Recent Recipes

Foodie Favorites: Coconut Oil

Comments (0) | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who wouldn't want to use a product that makes their house smell warm and summery, like the Islands??

Widely popular with vegans for it's butter-like qualities: flaky crusts, crumbly scones, etc, WITHOUT the butter -- coconut oil has been circulating in health stores for a long time now.

I'm not sure how I heard about the benefits of coconut oil; The Beefcake tends to pluck this information out of thin air somehow (he almost had me convinced that cow's milk is dubious), and then disseminate to me.

We were unaware how we would actually use this oil in cooking when we picked up a jar of it for $5.99 at Whole Foods, but we were determined to find out!

I quickly learned that coconut oil has a nutty, vanilla flavor. It's even milder and richer tasting than butter, sweeter and lighter textured than lard, and without any of the bitterness you sometimes get in olive oil.

Beefie and I are huge fans of stove-popped popcorn and have experimented with flavored oils in the past. It seemed like a natural place to start -- sweet, kettle corn is one of my favs.

We heated the oil in the microwave for about 30 seconds, until it was soft enough (it has a wax-like texture) to spoon out into our Whirley Pop (I could write a whole separate post praising the invention of the Whirley Pop, but I won't digress now). You only need about a tablespoon of the oil for a cup and half to two cups of kernels.

What we got was a subtly sweet, light flavored snack, with just a hint of coconut that is seriously addictive! To be honest, now I won't make my popcorn with any other oil. Don't confuse this with kettle corn, it's still savory and salty, but there is a pleasant sweet aftertaste with the coconut oil, not overpowering.

Once we worked through the kinks of how to use the oil, we have used it in a lot of different dishes.

It was great in stir fry, fish and sauteing vegetables, and I have yet to use it in baking, but I've heard great things!

To learn more about the health benefits of cooking with coconut oil, click here.

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The Great Pasta Experiment

Comments (0) | Monday, April 11, 2011

For Christmas The Beecake got me the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. Does he know me, or what?

We started off with high aspirations: rigatoni, with roasted garlic chicken, cherry tomatoes and asparagus in light olive oil.

All was going well until we put the dough into the attachment to churn out the pasta. The attachment broke in half, so we ended up having to make the pasta by hand, which turned out pretty great for a couple of first time pasta makers.

Our first attempt at making pasta dough, before the pasta attachment FAIL. Note, those are not my man hands.

I love the process of making pasta, its so rustic and it reminds me that you don't need fancy attachments or equipment to make a really good meal. All those funny sounding foams and liquid nitrogen may a pretty meal make, but a good pair of clean hands are the best tools out there. I'll leave the fancy stuff to the pros.

Pasta is made with just a few ingredients: flour, salt & egg. The process is incredibly easy.

2 c. flour (you can use whole wheat to punch up the fiber factor)
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Seriously, that's it.

Form the flour into a mound on your counter and make a well in the center. Place the eggs and salt into the center and mix them up, without breaking the "O" shaped flour too much. Then slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the flour until you can form a ball of dough. This is the part that takes the time: knead that dough until it's smooth and there are no air pockets. It is about a 10-15 minute process to make sure the dough is smooth. From there you need to let the dough rest, covered, for about 15 more minutes until you can begin rolling the dough out (I cut the larger ball into three smaller balls) and cut into whatever shape you'd like.

We went simple and did a fettucine, but you could cut squares to make ravioli or you could make wide strips for lasagna.

The Beefcake cutting the rolled out pasta into thin strips.

You should dry the pasta for about an hour before cutting it, but we novices couldn't wait. :)

Fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook. Ours took about five minutes, and then we drained it and added it to a large skillet on the stove with our roasted garlic chicken, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus and tossed it with some olive oil and a little fresh lemon juice to brighten the dish up until it was all warmed through.

Add salt and pepper to taste and a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio and you have a healthy and homemade dinner!

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Sushi Night!

Comments (0) | Thursday, April 7, 2011

My love affair with sushi grows boundlessly every time I throw back another maki. What is not to love about such a clean way of eating? Fish. Veggies. Seaweed. Rice.

The base of most sushi is only four ingredients, but with those four things, a WORLD of flavor can be created.

