Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins

Another Thanksgiving weekend is behind us. I hope yours was as much fun as mine! I got to spend it in Connecticut with a big bunch of family and tons of great food. The cranberry sauce with pears and ginger I posted last week turned out great. The pumpkin-cranberry bundt cake I made for the 2nd year running was also would be a good one throughout the holiday season.

Fortunately my holiday travel was a breeze, and I’m back in Fort Lauderdale. Besides going to the gym and doing laundry today, I haven’t done much. But I did make these muffins.

I planned it all out last week. You see, I spotted this recipe on Cheaty Kitchen when I was just clicking around some food blogs, and immediately realized it was the perfect answer to a problem. I had exactly 3 too-ripe-to-eat bananas, and as time passed I feared they would go to waste. When I realized I not only had the 3 bananas the muffins called for, but also every other ingredient, I got baking!

I liked them so much, I bought more bananas before I took off for the holiday so they would get nice and black while I was away. If you’re in the same boat after your Thanksgiving travels (or just bought too many bananas), give these a try. They’re really quick, so it’s no problem to do them in the morning. They are also very healthy, full of whole grains and no processed sugars. But don’t even worry about that—they’re just really tasty. The bananas and canola oil make them moist and the just-right level of sweetness comes from raisins and maple syrup. The whole grains make them hearty and dense. If you use non-dairy milk, they are vegan. If you’re feeling like me, a healthy homemade goodie should be just perfect right now.

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from Cheaty Kitchen. Original recipe from Nutrilicious by Edith Rothschild

These are vegan if you use soy, rice or almond milk. Once these muffins are completely cool, they freeze very well. Defrost at room temperature for an hour and a half or so.

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
2 Tbs. ground flax
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup milk (regular or soy)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
sunflower seed, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners, or coat with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oat bran, flax, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the raisins.

In another bowl, whisk together the bananas milk, canola oil and syrup. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until no more dry bits remain. Scoop batter into the muffin pan, and sprinkle sunflower seeds over muffins. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and sides of muffins are golden. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer muffins to a rack and cool completely.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

How I Diet (and Pasta with Broccoli Rabe)

I don't really diet actually. I'm big on balance, so if I've had a weekend of rich restaurant meals, I follow it up with nutritious food prepared very simply. The real trick is making satisfying meals that fill you up. Greens, for example, are easy to prepare healthfully and you can eat a bushel of them for very few calories.

Soup is another great food for restoring dietary balance because you can make it filling and healthy and still eat a ton of it. Since last week was too hot for soup around here, I wanted something light and spicy, so I made this pasta dish with sauteed broccoli raab, chickpeas and whole wheat fettucine.

Take a look at that big, 12-inch skillet full of delicious, hearty pasta. All that food consists of just 4 oz. of pasta, a cup of beans and one bunch of greens. It's the right amount for two very healthy meals that aren't the least bit skimpy or "diety." I sort of just put this one together without a recipe, and I liked it so much that it's totally a keeper. Here's what you do:

Whole Wheat Pasta with Broccoli Raab and Chickpeas
Serves 2

- Trim and chop up one big bunch of broccoli raab and blanch for 3 minutes in boiling water. Transfer greens from pot to a colander with a slotted spoon and drain. Keep the water boiling, add salt and cook 4 oz. of whole wheat fettucine or linguine.

- Meanwhile, heat 1 tbs. olive oil in a large skillet. Saute 3 fat cloves of garlic, slivered, hot pepper flakes to taste and the drained broccoli raab until stems are tender. Add 1 cup rinsed and drained chickpeas; season with salt and pepper. Add 8 roughly chopped kalamata olives.

- Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta. Add pasta to skillet and toss. Add about 1/2 cup pasta water to moisten and use more if you like. Squeeze some lemon juice on pasta and check seasoning. Dish into 2 bowls and top each with 2 tbs. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Makes great leftovers.

Another favorite (and easy!) healthy dinner is baked salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, so that's what I had the following night. I do nothing with my salmon but coat it with cooking spray, season with salt, pepper and maybe spices like cumin and chile powder. Roast it at 400 for around 20 minutes and it's completely delicious. The only things I add to my mashed sweet potatoes are a little milk and spices like cinnamon and chile powder (and of course salt and pepper). Another healthy favorite is salmon with lentils - it really doesn't get more nutritious or satisfying than that.

When I want to eat really well, I also pay close attention to my portion sizes, even measuring and counting calories. I've sort of had an automatic calorie counter in my head since I was a teenager and, for better or worse, it does help to know just how much you're really eating.

This weekend, we're still eating pretty healthy, and we might make a batch of my carrot-ginger-curry soup, which Mike loved. There was also still plenty of room to include pizza - our favorite Friday night staple - in our healthy eating plan.

