Friday, December 30, 2011

2 Recipe #300: Cauliflower & Orange Bell Peppers Au Gratin

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Yay, this recipe blog has finally reached recipe #300! At some point, I'll probably do something here to celebrate that, but right now, I'm just going to quickly post the below recipe and then I've got to skedaddle.

Before I go, just a few quick notes: This recipe is a change-up from the classic cauliflower au gratin dish. First of all, it's much healthier, as it doesn't contain any butter or cream, and yet, it's still incredibly flavorful and vibrant. In place of the traditional béchamel sauce is an equally tasty but much less fattening sauce, made with mozzarella, parmesan, buttermilk, spices, and fresh herbs. The fresh herbs are a key component of this recipe, as they are the lynch pin that brings together all of the other flavors. So, in other words, this is one instance in which you shouldn't substitute dried for fresh. :) Fresh herbs are an easy and inexpensive way to make a huge impact in terms of quality and taste, and using them in this particular recipe will make all the difference to its final outcome. :)

Have fun making the recipe, and I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season!

Happy Holidays,

Cauliflower & Orange Bell Peppers Au Gratin

1 large head cauliflower (about 3 lbs.), cut into bite-sized florets (makes about 10 c.)
2 heaping c. orange bell pepper, de-stemmed, de-ribbed, seeded, and diced into 1" cubes (about 1 large pepper)*
1/2 c. scallions (green and white parts), sliced crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds, densely packed (about 1 small bunch)
1/4 c. curly-leaf parsley, finely minced and densely packed
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely minced & densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, julienned and densely packed
2 c. part-skim (low-fat) mozzarella, shredded
1 1/2 c. fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 c. nonfat (or low-fat) buttermilk
3/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Directions: Place cauliflower florets into an 11" x 17" (x 2 1/2") aluminum foil pan, followed by the orange bell pepper, scallions, and fresh herbs. Spread out ingredients across the pan, making sure they aren't on top of one another, so they'll cook evenly. Set aside. Next, in a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix together mozzarella, Parmesan, and buttermilk in a large mixing bowl until well-combined. Using your hands or a spatula, evenly distribute the cheese mixture across the vegetables. Finally, add salt, pepper, and; nutmeg, sprinkling them from a distance to evenly distribute. Cover with a large sheet of aluminum foil and bake in a 375°F preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until just tender. Then uncover and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or more, until top is golden brown. Serve and enjoy.

Yield: 10-12 servings as a side dish; 5-6 servings as a main course.

Chef's Notes: *Instead of just using orange bell pepper, you could substitute yellow or red bell pepper, or use a combination of all three. I personally wouldn't recommend using green pepper, because it's a bit too bitter to be used in this particular recipe. This dish needs a touch of natural sweetness from the orange/yellow/red peppers to balance out the sharpness of the other flavors -- namely the rosemary and other fresh herbs.

Optional Ingredients: As a final step before placing the dish into the oven, you could also sprinkle it with plain bread crumbs, if you so desire. For ready-made bread crumbs, you can use a store-bought variety like panko (i.e., Japanese bread crumbs) or the plain/unflavored, store-bought variety that comes in a canister or a box. Or, alternatively, you can easily make them yourself by pulverizing leftover, stale bread in a food processor.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

0 Recipe #299: Multigrain Hot Cereal with Fresh Fruit & Nuts

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Multigrain hot cereal with mangoes, strawberries, red raspberries, and toasted walnuts and almonds.

This recipe is a favorite! So I hope you will like it. Like many of the previously featured dishes from the past few months, this one's also part of the ongoing "Resourceful Recipes" series. In case you need a refresher or are just tuning in, the Resourceful Recipes" series is intended to provide solutions for those who want to cook healthy and economical meals for their families. Related posts will demonstrate how to make the most of humble foods or provide creative ways to use up leftover ingredients.

In this particular instance, the whole grains featured in this recipe are not only highly nutritious, but also happen to be fairly basic, inexpensive staples with a long shelf-life. And best of all, you'll be able to easily find most of the ingredients in your local supermarket. The only things that could possibly be challenging to find are the millet and wheatberries, although at this point in supermarket evolution, the former will probably be more readily found than the latter. However, if you can't find millet for some reason, you can try either a health store or an international supermarket. (I found millet at the latter, in the Indian section of my local international supermarket.) Or, you can always buy millet online. That's where I got the wheatberries. More specifically, I've found that Barry Farms sells great products (via, so I've stuck with them for the wheatberries and other types of specialty grains, etc.

Speaking of which, I'm happy to announce that my Amazon Store now contains almost all of the specialty ingredients used in my recipes. :) Of course, I've done this to make it really convenient and easy for you, as it's sometimes a real challenge to find some of these ingredients locally. Also, the searching and buying processes take a lot less time when they're done online. :)

Just one example of an item that
I've bought and loved, and 

then added to my Amazon store. :)
I frequently buy at for my specialty grocery needs for these very same reasons. I can honestly say that my grocery-buying experiences there have been nothing but positive thus far. Also, I've personally bought and used many of the products listed on my Amazon Store, and so, will only list products there that I truly like and enjoy. As my friends and family will tell you, I'm also extremely picky and so, will do an extensive amount of research before I buy, recommend, &/or list Amazon products. In order to make the cut, listed/recommended items must be both highly rated and, of course, of excellent quality.)

Not only will you be able to find direct links to these resources within apropos recipe posts that call for these ingredients, but I've also embedded my store into this site as an inline frame so that you'll be able to shop at directly from my website without even having to leave the page. (Please note that all transactions are secure/encypted and handled directly via So, this way, if you need to find an online resource for a particular recipe on my blog, you won't have to look very far.

