Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And then there were none.

The only remnants that remain of Ellie Krieger's energy bars are the crumbs on my desktop. Old Mother Hubbard opened her cupboards and found them bare...well, of these scrumptious breakfast bars, anyway. Sigh. It's like they never existed. Here's how it happened: while going through our pantry last fall to do my first ever inventory. I found a very large stack of store bought, highly processed energy bars and jelly beans (yuck, don't even get me started on that.) These went to the pile marked "basement." Even though I didn't want to eat processed food anymore, I wasn't going to deny my hubby everything he was used to - he is a runner and needs these items on occasion, so they remain in our house still.

From then on, I was on a mission to find a way to create a substitute that was even better. More than a necessity item to power up for runs, but something "craveable" as Ellie puts it. Just a few days ago, I went through my nuts, seeds and dried fruit section of the pantry and sadly, 1/3 of it had to be trashed. If they didn't taste superior, they were gone. So I had to slightly alter Ellie's recipe. Here's her original one and I'll include my adjustments in the notes below:

Energy Bars by Ellie Krieger

Cooking spray
1 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup pitted dried dates
1/2 cup powdered nonfat dry milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place all ingredients except the syrup and eggs in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. Add the syrup and eggs and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It will resemble a coarse paste. Transfer to the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until just done, about 20 minutes. Cut into 20 squares.

  • My sunflower seeds went bad, but I had fresh pumpkin seeds leftover from last week's pumpkin muffins.
  • The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of dried fruit. Unfortunately, my apricots and dates looked sub par and I was fresh out of raisins. Instead I used dried cherries (I could only find sweetened) and dried cranberries sweetened with apple juice. 1 1/2 cups total (Split 50-50)
  • After it cooled, I cut it into 12 even bars and wrapped them separately in saran wrap and put them in freezer bags. One bag went to the pantry, the other to the freezer. It is now 48 hours later, and there are all gone. They were so fantastic that I had to share them with friends.
  • Yes, I know I just posted an Ellie recipe when I said I would hold off, but if you only knew the restraint I was showing! I've made another five or so recipes from her new book and enjoyed them. What can I say? She had me at hello.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Finding new treasures in old friends

Armed with paperclips, bright yellow post it notes, and an eagle eye, I sat down with three of my cookbooks recently to make some new discoveries. As I cook and learn and gain more confidence in the kitchen, I'm going back to old cookbooks that I thought I had exhausted and finding new gems. I'm really able to chart my own growth this way. Over the last few months, my spice rack has doubled in size and I now have the "international" shelf in my pantry. Last year at this time, I craved sugar in a big way. My nutritionist suggested cooking with new flavors and seeing if I could learn to love those, too. I've taken that advice to heart and it's turned out to be true for me. A little heat from curry. The tanginess from lime juice. The rustic, earthy tones of mushrooms. The richness of gruyere. I crave them all now, and so much more. So, I don't really need to shop for any new cookbooks for all ("Amen to that!" cheers my hubby as reads this..), because there's still so much these hold in store. Currently, on my bedside table lies the following:

The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook's Food to Live By

by Myra Goodman with Linda Holland and Pamela McKinstry

The first twenty pages tells the very compelling story about Myra and her husband starting out their lives by growing, harvesting and selling their organically grown raspberries in 1984. Over the next twenty years, they grew tremendously and now their bagged mixed greens can be found in supermarkets around the country. She writes, "When we first moved onto the property, we knew absolutely nothing about farming. The previous owner gave us a quick course in rasberry horticulture, teaching us how to add chemical fertilizers...but when the time came for us to follow the procedures, we couldn't bring ourselves to do it. We hated the way the chemicals smelled and instinctively we knew they weren't healthy for us, our future customers, or the environment." You can tell they have a passion for what they do. And you can taste it in their recipes. She devotes one whole chapter to raspberry recipes! My favorite section of her book deals with salads and homemade vinegrettes. I've completely given up on store bought salad dressings now that I've had salads dressed with fresh ingredients. It's just no contest.

The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld

I would definitely classify myself as a "flexitarian." I prefer meals made of vegetables, fruit, grains and beans. I always make them my main focus when cooking, but I really enjoy a nice piece of fish on a regular basis. This is a wonderful cookbook for the family with a wide range of eating habits. I have to admit when I first looked through the book, I hardly recognized any of the ingredients. I would suggest this book for the more adventurous and experienced cook. If you've been there and done that, this book will take you to new sights! Yesterday, I bought hazelnut oil in order to try this vinaigrette in her section on salads:

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup toasted hazelnut oil


Candied Hazelnuts (1 cup of nuts toasted at 350 F with 2 T maple syrup and 2 T of natural sugar -ouch my teeth hurt already!)

Pour vinegar into a small saucepan & bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer rapidly, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 min. Pour the reduced vinegar into a small bowl and stir in the mustard. Slowly drizzle the hazelnut oil into the bowl, whisking constantly until the oil and vinegar are emulsified.

I think this will be great over a bowl of mixed greens. Delish, no? One more comment about this book, there are no pictures. None at all. This is the one drawback.

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

This one may already be sitting on your cookbook shelf. It's mentioned often on the Cooking Light Community Boards. I love his philosphy of eating seasonally for so many reasons. Primarily because the food just tastes better. It's as simple as that. The chapters of this book are Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. His family belongs to a co-op and they pick their own produce directly from the farm from May-October! I would love that. When you have that kind of connection to your food, you just want to highlight it's natural flavors. His recipes do just that and are mostly very simple and can be prepared rather quickly. On almost every page, there's a sidebar which explains how best to prepare an ingredient, how to pick it out, or just a general cooking or storing tip. It makes you feel like you're sitting in the kitchen with him getting the inside scoop. One final thought - I love that the majority of the recipes call for ingredients that are already present in my pantry and fridge. I can open this book up in a pinch and make something fabulous with what I have on hand.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sniff. Sniff. Is this still good?

My husband has witnessed this scene many times before. It's early in the morning. We've just finished feeding the dog and I'm grabbing the milk for breakfast. The sun is not even up yet and the only light is coming from the open refrigerator door. "Honey, come and smell this!" He swears that something traumatic dealing with cows happened to me in my childhood. I just can't handle milk that's over four or five days old. Yes, I know this is extreme.

Which leads me to my upcoming challenge of the week. He is leaving on a business trip from Tuesday to Sunday. I just came back from grocery shopping with many perishable items. In a few days, I will have no one but the dog to turn to and she is very flexible when it comes to sell by dates.

So I thought I would ask my friends here for some suggestions. I'm definitely going to freeze some things and make half of some selected recipes. Here's what's currently in the fridge tick- tocking away: lemons, limes, oranges (mostly for zesting and juicing purposes), broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, scallions, red peppers, white and sweet potatoes, kale, spring mix, spinach, parsley and romaine. Oh and buttermilk leftover from the muffins I made a few days ago. Thoughts?

Last night I kicked off this week of cooking with two fairly well received dishes.

Curried Potatoes with Kale
from "Greens, Glorious Greens" by Johnna Albi & Catherine Walthers:

2 lbs white, yellow finn or red potatoes, peeled
1 T canola oil
2 t curry powder
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
salt to taste
1 1/2 cups of water
3/4 lb of kale (about 6 cups chopped)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

Cut the potatoes into 3/4 inch cubes and set aside. Heat a 10-12 inch skillet over med. heat. Add the oil and swirl in the pan. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute, taking care not to burn it. Add the onions and saute over med. heat for 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften.

