:)))

So tonight I thought I'd make a quick tofu and veggie stir fry. I did. And while it tasted good, I am bummed about texture. I have tried tofu a few ways and have only ever loved it in blended or mixed up form (see my posts on tofu in lasagna and tofu based sun dried tomato spread). I have also tried some tofu tricks like draining and freezing it first to make it more firm, but frankly none of these methods have ever yielded the tasty, firm tofu that I get at professional establishments. I am not quite sure what to do and I appeal to you, my readers and friends, to share any and all tips that you might have.

So while today's recipe was super simple and follows below, I cannot claim it among my best.

Ginger Scented Tofu Veggie Stir-Fry

Put the quinoa and water on to boil. Reduce to a simmer and then turn off with the lid on. Let sit for 20-25 minutes until all water is absorbed and the quinoa is can be fluffed with a fork.

While the quinoa cooks, dice the tofu and pour the soy sauce and rice wine vinegar over it in a plastic container. Heat 1/2 of the oil in a Teflon coated pan and saute the onion for 2-3 minutes, add the tofu gingerly so it doesn't crumble. Use a spatula and tongs to turn the tofu and brown it on all sides, again gingerly so you limit the crumbling (this is my issue). Place the onions and tofu in a dish and reserve.

Put the remaining oil in the pan. While this heats, mix the remaining soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and herbs together in a small dish. Once the oil is hot, add the bell peppers and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the pre-cooked carrots and snap peas, sauteing for another 1-2 minutes. Add 2/3 of the sauce mixture, mixing and letting this cook for about 2 minutes. Add back the tofu/onion mixture and the remaining sauce, combining all ingredients and bringing up to temperature.

Serve in bowls with 2/3 cup quinoa and half of the tofu stir fry on top with crushed cashews as a garnish. This is a very quick, light and satisfying meal, even if the tofu is pretty weak:(

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bad Economy Broccoli Stem Soups . . .

While we may not be in anything like what my Oma (German for grandma) experienced post WWII, I recently found myself exhibiting very thrifty tendencies . . . these tendencies were the genesis of my 3-versions of Bad Economy Broccoli Stem soup:))))

The economic part of this discussion is the use of what you might have thrown away before . . . a few posts ago, I mentioned that I made broccoli for 12 as a side. That left me with a lot of stems . . . I saved them and a few nights later made soup (for 2 hours . . . ) three different ways. Needless to say, it was a creative endeavor.

With my creative juices flowing . . . I decided to split the soup base into 3 parts:
1) the simplest, pure broccoli soup with some herbs
2) the most common, broccoli soup with cheddar . . . mmmm
3) the most unique, only 1 recipe that I could find online, broccoli and sweet potato soup

Read on to try some of my informal efforts and decide which one you like best on your budget!

Base Broccoli Stem Soup (enough for 1 pot, i made about 2.5 times this amount and then split into my experiments)
  • 2-3 cups of diced broccoli stems, remove any dried or hard edges first
  • 1/4 red onion finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 cups Chicken Broth, I used chicken stock that we made from a leftover rotisserie chicken from earlier in the week
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp flour
In a large pot, heat the olive oil and sautee the onions and garlic. Add the veg & stock, simmering the broccoli stems in the chicken broth until they are soft. It took about 75 minutes for mine to get to the point where I could puree them with a hand blender. Cuisinart's multi-function hand tool is the one I always rave about . . . and for under $40, it has gotten more than its fair share of value in my home:)

Once you have blended the base soup, you can proceed with thickening it and/or modifying it creatively:) To thicken it, I made a roux, which is a simple butter & flour mixture that serves to thicken a number of sauces and stews in various cultures. To make the roux, melt the butter on medium-high in a small saucepan until it is mildly browned. Add the flour in small batches, stirring continuously until the combination resembles a light brown paste that is just a bit runnier than toothpaste. Mix the roux into the soup and let it cook a bit longer to thicken. This with a little salt, pepper, thyme and paprika became the basic soup.

For my two other variations, I proceeded as follows:
Broccoli Soup with Cheddar
Super easy. I shredded about 1 cup worth of cheddar and slowly added this to the warm soup, blending it in completely. Then I seasoned with salt, pepper and again thyme. Done. Serve with a little crusty bread and cheddar for a warm winter meal.

Broccoli and Sweet Potato Soup
This one was a little more work only because I had to repeat the cooking process with the sweet potato. Dice one sweet potato and then simmer it in water until the chunks are very soft. Hand blend and mix together with 3-4 cups of base broccoli soup. Season with ginger, salt and pepper for a delicious and fall spicy soup. This one ended up tasting close to a butternut squash but slightly less sweet. mmmmmm . . . my fave of the whole batch.

Wishing you all a great fall and looking forward to bringing other tasty, healthy and budget friendly recipes your way:)))

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lowfat Liberal Sundried Tomato Dip & Spread

Friends . . . I made something DELISH!

With a few random ingredients and a moment of inspiration before I headed over to my friends Allison & Clark's election watching party, I whipped up a new creation, that for this election season I dubbed my new Lowfat Liberal Sundried Tomato Dip & Spread. And let me tell you . . . it is so low fat, that you can use it liberally everywhere from veggies to a piece of toast, and you'll never guess what is in it! YUM!

Lowfat Liberal Sundried Tomato Dip & Spread
  • 12-15 Sundried Tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1/3 Package Lowfat Firm Tofu, like MoriNu
  • 1/3 Cup Lowfat / Natural Yogurt
  • 1/4 Cup Lowfat Sour Cream
  • 1 Liberal Squeeze Italian Seasoning from Gourmet Garden
  • Sea Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
Here is the fun and easy part . . . put all the ingredients in a blender or Cuisinart (my fave gadget) and blend to your desired consistency. Seriously. That is it. So good. So good for you. So many Obama fans amazed at how darn good for you this tasty stuff is!!!