So, anyhow, let's get back to talking about this recipe and its nutritional value: As you may know, wheatberries are not only to used to make bread; they can also be cooked and consumed whole. Of course, they are much healthier this way as the whole form preserves the bran, germ, and endosperm of the wheat, i.e., the most nutrient-rich parts of the grain. :) So basically, it's the entire whole wheat kernel minus the hull. :) Contrast this to processed wheat products, in which these components are removed, stripping roughly 40% of the original nutritional value from the grain.

So what does a wheatberry taste like? Well, in my opinion, they taste great! :) They have a slightly nutty flavor and are slightly chewy when cooked. Thus far, this blog only has one other wheatberry recipe, a pilaf dish, but I plan to make more recipes using this very versatile grain. So, this way, you'll have more opportunities to try out a wider array of wheatberry dishes and also use up that bag of wheatberries you just bought from my Amazon Store. :) Lol.

Here are some brief tidbits about the other grains found in this recipe:
--Most of the nutrients in bulghur are kept intact as only a very small amount of the bran is removed.
--Technically, quinoa isn't really a grain; it's considered to be a fruit, believe it or not. Also, millet isn't a grain either; it's a seed. At any rate, however they're categorized, they're both yummy! :)
--Did you know that quick cooking and instant oats are the actually the same thing as rolled oats, except that they've been rolled even thinner and cut into small pieces? (Of course, this is why they cook more quickly.)

One final comment: This dish takes a while to cook (i.e., about 56-58 minutes total prep time), so it's probably best to save this recipe for a relaxed weekend morning or a day off. What I like to do is make enough for the next few days, then transfer it to a sealed contained and put it in the fridge. It keeps pretty well, so if you make it on a Saturday or Sunday, then you'll have some left over to enjoy for the first few days into the week. In cooking, as in life, advanced preparation makes all the difference. :)

Fresh blueberries and a generous sprinkling of toasted walnuts and almonds are the perfect complement to this
 hot multi-grain cereal.

Multigrain Hot Cereal with Fresh Fruit & Nuts

6 c. water
1/4 c. wheatberries*
1/4 c. millet
1/4 c. quinoa + 1/2 c. water (for soaking)
1/4 c. (regular, rolled) oats**
1/4 c. bulghur
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. non-GMO soy or coconut milk (or skim milk, if you prefer)

2 Tbsp. honey, to taste
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. walnuts, halved or crushed
1 c. seasonal fruit mixture (red raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, peaches, strawberries, bananas, etc.)***

Directions: Bring covered pot of water to a rolling boil, about 6-8 minutes. While you're waiting for the water to boil, soak quinoa for 5-10 minutes until it starts to puff up a bit. (This is a very important step as quinoa needs to be soaked in order to release its saponin, which creates a bitter taste unless removed.) When quinoa is ready, transfer into a fine mesh sieve, rinse under running water, and then drain and set aside.

When water has reached a rolling boil, remove lid, add wheatberries, and then cover again with lid and boil on high heat for 15 minutes, or until slightly tender. Then remove lid, add millet, stir once or twice, cover again, and boil for another 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then add rinsed and drained quinoa, stir, cover once more, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Water should be almost absorbed by this point. If necessary, add a little bit more water to keep the bottom of the pot from scalding. Uncover, add oats, bulghur, and vanilla extract, stir, cover again with lid, and cook for a final 5 minutes.

While the hot cereal is in its last 5 minutes of cooking, place nuts onto an aluminum-foil covered toaster pan and toast on 350°F for 2-3 minutes, or until light golden brown. Watch nuts carefully, as they will burn very easily. When finished, set tray aside to allow nuts to cool for 5-10 minutes.

When cereal is ready, uncover, and then stir in honey, cinnamon, and salt. (Or, alternatively, let each person add their own amounts to taste, according to personal preference.) Fluff, then let stand 5 minutes to cool slightly. Pour in milk and stir in fruit and nuts. Place into bowls, serve, and enjoy.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Chef's Notes: *Wheatberries: I recommend using the hard red spring variety, since it's got the highest protein content out of all the different varieties. Wheatberries take a while to cook, but if you cook them with the lid on, they'll cook a lot faster. :) Please note that if you don't cook them long enough, they're going to be a bit tough and overly chewy. So, in other words, do something else in the kitchen while they cook, so you'll still be near enough to watch the pot but at the same time won't be tempted to pull them off the stove a bit early. ;) This is definitely one instance in which patience pays off. :) Remember that, after the wheatberries, you'll be adding the next set of ingredients in another 20 minutes, so best to set the timer for 15-minute intervals and check on the water level a bit early, just to be on the safe side.

**Oats: Nutritionally speaking, steel cut oats are a better source of fiber and nutrients than rolled oats, as they contain the whole oat kernel, (whereas most of the bran is removed for the latter). Although steel cut oats are less processed than rolled oats, they take longer to cook. I didn't happen to have steel cut oats on hand when I was creating this recipe, so I just used regular, "old-fashioned" Quaker oats, as they called. However, if you'd like to use steel cut oats instead of rolled oats for this recipe, then I suggest you add them at the same time you add the millet, since they take at least 20 minutes to cook.