Add the potato cubes and toss to coat with the curry and oil. Season lightly with salt, add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Meanwhile wash the kale well, then strip the leaves off the stalks. Discard stalks and chop kale into bite size pieces. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a 10-12 inch skillet in a tight fitting lid. Add the kale and cook, covered, over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender. Approx. 5 minutes.

Stir cooked kale with the potatoes. Heat through and season to taste with pepper and salt (if necessary). Serve hot with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

  • I used the wrong potatoes here. I went with white when the authors said they favored yukon in this dish because of its creaminess. I bet this would have taken this dish to a different level if I followed their advice. I just used what I had on hand.
  • Even though this dish was well seasoned, I didn't feel like I was enjoying the curry, as much. I expected it to be the lead actor, but it only had a "walk on" part. Next time I'll add more during the steaming phase.
  • This dish took a lot longer to prepare than I expected, too. The cooking time was pretty accurate, though. I did add two minutes of microwave time at the end so the pototoes would get a little softer.
  • In the end, it was just okay. Neither of us reached for seconds. I will try this again with the adjustments I mentioned.
  • Quick update - I just took this out of the fridge to heat up for lunch and the potatoes will a deeper orange color. I guess they made friends with the curry last night. I added grated Parmesan-Reggiano to it (about 2 T) and heated it up. It was outstanding. Like a completely different dish entirely. My suggestion for this dish is to let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving. And add the cheese.

Lemon Orzo with Parsley from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Healthy Cooking

1 1/2 cups orzo

Kosher salt

2 T unsalted butter

2 T of fresh lemon juice

2 t of grated lemon zest

1 T finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the orzo and 1 t of salt. Cover and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the water is absorbed and the pasta is tender. About 15 minutes. Add the butter, lemon juice, zest and parsley and stir to blend. Serve warm.

  • High marks for this one. I absolutely loved it. Have you ever dipped lobster in lemon butter sauce? Okay, so there's no shellfish present here (but it would be great with grilled shrimp), but just a touch of the lemon butter mixture evokes happy memories for me. You don't need a lot. The zest itself is prominent. More flavor. Less calories.
  • I usually use chicken broth instead of water when I make bulgur, couscous or rice. With this, I took a chance and stuck with water. I figured the sauce might compete too much if the pasta had the broth flavor.
  • We reached for thirds with this dish. The leftovers are going fast. It won't make it past lunch today.
  • Quick update: there was about a cup leftover for lunch today, so I dressed it up and gave it to my husband. I added steamed broccoli and crumbled feta cheese. And a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. He was at the bottom of the bowl before I could ask him how it was...
Looking forward to hearing your comments on how to use up the remaining perishables in five days!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Feeling a little nutty?

The other day I was perusing Mollie Katzen's website and found a number of recipes that I would like to try. One in particular caught my eye because the flavors sounded just wonderful to me. It was "Wild Rice with Cherries and Hazelnuts."

In my pantry, I am storing a wide variety of all kinds of nuts. I have found that a handful of nuts and dried fruit really satisfy me between meals. This was the first opportunity I've had to use the hazelnuts and dried cherries in a recipe together. According to the Hazelnut Council (which in my mind are just ten squirrels sitting in a board room), hazelnuts are a rich source of dietary fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and heart healthy B vitamins. They are also rich in antioxidants and disease fighting nutrients.

I didn't feel like waiting the 45 minutes to cook rice according to Mollie's recipe, so I took out my leftover cooked bulgur from the fridge. You can find the recipe for basic cooked bulgur in my post about a Mediterranean dinner.

I had about one cup's worth of cooked bulgur left. So, I took a 2/3 cup of fresh unsalted hazelnuts and placed them in a ziplock bag and smashed them with a rolling pin. That was really fun. I scared my dog, though. Sorry Sami. Then I took about 1/2 cup of dried cherries and roughly chopped them. I added both the chopped hazenuts and cherries to the bulgur and added approximately 2 T of natural maple syrup (Whole Foods brand). I mixed it all together with a pinch of kosher salt and heated it up in the microwave for 45 seconds. The aroma of warm hazelnuts immediately hit me as I sat down at the table for lunch. I love it when a meal engages so many senses. I wasn't prepared for how fragrant this would be so that was a happy surprise.

I can't even begin to describe how delicious this easy, fast and nutrient packed dish was. My mouth was making, how should I put it - yum yum noises.

Aren't I the articulate one?

Mollie's original recipe can be found at:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm a joiner

I've recently joined two communities that I'm very excited about. If you scroll down a bit on the blog and look under the archive of posts, you'll see the Foodie Blog Roll. I'm so honored to be a part of this talented group! It's going to take me a while to visit every blog, but so far I've found a very diverse crowd. From Vegan to Curry to Cupcakes to Sushi. Raw, broiled or grilled. It's food in every form. I hope you enjoy exploring it, too.

I've been waiting to tell you all about another community my husband and I recently joined. I thought I would wait until the Spring, but what the heck. We are now shareholders of the Sandy Spring Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at the Calvert Farm in Maryland. Their website which includes their harvest schedule can be found at

I love the idea of supporting local farmers. Each share costs a few hundred dollars which goes to their seed money for the year. They plant just enough crop to cover all of the needs of their shareholders. Come May, I'll meet the Sandy Spring staff at a local pickup point for my weekly bounty of veggies, fruit and herbs. Each week will be different from the next. It's a twenty week program, so it will take us all the way through October. What does this mean for Test Drive Kitchen? Well, I'll be planning my meals based on what I receive each week. It will be a new challenge, because I hate to waste food. And with it being just the two of us, I'm going to be working extra hard in the kitchen cooking, freezing and canning. I'm literally counting the days until May. I'm that excited. I'm open to all suggestions from friends of this blog to help me in our efforts to prepare and preserve our food each week. Please share your idea for jarring tomato sauce, too! I want to be well fed in the winter when living off the farm is a just distant memory.

If you would like to locate a CSA in your area, check out

Muffin v. Muffin.

Okay, let me be clear. I'm not a baker at all. I'm drawn to cooking because I love creativity and art. I like to have freedom. A pinch of this. A dash of that. Baking to me = science, rules and structure. None of which are bad at all. I'm just wired a different way. With that all said, I really wanted to try it. I'm a risk taker, after all. I know it will never be my forte, but I don't want to limit myself by never baking. Cookies don't last long in this house and the brownies were gone before I knew it. So, muffins it is! I tried two recipes from Ellie's new book. By the way, I'm making this promise to all of you that this will be the last post about Ellie Krieger's recipes for a while. I love her. Love her food. But I need to spread my wings a bit.

Ten years ago, I worked in downtown Washington DC for a political consultant. There was a coffee shop I frequented that carried a line of yogurt muffins. The baker substituted some oil and butter for yogurt to make it a healthier version. I didn't care for them much and since then I've been hestitant to try anything like it. But I believe in Ellie and decided to make two batches of muffins in her new cookbook. One was a Pumpkin Pie muffin recipe and the other was Apple Pecan. Each batch made 18 muffins. It's just the two of us here so I was already calling up my neighbors asking them to take some off our hands.

Pumpkin Pie Muffin by Ellie Krieger
Cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, molasses, oil and 1 egg until combined. Add the other egg and whisk well. Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.