Interestingly, my inspiration was a recipe that was similar, except that it called for mayo instead of all my dairy/tofu combos. Yuck. Mayo. No way, no how. Needless to say, this worked so well that I am tempted to replace more things with tofu in the future. Stay tuned and enjoy some Lowfat Liberal Sundried Tomato Dip this football and holiday season:))

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Short Ribs are Easy - Who Knew

Last week was a doozy . . . my company had its annual customer conference . . . it was fun, exhausting and a great opportunity for tasty meals! One of those was a fantastic order Asian Short Ribs that I had at Roy's in Austin. They were so good that they motivated me to investigate how I could use my new Le Crueset Dutch Oven to replicate them at home.

Turns out, it isn't all that hard!
I did a little research and found a few recipes for more classical short ribs, which is what I decided to try. The butcher at my local Randall's was kind enough to cut me 3 1/2 pounds of short ribs to order and I was cooking! Because it was such a sumptuous meal, we invited another couple over to enjoy the following:

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine and Mushrooms
  • 3 1/2 Lbs Boneless Short Ribs (mine came already sliced, not in one big slab - nice for portioning)
  • 1/2 Bottle Dry Red Wine (I always save whatever we didn't finish in time and has gone a little off, the flavors are usually still fine for cooking for several weeks)
  • 4-5 C Beef Broth
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion with a large dice
  • 2-3 Shallots with a large dice
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped in large chunks
  • 1 Cup Button Mushrooms or Baby Portabellas, cut in half
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tsp Dry Sage
  • 2 Tsp Dry Thyme
  • Salt & Pepper to taste (I prefer sea salt)
  • 3-4 Tsp Cornstarch to thicken the sauce before serving
I have to admit, I am usually a speed cook, so the prospect of slow cooking less tender cuts of meat was a little intimidating. But I am so glad I tried! The beauty of this recipe was short prep and then a fantastic meal hours later. I don't have a slow cooker, so I wouldn't do this if I couldn't stay in or near the house for 4 hours or so, but if you have one, then that is a great option. Preheat the oven to 300. Heat 2/3 of the oil on the stove at medium to high heat in your dutch oven or oven safe pot.

Season the meat with salt and pepper, then sear the meat briefly on all sides, which should take about 4-5 minutes. Move the meat to the side and then add onions, shallots and carrots. Let these caramelize for a few minutes before adding the red wine, broth and herbs.
Cover the dish tightly and place it in the middle of the oven and cook for 31/2 to 4 hours.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven and return to the stove on med-low heat to continue simmering. Remove the meat from the pot and place it in a dish, cover with foil. Meantime, heat the remaining olive oil in a small pan and sauté the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms to the stew that is in the pot. Thicken to desired thickness with cornstarch. Do so by taking a small amount of liquid out of the pot and whisking with the cornstarch before returning it to the pot, this ensures that there are no lumps.
Return the meat to the pot to ensure it is heated through. Then serve with your desired sides, I provided boiled potatoes and steamed asparagus.

Tonight, for leftovers, I'll be serving it with broccoli instead. This meal was so filling, tender, relatively healthy and inexpensive. For anyone who has been intimidated by large or tough cuts of meat, try it, you'll be surprised at how great and easy this is!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Pumpkin Ravioli with Ginger-Sage Pumpkin, Butternut Squash Puree

It was John's Birthday this weekend so, of course, we had a little soiree . . . The full menu included a fig and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with fig balsamic reduction and roasted vegetables, plus carrot cake for dessert. But, what we started off with was simple, tasty and total fall treat!

I took a recipe off the food network and modified it to make it more satisfying as a heavy appetizer. The original was just pumpkin ravioli with browned sage butter . . . but I added the pumpkin squash puree to fill my guests:))

Pumpkin Ravioli with Ginger-Sage Pumpkin, Butternut Squash Puree topped with Browned Sage Butter (I made it for 12, but the measures here are for 4 appetizer servings or 2 entrees)
  • 1 Package Fresh Pumpkin Ravioli (I found mine at Whole Foods)
  • 1 small Shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 Can Unsweetened Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Cup Organic Butternut Squash Soup, like Imagine's
  • 2 Tbsp Ginger, fresh or my fave Gourmet Garden Ginger in a tube
  • 15 Fresh Sage Leaves, sliced thinly
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1/3 c Sparkling or other light white wine
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
The beauty of this dish is that it uses a lot of pre-prepared ingredients and requires very little prep. Heat 1/3 of the butter in a 3 quart sauce pan and then saute the diced shallots until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 of the sage until heated through. Add the pumpkin, soup, ginger, wine and honey, simmer all ingredients for 15-20 minutes, stirring periodically.

When you have about 10 minutes left, bring a well salted pot of water to boil for the ravioli. Simultaneously, heat the remaining butter in small pan adding the sage and cooking it on medium high for 6 or 7 minutes. Drop the ravioli in the boiling water and cook for 4-5 minutes. Taste the puree and add salt and pepper as desired.

This dish is best plated in a shallow bowl or deep plate. Put the puree at the bottom of the plate, top with 4 ravioli and then garnish with the sage browned butter. Enjoy this great fall treat as an appetizer or an entree depending on your mood!

YUM - Enjoy:))

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Polenta Trio - What a way to leverage leftovers . . .

Polenta. Seems exotic, but in fact, if you buy and bake it - it may be the easiest carb after sliced bread! In fact, earlier in the week I was all cooked out.

John and I had a party last week with lots of great leftover items (prosciutto, cheese) and I had packaged polenta . . . and some leftovers from my last post (Pea & Mint Puree) and my creative side said . . . wow . . . I can make something super colorful and tasty here!