***Alternative toppings: If you've got a limited selection of available seasonal fresh fruit, another great idea is to add raisins &/or other types of dried fruit (dried cherries, cranberries, etc.) to your hot cereal, which can either be incorporated separately or mixed together with whatever fresh fruit you have on hand. Or, another creative idea is to add fresh coconut slivers or unsweetened shredded coconut, either in addition to or as a replacement for, the almonds and walnuts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

2 Recipe #298: Miso-Glazed Chicken with Baby Bok Choy & Chinese Broccoli Stir-Fry

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Here's another quick, easy, and delicious side dish, which I made for dinner yesterday. Guess you could say that this one could be classified as recipe number three of the "Resourceful Recipes series, as the ingredients themselves are fairly inexpensive. If you're looking for save a few dollars on specialty items like mirin and Chinese broccoli, I'd recommend buying your vegetables at an Asian grocery store. A lot of times, these items will cost far less than buying them at a generic grocery store. They will also typically be more authentic and, depending upon where you buy, often higher quality too. :)

Miso-Glazed Chicken with Baby Bok Choy & Chinese Broccoli Stir-Fry

Chicken Entrée Ingredients:
1 lb. (8 oz.) thinly sliced (about 1/4"-thick), skinless, boneless chicken breasts, rinsed, defatted, tendons removed, patted dry, and then cut on the bias (i.e., diagonally and against the grain) into 1 1/2"-wide strips*
1 Tbsp. sesame oil

Glaze Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 4 large cloves)
1 1/2 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and finely minced (about 1 1/2" piece)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes, or to taste (depending upon heat preference)
2 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. MSG-free white miso paste
2 Tbsp. lukewarm water

Vegetable Stir-Fry Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. sesame seed oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and finely minced (about 1" piece)
1/3 c. shallots, peeled and minced (about 1 extra-large shallot)
2 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp. wasabi paste (optional)
1 c. Chinese broccoli, sliced crosswise into 1 1/2" pieces
2 c. bok choy, sliced crosswise into 1 1/2" pieces
1/4 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds (about 4 large scallions)

Directions: Prepare the chicken: First, place rinsed, cut chicken into a large, resealable plastic/Ziploc bag, allowing it to reach room temperature as you prepare the other ingredients, and then set it aside.

Next, make the garlic paste, using a large mortar and pestle: Place 2 Tbsp. garlic, 1 1/2 Tbsp. ginger, and 1/2 tsp. salt into the mortar and pulverize with the pestle until the mixture forms a smooth paste. (Or, you can use a food processor, if you prefer. I find it very satisfying to vigorously smash ingredients together by hand, but again, it's up to you. :-D )

Make the glaze: Add 1 Tbsp. mirin, 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce, 1/4 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes, 2 tsp. honey, and 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds to the garlic paste mixture, and set aside. In a separate bowl, place 2 Tbsp. white miso paste into a small custard dish, followed by 2 Tbsp. lukewarm water. Allow miso to dissolve for 2-3 minutes, then stir until well-combined. Transfer miso paste mixture to mortar, thoroughly combine, and then pour entire mixture into the plastic/Ziploc bag containing the chicken. Allow to marinate for at least a 1/2 hour, or ideally, overnight.

Cook the chicken: In a large (12-13"), nonstick sauté pan, heat 1 Tbsp. sesame seed oil on high heat until glistening, about 1-2 minutes. Then reduce heat to low, add chicken and sauté for about 5-7 minutes per side, or until golden brown. If necessary, cook in batches, so that chicken has enough room to cook evenly. (Tip: If chicken still hasn't browned enough to your liking, you can also speed up the process by putting it on the grill or in a 375°F preheated oven and crisping it for another 2-3 minutes.) Divide into 4 even portions, place onto plates, and set aside.

Make vegetable stir-fry: Mix together 1 Tbsp. garlic, 1 Tbsp. ginger, 1/3 c. shallots, 2 Tbsp. mirin, 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp. wasabi paste, (if using), in a small bowl, and set aside. (You can reuse either the mortar or the custard dish you used earlier to minimize dishwashing.) Then, in the same pan you just used to cook the chicken, heat 1 Tbsp. sesame seed oil on high heat until glistening, about 1 minute. (Oil will heat faster due to residual heat.) Then reduce heat to low. Add ginger-garlic-shallot mixture to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add Chinese broccoli and bok choy, cover with lid, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until tender and liquid has (mostly) evaporated. Watch vegetables carefully, as they'll cook more quickly than you might expect, especially now that the pan has retained heat from previous use. Remove from heat, mix in scallions, and then transfer to plates, diving the stir-fry into 4 equal portions. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: Whatever you do, please do not substitute commercial ginger-garlic paste from a jar or tube. The ratio of salt to ginger and garlic in this recipe is very important, and if you use a pre-packaged, manufactured product, these ratios can vary drastically, thereby completely altering the flavor of the dish. This way, you can ensure consistency and the flavor balance (i.e., particularly the saltiness and strength) will be just right.

*If you are unable to find thinly sliced chicken fillets in the supermarket, just buy regular, skinless, boneless chicken breasts and tenderize them: Place chicken onto a large, clean, non-porous cutting board and cut into 2" wide strips. Cover with plastic wrap and pound with the bumpy, textured end of a meat mallet until flattened to a 1/4" thickness.

For a vegan or vegetarian adaptation of this dish, substitute tofu for the chicken.

Friday, November 4, 2011

0 Recipe #297: Greco-Roman Pasta Salad

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Here's an easy and inexpensive dish, the second recipe from the ongoing "Resourceful Recipes" series, which incorporates some of the same ingredients from the previous recipe post, to ensure that none of the leftover ingredients from this recipe will go to waste. :)

The most expensive thing on the ingredient list is probably the nonfat feta cheese, and at that, it's only a few bucks and can be used for multiple recipes.

The only thing that needs to be cooked in this recipe is the pasta; the water takes only 8 minutes to boil, and the pasta another 8 minutes after that. So between these two activities, you should have more than enough time to chop up the ingredients while you're waiting for the pasta to finish.