  • I highly encourage you to resist using the whole wheat flour in your pantry and go and buy whole wheat pastry flour. I really think the pastry flour, which is a little finer in texture and lighter in taste, made this muffin far more superior than other "healthy" muffins I've tried. It wasn't at all dense like I expected. More light and airy.
  • There are a lot of different spices in this recipe. I happened to have all of them on hand, but if you don't, I think adding up the fractions and just using "pumpkin pie spice" would be okay. I looked at my pumpkin pie spice last night and noticed that they were all present except the cloves. I know there's not always a lot of leeway when baking, but I'll try this the next time and see if there's a huge difference in taste.
  • I've had a container of buttermilk powder in my pantry for a while. And sadly, I found it to be inadequate all around. I specifically purchased fresh buttermilk for this round of cooking and was quite pleased with the tanginess it provided. Has anyone had good experiences using the powder?
  • I loved the taste of the toasted pumpkin seeds on the top of these muffins. Mine were packaged as "pepitas" which I believe are the seeds from any squash. So if there's nothing marked as pumpkin seeds, definitely use pepitas.
  • Oh, and just for the heck of it, I added semi sweet chocolate chips to six of these muffins. Tasty, but it didn't it. They were delicious without them, too. I gave these to the neighbors kids.
Apple Pecan Muffins by Ellie Krieger

Cooking spray
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup natural applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-capacity muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the pecans and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla.

Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk just until combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with the pecan mixture. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.

  • I used almonds instead of pecans because I have a huge bag of slivered almonds I need to get through. I also used a Fuji apple rather than Golden Delicious because I prefer them as a snack. I know there's a whole school of thought over baking apples and snacking apples. I thought the Fuji worked out really well here, though. And I had them on hand!
Definitely try to find unsweetened applesauce. The muffins would have been over the top sweet if I used sweetened. I used the Whole Foods brand.
  • In the Muffin v. Muffin challenge, the apple was my favorite. But just by a little. It reminded me so much of my mom's apple sponge cake. It just tasted like home to me.
  • Here's the nutritional information for both muffins provided by Ellie Krieger:

    Pumpkin Pie Muffins:

    Serving Size 1 muffin. The recipe said it made 12, but my batter made 18.

    Per serving- Calories: 205; Total Fat: 7G (Mono: 3.5 G, Poly: 2 G, Sat:1 G); Protein: 5G; Carb: 32G; Fiber: 2G; Chol: 36 MG; Sodium: 223MG. Excellent Source of Thiamin & Vitamin A. Good Source of Manganese, Protein and Vitamin K.

    Apple Pecan Muffins:

    Serving Size 1 muffin. Again, I squeezed out 18 muffins. Ellie still says 12. I guess she has bigger muffin pans than I do!

    Per serving - Calories: 213; Total Fat: 8G (Mono: 3G, Poly: 1.5G, Sat: 1G); Protein: 4G; Carb: 35G; Fiber: 2G; Chol: 36MG; Sodium: 236MG. Excellent Source of Thiamin.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    A Mediterranean meal on a cold winter's night

    Brrrr. Winter has arrived and it's sticking it's heels in deep. Our front yard is frozen solid and we're almost sure to see more snow tomorrow. On a night like this, I just want to escape to a friendlier climate. I don't have enough airline miles saved up yet, so I served up Mediterranean flavors for dinner instead. After a fun (and freezing) day hanging out downtown with my best buddy, I came home too late to consider dealing with the flank steak in the fridge. This is where a stocked pantry and fridge full of fresh veggies has it's benefits! I reached for Ellie Krieger's new book - I know, I know. I'm clearly obsessed with it. An hour later, our dinner plates looked gorgeous. Bright green spinach and chickpea salad with orange infused yogurt dressing. Roasted, carmelized honey sweet potatoes and a side of cooked bulgur. Here we go:

    Chickpeas and Spinach Salad
    with Cumin Dressing by Ellie Krieger

    2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

    1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

    1/2 cup chopped red onion

    1/4 cup olive oil

    3 tablespoons lemon juice

    1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

    1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    Salt and pepper

    4 cups baby spinach leaves

    Yogurt with Orange Essence, recipe below, optional

    2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves, optional

    In a medium bowl combine the chickpeas, parsley and onion. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the chickpea mixture and toss to combine. Serve the chickpea salad over a bed of spinach leaves. Top with the yogurt sauce and a sprinkle of mint, if using.

    Yogurt with Orange Essence by Ellie Krieger

    1/3 cup lowfat plain yogurt

    1/4 teaspoon orange zest

    2 tablespoons orange juice

    1/2 teaspoon honey

    In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, orange zest, orange juice and honey.

    • The more I cook, the more comfortable I am substituting an ingredient that I have on hand for one that's called for in the recipe. Instead of red onion, I went with diced red pepper. A few years ago, I used to run out to the store if I didn't have something!
    • I used a fresh orange for the juice in the yogurt sauce and it was slightly bitter. I added more honey to balance the taste. This is a good example of letting loose and not always following the recipe directions to the letter (which I always used to do!) All oranges are not created equal, so one must sample and adjust.
    • After I mixed the yogurt with the spinach and the spinach with the chickpea mixture, I decided this dish would benefit from additional dressing. So, I used organic fresh squeezed orange juice, honey and yogurt in equal parts. It was really sweet, much sweeter than the dressing I used to coat the spinach. I thought it really enhanced the whole dish.
    • I didn't have any fresh mint available. But I will definitely get some next time. I think it would kick this up a notch.
    Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes by Ellie Krieger

    2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces and put in a 9 by 13 baking dish. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, honey and lemon juice. Pour mixture over potatoes and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the salt, and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, until potatoes are tender.

    • I really needed to switch gears from my "go to" roasted veggies recipe. I usually only use olive oil, salt and pepper. The honey and fresh lemon really bring out the natural flavor of the sweet potatoes. No one, not even your pickiest eater, will be able to resist this dish.

    Basic Cooked Bulgur

    2 cups of chicken broth

    1 cup of bulgur (rinsed first)

    Combine chicken broth and bulgur and bring to a quick boil. Decrease heat to a simmer and cover. Bulgur will be finished in 12-15 minutes. There might be excess broth. Drain and serve.

    • Bulgur seemed like the perfect grain to balance out this meal. In a way, this whole meal is a de-constructed tabbouleh salad.
    • My husband encouraged me to "mix it all together" on the plate. He felt the sum was better than the parts.
    • Superfood alert. Sweet Potatoes, nonfat plain yogurt, honey, spinach, oh my!

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    It's not easy being green....

    Last year I hired a holistic nutritionist to review what I was eating and offer some insight to help me regain my energy and skip in my step. For six months, she introduced me to a whole new world of nutrient dense food whose purpose was to "nourish" good health. All of my current cooking adventures are a result from this very transformative experience. But I have to tell you, I was kind of skeptical at first. Especially the morning I received a gift from her the first week I signed on.

    It was this book:

    I was pretty shocked when I looked through it. To me, even the cover picture looked foreign! Each chapter described one new dark leafy green. Swiss chard (was it a cheese?!) Kale- curly and dino! Bok choy. Dandelion greens - um, is that what's growing on my lawn? I thought, what have I gotten myself into?