Polenta Trio featuring Peas & Mint Puree, Mushrooms with Prosciutto and Bell Peppers with Parmesan
  • 1 package prepared Polenta, I used Food Merchants Organic - comes in many flavors
  • 1 c leftover Pea & Mint Puree
  • 5-6 Button Mushrooms
  • 2-3 Slices Prosciutto (some of my party leftovers)
  • 1 tsp dried Thyme
  • 1/2 Red Bell Pepper
  • 2 tsp Diced or chopped Kalamata olives (I always have some on hand)
  • 2 tsp shredded Parmesan (again party leftovers)
  • 1 tsp Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
Unwrap the polenta and slice it into 6 even rounds (or more if you prefer them thinner). Place the slices on a baking sheet, I put foil on it so I didn't even have to clean it. Put them in the oven and prepare to broil. If you are not super fast at prepping, don't turn the oven on yet. Because I had this in mind and all the ingredients handy, I started broiling - 4 minutes per side.

Finely dice both the mushrooms, prosciutto and bell pepper. Set a small pan to med-hi heat and saute the prosciutto. Because it is fatty, no additional grease is needed. After about 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and thyme. Continue to cook until mushrooms are through, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. (this is when I flipped my polenta to broil on the other side)

In the same pan, add the olive oil and saute the bell pepper with a little bit of pepper. Add the kalamata olives and cook till heated through, 1-2 minutes. Get any leftover Pea & Mint xxx out of the fridge. Now you are ready to assemble.

Per the image above, arrange the polenta on a plate and top with 1/2 of the prepared toppings. The result is a colorful, semi-healthy, leftover bonanza that draws from all the food categories and is gorgeous to behold. This is a smaller meal, but an appealing one. You could also make one of these items as an appetizer for a dinner party and prep most items in advance:) I think polenta has a future in my kitchen.

Till soon - I just got a new breakfast recipe that we'll be trying out this weekend.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Salmon with Pea & Mint Puree . . . eat your veggies please . . .

Whoops . . . a business trip kept me a bit busy and I missed chronicling my cooking faves! Guess that is because I was eating out a lot:))) See the next post where I'll tell you all about Robata Bar in Santa Monica - DELISH (thanks for the idea Robin)!

Back to the subject at hand. Salmon and lots of veggies, including frozen! If you leave out the fresh broccoli, you could make this entire meal from things in your pantry . . . sweet eh?
I snagged recipes from a few places, the main one being Giadi DeLorentiis on FoodNetwork, and crafted my own version for a balanced meal the other night - more green on the plate than most get in a few days and John loved it:)

Salmon in Lemon Broth with Mint Pea Puree on Bed of Whole Grain Pasta, plus Broccoli not great for a blog title is it?

Salmon & Lemon Broth (Brodetto per FoodNetwork)
  • 2 5oz Pieces Salmon (check end of this post for freezing tips to make Salmon affordable every day)
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon, Zested & Juiced
  • 1 Shallot or about 2 Tbsp Red Onion, finely diced
  • 1 c Beef or Chicken Broth, Check out Better than Bouillion
Mint Pea Puree (delish and probably great with Lamb and simple fare)
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 c Frozen Peas, defrosted with a bit of warm water
  • 1 c Fresh Mint, keep herbs like mint on hand in the freezer
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt, Pepper & Olive Oil to taste
Pasta & Broccoli
  • 1/3 Package Whole Wheat Spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
  • 2-3 c Broccoli florets
Start a pot of water boiling. Meantime, defrost the peas and chop your broccoli into florets. Ensure your Salmon has been rinsed with cold water - pat to dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a pan on medium high. While it heats, zest then juice your lemon, ensuring you remove all the seeds. Heat a cup of water to dissolve your broth into and set aside. Once water is boiling, break your spaghetti and drop in the water.

This is a good time to place your Salmon in the pan, and let sear for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, smash the garlic clove and put it along with all the other pea puree ingredients into a Cuisinart, or other small blender. Puree until it reaches a desired texture, I like just a little more chunky than hummus.

Your salmon should be ready to be turned to sear for 2-3 minutes on the other side, depending on the thickness of the fish. The pasta should be almost done . . . so now is a good time to throw in the broccoli and let it cook in the same water/heat that is already going. Turn of the heat and close the lid to steam it while finishing your pasta.

Add the lemon and broth to the salmon pan and allow to simmer for a minute or so. Remove from heat and add any remaining mint for a garnish in the sauce. Drain the pasta and broccoli. Time to plate up:)))

I like to pour a little of the broth over the pasta and broccoli and toss to coat. Put a base of this pasta mix in a deep dish or low bowl. Add a few spoonfuls of the pea puree and top with the salmon, pouring remaining brodetto (broth) over the whole dish. Ready to serve!

This is actually a lot of food . . . and with the exception of the pea puree is pretty standard fare. The peas/mint mix totally kicks it up with fresh flavors and colors, helping to make an everyday meal something special. I can't wait to try this pea goodness with other menu options.