We came up with this pizza as we were sitting around waiting to have our taxes finished yesterday afternoon. It was Mike's idea to put our favorite dish from our favorite tapas bar - mushrooms in a creamy sherry sauce - on a pizza (with my whole wheat pizza crust, of course). We added shredded chicken and shaved Manchego cheese. It was an awesome and rather healthy dinner along with some Italian red wine.

So that's how I diet...what are the tricks you use when you want to eat healthy?

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn

This soup is one of our favorite recent recipe discoveries. I’m happy to say that it came in its original form from another food blogger I recently discovered. I have been enjoying Nicole’s blog, Cucina Nicolina, and this soup attests to her culinary sensibility (I love fawning over other food blogs--you guys are endlessly inspiring!).

You know quinoa is good for you, right? It’s an ancient grain, a superfood, a complete protein and all that jazz. But none of that would be any comfort at all if the stuff wasn’t so delicious. I’ve been making steamed quinoa for a couple years now as a side dish, usually a pilaf. This is always very good, but I’ve never enjoyed quinoa as much as I do in this soup.

This recipe is for a very big batch, and I don’t recommend scaling it down. Not because you can’t, but because you’ll want a lot of this soup to eat for lunch, for a quick leftover dinner, whatever. A lot of liquid is required here because quinoa is like a sponge that never tires of soaking up anything in its wake. You’ll notice the soup continue to get thicker in the days after you make it. Just add a bit more liquid to get the consistency you want, or eat as is and enjoy the luxurious thickness.

The first time I cooked this soup, I thought it would need something more to add richness and substance, so we topped it with poached eggs. While this is really delicious and is vital to other soups such as this one, you just don’t need it to make the quinoa soup complete. The particular quality of starchiness in the quinoa thickens and enriches the broth enough on its own.

I know I’ve written about nothing else in this post but soup, so I’ll try to wrap it up quickly. Mike and I LOVE it. We’re not vegetarians, certainly not vegans, but we couldn’t ask for more than a bowl of this. Try it with the Honey Spelt Bread in the previous post. And by the way, it’s done from start to finish in under 30 minutes, and that’s if you’re fairly lazy about it.

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Adapted from this recipe at Cucina Nicolina
I prefer chicken broth (especially Swanson’s low-sodium or Whole Foods regular), but you can certainly use vegetable broth if necessary. This soup is easy to play with, so add any dried or fresh herbs, or seasonings that sound good. If you really want to speed up the process, you could cook the mushrooms in a separate skillet while the quinoa is simmering.

Serves 7-8

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (use white, Portobello, or a combination)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large red or white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups quinoa
8 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups frozen or fresh corn
12-14 oz. spinach leaves
2 tbs. soy sauce

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the water they release nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until lightly browned and soft. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, season and cook until soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and add the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then add the quinoa. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and add the water and corn and return to a simmer. Add the spinach leaves a few handfuls at a time. Add the reserved mushrooms and soy sauce. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve as is, or with a poached egg on top.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg

In my last post, I mentioned that we have been into healthy, comforting meals in the hopes of balancing out the holiday decadence. This is one of those recipes. Upon looking at the ingredients and method, you'll see there's nothing exotic here--but wait, the simplicity is deceptive.

This delicious soup is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It can be made effortlessly any night of the week. Once you've chopped onion and garlic, sauteed them along with some mushrooms and relaxed while the barley cooks in just 15 minutes, you'll wonder if you forgot something--it's just too easy, you'll say.

After you stir in some fresh spinach at the end and ladle the hot soup into bowls, it's time for the big finish--crowning each portion with a gently poached egg. Cook the eggs for a mere two minutes so the yolks remain soft and creamy enough to add a totally luscious quality to your soup. Honestly, this is unexpectedly good even without a poached egg, but with it--you'll want to eat this every night.

Now you have the perfect quick, satisfying meal for the crazy weeknights ahead when you don't want something too heavy, but you don't want to feel in the least bit deprived. It came from the November issue of Gourmet by the way, which also provided recipes for this beautiful Cranberry Crostata and another quick dinner we really liked (but didn't put on the blog), Sauteed Calamari with Bacon and Lemon Quinoa.

So, have you started doing any holiday baking yet? I did today--so much good stuff to blog about, I can't wait! We got our Christmas tree too. I love decorating it and going through all my ornaments, some that I've had since I was a baby. And I officially know it's the holiday season because Mike made his hot cider-rum drink with cinnamon--I could knock those back all day! So what are everyone else's favorite December traditions, whether you celebrate Christmas or not?