    Truth is, I really trusted my nutritionist. Also, I've never been afraid of trying something new. I started out slowly with something sweet like sauteed kale with pinenuts and raisins. It turned out to be darn tasty. Soon I was learning which dark leafy greens I needed to boil or steam first to make more tender and which benefited from Asian flavorings like dark sesame oil. And just like my foodie mentor promised, I actually started to crave them! To this day, though, I still haven't tried those dandelion greens.

    Are you still with me, or do you already miss the post about chocolate and pumpkin?

    My favorite leafy green by far is rainbow swiss chard. I'm still trying to get my hubby to like them as much as I do. Yesterday I finally won him over with a bit of a twist on an Ellie Krieger recipe. I replaced the cabbage with chard.

    Sesame Stir-Fried Chinese Greens by Ellie Krieger

    1 T sesame seeds
    2 t canola oil
    2 pounds of bok choy or napa cabbage, cut across into 1 inch wide strips
    2 T low sodium soy sauce
    1 T rice wine vinegar
    2 t toasted sesame oil

    Toast the sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat until golden, about two minutes, stirring frequently; set aside.

    In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the bok choy or cabbage and stir fry until it begins to soften slightly, 1-2 minutes. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil and cook until just done, 1-2 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve immediately.

    • First, I cut the chard leaves off their colorful stems and threw the stems away. I know I could of cooked them too, but I just decided to make this a leafy side dish.
    • I think that chard can be rather tough if I don't boil them for a few minutes before the stir fry. Just 5 minutes will do it. Drain them well then add them to the skillet.
    • I served this with baked turbot (white fish fillet similar to sea bass.) The whole meal, greens and all, took less than 20 minutes from prep to table!
    • If you're interested in buying "Greens, Glorious, Greens, check out this website
    • If you're at all curious about what guidance a holistic nutritionist provides, check out her website at I didn't meet in person with Heidi, but rather we held our sessions over the phone and by email. It was an extremely effective program which I recommend highly.

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

    If you're a child of the 1980s like me, you must remember Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin on Halloween and missing all the fun of the holiday. Perhaps, Linus knew something back then that we didn't. That pumpkin is a great big superfood.

    From Superfoods Rx, "Pumpkin is extremely high in fiber and low in calories, pumpkin packs an abundance of disease-fighting nutrients, including potassium, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and vitamins C and E."

    And guess what? It's mighty tasty, too. I'm a big pumpkin pie fan, but I'm always willing to mix things up. Today I went to Whole Foods (insert angels singing) and purchased four cans of pumpkin puree. I'm on a mission this weekend to expand my pumpkin palate.

    You may have seen somewhere on the internet that pumpkin puree can replace eggs, milk and oil when using a brownie mix. I decided to try it so I bought the Whole Foods Organic Brownie Mix. Let me just tell you that it was divine. Totally scrumptious. I cooked it for 40 minutes, then immediately put it in the fridge to cool and turn into gooey, fudgy goodness. The best part? I only ate two small pieces. I was totally full. The fiber in the pumpkin did it's job and helped me to get my chocolate fix while controlling my appetite today.

    Quick update: the pan of brownies in my fridge is disappearing fast. One thing I wanted to add was the mix from Whole Foods had chocolate chips in it. So everytime I warm up a small piece in the microwave, it melts. The lucious chocolate mixes with the pumpkin even more. It is reminding me more and more of a warm molten chocolate cake rather than a brownie. Serve this dessert warm with a spoonful of Cool Whip Lite and some fresh berries. This is a winner, folks.

    I can't wait to hear what you think about it. Try it, you won't regret it.

    Your family will love this dinner

    My final thoughts on Ellie Krieger's new book, is to run, not walk to the bookstore and get yourself a copy. If I was really ambitious, I would make every recipe in her new book this year. Not only is Ellie dedicated to healthy fare, but these recipes have a prep time of 30 minutes or less. She really has written this for parents out there with little time on their hands but a dedication to raising healthy kids. These two recipes below - which can be found in her book and online at the Food Network website - are a perfect example of a weeknight meal for a family of four. Even your most picky eaters will love these dishes. I made the meatloaf last night and I've made the mac and cheese several times in the last few months. My thoughts on each recipe below.

    Mom's Turkey Meatloaf by Ellie Krieger

    3/4 cup quick-cooking oats

    1/2 cup skim milk

    1 medium onion, peeled

    2 pounds ground turkey breast

    1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

    2 eggs, beaten

    2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

    1/4 cup ketchup

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    In a small bowl, stir together the oats and milk. Thinly slice 1/4 of the onion and set aside. Finely chop the remaining onion. In a large bowl combine the turkey, oat mixture, chopped onion, bell pepper, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Mix just until well combined.

    Transfer the mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and shape into a loaf about 5 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches high. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatloaf and sprinkle with the sliced onions. Bake for about 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees.F.
    Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to15 minutes before slicing.

    • I only had 1 lb of ground turkey meat, so I wound up halving this recipe. This was perfect for a dinner for two. I thought I would have more leftovers, but my husband ate three pieces (that's a good thing, right?) For those of you who want to do the same, bake it for 45 minutes instead of an hour.
    • Before I set this on the table, my husband was a little skeptical. His memories of meatloaf from the school cafeteria wasn't stellar. And he kept repeating the lines from the movie "Wedding Crashers." Remember that scene when Owen Wilson visits "Chaz" (Will Ferrell) who is a ladies man but still lives with his mother. "Mom! Meatloaf!" Okay, I digress...
    • We both loved this recipe because it was the most moist (say that three times fast) meatloaf we've ever had. It was the tomato sauce. Don't skip this step. If you have don't have an 80z can of tomato sauce, just use some marinara sauce.
    • I was missing two ingredients. Usually I would run out to the store, but we were blanketed with snow here yesterday so I made do. I didn't have instant oats because I use the kind that takes 15 minutes. I didn't want to chance it, so I used panko - whole wheat bread crumbs from Japan - instead. I was also missing a pepper since I made the roasted red peppers a few days ago.
    • In the future, I'm going to add sauteed swiss chard or spinach to the meatloaf.

    Macaroni & 4 Cheeses by Ellie Krieger

    Cooking spray

    1 pound elbow macaroni

    2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash

    2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk

    4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)

    2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup)

    1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon powdered mustard

    1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

    2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs

    1 teaspoon olive oil

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

    Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until defrosted. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Cheddar, Jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish.

    Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. Then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

    • I have to admit that growing up in my parents home, I always thought that mac and cheese came in a box. I never had real, baked macaroni and cheese. I didn't even know what it was! It wasn't until I was in my twenties and a friend's parent treated us to the real thing. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
    • Of all the different versions of macaroni and cheese that my hubby and I have tried (that I've made), this is by far our favorite. The squash adds a distinctive and pleasant taste. Plus, we feel great eating a treat like mac and cheese guilt free. When we have a family, we are planning on making this a staple.
    • Just you know, don't expect this dish to look real cheesy. There's no "gooey-ness." So, when you make it and see what I'm talking about, don't fret. It still tastes divine.
    • I've made this several times and have used less and less bread crumbs. It just doesn't need it. It even dries it out a little.
    • Has anyone ever found whole wheat elbow macaroni? I've never ever seen it and I would love to try it.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Ellie Krieger's new cookbook

    There's a wonderful show on the Food Network called, "Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger." Next time you're watching Ina or Rachel or Paula, stay tuned for Ellie, because she breathe of fresh air. She educates without sounding condesending and lets everyone know that cooking healthy doesn't mean tasteless and unappealing food. I think her recipes allow the natural flavors of whole foods to jump out while they do their job and nourish our bodies with much needed nutrients. I'm a big fan of her philosphy and show. Can you tell? So, when I heard she had a new book out, I actually pre-paid to get it as soon as it came out (I've only done this once before and that was Harry Potter!)