Nothing like a dish that's easy, healthy, fresh, and cost-effective to boot. What's not to like? :) Making and eating healthy meals doesn't have to be a major production. These are the types of meals that are perfect to make during the week, when there's less time and you're not exactly up for cooking an 8-course meal. ;)

After all of the energy you'll have after making and eating this easy and nutritious dish, maybe you'll be in the mood to wrestle afterwards. ;)

Greco-Roman Pasta Salad

4-6 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of extra virgin olive oil (for boiling pasta)
1/2 c. dry (uncooked) enriched multi-grain rotini pasta (or other pasta shape)*
2 small anchovy fillets (from a tin, packed in oil) (about 2 tsp.), drained and rinsed (or use 2 tsp. anchovy paste)**
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 c. red onion, peeled and finely diced
1/3 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds
1/2 c. nonfat plain feta cheese, diced into 1/2" cubes**
1 1/2 c. grape tomatoes, halved crosswise
1/2 c. brined Kalamata olives, drained, pitted, and halved crosswise
1/3 c. brined Sicilian green cracked olives, drained, pitted, and halved crosswise
1/4 c. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped and densely packed
1/4 c. fresh basil, minced, julienned and densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: Bring water to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, do your kitchen prep: Squeeze lemon juice and place into a small custard dish; chop up all produce (i.e., garlic, onions, scallions, tomatoes, olives, herbs, etc.) and feta, and place into a large bowl. Using a fork, mash anchovies in a separate, medium-sized bowl. (Or, if it's easier, you can also melt them for a minute or two in a small nonstick pan, and then transfer them back into the bowl.) Cover anchovies with lemon juice, and let stand for 5 minutes. Then add olive oil, garlic, and red onions, and stir until solid ingredients are completely covered in lemon juice and olive oil. Let stand another 5 minutes. (Lemon juice will "cold cook" these ingredients and also remove their pungency.) When water has reached a rolling boil, add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. (Barilla Plus rotini takes about 8 minutes to cook.) While pasta is cooking, transfer ingredients soaking in lemon juice and olive oil to the large bowl containing the other salad ingredients, and gently toss. Do not drain liquids! (It's important that the lemon juice & olive oil be added to the salad as well, as they will be used to flavor the dish.) When ready, drain pasta into a colander and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Transfer cooled pasta to large bowl containing all other ingredients, season with black pepper, and toss once more until just combined. Ideally, it's best to chill the salad in the refrigerator (in a covered container) for at least 30 minutes before serving, so that the flavors have an opportunity to meld. Serve chilled or at room temperature, and enjoy!

Yield: 2-3 servings as a main course, or 3-4 as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: Optional ingredients: This salad would also taste good with fresh, sliced mushrooms, &/or cucumbers. Or, raw zucchini, in place of the cucumbers, would also work as well.

*I recommend using Barilla Plus pasta, which is a type of multigrain pasta enriched with protein, fiber, and ALA Omega-3's. Please note that I'm not being paid to say this. :) I just really like this kind of pasta; plus, it's got obvious nutritional advantages over regular plain pasta. This is one of the few multigrain pastas I've tried that doesn't actually taste like it's multigrain, if you get my gist. ;)

**To make this recipe vegetarian, just omit the anchovies, but still follow the directions for "cold cooking" the other ingredients in the lemon juice and olive oil mixture. To make this recipe vegan, simply omit the feta cheese or substitute a non-dairy cheese substitute like soy cheese, etc.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1 Recipe #296: Italian-Style Olive & Pinto Bean Dip

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As promised, here's the first dish in the "Resourceful Recipes" series I'd introduced just a few days ago. As you can probably tell from the below recipe, I'm out to prove that eating on a budget doesn't have to be plain or boring. So get ready to kick your inner curmudgeon to the curb. :)

True to form, the ingredients in this recipe are inexpensive and yet, still packed with nutritional value. In fact, this dish can be made for only a few dollars: For example, the can of pinto beans Erik brought home from the grocery store cost only 89¢. The 2 oz. can of anchovies cost $1.99, but only 2 anchovy fillets are called for in this particular recipe. The fresh herbs are about $1-2 each, depending on the size of the package you buy. (Or, if you are already growing them indoors, they are free. :-D) Plus, a lot of the ingredients can be used for multiple recipes, so their cost, per recipe, is actually even less than it might seem at first glance. You can really get a lot of mileage out of these ingredients. So, as you buy them, you can plan to make other recipes which call for those very same ingredients, so that nothing goes to waste. This way, any opened cans &/or fresh produce can be used while they're still good.

So, in order to help you make use of any leftover ingredients you might have after making the below recipe, I'll be posting some more recipes using fresh herbs, anchovies, and some of the other, below-listed ingredients. :)

The nice thing about this dish is that there's no cooking required. So aside from a small amount of kitchen prep (i.e., minimal chopping, soaking two ingredients, etc.), all you have to do is just toss everything into a food processor, pulse it for a few seconds, and you're done. Can't get much easier than that, eh?

Italian-Style Olive & Pinto Bean Dip

15.5 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 small anchovy fillets (from a tin, packed in oil) (about 2 tsp.), drained and rinsed (or use 2 tsp. anchovy paste)*
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) freshly squeezed lemon juice (for soaking anchovies), plus more to taste
1/4 c. whole green or black, brine-cured (i.e., Kalamata or Greek) olives, pitted and halved (about 8-10 medium-sized olives)
1/4 c. red onion, diced
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 1 large clove)
1/2 Tbsp. capers, soaked in 2 Tbsp. water for 10 minutes, then drained, and squeezed dry
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped and densely packed
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) fresh basil, minced, roughly chopped and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves, densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: In a small bowl, soak anchovies in 2 Tbsp. lemon juice for 10-15 minutes. Do not drain. Place the bowl of anchovies and lemon juice into a food processor, followed by the remaining ingredients, and pulse until just combined. Then taste and add more lemon juice if necessary, to suit your personal preferences. Transfer the mixture to a container, seal, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.  (Don't be too concerned about the olive oil congealing in the fridge, as it'll melt again once the dish is taken out and allowed to reach room temperature.) An hour before serving time, remove from refrigerator to let it reach room temperature. Serve with crostini. If desired, garnish with a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces, &/or a few lightly toasted pignoli (i.e., pine) nuts. Refrigerate any leftovers in a sealed container. (Mixture will keep for about a week.)