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, November 2007

Serves 4 as main course

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram (optional)
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (such as Muir Glen)
1 qt. vegetable broth (such as Swanson’s Organic)
1 cup quick-cooking barley
6 oz. spinach leaves
1 tbs. white vinegar
4 large eggs

Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and heat to medium. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until mushrooms are soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and vegetable broth; raise heat and bring to a boil. Add the barley, season with 1/2 tsp. salt and ground pepper to taste; cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until barley is tender.

Meanwhile, fill a large skillet with water, about 1 1/2 inches deep. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Add the vinegar. As soon as the soup is finished, you want this skillet to be ready for the eggs.

When barley is tender, stir the spinach into the soup and cook for 1 minute. Check for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls, and immediately add the eggs to the poaching water by cracking the eggs, one at a time, into a ramekin or small bowl and gently tipping each one into the poaching water. Cook for 2 minutes and transfer the eggs directly into each soup bowl using a slotted spoon. Serve right away.

If you want to check out the round-up of posts for November's Sugar High Friday where the theme was beta-carotene, here's part 1 and part 2. Look for my All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake among the delicious entries.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits

Shrimp n' grits (or anything n' grits) is a southern thing. While I have to thank Southern cuisine for the combination of the recipe's two main ingredients, the similarities pretty much end there.

If you haven't tried grits before, now is your chance. It is a lot like polenta--in fact, sometimes it is hard to know the difference because of the various "quick" and convenience products you can buy. Hominy grits are made from cornmeal soaked in an alkaline solution to add nutrients. Masa harina, the cornmeal used to make tortillas, is made in a similar way. Polenta and corn grits do not get the alkaline treatment. By my observations, grits have a fluffier, "grittier" texture than polenta which is typically more smooth and pourable. I like quick-cooking polenta, and for grits I use Quaker Quick Grits (white hominy grits), not instant. I have also used finely ground masa harina as a substitute for both of them.

Now that I've done my best to make your head spin over the true nature of cornmeal products, I will get back to this recipe. Once you are past the southern roots, you'll see it is healthy (and low-calorie), super-quick to make (20 minutes, max) and very satisfying (the grits are flavored with Boursin cheese--mmm). Buy peeled and deveined shrimp, so all you have to do is pinch off their tails. I have made this with chopped tomatoes (both red and green, actually), but it looks so much prettier with the grape tomatoes. I also like their sweetness. Combining them with sauteed garlic and scallions results in an incredibly flavorful pan sauce for the shrimp.

This is one of my go-to dinners when I want something healthy and fast that does not involve feelings of deprivation. After the antipasto platter and tenderloin carpaccio salad I ate last night, that's sounding like a pretty good idea.

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits
Adapted from a long lost copy of Shape magazine.
I am not giving exact quantities for the grits and chicken broth in this recipe because it will vary depending on what cornmeal product you use. Follow the package directions and make enough for 4 servings (it never hurts to make extra--they are addictive).

Serves 4 (cut in half for 2--leftovers don't hold up very well).

1 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
salt and pepper
low-sodium chicken broth
Fast-cooking grits (like Quaker Quick Grits)
8-10 scallions, finely sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved crosswise
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Boursin Light cheese spread (Alouette cheese is also good), garlic and herb flavor

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive to a large skillet and heat to medium. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning once, until done, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with any juices to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the chicken broth to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the tomatoes are slightly wilted. Stir in the shrimp and remove from heat.

You can start the grits while you cook the scallion-tomato mixture, or you can wait until the veggies are done and give your full attention to the grits. You should have them finished in 7 minutes or less. Use the package cooking time as a guide, but most grits thicken very quickly. If they don't taste done, add more liquid (hot water is fine) and keep stirring. This is how I do it: Using a whisk (this is the best tool to avoid clumps), pour the grits into the boiling chicken broth in a slow stream, whisking as you pour. Whisk constantly and turn the heat to the lowest setting as soon as the liquid starts bubbling again to avoid hot, splattering grits. Keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. When you reach a thick consistency, stir in the cheese. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you like. Remove from heat. You can cover the grits to keep them warm for a few minutes if you need to finish the rest of the meal.

Spoon the grits onto four plates and top with one-fourth of the shrimp mixture. Serve immediately.

Interested in learning about your nutrition and looking for information on type 2 diabetes? Check out this site to get medical advice on many health related topics today!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

(Healthy!) Stuffed Eggplant

I'm always lamenting that there is no regular farmer's market near my home in Fort Lauderdale. The closest thing is a little gourmet market that sets up on Las Olas Boulevard every Saturday. Hoping to be inspired to cook by fresh, local produce, Mike and I went to check it out one recent Saturday. They bill it as a "farmer's market," but there's not a single farmer in the mix. There are about 6 vendors including a guy giving Eastern-style massages; a gal hawking homemade hummus; some buttery, sugar-laden baked goods; gourmet honey and olive oil; and finally, a produce stall.

