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 . . .