Yield: Makes a little over 3 c.

Chef's Notes: Selecting and preparing canned anchovies: Choose high-quality, salt-cured ones that have been packed in olive oil, preferably the Sicilian kind, if available. Please note that, in this particular recipe, the anchovies are soaked in lemon juice, a known seafood "cleanser," in order to reduce their "fishiness." The acid in the lemon juice will "cold cook" the fish and kill off any remaining volatile amines.

With the olives, capers, anchovies, and Dijon mustard, this dip clearly doesn't require any additional salt. In fact, since it's so salty, this is why it's usually served with bread and other mild accompaniments. ;) It's rather intense by itself, and so, it needs something else to buffer/offset its concentrated flavor.

*To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, simply omit the anchovies. Be sure to add the lemon juice, even though you won't be soaking any anchovies in it.

Serving Suggestions: If you're looking for an easy but elegant appetizer to serve for an hors d'œuvres platter -- whether for cocktail hour, a dinner party, or other festive occasion -- this recipe will certainly fit the bill. For an elegant presentation, serve on crackers or toasted mini baguette rounds, spreading each cracker/round first with soft goat cheese (chèvre), followed by a dollop of dip, and top with a small sliver of roasted red pepper. Or, if you'd rather skip the bread products, serve on slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, or grilled eggplant or zucchini.

Alternatively, you can eat this dish for a light meal or as a mid-day snack. Serve on ciabatta, either open-faced or as a sandwich. For the latter, add lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, etc., or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

0 Fab, Fit, & Fiscally Sound Foods: Or, How to Cook Delicious, Healthy Meals on a Budget :)

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In these challenging economic times, several people have mentioned to me that they are looking for ways to cook healthy meals for their families without breaking the bank. And from what I can tell, this seems to be a common refrain at large. People are now looking for ways to conserve funds and make the most of what they already have; and of course, this clearly has a direct impact upon one's cooking and grocery shopping practices as well.

However, when seen in the proper light, we can look at this a blessing in disguise. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. :) And nothing hones one's creativity in the kitchen like imposed limitations. Think of it as a fun opportunity to challenge yourself to think in new ways and create something fresh and novel that you probably wouldn't have thought of otherwise had it not been for current circumstances. And you're not alone either; there are pages of culinary history devoted to the long and time honored tradition of scrappy but highly resourceful and innovative chefs making the most of minimal ingredients. When the going gets tough, the tough take inventory of their pantries (and refrigerators), revise their grocery shopping lists accordingly, and then get creative in the kitchen. ;)

Just reframe the situation like this: Imagine you've been selected as a contestant on the show, "Chopped." You open your basket -- er, I mean your fridge and cupboards ;) -- and see what you've got to work with for that day's meals. Ready, set, go! :-D

Remember last year's blizzard and those freaky photos of East Coast supermarkets with empty shelves? [Most of you probably do, but just in case you were living under a rock in February 2010, I'll fill you in: In anticipation of the snow storm, people went nuts, (as they usually do before a storm!), and ravaged their local supermarkets like a pack of frenzied wildebeests on stampede. And then, when the storm hit, the supermarkets were unable to get their usual, regular food shipments to restock those empty shelves.] That situation also sent several of us into the kitchen in search of creative cooking solutions. Or, as Tim Gunn would say, it was definitely a "make it work" moment. :) However, at least in this case, you'll still be able to go grocery shopping if need be. LOL.

But seriously, I just want to let you know that I do pay attention to social media feedback (i.e., via blog comments, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and do carefully consider what readers have to say. And for those of you who find yourselves in the above situation, please don't throw your hands up in resignation or despair; I hear you loud and clear, and am here to help. "Never fear, Chef Cyberpenguin is here." :)

This is why, over the next few weeks or so, I'll be addressing these issues head-on in a new recipe series called "Resourceful Recipes," which will feature economical but healthy ingredients that can be crafted into something delicious with minimal time and effort. All of these recipes will feature fresh and seasonal foods combined with a common staple foods typically found in the ordinary cupboard. Fresh and in-season foods, as well as dry basic staples like rice and legumes, not only taste great and are good for you, but they can also be a good value for your money as well. And if you can snag seasonal produce on special at the supermarket, all the better. Simple and straightforward ingredients like brown rice, bananas, almonds, eggs, sweet potatoes, and broccoli are healthy, delicious, economical, and versatile. So, that's four reasons to feel good about what you'll be cooking and eating. :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2 What's In Our Food? Yes, We Really DO Want to Know!

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Right now, more than ever, we consumers are clamoring that we have a right to know what's in our food, and over the past few years, the public's growing concern has sent a lot of people packing to find healthier and safer alternatives: I know lots of people who now buy organic because they're very concerned about about the increasing amounts of pesticides in our food or who spray their food with pesticide washes like Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash or Environné. Many are also growing their own in increasing numbers, even in urban areas, or shopping at places that offer healthier choices like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe'sWegmans, and the like. And of course, shows like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution have also greatly helped to expose the truth and move people towards action, because, to loosely paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, when it comes right down to it, it's up to us to be the engines of change and demand that companies do better in these areas. ("Be the change you want to see in the world.")