Plastic sushi in a storefront window in Chicago's Chinatown above

Sushi, in essence, might be the perfect food. Protein & Fat (fish) & Carb (rice). And now with the brown and black rice options, which both add fiber and antioxidants, it's nearly the ideal ratio of all three.

I know the idea of raw fish is hard for some people to swallow (bad pun fully intended), but please try it before you dismiss it! The quality of the fish is important when going sashimi style. My recommendation for first time raw fish eaters would be super white tuna or escolar. It's fresh, not fishy, mild and buttery. The white tuna literally melts in your mouth. If the just fish option doesn't seem appealing to you, try nigiri, where the chef lays the piece of fish on a bed of sticky rice. For some, that is more patalable, to start.

Play around with maki. There are veritably THOUSANDS of combinations out there. One of my favs is freshwater eel, crispy shrimp, salmon roe, topped with avocado, sesame seeds, and unagi sauce. Unagi sauce makes everything plate licking good.

Soon enough, you will become a sushi lover, just like me!

A few months ago I took a sushi rolling class with some friends and we decided to put these new skills to use at home. One stop to the fish market and Whole Foods (they sell bamboo mats, chopsticks, etc.), and we were on our way.

Start with your supplies...

The freshest fish makes for the best sushi. High quality ingredients are key. Go to your local fish monger, or Whole Foods and ask for sushi grade fish. A pound of each is more than enough for a party of 6. We chose salmon, shrimp and tuna.

Get yourself a good, sharp knife! I went Japanese in true sushi spirit with my Global steel.

If you haven't taken a sushi making class like I did, print out a rolling technique how-to, like this one (videos are helpful before you begin. Then just have fun with it!

Sometimes it's not pretty, but it tastes amazing.

Here's me with the finished product!

Below is everything you need to host your own sushi night -- a cheaper and healthier fun alternative to dining out.

1-2 medium avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces
5-10 sheets nori
1 batch sushi rice (I bought mine pre-made at my fish market, or you can find the recipe here)
1/3 cup black or white sesame seeds
1-2 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into matchstick-size pieces
1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-size pieces
1/2 lb cooked shrimp, peeled and torn into pieces
1/2 lb sushi grade ahi tuna
1/2 lb sushi grade salmon
Pickled ginger, for serving
Wasabi, for serving
Soy sauce, for serving

Grab some eager friends, make some sake bombs and start rolling!

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BBQ Grilled Chicken & Pineapple Quesadillas

Comments (0) | Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Inspired by food blogger, The Pioneer Woman, I adapted her recipe for the above for my take on some easy and delicious quesadillas.

These are guaranteed to get rave reviews from your guests!

8 Mission Carb Balance Flour Tortillas
Olive oil spray
2 c. grilled pineapple, slice in small cubes
3 chicken breasts, cubed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic salt
2 c. shredded or grated chihuaha cheese
1 whole jalapeno, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced thin
3 tbs BBQ sauce

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt, pepper, chili powder and garlic salt. Spray olive oil on a grill pan and grill on both sides until done or broil in oven for 6 minutes a side, brushing with barbecue sauce. Set aside and slice into very thin slices.

Warm griddle or grill pan over medium heat and spray with olive oil. Slightly warm and toast tortillas on both sides, then remove from griddle and set aside.

To assemble, sprinkle four browned tortillas with grated chihuaha cheese. Arrange chicken slices evenly over the surface. Add pineapple, jalapeno, and red onion slices. If desired, drizzle extra barbecue sauce over the top. Add second browned tortilla on top of each one. (You’ll have four complete quesadillas at this point.)

Add to oven to warm, or back to skillet to warm, until cheese is melted. Cut each quesadilla into six wedges. Serve with sour cream, pico de gallo, and lime wedges.

Be careful, because you'll surely get suckered into standing at the stove making these all night!

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Packing a Work Lunch

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I don't have a lot of time to eat at work, and unless I've whipped up a great dinner the night before, very often I end up grabbing something from the fridge as I make the mad dash from bed to car in 15 minutes. Bloggers note: I am NOT a morning person. Perhaps being a an "early to bed, early to rise" or a coffee drinker would help, but alas I am neither.