Tips & Tricks from Kir's Kitchen

Salmon: We buy our Salmon at Costco - shocker I know, but I've told you so before - and then I portion and freeze it. This is much cheaper than buying fresh each day, gives me flexibility to have it on hand and lets me ensure the quality and freshness personally. The trick is to cut the salmon in proper portions first, then rinse it, dab it dry and wrap it in saran wrap. These wrapped packets should then be placed in freezer bags and as much air removed as possible before you freeze them. I find that putting them in the fridge the night before has them defrosted & broil ready when you come home from work. This is how they look as I am defrosting them out of the bag.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Easy Healthy Fajitas with Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salad

Bored of stir fry and pasta? Try fajitas at home, they really aren't that hard and are in fact quite good for you if you lay off the fat, sour cream and too many tortillas:)

Having spent the weekend in the northeast, I was craving a bit of Tex-Mex and given the amount of bell peppers and roasted corn I still had left over from last weekend's BBQ, this recipe seemed perfect for today. I didn't cook yesterday as I was stuck thousands of feet in the air flying back from Boston where I had a phenomenal time at the IMS08 Conference all about social media and inbound marketing:)

Chicken Fajitas
  • 1 tsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Chicken Breasts, sliced fajita style (2 inches long by 1/4 inch wide)
  • Fajita Marinade (prepared) - I like Claude's Red Chile Fajita Marinade or
  • Make your own with Lime Juice, Garlic, Red Chili Powder, Salt and a bit of sugar
  • 2 Bell Peppers, ideally Red & Yellow, but whatever you have handy will work fine, sliced
  • 1/4 Red Onion, optional, sliced
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Whole Wheat Tortillas, I like the South Beach Diet ones - pretty tasty when heated up
  • 2 Tbsp of your favorite salsa
  • Red Cabbage garnish, optional, adds color, crunch & vitamins...

Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salsa
  • 1 Ear of Corn Roasted, or 1 cup defrosted frozen corn (plain, not buttered)
  • 1 can Black Beans, Goya are my fave, drained and rinsed with water to remove excess salt
  • 10-15 Cherry Tomatoes or 1 small Tomato diced
  • 2 Slices Red onion, chopped finely
  • Fresh or Gourmet Garden Tube Cilantro
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • Lime Juice, Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat your non-stick pan on medium high with the oil in the pan. Drain the chicken breast, reserving the marinating sauce, and sear it on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. You may have to drain the liquid at some point to keep the chicken browning. Remove from the pan and reserve on a plate. If you need more oil, add a tiny bit more, saute onions for 1 minute. Add bell peppers and saute until browned, 3-4 minutes.

While you cook these items, combine the salsa ingredients in a bowl and mix, seasoning with the lime, S&P until you like the flavor.

Once the veggies are mostly cooked, add the chicken back to the pan and pour any reserved marinade on the mix, adding the remaining spices. Reduce heat and cover to let simmer and cook trough.

Heat a small pan to warm two tortillas on each side. Serve chicken fajita mixture on an open faced tortilla, top with chopped red cabbage for crunchiness and a bit of salsa to taste. Add your black bean and corn salad, top with a sprig of cilantro and voila! Tex Mex in under thirty minutes:)))

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Beergaritas

For Labor Day I decided to give myself the day off - sort of.

I did cook up a storm, or BBQ to be exact, but didn't quite have time to post or write all the recipes down because we were having too much fun grilling and playing yard games like bolo & washers (clearly some Texas pastimes). So to ensure that you get a little goodness and enjoyment out of it, I'll share a very popular recipe that made all my guests happy!

(I'm not pictured here, as I am taking the shot while sipping beergaritas, but see, they look happy don't they?)

Labor Day Beergaritas (or any day)*
You can make this in batches as large or small as you like, but that is about the right proportion. I like them tangy - but if you enjoy mellower tastes - just reduce the limeade and increase the beer. Mix and pour over ice. Garnish with a lime or salt if you like. I think these are great just simply by themselves.

*This recipe is not really a 'healthy' one no matter which way you slice it. But don't fret, I'll be back to good for you cooking by this time next week!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Berries in Season - Try this Quick & Easy Berry Dessert

Strawberry Clafoutis . . . I know . . . the name sounds naughty - but I can attest that this dessert is both sinfully delicious and ridiculously easy to make! If berries are in season, then most folks have all the remaining ingredients available at home:)))

In fact, virtually any berry will work . . . Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries - most notably, the traditional Cherries! This weekend, we found a great deal on Blue & Raspberries and I promptly made a Clafoutis for brunch dessert. *The image here is not my clafoutis as I didn't have a camera at hand - thanks go to Cozinha Criativa's photostream on flickr.

This recipe is French and only moderately healthy - lots of antioxidants and protein - but quite a bit of carbs as well. The basics of this recipe are so simple, you may be able to remember them for a quick summer treat anytime. Soon I will be experimenting with Splenda and whole wheat versions of this beauty!

Multi-Berry Clafoutis
  • 2-3 Cups Berries, this weekend I mixed Raspberries & Blueberries
  • 3 eggs, whole
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (or use only vanilla if that is what you have and like)
  • pinch of salt
  • Optional Garnish: powdered sugar, whipped cream or ice cream
  • Butter or Non-Stick cooking spray for pans
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Some recipes call for a lower temp, but I find that the cooking time ends up being too short, so I have turned mine up. Grease a 9 or 10 inch pie pan, round, or square, or a number of smaller individual tureens with butter or a non-stick cooking spray. Place all, save a few for garnish, berries into the pie pan.

Beat eggs together in a bowl, add milk and other liquids. Continue to beat adding sugar, salt and finally flour. The batter will be very liquid, this is correct. Pour this custard mixture over the berries and ensure it is even. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the custard is firm and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. All ovens heat differently, so use your judgment, if the center still wobbles or is gooey - put it back for a bit more time. The top should be golden brown and look delish.

Serve directly for a hot dessert or let this cool and serve later on chilled with the topping of your choice. Whipped cream is my favorite!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicken Piccata . . . A Meal Beloved by All

If ever you should find yourself on holiday with a lactose intolerant person, a no-red meat person and someone allergic to garlic and onions . . . count yourself lucky for having read this recipe.

Seriously, I made this recently for an Austin cyclying friend, but told her how it became one of my standbys. Christmas 2000 . . . scenario above ensued while on a Ski/XMas holiday trip and I had volunteered to make the holiday feast. Grrrrreeat.

I wracked my brain . . . skii'd . . . apres skii'd . . . and voila amid a bit of festivity came upon my solution. Chicken Piccata . . . with margarine instead of butter! (mind you, I only use margarine when the lactose intolerant are in the house:))).