In many instances, even for those of us who have taken the time to educate ourselves about food, it's not always so easy or obvious as it seems to figure this out. And, in many cases, it's actually getting harder to detect this information, as some companies continue to bob and weave around the current food labeling system, omitting certain key pieces of product information or cleverly adapting their verbiage so that it appears to be in line with the latest food safety and nutritional findings published by scientists and medical researchers. Of course, they are doing this to purposely mislead the public and obscure the truth instead of changing to meet the demands and changing needs of their customers. They take unethical short-cuts to garner higher profits, and this is why it's more important than ever to put our support behind those businesses who are doing the right thing. This means supporting organic local farmers and markets, and buying products that are made by companies who truly care about the health of their consumers.

Of course, the issues that are becoming part of the public dialogue are not just centered around the chemicals contained in processed foods; it's also the chemical additives that are added to non-organic whole foods as well. On this note, there's been a great amount of concern about the things companies are putting into our food that we don't even know about, because there are currently no labeling requirements for certain food sources (i.e., GMOs, etc.) and chemical additives. Regarding the latter, I include pesticides on this list because, whether it's sprayed on produce or chemically engineered into it, it's still an alarming issue that needs to be addressed with corresponding legislation. As we've seen time and time again, there are still many companies that haven't reformed their ways based upon an ethical conscience to do the right thing, because they are still focused on short-term profits achieved by any means necessary, including shady, blantantly unsanitary, and often even illegal practices.

As the below cartoon aptly illustrates, there are a whole host of complex considerations consumers currently face when trying to figure out what's healthy for us and what's not.

And even if we do read the labels, do we really understand them or know how to interpret their health value? Do we really know what's safe for us to eat? How can we truly tell whether food is genetically engineered if there are no labels to indicate this? And even if we do wash off our produce to try to get rid of pesticides, how will we know whether or not these pesticides have been sprayed onto or genetically engineered into our food, the latter of which would clearly render these precautionary efforts useless? (And yes, the latter scenario does happen. A pretty scary thought, eh? And it's enough to make many of us want to take up vegetable gardening. :) And this is not just because of the current economy either, although that's certainly been a factor for a lot of people as well.) And at that, this is really just cracking the tip of the iceberg. This is why the automatic, implicit trust that many grocery shoppers place in the products they buy in the supermarket, particularly in the produce aisle, really does bear some re-examination.

And how come the FDA isn't doing more to answer the public's demand for better labeling? Isn't it their job to make sure our food is safe? (Remember the egg scares in the US in both 2010 and 2011 and the ensuing fiascoes surrounding them? And, did you know that the FDA even ignored their own scientists' warnings about GMOs?!) And when these blatant grievances are still not being addressed by entities like the FDA and USDA, mostly because various food companies are waging a war on the political front to make sure legislation to reform our food system isn't going to see the light of day, isn't our job to fight back, educate, spread the truth, and join others to actively do something about it?!

However, even if the FDA and USDA are dragging their feet, many people are trying to fight back by getting the word out to the public and doing what they can to add their voices to the growing chorus of people who are trying to do something about this. And not all of these people are nutritionists, doctors, scientists, educators, and authors, or other health and wellness professionals. Many are just regular citizens who are invested in their families' health and general well-being. Will you add your voice to the growing demand for the redress and reform these of very important issues? Even doing something as simple as signing a petition can help. Write your congressperson and let them know your concerns and urge them towards constructive action on particular issues. Or join or contribute funds to a group or association actively working towards positive change in these areas.

Being healthy is largely about preventative health, and nothing is more crucial to ensuring health and longevity than what we put in our bodies. This is why we need to be vigilant and not only educate ourselves about food and find healthier alternatives but seek to reform a corrupt system and make every effort to help dissolve the silent pact between Big Government and Big Food lobbyists. This collusion has got to stop, and I don't think I'm the only one right now who's up in arms about it. People are fed up! And if you're not caring about this issue, you should, because it's your health and longevity we are talking about here. After all, being alive for as long as possible is kind of a priority for most people. ;)

Of course, exercise is crucial as well for health and wellness, but even so, exercisers need quality fuel to 'put into the tank' or else they're not going to reap the full rewards of their athletic efforts. Overall, long-term preventative health requires both pieces of the puzzle.

In support of these initiatives, I highly recommend listening to the following recordings: The first is a talk by Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food, and other books, etc.) and the second is a podcast interview with author & food educator, Anne Lappé.

Both of these multimedia presentations address product mislabeling, or lack thereof, by food companies, as well as their overall snow job tactics to hide the truth from the American public.

Regardless, the FDA still needs to get its act together in terms of both updating and improving their requirements for food labeling. Additionally, legislation needs to be passed by Congress to ensure that food growers and manufacturers are being honest about what they put in their food. This includes the introduction of laws and enforcement measures to ensure that companies disclose complete and accurate information about our food sources (i.e., where our food is grown and whether or not food is genetic or truly organic in origin) as well as listing how much pesticide is sprayed or genetically engineered into our food. We need to know the true nature of our food. And that means no tricky wording or false advertising. We want the whole truth and nothing but. Big Food, hear us roar! You better be scared, because we are not going to stand for this BS any longer!

This is why I encourage you to not only read labels and stay up to date with the latest health and nutrition news but to also constantly question what you are eating and take a stand. Do you know that there are front groups hired by Big Food to regular promote misinformation about products to make us think we are eating healthy, safe foods when that's really not the case? [I'm sure that, given the healthy focus of this blog's readership, many of you already do. :) ] These are entities that, on the surface, don't appear to have a direct link to Big Food, but in truth, are very much in bed with these companies. I guess it's not enough that Big Food directly launch misleading PR campaigns themselves. And this just pisses me off. RAAAAAR! And it should make you fighting mad as well. This is why, a lot of the time, anger is actually a force for good, because it's a catalyst for action. It makes you wake up and take notice, and then hopefully get off your rear and do something about it. :).