This produce stall was proudly advertising their "California peaches" and "Virginia tomatoes." It was one step above what I would find at my supermarket, but local it was not. At least we tried. One thing they did have that I never see in the supermarket were Sicilian eggplants. They are round instead of oblong, kind of like little pumpkins. All it took was this one new, yet familiar food to ignite my creative spark.

Besides ground meat (we used pork), all you need are some basic ingredients to make stuffed eggplant. This dish can involve frying the eggplant and splashing everything with lots of oil, but it's not at all necessary. This version is very healthy, but due to the meaty filling and luscious roasted eggplant, it is a filling meal. Mike and I bought some great-looking trout to cook as well, but we were so satisfied with the stuffed eggplant, we saved the trout for a late Sunday breakfast.

If you can't always buy local produce in your area, where do you get your inspiration? Any ideas for me?

Stuffed Eggplant
This makes a satisfying light meal for two. You can add bread and salad for a complete supper. Just double the recipe if you need to feed more people.

1 large Sicilian eggplant
1/3 lb. ground pork (turkey, beef or lamb would also work)
salt and pepper
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/8 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 tbs. panko
2 tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fresh parsley or basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim off the stem and cut the eggplant in half through the stem end. Line a baking sheet with foil, cover nonstick cooking spray and place eggplant halves face down on foil. Roast for 10-15 minutes, or until skin is a bit slack and the flesh side is lightly browned and soft when you poke it with a fork. You don't want the skin to totally lose it's shape, but the flesh must be soft enough to scoop out, so judge the roasting time based on that. Remove from oven. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving a thin layer of flesh inside the skin to help hold its shape. Reserve flesh. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet to medium-high and add the ground pork. Season with salt and pepper and stir, breaking it up as you go, until the meat is cooked through. Remove meat to a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess fat. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion to the same skillet, cooking until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomato, season with salt and pepper, dried herbs, allspice and pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the eggplant flesh. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, stirring to combine all the ingredients.

In small bowl, combine the panko and cheese. Season with pepper. Fill the eggplant skins with the pork mixture. You may have some filling left over. Sprinkle the panko mixture all over the top of the stuffing and bake for 15 minutes or until the panko turns golden. Cool for 10 minutes, garnish with fresh herbs, and serve.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fava Bean Salad - No recipe required!

If fava beans are still around in your area like they are here, then this is the perfect "non-recipe" for a long holiday weekend. Serve it as a side dish with anything or leave it in the refrigerator so the flavors can marry as you snack on it throughout the day.

I have written about vanquishing my strange dread of shelling fava beans. Remember? All you have to do is take them out of their pods, boil for a minute or two, dunk them in ice, and slip off the skins. It will keep your fingers busy for a few minutes, hopefully while you are enjoying some lovely weather on your porch, patio or front stoop.

You could always put your freshly shelled favas in a dish like my Fava Bean Risotto with Pancetta and Mushrooms, but why would you spend the last weekend of the summer standing by the stove. Save that recipe for later, and toss together this simple salad instead.

Fava Bean Salad
These quantities are just suggestions if you have a pound to a pound and a half of fava beans (weighed when still in the pod). Do this recipe according to your taste.

In a bowl, combine shelled fava beans and half of a red onion, sliced as thinly as possible. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and juice of half a lemon, more or less. Be conservative with the lemon juice--you can always add more after you taste. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and coarse salt (if you have "good" salt, like fleur de sel or any nice sea salt, now would be the time to use it). Toss the salad. Add a small handful of chopped fresh parsley and toss again. A bit of fresh mint would be great if you have it. A little basil wouldn't hurt either. Enjoy the weekend!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Healthy Bell Pepper and Zucchini Gratin

You hear the word, “gratin,” and you immediately think of cheesy, creamy goodness, right? So do I, but I also think of all the fat and calories that go along with them. And what about the vegetables? Whether it’s a potato gratin or any other variety, the nutritious, delicious veggies are all but lost in the decadent mix.

The truth is, I pretty much never make gratins. I would rather have a side dish of roasted vegetables with salt, pepper and just a wee bit of olive oil. That doesn’t mean I am not willing to try something new. When I saw this recipe in the June issue of Cooking Light, I almost passed right over it. But because I’ve never really given up the hope of a luscious, healthy vegetable gratin, I skimmed over the recipe—no milk or cream in sight! Could it be any good? It sounded good, and this magazine does have a pretty healthy (no pun intended) track record.