    Imagine how giddy I was when the postman dropped this on my doorstep yesterday. I've already taken out some chicken breasts from the freezer this morning and I'm planning on trying her Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo this evening. Dear hubby, if you're reading, I promise I'll get some nice chunky whole grain bread to serve with this soup.

    Here's the recipe for now and add my comments later this evening:

    Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo by Ellie Krieger

    4 t olive oil
    8 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into small chunks
    pinch of salt, plus more to taste
    1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
    2 stalks of celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
    1 medium carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
    2 t chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 t dried
    6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
    1 cup orzo, preferably whole wheat
    2 large eggs
    3 T fresh lemon juice
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste

    Heat 2 t of the oil in a soup put over med- high heat. Season the chicken with salt, add to the pot and cook, stirring a few times until just cooked through. About 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a side dish and set aside.

    Add the remaining 2 t oil to the pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and thyme and cook, stirring over med-high heat until the vegetables are tender. About 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and let simmer until tender. About 8 minutes. Turn the heat down to low to keep the soup hot but not boiling.

    Warm the remaining 1 cup broth in a small saucepan until it is hot but not boiling. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually whisk the lemon juice into the eggs. Then gradually add the hot broth to the egg-lemon mixture, whisking all the while. Add the mixture to the soup, stirring well until the soup is thickened. Do not let the soup come to a boil. Add the cooked chicken to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

    Before I tie the apron on and start this seemingly easy and tasty recipe, I just wanted to thank all of my new friends who have visited my blog recently. It was an amazing day yesterday when I saw my number of visitors increase every minute. I love to cook and I adore talking about it. Thank you so much for giving me a forum to do so. If you have the time, please leave a comment and let me know a little about yourself and be sure to share your recent kitchen adventures.

    We just finished our dinner of this marvelous spin on chicken soup. Here are my thoughts:

    • You are going to love how easy this is to make. Everything on this list is present in my freezer, fridge and pantry at all times - so yay, no trip to the grocery store tonight. I'm the girl who decorates her house with vases full of lemons or limes when I run out of recipes for their zest and juice.
    • The lemon juice and egg mix Ellie suggests in this recipe is a Greek way to thicken soups. It's called avgolemono. I love that name, don't you? Avgolemono. It's important to heed the recipe's instructions for this part. The reason you add the lemon juice and eggs to a separate dish of chicken broth is so the mixture can adjust to the heat before going in the soup on the stove. This is to prevent the eggs from scrambling.
    • My husband and I thought this soup with very tasty. But like most soups, we expect it to be even better tomorrow. We finished off the dinner with a dessert of clementines.
    • More thoughts on Ellie's new book tomorrow. I'm taking it to bed to read before going to sleep. Does anyone else do this? Read cookbooks outside the kitchen?

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    A favorite dish from childhood - revisited & revised

    I grew up in South Jersey, just 20 minutes from Philadelphia. Land of the steak sandwich (wiz or no wiz?), hoagie and definitely the "sloppy joe." I often remember sloppy joes being served in the cafeteria at school. I'm sure they used a commerical mix like Manwich. But this fantastic recipe is from Weight Watchers - and it might be the most delicious recipe in their whole cookbook. I lost my cookbook a while ago and wasn't able to recreate this recipe from memory. But thanks to another blogger ( I found it again and made it the other night for my husband. This recipe contains a lot less sugar (sugar mainly from the ketchup) and a great deal more veggies. Next time I'm putting in diced carrots. Oh, and thank you to Food Fashionista for suggesting another way to eat this if I wanted to lay off the bread. She suggested stuffing a mixture of quinoa and sloppy joe mix into a red pepper and baking in the oven at 450 F for 15 minutes. The quinoa gets a little toasty and nutty and the red pepper shell bursts with flavor. I'm filing this meal under the "Passover" files, too.

    2 tsp olive oil
    1 small onion(s), chopped
    2 medium celery stalks, chopped
    1 medium bell pepper(s), chopped
    1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
    1 Tbsp chili powder
    2 tsp dried basil
    1/2 tsp table salt
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
    20 oz canned crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
    1/4 cup ketchup
    1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
    1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed

    Heat oil in a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and bell pepper and sauté until tender, 3 minutes. Add turkey and sauté until browned, breaking up the meat as it cooks, 5 minutes. Add chili powder, basil, salt, black pepper and cayenne; stir to coat. Add crushed tomatoes, ketchup and mustard; mix well. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Stir in corn and simmer 2 minutes to heat through.

    • In the past, I've made this dish with ground turkey meat. But a friend reminded me this week that eating red meat from time to time is a good idea. Just by looking at my fingernails, I can tell I'm low on zinc (white spots visible on the nail.) So, I went out and purchased organic, very lean ground beef (93%) for this recipe.
    • Again, I will tell you that the vegetable chopper I purchased from Williams Sonoma for $30 has dramatically changed my prep time. And it's fun! I chopped the onion, celery and pepper into tiny cubes, all exactly the same shape. This looks pretty, but also allows the veggies to cook evenly.
    • I used Birds Eye Sweet Corn in a bag and steam it. The corn is so crispy and delicious. Much better than any canned corn that I've purchased in the past.
    • Usually when we make sloppy joes, I'm always trying to think how to serve it. With whole wheat buns? Toasted oatmeal bread? In a spinach torilla? This time, I nixed all the bread products and made a side of quinoa. Quinoa needs to be rinsed in water first, then I made it with chicken broth. I usually don't love quinoa, but truth be told I haven't experimented with it much. But the sloppy joe and quinoa mix was a hit. My husband and I thought it was a fantastic way to enjoy the nutritional benefits of quinoa while savoring the flavors of this sloppy joe recipe. I highly recommend this combination.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Divide and Conquer

    For me and other foodies, portion control can be a problem. I haven't talked much about "dieting" on my blog, because I truly believe in living a healthy lifestyle. The word "diet" to me feels like something temporary. I've made a few changes in my life that seem simple but help me reach my goal of moderation and find a balance between eating and exercise.

    If you're utilizing healthy cooking techinques such as grilling and steaming your lean proteins and vegetables, trying out new grains and making your meals as colorful as possible, you're already taking great steps and I'm sure you're appreciating the benefits. I love good food and I love to eat, so I started to make eating meals a special occasion, by setting my table with beautiful linens, shutting off the television and planning to spend thirty minutes at the table. This way, I eat slowly, drink my water and savor the food that's in front of me.

    I've left measuring and weighing food behind me and now I just divide and plate that is. Here's a visual for you courtesy of Eating Well magazine:

    Eating Well magazine suggests the following:

    "Fill one half with vegetables and divide the other half into two quarters. Fill one quarter with lean protein, such as fish, skinless poultry, lean beef, beans or tofu. Fill the other quarter with a grain-based or starchy side dish, preferably a whole grain like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or a slice of whole-grain bread. If you focus on making most of your meals look this way, you’ll automatically be following healthy eating guidelines and choosing appropriate portions—without having to pull out a calorie counter or a measuring cup every time."