Additionally, there are some companies that are trying to strong-arm or intimidate those educators who seek to expose the truth by hanging legal threats over their heads. (For evidence of this, just listen to the above interview of Anne Lappé.) And of course, we all know why this is happening. It's because deep down inside, these companies know that what they are doing is wrong and they are running scared. Why don't they just change what they are offering us, and make a profit that way (as there's certainly an ever-increasing demand for healthier food!), instead of resisting and undermining the process, and remaining staunchly ingrained in their current practices?  (If they were employing honest practices then they'd have nothing to hide!) After all, isn't continual product improvement (i.e., making their products healthier and safer for their consumers) considered to a key selling point? A less fluid and forward-focused approach ultimately doesn't serve their customers, and if you don't properly listen to and meet the demands/needs of your customers, you won't be in business for long. ;) Plus, when people find out what's happening and discover what's really being put in their food, chances are good that they are going to get pissed off at these companies, ditch their products, and look for better, which is what's already been happening. :) And yes, we deserve better. We are worth it, and Big Food needs to get that through their thick skulls, instead of offering us the same old crap that they think we want to eat. The problem with many of them is that they are invested in keeping people fat and comatose, instead of being true advocates for the health and safety of their customers. (Remember the movie WALL-E's cautionary portrayal of the human race 700 years from now? Do we really want to end up like that?!) How can a company consciously do this to the people who buy their products? Don't they care about their consumers? And don't they know that the ones who wise up to the situation are going to vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere?!

Sure, the goal of businesses is to make money [I also am a business owner as well, so I certainly understand the importance of this imperative :) ], but when greedy, unethical practices override business ethics, there's something seriously harmful and disturbing about that. When business ethics are compromised, not only is it just bad business, but it's just plain wrong on moral and ethical grounds. When companies lie or hide information from consumers, they'll will eventually erode customers' trust and confidence in both their company and their products, which will, in turn, drive away business. Instead of trying to pull the wool over customers' eyes, companies should really shift their line of products to suit customers' ever-increasing demand for healthier, higher quality food. And some are, in fact, genuinely trying to do this. It is getting better, thanks in no small part to the galvanizing efforts of prominent, outspoken figures in the food world like Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver.

So give us what we want in terms of labeling, nutrition, and food safety, even if some of us don't even know that we want it yet. This is why companies should not only fill the demand for healthy food, but also seelk to actively create it. And it's just good business to do that. The campaign for healthier food is gaining momentum, and companies need to realize that if they don't get on the bandwagon, they are going to be left behind in the dust. So, Big Food, how about getting behind the cause instead of actively working against it?

I think the tide is turning and attitudes are changing with increasing public awareness, but we still need to help it along. As one of my friends recently said, "Organic food was once just called food." And let's all help to make it so again.

To find out what else you can do to help, click on the above picture to expand its view.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

0 Recipe #295: Pumpkin Risotto

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This recipe uses both chunks of fresh pumpkin and puréed pumpkin, as well as both arborio rice and quinoa, which, in each respective pairing, creates a much more diverse texture and flavor than just using one or the other. The walnuts, fresh herbs, and mushrooms add additional interest and complement the texture and flavor of the other ingredients.

Pumpkin Risotto

6-8 c. water (for boiling the pumpkin)
2 1/2 c. fresh pumpkin, peeled, pulp scooped out, deseeded, and diced into 1" cubes*
1 c. walnuts, crushed
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. yellow onion, peeled and diced (about 1/4 large onion)
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 c. mushrooms, well-rinsed and thinly sliced (about 3 large or 4-5 medium mushrooms)
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. superfino arborio rice, uncooked
1/2 c. quinoa, uncooked
1/4 c. dry white wine
3-4 c. water (or low-sodium, organic vegetable broth)**
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, julienned and densely packed
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced and densely packed
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, (plus more for garnish), julienned and densely packed
1/2 (heaping) c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded***
1 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c. Silk coconut milk (or if unavailable, use plain, lite soy milk)

Directions: Bring water to a rolling boil (on high heat) in a large sauce pot, about 8-10 minutes. Then add diced pumpkin and boil until tender (but not mushy), about 15-20 minutes. Drain into a colander, allow to cool for about 10 minutes, and then take 1 c. of the diced pumpkin and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth, then set aside.

While pumpkin is cooking, spread walnuts onto an aluminium foil-covered baking tray and toast in a 350°F preheated oven for 2-3 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool and set aside.

In a large (12-13") sauté pan, sauté onion, shallots, garlic, and bay leaf in extra virgin oil on low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until almost soft and translucent but not browned. Stir frequently. Next add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and gently stir to combine. Cook for another minute, then turn up heat to medium and mix in rice and quinoa. Stir continually for about 1-2 minutes, allowing both the quinoa and rice to crisp slightly but not brown. When adequately crispy, a translucent outline will appear around the outside border of both the rice and the quinoa. (This step is particularly important, as it cooks off the rice's starchy coating and prevents the grains from getting sticky and mushy when the liquid ingredients are added.) Watch pan carefully so the rice and quinoa don't brown or burn. Then quickly deglaze with white wine, stirring constantly, until liquid is fully absorbed, about 5 minutes.