You can come up with healthy lunches on the fly if you follow these tips, as illustrated by food writer, Michael Pollan in his book, "In Defense of Food":

Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

By following these three principles, eating healthier during the day just made more sense to me.

And, because I am hopelessly in love with really good food, it allows me to be more liberal with my meal choices at night.

Here are some examples of lunches I've taken to work:

I often DO eat vegetarian during the day, something I never thought I could or would want to do -- the truth is, there are just not that many outside food options around my work and microwaving my lunch to death every day is not that appetizing to me.

Portion size has blown up over the past twenty years in the United States. I do not NEED a one pound Chipotle chicken burrito sitting in my stomach in the middle of the day. Would I love one? Hell yes I would. But I don't need it.

This is coming from the girl who participated in the "Put Up or Puke Up" Taco Bell Soft Taco Eating Challenge last fall. For the record, my brother beat me by six soft tacos. I'm a disgrace.

But I digress.:)

Fruits and vegetables are portable, don't require refrigeration for the most part, and are much cheaper than dining out at noon every day. Overall, work lunches should be convenient.

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Foodie Favorites: Mission Carb Balance Whole Wheat Tortillas

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One more item I constantly have in my fridge are these guys. For a low carb tortilla, they are very good.

I love bread probably more than the average person. Tortillas I can eat by the fistful -- and sometimes I do, but in trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I have cut a lot of bread out of my diet. Keep in mind, a true foodie can and will take a face dive into some amazing, freshly baked bread, whenever necessary. I've just found that experiencing everything in moderation is what's right for me.

So, in saying that, I wanted to find something I could rotate through my daily food routine without sacrificing taste, but without skyrocketing my daily carbohydrate intake.

Enter Mission Carb Balance Whole Wheat Tortillas.

At only 80 calories, 2g fat, 12g of carbs, and a whopping 8g of fiber, this is an excellent alternative to the traditional flour tortilla.

I use it in a TON of ways:

Slathered with Nutella or peanut butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and wrapped up with sliced banana

Sliced deli ham with a smeared wedge of Laughing Cow swiss cheese and lettuce, wrapped and cut into roll-up pieces

With grilled or broiled chicken breast seasoned with some chili powder, garlic & cayenne, sliced green pepper and onion, fresh tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream

A little cream or neufchatel cheese, with sliced cucumber and deli turkey and a dash of celery salt

Cut into triangles, baked with garlic salt and dipped into hummus

The above are just a few ways I use the tortillas as a quick snack when I don't have the time to make a full dinner.

Mission has a variety of tortillas, but I like the smaller, whole wheat fajita tortillas best. They are soft and flavorful, with a subtle whole wheat taste that isn't overpoweringly flour-like.

You can find them in any grocery store, and they keep in the fridge for about two weeks when you seal them.

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Foodie Favorites: Trader Joe's Baked Rice Snacks

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I started this blog to share cooking tips, recipes, techniques and products that I have discovered and learned about while experimenting with food. Every so often I find a product that I asbolutely cannot get enough of and think it ought to be shared with the world!

Who doesn't love Trader Joe's? I took a walk with my two fabulous roommates last night and our dog Charlie (he has three moms) and lo and behold, a walkable Trader Joe's is coming to our neighborhood. For foodies like me, this is exciting news!

One of the products I can't stop eating are these:

Yaki Onigiri

They are pre-baked rice triangles that you can reheat in a variety of ways. I have just been popping them in the microwave for a minute or two and scarfing them by hand as an after work snack.

I don't know how they did it, but even frozen, they maintain a crispy, almost burnt, sticky crust that keeps them crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. And at only 80 calories a pop, they are a healthy snack if you ravage your house for carbs the instant you get home, like me.

Keep the deliciousness coming, TJ's!

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Butternut Squash Soup

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There is nothing like a warm soup on a cold day to get me through the winter months. I love, love, LOVE soup. There is something about layering flavors, simmering for hours, and enjoying with both my hands that is so pleasing to me. Making soup is just so damn wholesome.

Creamy soups are my favorite, and this butternut squash soup is nothing short of well, buttery.

Here is a great recipe, which I adapted to what I had in my pantry that day!