    I would add to be aware of your dish size. Quartering your plate is great, but don't go over the plate rim! Also, I have a selection of bowls that range from a 1/2 cup to a full cup. I use these when enjoying yogurt, cereal and yes, even ice cream. Doing this helps me to not feel deprived because I get to fill up my plate or bowl. Surprisingly I don't even reach for seconds, because I feel satisfied.

    Since I cook the majority of my meals, I don't usually eat out. But I have to share some information about a local restaurant (Bethesda, MD and downtown DC) that's getting it right. Their delicious, healthy fare is presented beautifully AND is appropriately sized. They even include the nutritional information for each appetizer, entree and dessert on their menus. Check out when you get a moment.

    A Light Refreshing Salad

    There's nothing like a bright beautiful green salad that isn't overpowered with dressing to make me feel like I'm on the right track. I cook with spinach a lot, but for a long time I wouldn't touch it raw. Ever since I found this recipe, it's now one of my weekly staples. Also, I am a big fan of making my own salad dressing. Now, I just need to buy a salad spinner and my life will be that much easier. Make this recipe on a Sunday and enjoy it throughout the week as a starter before your main meals.

    8 cups baby spinach (or spring mix)
    1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) shaved fresh Parmesan cheese
    2 tbsps red wine vinegar
    1 tbsp Dijion mustard
    2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    1/8 tsp sugar

    Combine 8 cups salad mix (arugula or spinach preferred) and 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) shaved fresh Parmesan cheese, and toss well. Combine 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijion mustard, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon sugar, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle juice mixture over salad; toss gently.

    • Not sure how to shave parmesan cheese? I use a vegetable peeler to create thin, long slices from a nice chunk of parmesan. It's so much prettier than using grated cheese in this salad.
    • Turn this side salad into a main course by adding grilled chicken or fish.
    • Yum...I'm enjoying this salad for dinner tonight. I added chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and they bring much needed texture to this dish. I also think a crumbled hard boiled ege would be delish, too.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Cookbooks I Recommend: For that Borders gift card burning in your wallet

    Did some wonderful relative or friend give you a $50 gift card to Borders over the holidays? My sister gave me one recently and I found myself staring at the gigantic Food & Cooking section at my local store. I'm just a tad over 5 feet tall with crappy vision so there were books there out of my range of height and sight! So, if you have only 10 minutes to spare with a spouse or kids pulling at you, I thought I would tell you which books I've tried and loved. First, I have to make a recommendation for a book with more prose than recipes, but it's so worth it.

    I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's non fiction narrative about her family's adventure eating only local food and the food they grew. It's called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." It's fabulous. I literally laughed out loud at her stories of motivating her turkeys to breed and the plentiful zucchini which was grown by her & her neighbors ( everyone tried to lighten their own load leaving bags of it on each other's doorsteps in the middle of the night.) I will admit that some of her passionate views bordered on preachy, but it was such a delight to read that I immediately jumped on the idea of joining a CSA (community supported agriculture). My hubby and I are now proud shareholders of a local farm and in May will be receiving our weekly bounty. Kingsolver's book provides many recipes for their harvest that you will definitely use. Also, it introduced me to canning, which I will definitely need to do since it's just the two of us in our household.

    Now on to the cookbooks. I just bought this great resource guide that I lovingly refer to as my "20 lb brick." It's called, "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: The Essential Reference." After reading this, you will never go to Whole Foods again and tilt your head to the side with eyebrows crinkled thinking, "What the heck is that??!" If you read my recipe about chicken pot pie, you would see that I never heard of celeriac (celery root), I'm now proud to say I've held one in my hand. What's cool about this book is that it describes each vegetable, it's history (who harvested it and how it was used), and what region of the world it's grown. Then the author actually tries several ways to cook it and offers her recommendation on the tastiest techniques. Then, she adds comments from chefs around the world and their favorite recipes. For one entry, she even wrote, "Eat on a dare and then never try it again!" See if you can guess what she's talking about.

    Have you traded your white rice for brown rice, whole grain cous-cous and even quinoa and are now ready to see what else is out there? Then take a peek inside Lorna Sass' book "Whole Grains: Every Day, Every Way." Like Scheider, she tries out basically every grain that exists and offers her tried and true ways of making it. I've definitely learned to soak almost all of my grains. I've made the mistake of skipping that step and spending some quality time in the bathroom because of it.
    I have to say that I love the brand, Bob's Red Mill. So between these two resources I've ventured into the land of bulgur, wheatberries and millet. With all the fiber that these grains pack, I will tell you that I feel very full and satisfied - especially when I have them for breakfast. Eating these grains have actually helped me to stop snacking during the day, too.

    I just ordered a textbook from The Culinary Institute of America called, "The Techniques of Healthy Cooking." I'm only half way through it, but I'm very impressed with their section on nutrition. The authors offer a very clear and concise ten page chapter on the basics of vitamins, minerals, calories, carbs, fats (good and bad) and so on. Most importantly the book is a guide on how to include these foods with as much flavor as possible. Since this is a textbook for professional chefs there is a great chapter on building a recipe and analyzing the nutritional benefits of it. This is a goal of mine, so I ate it up (yes, I'm punny.)

    I will admit, I have a little addiction to buying cookbooks. I have about 30 on this subject now. Presently, I'm taking cookbooks to bed to read before shutting off the light. What's a girl to do when Harry Potter is over? I will include more reviews later, plus a list of websites that I frequent for recipe ideas.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    A Scrumptious, Satisfying Lunch

    It's January and for me that means wearing sweaters and fleeces, dreaming of roaring fireplaces (ours doesn't work!) and making soup. My husband refers to this as phase as "Winter Karen"

    I wanted to share with you a meal that will make you want to stay inside all day with your main squeeze and a good book - by the way, I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" - and can't put it down.

    Speaking of superfoods, this meal has it all. It's a warm, crusty, flavorful tart with cooked swiss chards (a hearty green leafy vegetable) and onions with a soup made of roasted vegetables.

    Let's start with the tart. Recipe courtesy Mario Batali

    2 pounds Swiss chard, washed and spun dry
    4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
    2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/8 cup
    3 large eggs
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
    1 cup bread crumbs
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Bring 8 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Roughly chop the Swiss chard, discarding the rough stems. Add the Swiss chard to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly and set aside.

    In a 12-inch saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over a medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and the parsley. Let cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    Meanwhile, break the eggs into a small bowl. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano and, using a whisk, mix until the ingredients are well-blended. Add the egg mixture to the cooled Swiss chard and toss to combine.

    Using the remaining olive oil to lightly grease a shallow 9-inch round or oval baking dish. Dust the bottom of the baking dish with 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Carefully place the Swiss chard and egg mixture into the pan. Dust with the remaining Parmigiano and then the remaining bread crumbs.

    Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve hot or room temperature.

    • This dish is not perfect, but it has great potential. I found myself wondering if egg whites would provide the same binding element that a tart needs to stay together while making this dish a bit healthier. Next time I make it I'm going to use one yolk and two egg whites. The sauteed chard and onion was so delicious that I can't imagine that three whole eggs provide any additional flavor.
    • Rainbow swiss chard is so gorgeous. It's probably a weird way to describe a vegetable, but when you see it next to everything else in the produce section, you'll know what I mean. Swiss chard is a very hearty vegetable and definitely needs to be boiled first to make it more manageable in the skillet.
    • You definitely don't need 1/2 cup of bread crumbs on the top of this tart. It was just too much bread and actually muted the taste of the tart for me. Try a sprinkle for a slight crust or nothing at all but some Parmesan.
    • Keep a close eye on this in the oven. It only took a half hour for mine to cook through. I shudder at what it would have looked like if I left it in for an hour!