So here it is, folks (after some tasty changes and simplifications from the original, of course): a moist, extremely flavorful gratin that tastes like something special even though the components and the technique couldn’t be more straightforward. I served this with the cumin and honey marinated lamb kabobs that I mentioned in the previous post. The gratin is great all by itself, but piled into homemade pita bread with the tender cubes of lamb and my garlic-yogurt sauce, it makes the meal.

Bell Pepper and Zucchini Gratin
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine

Substitutions are a natural in a dish like this. I omitted the yellow squash called for in the original recipe and used all zucchini. Yellow, red or orange bell peppers are all great, but I would stay away from the green ones if you can. I don’t think they are as sweet. My trick with this recipe is to brown the vegetables in a skillet to get some caramelization going instead of just tossing them into the oven raw—it pays off with great flavor.

Serves 4 to 6

Nonstick cooking spray
1 to 2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hungarian paprika
3 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup (packed) sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, patted dry with paper towels and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
1 1/2 tbs. dried bread crumbs
2 tbs. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Coat a large skillet with half to one tablespoon of the oil and heat to medium-high. Add the bell peppers and cook for 3 minutes, then add the onions. Season with salt, pepper and paprika to taste. Continue to cook, stirring often until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Remove to a large bowl. Add another half to one tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the zucchini, stir well, and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Cook, stirring often until zucchini is lightly browned on both sides. Add to the bowl with the bell peppers, along with the thyme and sun-dried tomatoes, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese together in a small bowl. Transfer the vegetables into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-cheese mixture evenly over the top and bake for 20 minutes. Let the gratin rest for 5 minutes, then serve right away.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Vegetables and Pesto Sauce

In the last posted, I hinted that I had a great new pasta recipe. I might have even called it, “the greatest.” It’s pretty simple—pasta tossed with basil pesto and a rainbow of roasted vegetables. But there’s just something about the way all the elements enhance and complement each other when you put them together. The slow-roasted tomatoes are sweet, the eggplant is incredibly silky, the onions are perfectly caramelized, the zucchini and mushrooms are full of flavor and the garlicky pesto is bright and fresh.

I started preparing this dish early in the day so I could roast the tomatoes at a low oven temperature, but I think you would get comparable results if you turned up the heat and decreased the time. I also spent a good deal of time hanging around the kitchen roasting the batches of vegetables. I don’t mind the waiting—there’s little actual work to do, and roasting is my favorite way to prepare these veggies. I did all this on a Sunday when I didn’t mind a little fussing around.

Make this recipe for you and one lucky person, so you’ll have enough to eat again in the next day or two. I think it may be even better when the veggies and noodles have had a chance to stew in the slick, fragrant pesto sauce, the garlic has mellowed and the flavors have meshed together lusciously.

Here are some other fantastic pasta recipes I've found on other food blogs:

1) Pasta with (VERY) slow roasted tomatoes on A Veggie Venture
2) Lisa's Shrimp and Penne on La Mia Cucina
3) One that I saved way back she posted it: Rigatoni with 5 Lilies and Ricotta Salata on Orangette
4) Egg noodles with zucchini and balsamic vinegar on The Wednesday Chef
5) Fresh pasta with zucchini and sundried tomatoes on What's For Lunch Honey?
6) Bee's grandfather's pasta with thyme-flavored tomato ricotta sauce on La Tartine Gourmande

Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Vegetables and Pesto Sauce
Serves 4

1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 generous tbs. toasted pine nuts
2 generous tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2-3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
pasta cooking water, to thin to desired consistency

Combine the basil, pine nuts, cheese, olive oil and garlic in a blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper. Add small amounts of the pasta cooking water and continue to blend until you have a thick, but pourable consistency.

10-12 roma tomatoes, halved and cored
olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
8 oz. Portobello mushroom caps, cut into chunks
4 small zucchini, cut into chunks
1 large red onion, layers separated and cut into 1-inch chunks
¾ lb. whole wheat linguine (I like Whole Foods’ 365 brand)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Place the tomato halves cut side up on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Drizzle some olive oil over the top and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 3 hours or until tomatoes are very soft and at least half their original volume. If you have less time, increase the temperature. If you have more, let them cook until they are as sweet and chewy as you want. It will be good either way, but I have the feeling that slow roasting provides the sweetest result. Remove from the oven, set aside until cool and cut in half lengthwise.

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Toss the other vegetables with a little oil, season with salt and pepper and spread them out on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Roast until browned and tender, tossing once during cooking. Keep in mind that the vegetables will finish cooking at different times, and remove them from the oven accordingly.

Meanwhile, make the pesto and cook the pasta. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water, just before draining. Add a little at a time to the pesto until it has a thick, but pourable consistency.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pasta pot. Add the roasted vegetables and toss gently. Add the pesto and toss to coat. At this point, you may want to add a bit of pasta water to moisten the vegetable and loosen the sauce a bit more, but it’s your call. Take it slow and stop when things look good to you.