Chicken Piccata with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Roasted Vegetables (Serves 2)
  • 2 5-6 Oz Chicken Breasts, pounded flat
  • 1 Lemon, Juiced & Zested
  • 1 Tbsp Butter (margarine when you've got the Lactaid crowd)
  • 1/3 c capers
  • 1 c chicken broth or stock (I love Better than Bouillon)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp Corn Starch
  • 1/3 Pack Whole Wheat Spaghetti
  • 1 Zucchini Cubed
  • 1/2 Red Bell Pepper Cubed
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

While you wait for the water to boil, chop your veggies and pound the chicken out if you haven't already done so. Put all the cubed vegetables on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, add the herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix to coat. Place the vegetables in the oven on the top shelf - but don't turn it on yet. You will broil these and it will take 10 minutes or so, but I'll let you know when to push BROIL on hi:)

Your water should be boiling now, drop in your pasta - whole or broken in half, however you prefer.

Put a pan or grill pan (even better) on medium high with a spray of non-stick cooking spray and about 1/4 of the butter. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and when the pan is hot, a drop of water dances on the surface, place the chicken in. Put the veggies in the oven now, high broil.

Sear the chicken on one side and cook for about 3-4 minutes. The chicken should easily come off the pan surface now, flip and cook 3-4 minutes on the other side. After you flip the chicken, check your veggies and turn to ensure even cooking.

Add another 1/4 of the butter, 1/2 of the chicken broth, all the lemon juice and the capers. Let simmer in this mixture for 2 minutes. At this point, your pasta should be done. Remove it from the heat and drain. Remove the chicken from the pan, reserve on a plate, add the remaining butter. Mix the cornstarch in the remaining chicken broth and add this to the sauce. Let the sauce thicken (add more cornstarch if you like the sauce thicker).

Toss the pasta in 1/2 of the sauce and reserve the remainder to put over your chicken. Remove the veggies from the oven. Assemble your plates with 1/2 of the pasta, a piece of chicken and half the veggies. Drizzle with the remaining sauce and almost anyone, save the vegetarians, will love this meal:-)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Salmon on request . . . with homemade Pesto!

Recently a friend who had read and loved my Caesar Salad post texted me desperate for a few quick and easy Salmon recipes. So Huffy, in honor of your text, I thought I'd make one of those tonight and feature it here.

The recipe that follows is one that I usually make with store bought pesto, but having purchased a huge bunch of basil at a farmer's market last week . . . what was a girl to do but make pesto to ensure that it didn't go bad. I'll share the recipe for pesto also noting that if you keep prepared pesto on hand like I do, this makes for a super quick meal that is flavorful and easy.

Pesto Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Greens (serves 2)
  • 2 4-6 Oz pieces of Salmon, size it to your calorie needs, fresh or defrosted frozen (see my tip below)
  • 2 Tbsp Pesto (store bought is fine, but I just learned how easy it is to make my own . . . see below)
  • 1 C Quinoa
  • 2 C Water
  • 2 Oz Lowfat Feta, cubed
  • 10 Grape tomatoes diced
  • 1/2 Avocado, 1/4 diced & 1/4 sliced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 3 C Mixed Greens & Baby Spinach
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinaigrette (see various options on my Summer is for Salads Post)
  • 1 Oz Lowfat Feta, cubed
  • 6-8 Grape tomatoes sliced
Place both the quinoa and the water into a small pot and bring to a boil with the lid closed, immediately reduce heat to low. Keep the lid on and heat on very low until the quinoa is cooked and looks fluffy. This will take approximately 20 minutes. FYI - the quinoa LOVEs to boil over in my kitchen. This is not a disaster, just a little messy. So keep an eye on it as it goes from simmer to boil over within just a few moments.

While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the salad & salmon. Spray a baking dish that fits the salmon with Pam or another non-stick cooking spray. Rinse the salmon with cool water whether you have just purchased it or defrosted it; pat dry with a paper towel. Place the Salmon in the pan and top each piece with 1/2 of the pesto, spreading it so you get good coverage on the fish.

When you only have about 10 minutes left on the quinoa, place the salmon under the broiler set on high. The fish will take between 8 - 12 minutes depending on your cut of salmon, oven and preferred doneness. I, blasphemy, like mine pretty well through and find that 11 minutes does about right.

While the salmon is broiling, chop the ingredients for the quinoa and green salads. Toss the greens with dressing, feta and the tomatoes. Put the remaining quinoa salad ingredients in a bowl, feta, tomatoes, avocado, salt & pepper.

The salmon should be done, remove it from the oven and let it sit for a moment while you assemble the rest. Toss about 1/2 of the quinoa into the bowl with the feta mixture and mix well. Split the quinoa salad on the two plates, top with the salmon and accessorize with the green salad.

Voila! Quick and easy meal that can take less than 30 minutes once you get the multitasking down, and leaves you with some quinoa left overs for tomorrow. If you make more salmon, it tastes pretty good cold tomorrow too . . . just a time saving thought . . .

Tips & Tricks from Kir's Kitchen

Home Made Pesto: I love the Sunset Valley Farmers Market here in Austin and almost always buy basil when I am there (sadly I don't have a green thumb, else I'd grow my own:). But it is rare that I can enjoy it all fresh within about 3 days . . . so I have taken to chopping it up and just putting it in a tupperware covered with olive oil. I can then use it as is to cook with or as I was inspired to do for pasta yesterday, throw the basil oil combo in the cuisinart with a piece of garlic and some pine nuts (maybe 1/2 cup of basil oil, 1/2 cup pine nuts & 1 clove garlic - but you can tweak to your own specs). Done and done. Actually, I added a little salt and pepper, but it was so simple and fresh. Yummmmm . . .