    Roasted Root Vegetable Soup - courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten)

    1 lb of carrots, peeled

    1 lb of parsnips, peeled

    1 large sweet potato, peeled

    1 butternut squash (2 lb), peeled, cubed and seeded

    3 tablespoons of good olive oil

    1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt

    1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

    Cut the vegetables into 1 1/4 inch cubes. Place the cut vegetables in a single layer on two sheet pans. Drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well. Bake 25-35 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender, turning once.

    In a large saucepan, heat 6 cups of chicken stock.

    In two batches, coarsely puree the roasted vegetables and the chicken stock in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pour the soup back into the pot and season to taste. Thin with more chicken stock and reheat. The soup should be thick but not like a vegetable puree, so add more chicken stock and/or water until it's the consistency you like.

    • This is a tried and true recipe. I don't have much to add other than it will be gone before you know it.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Weekend vs. Weeknight Meals. The Long and the Short of It.

    Two years ago the only homemade meal I had really "mastered" was making fresh pizza dough. Among our wedding gifts was an air bake pizza pan. I learned how to properly knead dough, what active yeast was, how warm the water should be, how to keep the dough warm to allow it to rise and how to roll out dough in a semi-perfect circle. This was my gift to my newlywed husband. Now that I've been tinkering with other recipes, that pizza pan hasn't seen the light of day since we've been in our new house. I've put it off for too I dusted off the pan and decided to do it all. Dough, sauce, toppings. All homemade (except the cheese, of course.)

    Yes, I'm crazy. Here we go with the "Long of it":

    Pizza dough:

    2 teaspoons honey
    1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
    3/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces), divided
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Dissolve the honey and yeast in 3/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 6 minutes); add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).
    Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If the indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

    Roll dough into a 12-inch circle (about 1/4 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Place dough on a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges of dough with fingers to form a rim. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the dough in refrigerator for up to 30 minutes. Bake according to recipe directions.

    • It's important to get the water temp just right so the yeast can do it's job. Basically I ran hot water from tap and then turned the faucet a bit to the warmer and less scorching side. That seemed to the trick.
    • Here's "how to knead": make sure the dough has enough flour on it so it doesn't stick to your hands. Then, fold it with your hands and press it with your palms. Turn it one quarter of the way clockwise toward you and press again. Keep turning and pressing until the dough is slightly sticky. I did this for two whole rotations.
    • Now you've got to keep this dough ball warm so it will double in size. I put it in a glass bowl, away from the fridge, on a counter near a window. I put three kitchen towels over the bowl to try to create an environment that would make the dough aspire to new heights. Let it sit while you start to make the sauce. The sauce takes about 25 minutes to make around the same time it takes the dough to rise.
    • By the way, I didn't add the cornmeal to the pain. The airholes on the bottom of the pan wasn't condusive to this step.

    The sauce:

    Cooking spray

    1/4 cup finely chopped onion

    1 garlic clove, minced

    1/4 cup white wine

    2 tablespoons tomato paste

    1 teaspoon dried oregano

    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

    1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

    1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

    Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds. Add tomato paste, oregano, pepper, and tomatoes. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; stir in basil and vinegar. Cool.

    The sauce was pretty straightforward. No problems. I let it simmer and went on to pulling together the toppings. I cut one sweet onion into long slivers and put them in a small skillet with 1 T of extra virgin olive oil. It took about 10 minutes for them to get nice and brown and soft. Then, I took out a bottle of sundried tomatoes and drained the oil from it. I chopped up about 1/4 cup of them into small pieces.

    Meanwhile, the dough had doubled in size. It took no time at all to roll it and put it into the pizza pan. Then I brushed on 1 T of extra virgin olive oil all over the dough. The oven was already preheated at 500 F and I placed the pan on the lowest rack. It took 8 minutes to brown and get crispy. I took it out and lowered to temp. to 450 F.

    Now the fun part, I ladeled the sauce onto the pizza - adjust to your liking. My husband likes a lot of sauce. Then I sprinkled only a 1/4 cup of skim shredded mozzerella. I don't like a lot of cheese, and I was adding goat cheese crumbles as a topping anyway. Then for half the pizza, I added carmelized onions and the other half was the sundried tomatoes. Finally, I sprinkled goat cheese crumbles over the whole pie. I put the whole thing back in the oven and I watched carefully. You don't want the crust to burn, but everything needs to heat up, get soft and become a pizza. It took about 10 minutes. Maybe less depending on your oven.

    I smiled when I took it out. It smelled awesome. It looked like a thing of beauty. It took me an hour and a half from start to finish. Was it worth it? IT WAS. The crust was thin and crispy thanks to the pan. The sauce was popping with flavor. And those toppings were out of this world.

    My husband? Very, very happy. The pizza? Gone.

    Okay, now to the "Short of It". Last night, I made a very quick and healthy meal. The menu? Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon, Sauteed Sweet Pototoes and Apple w/cinnamon and Baked Turbot.

    What the heck is a turbot (pronounced tur-bough) do you ask?? Until two days ago, I didn't know either. The fishmonger at Whole Foods saw me eyeing the Chilean Sea Bass. At $23 a pound, it was more than I wanted to spend and I whined about it a bit. So the fishmonger quietly told me that a turbot fillet (at $9 a pound) was what restaurants sometimes trade for sea bass. Unfortunately without the customers knowing. He told me they tasted exactly the same. Did I want to know this jaded piece of information? No, I prefer a state of ignorant bliss. But I thought as long as I was upfront with the hubby, then no harm no foul.

    If you haven't seen my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower, you can find it under the December 2007 recipes under the post title, "Something old and something new." It's quick, easy and it's becoming a fast favorite in this household. Between the two of us, we gobble up a head of cauliflower and never have leftovers.

    Just for your time management benefit, I preheated the oven at 375 F while I let the cauliflower sit in cold water (it gives it the extra moisture it needs before roasting it) for 25 minutes.

    While the cauliflower sat, I sliced one sweet potato very thinly. I used a sharp knife but you could also use a mandolin if you have one. I didn't peel the skin off, because it's good for you, too. I used a fuji apple, which I think is tastiest. I kept the skin on it, as well. I coated a large skillet with cooking spray and added both the potatoes and the apple slices and sprinkled generously with cinnamon. It took about 15 minutes for the mixture to get soft and cook throughout. In hindsight, I would put the sweet potatoes in first for an extra 7 minutes.

    When I finished following my cauliflower recipe (see other post for this), I prepared the turbot fillet. I lined a 9 X 12 pan with foil and placed in the 1 1/2 pound turbots fillets (after washing them). I used kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to season both sides of the fillets. Then, I added 2 T of extra virgin olive oil on the fillets and massaged it in. Yes, I massage fish. I'm not proud of it. Back in the oven at 375 F, it took 12 minutes total to turn an opaque white and become flakey (test with a fork. Flakey = good. Slimey = bad).

    I cut up a lemon for the table and squeezed it over the cauliflower and the cooked fish. The only thing I wish I did was whip up couscous or quinoa to fill the empty space on my plate where the grains would sit. Oh well.