Concerned about your nutrition and looking for information on type 2 diabetes? Check out this site to get medical advice on many health related topics today!

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Monday, March 26, 2007

One-Skillet Lemon Chicken with Red Potatoes

Isn’t it rewarding to execute the proverbial “one-pot meal?” Protein, starch and vegetables all nestled cozily in a single cooking vessel should make anyone sigh with relief on a busy night, yet I never make it a point to cook one-pot meals. Maybe the stigma of crock pot cooking and the idea of haphazardly tossing an "all but the kitchen sink"-style array of ingredients into a large vat deterred me (disclaimer: I do own a crock pot, and admit that it has its own unique set of benefits). I am happy to say that this succulent, moist chicken that creates its own rich, lemony sauce as it roasts, reintroduced me to the very delicious possibilities of one-pot meals.

In all honesty, I am still raving about how wonderful this lemon chicken is and fighting Mike over the leftovers. The method used to create the bright, luscious lemon sauce is ingenious. I wish I could take the credit, but I got this recipe out of one of my Cooking Light cookbooks. I slightly increased the scant amount of olive oil they called for and added extra kalamata olives and grape tomatoes (why on earth would they restrict me to 10 grape tomatoes in their original recipe?!).

To create this fantastic lemon sauce, all you do is line a large oven-proof skillet with lemon slices. Then you toss the chicken in a lemon-rosemary-garlic vinaigrette and layer it on top; toss the red potato wedges in the same vinaigrette and tuck them in around the chicken; and finally sprinkle the olives and tomatoes over all. After baking totally unattended for about 55 minutes, you have a complete meal bathed in the luscious sauce mentioned above. The use of boneless, skinless chicken thighs helps create the rich sauce and is guaranteed to be moist. On a night when I thought I would just be throwing together something simple and unchallenging, this one-pot dinner was an incredibly tasty surprise.

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken with Red Potatoes
Adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook

Serves 4

1 to 2 large lemons, sliced
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tbs. lemon juice
¾ tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 ½ lb. small red potatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges
½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes
12-16 kalamata olives, pitted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In your largest oven-proof skillet, arrange lemon slices in a single layer along the bottom. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary. Toss the chicken pieces in the vinaigrette and arrange in a single layer over the lemon slices. Add the potatoes to the bowl and toss in the remaining vinaigrette. Place potatoes in the skillet over and around the chicken and pour in any excess vinaigrette. Sprinkle the tomatoes and olives over the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the center of the oven and bake for 55 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through. Divide the chicken and vegetables between serving plates and spoon the lemon sauce over. The cooked lemon slices may be eaten as well.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Curried Lamb & Lentil Stew, Plus a Bonus Lentil Soup Recipe

Lentils never fail to provide warming, hearty and healthy sustenance. Unfortunately they are not the most photogenic legume. I have made two very different lentil soups in the past week, and both yielded wonderful results, but very ugly photographs. My standout favorite, a Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk, also happened to be the ugliest.

Then I remembered this Lamb & Lentil Stew that I made in January, but never blogged about. I don’t know why this oversight was made because this is just the kind of meal I love: a big pot of something fresh and hearty that will provide ample leftovers. We were able to have the butcher at Whole Foods cut the proper-sized chunk off a boneless leg of lamb for us, but you can also get a pack of lamb stew meat already cut into bite-sized pieces at many grocery stores. Beef would be a fine substitute, but I love the flavor of lamb. It is also my favorite kind of meat for Indian curries, so this soup was doubly appealing.

I know I cannot mention how wonderful the un-photogenic lentil soup is without giving the recipe, so that one follows as well. It is from a book I love, and it was even better eaten for lunch the next two days with Irish soda bread. This one is vegetarian, so if you were put off by the lamb, give this soup a try.

Curried Lamb & Lentil Stew
Adapted from the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
I use French lentils because they hold their shape and have a toothsome texture when cooked. You may have to get them at a health food or gourmet store. Brown lentils are a good substitute.

Serves 4-6

1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ lb. boned leg of lamb, cut into half-inch chunks
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. red curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
cayenne pepper, to taste
4 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 c. green lentils (also called French or de Puy)
½ lb. baby spinach (the better part of a pre-washed bag)
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice

Heat the oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Add the carrots, celery and onion; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, cumin and cayenne. Stir to combine.

Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, then add the spinach, a couple handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted. Simmer for 3 to 5 more minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and serve.

Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Jerome Audureau and Frank Mentesana
I resisted grinding whole spices for a long time, but now I love doing it. For a small amount of extra effort, the payoff is a fuller, more intense, more genuine flavor. I recommend it highly for the cardamom and cloves, especially in a simple recipe like this that relies on a few key spices for its unique flavor. However, if using ground spices makes it convenient enough to make this soup on a chilly night, then I absolutely give you my blessing. The spices are toasted in clarified butter before adding to the soup. If this seems unnecessary, just add them with the thyme and turmeric. I liked the toasting technique, and it is easy to do, but it is a little fussy. Click here to learn how to clarify butter, or you could simply use ghee or olive oil.

Serves 6

1 tbs. unsalted butter
½ tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp. dried
1 ½ tsp. ground turmeric
6 c. low sodium chicken broth (I really like the flavor of Swanson’s)
1 ½ c. French green lentils, rinsed (called lentils de Puy)
2 tbs. unsalted butter, clarified; or ghee; or 1 ½ tbs. olive oil
8 green cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 can lite or regular coconut milk

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until lightly golden, stirring often. Add the garlic, thyme and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the broth and the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Bruise the cardamom pods with a heavy object (rolling pin, glass jar) or in a mortar and pestle until they begin to open. Pop out the cardamom seeds and discard the green pods. Grind the cardamom seeds along with the cloves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Warm the clarified butter, ghee or oil in small saucepan over low heat. Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook on low, swirling the pan often, until the spices become aromatic, about 2 minutes.

After the soup has finished simmering for 20 minutes, add the spices with the butter, ghee or oil. Stir into the soup. Shake the can of coconut milk well, open and stir into the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes more, taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Gingery Pork Tenderloin with Riesling Plum Sauce

In a classic example of the dangers of buying in bulk, I ended up with far more ripe black plums that I could eat this week. Since I can be greedy when it comes to fresh produce and because I hadn’t laid eyes on appetizing plums in several months, this came as no great shock.

Luckily, my greed is balanced by my determination not to be wasteful. The result was gingery pork tenderloin with Riesling-plum sauce, and it helped me mow through half of the plum bounty. I don’t buy pork tenderloin very often which is silly. It’s very healthy (although I wouldn’t mind if the meat was little fattier) and incredibly easy to cook. We always find it in packs of two that weigh about two pounds total, so we cook once and get a couple of meals with leftovers. In the past, we have even used totally different seasonings for each piece of tenderloin so we could have, say, spicy Cajun pork one night and garlic-rosemary pork another.

The plum sauce is open to interpretation, and if you don’t have a dry Riesling (which is a really good match for pork), use another white wine, switch it to red, or just use water as your liquid. I do not usually like to sacrifice too much good wine to a recipe, but in this case, it added notable flavor and complexity to my lightly sweetened plums.

A Quick Word on Butter
I know I don’t get into social consciousness-raising very often on this blog, but yesterday’s article in the New York Times titled, Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter As Victim, had me up in arms. Here’s a summary: butter, an essential ingredient that has no suitable replacement in many foods (like croissants) is, in fact, being replaced by trans fat free margarine (a fake food) and other dicey alternatives by companies (like Starbucks) who want to be able to say that their products are trans fat free. Butter, as well as milk and beef, contains a form of trans fat that occurs naturally in these foods (whether they are organic or not) and is different from the industrially derived, partially hydrogenated type.

In short, they are abandoning reason and throwing the baby out with the bath water by replacing butter with something entirely less wholesome. I encourage you to read the full article and come to your own conclusion on the issue. I’m off to email Starbucks and state my preference for eating scones and croissants made with real butter and milk. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Gingery Pork Tenderloin with Riesling Plum Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2005
If plums have not yet made it to your neck of the woods, you could do the same preparation with apples or pears.

Serves 4-6

2 ½ tbs. olive oil, divided
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced, divided
salt and black pepper to taste
2 lb. pork tenderloin (usually sold in a package of two 1-lb. pieces)
2-3 tbs. chopped shallots
5-6 medium plums, pitted and chopped
2 tbs. brown sugar
½ c. dry Riesling or other white wine
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
½ tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover a baking sheet with foil. Add half a tablespoon of the olive oil to a large skillet and heat to high. Rub the pork tenderloins with 1 tbs. of oil and all but 1 tbs. of the ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Sear the pork tenderloin in the skillet, turning until all sides are browned. Transfer the tenderloins to the baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 155 degrees (slightly pink), or until done to your liking. Remove from oven, tent with foil and let the meat rest until you are ready to serve.

After you remove the pork from the skillet, switch the heat to medium, and add the remaining oil and the shallots. Cook until softened and slightly golden. Add the ginger and cook an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Add the plums, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 12-15 minutes, or until the plums are very soft. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the wine and the vinegar and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and remove from heat.