Salmon: We buy our Salmon at Costco - shocker I know - and then I portion and freeze it. This is much cheaper than buying fresh each day, gives me flexibility to have it on hand and lets me ensure the quality and freshness personally. The trick is to cut the salmon in proper portions first, then rinse it, dab it dry and wrap it in saran wrap. These wrapped packets should then be placed in freezer bags and as much air removed as possible before you freeze them. I find that putting them in the fridge the night before has them defrosted & broil ready when you come home from work.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Save at Home: Sunday Migas & Chunky Salsa

What is Sunday without a bit of brunch!?

(for my reader friends - I promise I will post a foto in my next blog - I just found these too tasty to let them wait!)

Last weekend we went to one of our favorite restaurants where they made some killer migas . . . and I mean killer. If you don't believe me, go try them out at the South Congress Cafe in Austin - the spicy refried black beans that accompany this gloriously cheesy favorite are the piece de resistance.

That meant that this weekend, after a two hour hike, we were inspired to make migas ourselves and save a bit of dosh. This was a first time effort and I enlisted my trusty breakfast chef boyfriend who is more chemist than artist when it comes to food and therefore an excellent foil to my experimental cooking style when recipes are involved.

We found a decent looking migas recipe and tweaked it to meet our needs and available ingredient list (John helped me not replace too many key ingredients) . . . the result was delish:

Green Chile Migas with Black Bean Mango Salsa (serves 2)
  • 4 Eggs
  • 3 Corn Tortillas
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped Red Onion (the mellow flavor is less overpowering than white onion)
  • 3-4 Tbsp Green Chile Salsa / Salsa Verde (how hot do you want it?)
  • 1/2 Orange Bell pepper finely chopped (we were out of tomatoes and subbed this in)
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1/3 Tbsp Butter or Margarine
  • 1/3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 4 thin slices Sharp White Cheddar (or regular Cheddar if that's what you have on hand)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Can Black Beans, drained & rinsed (I love Goya brand for the best value)
  • 1/2 Large Mango, cubed (consider a peach or nectarine if you cannot find mango)
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped Red Onion
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime or Orange, whichever you prefer for breakfast
  • 2 Tbsp Chopped Cilantro (I used some that I had frozen and it worked like a champ)
  • Salt & Red Pepper to taste

For the Salsa. Combine all the ingredients, mix and let sit while you cook the rest. This way the flavors infuse as you prepare the meal.

For the Migas. Heat a pan or skillet on med-high with the butter in it. While this heats, rip up the tortillas into bite sized pieces. Saute the tortillas in the butter till softened, add the onions and cook till translucent. Finally add the peppers and saute until they are your desired level of done, I like mine a with a bit of crunch left. Only add the oil if your pan gets dry during the process, else you can skip the extra fat.

Meantime, in a bowl whisk or mix together the eggs, water, salsa, salt and pepper. Add this egg mixture to the pan and scramble all the ingredients together. Don't overcook them. When they are still a bit gooey, crumble two slices of the cheese and add the cilantro into the mixture and scramble it through to your desired level of doneness. Most migas in Texas are served just a tiny bit runny, but we tend to like them dry. Place on a plate and blanket with the remaining cheese, ripped into a few pieces.

Garnish with some of that chunky salsa on the side and serve with more green salsa and/or sour cream if that is your preference.

If you go easy on the cheese, this is quite a healthy dish all around - high in protein and fiber, it'll keep you full without making you feel heavy as many brunch dishes can. So make migas at home and save yourself the trip and cost of that restaurant Sunday brunch (as nice as it is sometimes:))

I calculate that we spent $4-5 cooking this at home versus our $24 at brunch - granted, SoCo Cafe will still have me coming back every so often for a treat!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quick Hit!!!!

A brief ode to the healthy Caesar salad . . .

I have gotten:
  • 3 personal compliments
  • 1 email
  • 1 txt

. . . just since posting the Caesar recipe last night!

All credit really goes to the Food Network and Healthy Eating; but damn that is some good stuff !

If you haven't tried it yet, please do so . . .

Oh . . . and if you don't know the 'shake it' salad trick . . . stay tuned for a video that will help you reduce calorie count and increase flavor with a bit' o fun. (Turns out my dinner guests tonight had never done the shake!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer is for Salads . . .

Summer in Texas is hot hot hot . . . and that often leaves me in the mood for something cool and quick for dinner . . .

Last night, after a fantastic but steamy day boating and waterskiing with friends on Lake Austin, it was all I could do to think of something healthy but delicious for dinner.

Enter the salad.

I am a master of salads of all sorts - and pride myself on making all my salad dressings myself - I don't like the preservatives and somewhat off flavors of most of the bottled kind. Typically I make a basic but healthy balsamic dressing with a few tweaks to give it variety (sampling of recipes to follow). But last night, for whatever reason I was craving Caesar Salad.

I know - not super healthy - at least in its classical rendition. Not remembering everything that goes in a Caesar, and knowing that I needed to make substitutes for a few items, I went onto The Food Network to seek a bit more information.

What I found, my foodies, was a gold mine. At first, I didn't believe what I was reading. A Caesar dressing recipe at 10% of the fat & calories of the classic? It couldn't taste good. But with a no-cook recipe like that . . . to which I happened to have ALL the ingredients . . . I had to try it.

I am glad I did and I think you will be too - just one slight modification made this recipe a new favorite!!!

Healthier Caesar Salad Dressing

Courtesy of Eating Well on The Food Network

This dressing has just 13 calories and less than half a gram of fat per tablespoon, compared to 115 calories and 12 grams of fat for its traditional counterpart.

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (I love garlic, so I subbed in 2 cloves:-)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • **I modified my dressing to add 1 heaping tsp of Dijon Mustard - it made all the difference to me

Puree garlic and cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add yogurt, Parmesan, vinegar and Worcestershire and pulse to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Add mustard in with the wet ingredients if you like.