    Everything turned out really well. A nice light dinner for two. The burning question is, did the turbot taste the same as the sea bass. No. It didn't. But it was good and I would buy it again for dinner for us. I'll save the sea bass for a small dinner party.

    Now you have it. The long and the short of it. I've got to go. I've got a pile of dishes to do!!

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    "Superfoods" for Breakfast and Dessert

    I love the term superfood. It brings up images of blueberries wearing red tights and a cape, doesn't it? C'mon that's funny.

    But seriously, this "super" title is given to a handful of foods that we all should try to include in our daily meals. Considering the nutritional powerhouses that they are, they might as well leap tall buildings in a single bound. Chocolate, a superfood? You betcha. Hopefully that thought will entice you to check out this link:

    In the meantime, I made a recipe from the website above today that doubled as breakfast and dessert. Pretty cool. I managed to squeeze in five superfoods: blueberries, oats, yogurt, oranges and honey.

    For breakfast, I made my usual Bob Red Mill's 5 Grain Oatmeal and added the following recipe:

    2 pints strawberries, oganic
    3 medium bananas, ripe
    1 pint of blueberries, organic
    2 medium oranges, zest and juice
    2 tablespoons honey

    Quarter the strawberries, slice the bananas, andadd the blueberries. Gently toss with fresh orange juice, zest, and honey. Put the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

    • You can also toast some crushed walnuts and add to this mixture. I burnt mine accidentally while toasting them this morning, so I didn't use them. 1/4 cup of this mixture was a tasty and filling addition to my 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal this morning. I enjoyed this meal at 8:30am this morning and didn't feel a hunger pang until 12:30pm. And I worked out in between - that really blows my mind. I used to graze between meals because I was so hungry. But not anymore. This meal will fill you up and give you tremendous energy.
    • Almost 12 hours later, this mixture was even better. The longer it sat in the fridge, the more the flavor deepened. I topped a 3/4 cup of fat free French Vanilla yogurt with another 1/4 cup of the fruit. It was so good, that I started to imagine this as a parfait for my next dinner party.
    • By the way, I found a "microplane" buried deep in a kitchen drawer today. Basically it's a zester with an attitude. Sadly, I've been using a grater to get some zest off my oranges, but man that microplane zests like it was its job and it wanted a promotion.

    Saturday, January 5, 2008

    A Rustic Wrap for Dinner

    I'm feeling more and more comfortable just "winging it" in the kitchen. My husband said he would make his own dinner tonight after I told him about what was in my arms that I gathered from the pantry and fridge. He despises most of these ingredients, so I figured he would cook himself eggs tonight. But being the great adventurer that he is, he tried my completed dinner before I sat down. I gave him a bite and he wouldn't give back the plate. He loved it. No worries, I had plenty more to make another wrap for me. Here's what I'm calling tonight's experiment:

    A Rustic Wrap

    1 tablespoon of canola oil

    One diced yellow pepper

    One diced sweet onion

    1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms (I used "mini-bellas")

    2 cups of baby spinach

    6 oz. of firm tofu

    3 tablespoons (0r more depending on your taste) of Eat Smart's brand: "Garden Style Sweet Salsa"

    goat cheese crumbles

    sun dried tomato torillas

    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. First add onions for about 3 minutes until soft. Then add peppers and mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste. After they get soft (another 3-4 minutes), add the spinach. It will reduce very quickly to a manageable size. Add tofu and salsa. Continue cooking until vegetables are soft and tofu and salsa are heated to your liking. For me, that was another 3 minutes.

    You can toast your torillas, but I didn't. I added 1/3 of the vegetable mix to one tortilla and sprinkled it with goat cheese crumbles. Enjoy!!

    Here's a picture of the delicious salsa I found. It is not at all hot. Completely mild and much sweeter than typical salsa:

    My unnatural love for the Whole Foods store

    I spent my early twenties living in downtown DC, buying food from grocery stores that had more lottery ticket options than fresh fruit. I seriously got used to picking out the "not so terrible looking" apple from the sad little bins. The Safeway grocery stores had nicknames even.( I apologize in advance for their very un "p.c" monikors). One near me was called the "Soviet Safeway" because the aisles of food were known to be very sparse and sometimes bare. Another one a few blocks away was called the "Un-Safeway" because of some petty crime in that area. As you can imagine, neither of these images elicit happy feelings toward grocery shopping.

    Here I am ten years later, in the suburbs, missing the hubbub of the city, but certainly not my neighborhood grocers. I literally heard the angels sing when I walked in Whole Foods for the first time. My husband lovingly refers to the store as Whole Paycheck, but I'm trying to prove him wrong. It's only when I go down the speciality aisles that I get into trouble. Which is exactly what I did today. Yes, I promised you a website that encouraged healthy, but affordable dishes. Sometimes when you're building a pantry of flavors, you need to spend a little more. I promise it will be worth it...and it won't be a weekly expense. All of the Asian flavors that I bought for the next recipe will last me six months - at least. So go ahead and divide your receipt by six and breath a sigh of relief.

    I made this surprisingly quick and uncomplicated chicken and peanut stir fry for lunch today:

    Sichuan-Style Stir-Fried Chicken With Peanuts - courtesy of Cooking Light magazine


    2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

    2 tablespoons rice wine or sake

    1 teaspoon cornstarch

    1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

    1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

    Stir-Frying Oil:

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided


    1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

    2 tablespoons sugar

    2 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

    2 tablespoons rice wine or sake

    1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce

    1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

    1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

    2 tablespoons minced green onions

    1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 7 cloves)

    1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic

    Remaining Ingredients:

    1 1/2 cups drained, sliced water chestnuts

    1 cup (1/2-inch) sliced green onion tops

    3/4 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

    6 cups hot cooked long-grain rice

    Preparation: To prepare marinade, combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl; cover and chill 20 minutes.

    Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken mixture; stir-fry 4 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove from pan; set aside.

    To prepare sauce, combine broth and next 6 ingredients (broth through 1 teaspoon sesame oil); stir well with a whisk. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in pan. Add 2 tablespoons green onions, ginger, garlic, and chile paste, and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add broth mixture, and cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly.

    Stir in cooked chicken, water chestnuts, sliced onion tops, and peanuts; cook for 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Serve over rice.

    6 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup stir-fry and 1 cup rice)

    Since the sauce was going to be super flavorful, I decided to go the quickie route and make a "Boil in a Bag" 10 minute brown rice. No need to waste perfectly good chicken stock when the rice isn't the center of the meal.
  • The marinade took about 2 minutes to make, I purchased organic chicken from Whole Foods already cut into stir fry pieces, so this part of the recipe took no time at all. I put the marinating chicken in the fridge for 20 minutes while the water boiled for the rice.
  • The next steps of prep, the sauce took literally five minutes because of my vegetable chopper (I use it, like, twice a day. Get one. You will not regret it!) Also, I've started to use bottled minced ginger. It tastes very good and it cuts out the five minutes of peeling and grating of the fresh root.
  • After failing to "waft" the chili paste properly and getting more than I bargained for when smelling this foreign ingredient I decided to add only 1/4 teaspoon to the sauce. It provided just enough heat to make my lips tingle and not burn.
  • This is truly a wonderful meal that both my husband and I enjoyed. I would rate this very high and I'm adding to my list of meals I will make when guests are over for dinner. When you've lined up your ingredients before you start cooking, this dish moves from the stovetop to your table fast!