Cut the pork on an angle into half-inch slices. Top with the plum sauce and serve.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Salmon with Chiplotle-Honey Glaze and Cinnamon-Scented Couscous

This dish came to be because we wanted to eat something quick and healthy on a Saturday night. Usually, Saturdays are reserved for the more indulgent and labor-intensive of recipes; however, we had plans to eat out at a very tasty restaurant on Sunday evening, so taking it easy was a wise choice.

Paragons of moderation that we are, I came up with this dead easy glaze for baked salmon that turned out to be even better than I had hoped. Seriously, the whole time we were eating, I couldn't shut up about how delicious the fish tasted. Sometimes I turn into a broken record when I'm really enjoying my food; thankfully, Mike just nods and keeps chewing.

The idea for the warmly spiced couscous with dried fruit, pine nuts and scallions came from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, but I kept this one very light with just a dab of butter that you could actually leave out if you wanted. It is one of my favorite couscous dishes in recent memory. Maybe it's not really all that healthy because you will want to eat more than just one serving.

Rounded out with steamed kale quickly sauteed in a little olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, salt and pepper, I thought this was the perfect colorful healthy plate. The wonderful thing is that it tasted as flavorful and delicious as any meal we would usually cook on a Saturday night.

Salmon with Chipotle-Honey Glaze
Serves 2

Nonstick cooking spray
2-6 oz. salmon fillets, skin on
salt and pepper
3 tbs. honey
1 canned chipotle chile, seeded and chopped, plus 2 tsp. of the sauce from the chile can
1 tbs. lime juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, place skin side down on the baking sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the honey, chipotle chile, chile sauce and lime juice together in a small bowl. Taste and add more honey if you want it sweeter, or more chipotle sauce if you want it hotter.

After 13 to 15 minutes or when the salmon is three-quarters of the way done (depending on thickness), take the baking sheet out of the oven and drizzle the chipotle-honey glaze all over the fish. Continue baking for 5 minutes, or until the salmon flakes easily and is cooked through. Spoon any excess glaze that has collected on the foil over the salmon and serve. If the salmon skin sticks to the foil, gently remove the flesh to the serving plates and no one will have that extra piece of skin left when they are done eating.

Cinnamon-Scented Couscous
Inspired by a recipe in Nigella Lawson's How To Eat

Serves 3-4

1 ¼ c. water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
½ tbs. butter
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. whole wheat couscous
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ c. dried currants (raisins or cranberries would also work well)
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 tbs. pine nuts

Bring the water or broth to a boil over high heat. Add the butter and salt. Add the couscous while continuously stirring with a whisk or fork. When the liquid returns to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest setting and add the cinnamon, cumin, currants, scallions and pine nuts. When all the water is absorbed, cover tightly and remove from heat. Let the couscous steam for at least 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Banana Soufflés

A Dieter's Dream Dessert!

150 calories. That's really all I need to tell you, but being the garrulous little food writer I am, let me continue for just a paragraph or two.

You may already know that I love to make souffles. They are fun, easy and make me feel more like a domestic goddess than any dish in my repertoire. I also love bananas. If you too, enjoy the exquisite torture of watching a couple bananas ripen to the point of sweet, blackened smooshiness on your kitchen counter, this is the recipe for you. Instead of whipping up the same old banana bread, try these souffles. Did I mention they're only 150 calories each?

The lightness of the pureed bananas, egg whites and sugar create a gorgeous rise. Sweet and airy, they are the perfect dessert to follow a heavier meal, or a whole season of holiday feasting. You could even afford to spoon a little chocolate sauce over them without a bit of guilt.

I love how a souffle goes from this...

To this - stunning!
Banana Soufflés
The original version of this recipe appeared in the January issue of Redbook magazine, and was first published in Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim.
Makes 4-6oz. souffles.

2 large ripe bananas
5 tbs. sugar, divided, plus extra for coating soufflé dishes
2 tbs. water
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites
¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Puree the bananas in a blender or food processor. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 4 tbs. sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves completely. Cook without stirring for an additional minute until mixture thickens slightly. Slowly stir in the banana puree and cook until mixture reaches a full boil. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon. Allow mixture to cool slightly in the refrigerator while you prepare the ramekins.

Spray 4-6oz. ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle sugar all over the bottom and sides. Spin ramekins around to coat completely and shake out any excess sugar.

Put the egg whites and salt in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until white and foamy. Add the remaining 1 tbs. sugar and continue to beat, increasing the speed to medium-high, until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold about one-third of the egg whites into the banana mixture. Continue to fold in the remaining egg whites. Divide soufflé mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until tops have risen and browned lightly. Serve immediately.

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