My boyfriend and I ate this over a combination of shredded hearts of romaine, baby spinach and a few yellow bell pepper slices for extra fiber and sweetness. We were garlic scented but thrilled by this easy to make, delicious and decadent tasting recipe . . . I hope you try it and enjoy!!!!

A few other dressing options, as promised, to make your own relatively quickly and easily at home. I always add a few modifications to try and keep the fat and calories down without sacrificing flavor or consistency.

Kir's Basic Balsamic
  • 3/4 - 1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (amount varies on your taste for acid)
  • 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Fat Free Sour Cream (reduces oil & makes a creamy dressing simultaneously)
  • 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Emulsification is the trick to any balsamic and there is no better way to achieve this than - shaking! I make all my dressings in small, very air tight Tupperware containers . . . and when I have all the ingredients in I shake em. Then taste with a leaf of your greens to see if it needs any changes. In fact, shaking also helps you use less dressing, and thereby less fat and calories, on your salad. I shake my greens in a large Tupperware with a little dressing and then check back to see if I need more. This way, I can get a great coating of dressing without dousing the greens.

Modifiers: Once you have this base vinaigrette, which tastes great as is, simply adding a few flavorful herbs or other ingredients can make it seem a totally different salad.

For example:
  • 1/2 Tsp Thyme if you are serving salad with a heartier meal is great, also excellent with a salad that has blue cheese and walnuts plus a few sliced pears
  • 1/2 Tsp Oregano, Feta & replacing half the balsamic with white wine or rice wine vinegar makes this a bit more like a greek salad dressing; add Feta to the salad of course:)
  • 1/2 Tsp Basil and some chopped sundried tomatoes make a lovely dressing, especially for salads with some goat cheese in them

In another blog - I'll tell you all about the healthy slaws I have been making . . . both classical american and tasty asian slaws like you are starting to find at trendy asian fusion places.

I wish you all Salad days!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I love leftovers!!!

Lasagna leftovers in particular are fabulous . . . that was what we had for dinner tonight. Since making a big lasagna batch and enjoying it for a few meals is super convenient, I though I'd share my protein packed lasagna recipe that cuts some of the fat and adds fiber and protein in some creative ways.

Kir's Meat & Tofu Whole Grain Lasagna
  • 1 Package DaVinci Whole Wheat Lasagna
  • 2 Jars Packaged Tomato Sauce (this is my cheat) - I make mine from scratch about 2/3 of the time, but since we are going for quick and easy . . . try this:)
  • 6-8 Oz Lean Ground Beef
  • 1/2 Red Onion, Diced
  • 5 Garlic Cloves, Diced
  • 4-5 Tbsp Basil Paste, Gourmet Garden makes my fave
  • 2 Tbsp Oregano, Dried
  • 1 tsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Packages Nori Mu Firm Tofu
  • 1/4 c Low Fat Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Don't bother cooking the Lasagna noodles. This recipe calls for a bit of extra sauce and the liquid cooks the lasagna in the oven, saving you a step that is quite the hassle.

Heat olive oil on medium high in a non-stick pot that is large enough to hold all the sauce. Saute onions and garlic in the oil until golden brown. Add the ground beef and brown for 4-5 minutes, breaking it up into small chunks as it cooks. Add the canned tomato sauce, oregano and 1/2 of the basil, salt & pepper to taste. Simmer sauce for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld a bit.

While the sauce simmers, unpack the tofu and mix it with the sour cream and remaining basil. Add some pepper if you like a bit of space. Mix this together until it has a texture a bit like ricotta.

Now, begin to layer just like a regular lasagna. Put a small bit of sauce in the bottom of the lasagna pan, add a layer of noodles, a layer of sauce, a layer of the tofu mixture and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Continue this layering until you have used all your ingredients, ending with a topping of sauce and Parmesan. Top with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and broil for just a few minutes till golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes. Slice and serve with gusto!!!! Serves 8 easily . . . so if you are fewer, enjoy your leftovers for a few days to come:)))

Time Saving Tip: Last week, I prepared and assembled all the ingredients in under 25 minutes. Then I popped it in the oven while I went to the gym!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Family Challenge: Cheap & Easy Meals that are Healthy Too . . .

So last week I wrote a post about how out of hand obesity and its side effects have gotten, followed by a recipe that my family deemed unreasonably posh. Fair.

They also thought I was too harsh on folks out there. Well, I don't agree. I still think we all have our health within our control. No one else puts food in my mouth or on the plate of my family - I am in control of that, regardless of my circumstances.

But the criticism was constructive . . . so today I thought I'd share one of my favorite recipes from my days in graduate school when I was really short on time and even shorter on money. I think there are very few people who couldn't replicate this at home . . . and I am proud to say that one of my close non-culinary gal pals from grad school adopted this one and made it with great frequency!

Quick & Easy Ramen One Pot (Serves 1)
1 Packet Ramen Noodles (I prefer chicken flavor)
1/3 Package Frozen Vegetable Medley, ideally one with snap peas & bell peppers or snap peas, carrots & broccoli
1/4 Cup Dry Roasted Peanuts or Cashews, crushed
2 Tbsp House of Tsang Peanut Sauce

Place Ramen in a saucepan about 3x the size of the noodles with water per package directions, but do not use the seasoning packet (it will be too salty). Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add frozen vegetables and let steam until cooked through (approx 1-2 minutes). Remove from heat, drain and toss with the peanut sauce. Top with crushed peanuts and serve.

I think that may take about 5 minutes and all the ingredients are ones you can keep on hand to be able to prep a super fast, tasty and relatively satisfying meal. Over time you can vary this with differen veggies, sauce ingredients and toppings to avoid boredom. Even add tofu if you'd like an additional protein kick from something that stores really well.