4 cup(s) chicken broth
12 oz butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes*
1/2 large onion(s), cut into 2-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste

Peel and cut a large squash into 1 in. cubes.

This is the fun part -- anyone who knows me knows I don't need an excuse to use my Global knives. :)

In a large stock pot, combine broth, squash, onion, herbs and bay leaf; cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover pot and reduce heat to low; gently simmer until squash is very tender, about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender (I like kitchen toys), puree the soup in pot on the stove(or puree in a regular blender in batches, careful not to splatter hot liquid - ouch)until thinned to your liking.

Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and serve!

In the past, I have also drizzled a little low-fat sour cream or creme fraiche on top, once its in the bowl to serve. Stir it in to enrich the creaminess. Mmmmmmm.

Keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week, but also freezes fantastically. Most soups do!

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Parmesan Pea Risotto

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Ahhhhhh risotto. Perfect, rich, creamy perfection. I could write sonnets about risotto. In short, I love it. Can't get enough of the stuff, no matter the ingredients. Throw some portobellos in there, maybe some butternut squash, lobster is divine, asparagus....gah. I'll stop right there. I could go on and on about the sexiness of this dish.

For the most part, I eat risotto when I'm dining out because let's face it -- cooking risotto is hard work! The constant stirring and adding broth is sometimes not worth the wait for most people.

My world traveler friend Jessica brought back this amazing, rustic bag of arborio rice from her most recent travels, so I thought, what better time than this to tackle a homemade risotto?

Keep in mind that in making the perfect, restaurant-quality risotto, you have to keep stirring the entire 20-30 minutes you are adding liquids. Trust me -- just do it!

To start, you'll just have the rice and broth (I added a couple of bay leaves, but it's not necessary).

The mixture will still be thin at this point, but heat, time, and liquid will produce a thick, creamy sauce. After the alloted 20-30 minutes of stirring and adding broth, you can add your mix-ins. I'm using peas in this recipe.

I always like a little cheese to add richness to my risottos, so after my peas, I went ahead and blended in some grated parmesan.

Finished product and official Weight Watchers recipe below.

2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion(s), chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 1/2 cup uncooked arborio rice
5 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 piece bay leaf
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/4 cup parsley, fresh, chopped
4 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp reduced-calorie margarine
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add rice and cook until translucent, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth and bay leaves and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup (our risotto takes about 20 minutes to cook from the time the first liquid is added).

Remove bay leaves, fold in peas and cook until hot, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; fold in parsley, Parmesan cheese and margarine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and spoon risotto into shallow bowls; serve hot.

A few healthy tips I use are fat free chicken stock and olive oil instead of butter. Traditional risottos call for a lot of butter, but I didn't miss it in this recipe.


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Blueberry Streusel Muffins

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It was only when I turned thirty that my craving for all things sweet kicked in, especially at breakfast time!

I decided that submitting to my sugar cravings didn't have to be disastrous to my waistline.

Here is a great Weight Watchers recipe that I recently made and was delicious. These muffins were both moist and crumbly, and sweet and tangy. I freeze blueberries when they are in season in June and July, for a taste of summer in winter. Freezing them preserves the nutrients, so I get a boost of antioxidants right when I wake up in the morning.

2 1/4 cup(s) all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 large egg(s)
1 cup(s) sugar, divided
3/4 cup(s) reduced-fat sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup(s) fat-free skim milk, divided
2 cup(s) blueberries, washed and picked over
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place muffin liners in a 12-hole muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg with 3/4 cup of sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add sour cream and beat until thoroughly combined; blend in vanilla extract.

Add half of flour mixture and half of milk to sugar mixture; beat until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and milk; beat until smooth.

Fold in blueberries and fill each muffin liner about 3/4 full; set aside.

To make streusel topping, in a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup each of sugar and flour. Pour in melted butter and combine with fingertips. Divide crumb mixture over muffins; gently press into top of muffin batter with fingertips.

Bake until slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pans for about 10 to 15 minutes and then transfer muffins onto racks to cool completely.

These kept in an airtight container for about a week -- still moist and buttery, even on day seven. And at 4 Points a muffin, you can enjoy with your favorite latte.

Try it out!

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