As I get feedback, if I get feedback:), I will continue to vary my recipes to appeal to a variety of audiences. But will work to keep them reasonable in food cost and prep time so that more people can benefit. I hope someone out there enjoys em!

Have a great week all . . .

Monday, July 7, 2008

Healthy meals & kids getting cholesterol checks!

I just finished reading Cholesterol Screening Is Urged for Young at NYTimes online - a report that I had also heard about this afternoon on NPR.

In fact, I am sitting with a glass of red wine . . . contemplating my tasty but healthy dinner and wondering how our nation has become such an unhealthy and physically damaging place to eat. Admittedly, I can count myself lucky since I have access and means to procure the fresh and healthy ingredients that made my meal tonight . . . but I also wonder why people believe it is so difficult to create a healthy and tasty meal?

Case in point, I worked about 11 hours today and then went to the store and saw a lovely piece of tuna on sale - yeah! The rest of the meal came together in a flash. After literally 17 minutes, I had prepared seared sesame crusted tuna, with red chile, garlic and lemon broccoli on a bed of quinoa . . . topped off with a cilantro and ginger soy sauce. Seriously 17 minutes. Now, granted, if I hadn't made the quinoa last night it would have taken about 22 minutes. But why split hairs?

I have a number of well educated friends who have the luxury of spending lots of money on take out because they claim not to have the time or the know how to cook. WRONG.

I also hear and read stories of people who say it is too difficult, time consuming or expensive to cook something healthy. WRONG.

My opinion, lazy gluttons who like fattening food and know nothing else, are not willing to try something new. Sadly, that seems to be most of our nation . . . who are teaching their kids more of the same . . . while letting them sit around and play video games. It may sound cruel, but frankly, the stats disgust me. We can do better than that and we know it.

My contribution - I will post one new 30 minute recipe per week that has reasonable food cost and, in my eyes, is nutritious, delicious and reasonable in terms of calories/fat.***

So to close out tonight's post . . . more details on tonight's fabby dinner:

Seared Tuna with Quinoa & Spicy Broccoli in Cilantro Ginger Soy Sauce
  • .65lb Tuna (on sale for $9.99/lb - good deal I must say)
  • Toasted Sesame Seeds (keep em on hand, tons of flavor and don't spoil)
  • Drizzle of Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • (2) Tbsp Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • (1) tsp Fresh Ginger (or ginger paste)
  • (1) tsp Cilantro paste*
  • (1) tsp Garlic paste*
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime
  • (1) Head Broccoli
  • (2) cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • (1) c Dry Quinoa**
  • (2) c Water

I do a lot of multi-tasking to make things quick . . . for me, it helps to think about the steps a bit before I start . . . and usually it saves about 15 - 20 minutes. In this case try the following.

Set quinoa and water in a small pot on high to bring to a boil. Once boiling turn down to low for about 20 minutes.

While you wait for the boil, trim the broccoli into bite size florets. Place them in a microwave safe container with about 1/2 inch of water. Microwave for 2-3 minutes, checking to verify doneness. You want to have a bright green color with still a little bit of firmness - not cooked all the way through yet. Remove, drain and let sit until the next step for the broccoli.

Meantime, unpack the tuna and rinse it with cold water. Place a teflon coated pan on the stove, medium high heat and put about 1 tsp of olive oil in the pan. Cut the steak into 4 or so pieces so that you can sear the edges nicely (in my case, the one steak made 5 nice pieces). Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the pieces and then spread to coat. Season with salt and pepper, then add sesame seeds and press them into the tuna so you have about 1/4 of the surface area covered.

Once the pan is hot, place the tuna steaks into the pan. While the tuna is cooking, smash the fresh garlic and chop it small, set aside. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, lime juice, garlic & cilantro pastes and fresh ginger. Mix and set aside.

After about 3 minutes or so, turn the tuna. Sear on the second side until it has achieved the desired doneness. I like it to be mid-pink and so sear it about 7 minutes total. I also love the edges to be seared, so I use tongs to pick up the tuna and place each edge to the pan for just a few seconds at the end of cooking. This helps seal in heat and juices as well. Remove the tuna from the pan, place on one dinner plate and cover with the other.

Add a tsp olive oil to the pan. Already hot, it is ready for your fresh garlic and the red chili flakes. Sautee for about 1 minute. Add the broccoli. Sautee for 2 minutes or so and then juice the lemon on top of the broccoli and cook until your desired doneness. I like mine a bit al dente but with sear marks.

Guess what. It has probably been about 20 minutes since you started the Quinoa . . . it should be done. So is the rest of your meal! Time to assemble.

Place a portion of quinoa on each plate (you probably won't use all of it), with broccoli next to it and tuna on top. Drizzle with sauce and serve!

Protein, fiber and vege-vitamins galore in this dinner. Tonight I even splurged with a good fat and added a slice of avocado to each (they were on sale too). But you can tweak this with so many different ingredients and make it your own. Either way - it is fast and super healthy:)

*Cilantro & Garlic Paste: so one of my tricks and favorites in the kitchen are these little tubes of herbs made by Gourmet Garden (plug because these are a godsend). I love to buy fresh herbs as much as the next foodie . . . but it isn't always in season or viable . . . so I have an assortment of my faves, Cilantro, Basil, Lemongrass, Garlic and Ginger, that I try to keep handy to allow me to create fab sauces and meals in a snap.

**Quinoa: this grain is amazing. More protein and fiber than virtually any other grain out there . . . totally versatile. Check out the stats:)

***I am not a nutritionist. I am a working professional who happens to have a little culinary training and loves to cook, experiment and share this love of food with others. I also like to stay healthy and work out . . . so I tend to create healthy fresh meals that lean towards the delicious. Enjoy . . .