Wait until pan only has a thin layer of liquid on the bottom, then use a liquid measuring cup to incorporate water or broth, adding only one cup at a time, stirring constantly. Allow each cup to be absorbed before adding the next. Each addition should be only just enough to cover the risotto. Cook until rice and quinoa are al dente, about 15-20 minutes. With about 5 minutes of cooking time left to go, stir in fresh rosemary and sage. During the final minute of cooking, taste for consistency; if the rice &/or quinoa is still a bit too hard and crunchy, then add more water as needed (i.e., a cup at a time, waiting until each cup has been absorbed before adding the next), and continue to cook until the grains soften a bit more to the desired consistency. Be careful not to overcook; the risotto should be creamy but still firm. Test to see if it's ready by pinching a rice grain; if only 2 or less beads remain, then the rice is done. When ready, remove from heat. Discard bay leaf with a slotted spoon, then add fresh parsley, basil, toasted walnuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and stir until just combined. Let cool for a few minutes, then add lemon juice and lite coconut milk (or plain, lite soy milk, if preferred), mixing thoroughly to evenly distribute ingredients. Gently fluff once, then let stand for 10-15 minutes. Divide into equal portions. Garnish each portion with additional basil, if desired. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings as a main course, or 10-12 servings as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: Recommended Equipment: I like to use a nice deep sauté pan like the Calphalon One Nonstick 5-Quart Sauté Pan with Glass Lid. This pan works really nicely & is the perfect dimensions for risotto, i.e., nice & deep, but wide enough to accomodate all the ingredients, without them stacking on top of each other. It's particularly important in this dish that the ingredients have enough room to spread out in the pain; otherwise the ingredients will steam versus sauté.

*Instead of tossing out the pumpkin seeds with the pulp, use them for other recipes. Or, simply spread them out onto an aluminium foil-covered baking tray, season them with salt, and then toast them in an oven preheated to 350°F for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch them carefully so they don't burn, opening the oven and rattling the tray from time to time to loosen the seeds and ensure even cooking.

**You very well might not even need the last cup of water/vegetable broth, as there's already a lot of liquid from the puréed pumpkin, so adjust accordingly.

***To make these recipe vegan, just omit the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or replace with a non-dairy cheese substitute like shredded soy cheese, etc.

A snapshot of the pumpkin risotto before the walnuts were added.

Friday, October 21, 2011

0 Recipe #294: Pumpkin Pie

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This version of pumpkin pie is made with fresh pumpkin. I used a "pie" pumpkin, also known as a "sugar" or "sugar pie" pumpkin. This is one of the types that you can actually cook with and eat. :) The kind that are used for Jack-O'-Lanterns don't really taste that good for cooking purposes, although you can, of course, toast the seeds and enjoy a delicious snack. :)

The lite coconut milk serves as a clever replacement for much more traditional and far less healthy (!), additions like cream or cream cheese, etc. Not only are the flavors of pumpkin and coconut a great natural complement to each other, but the coconut milk will make the pie just as creamy as those other, and much more fattening, alternatives. :) With a little creativity, it's possible to craft a recipe that cuts the fat and eliminates processed foods, but still delivers on taste. Just think how you'll shock and amaze people when they find out that the pie you just made is actually lowfat and good for them. ;) Of course, you might want to keep them in the dark until after they try it. ;) You can keep a secret for at least an hour or two, right? :) After all, a little awe and some amused expressions of disbelief from your dinner guests can't help but raise your culinary profile. LOL.

Pumpkin Pie

Filling Ingredients:
4 c. fresh pumpkin, peeled, pulp scooped out, deseeded, and diced into 1" cubes (makes about 2 c. pureed pumpkin)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 c. lite coconut milk from a can, including both liquids and solids (about 1/2 of a 13.5 oz. can)
3/8 c. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pumpkin spice mix (see recipe)
1 tsp. ground cardamom

Crust Ingredients:
2 c. oats
1/2 c. walnuts, crushed
1/2 c. pecans, crushed
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. clove powder
1/4 tsp. salt (omit if Paleo)
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten (at room temperature)
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp. ice water
1/4 c. oat flour, for flouring work surface and rolling pin (grind oats into flour in food processor)(if Paleo, substitute almond flour)

Optional/Alternate Toppings:
pecan halves (for decoration, to cover the pie's surface)
(non-dairy) whipped topping
1 scoop lowfat vanilla ice cream per serving of pie

Directions: To prepare filling: Bring water to a rolling boil (on high heat) in a large sauce pot, about 8-10 minutes. Then add diced pumpkin and boil until tender (but not mushy), about 15-20 minutes. Drain into a colander, allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth, then transfer contents to an electric mixing bowl, along with the remainder of the filling ingredients. Mix on low speed until frothy and well-combined. Then cover bowl and place into the refrigerator for a minimum of 15 minutes while you prepare the pie shell and other ingredients.

To make the pie shell: Add oats to a food processor and pulse until finely ground into a powdery consistency (or as close to it as possible!).  Add 1/2 c. walnuts and 1/2 c. pecans and pulse again until finely ground. Add remaining crust ingredients, minus the 1/4 c. oat flour (for flouring the work surface and rolling pin), and continue to pulse until thoroughly combined. Dough should be thick and stick together; do not over-mix or crust will be too hard when baked. Remove dough, scraping out remaining bits with a spatula. Form a dough ball and then place it upon a clean, even surface, uniformly floured with about 1/8 c. of the reserved oat flour. (You might want to first cover your countertop with wax paper to make clean-up easier and faster.) Flour a rolling pin with the remaining 1/8 c. oat flour, and roll out the dough ball until it's about 1/4" thick, always starting from the center outward, to form a large disc shape, about 12" in diameter.

Bake the pie shell: Carefully transfer dough to a 9" pie plate, using your thumbs to press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. If necessary, work the dough with your fingers to help it spread out so that it reaches the upper lip of the pie plate. You might need to use a knife to cut away the excess dough. Place pie shell into into an oven preheated to 350°F and bake crust for about 10-12 minutes, or until light golden brown. (Do not bake the crust for much longer, or it will become hard and burnt when the pie is baked. It still needs to be baked first, as the crust needs to solidify a bit in order to keep it from becoming porous and thus, too soggy after the filling is added.) When the crust has finished baking, remove them oven and let cool completely. Then cover pie shell in wax paper, weigh down with a pie beads (or dried beans), and refrigerate for 2 hours minimum, preferably overnight if possible.

Assemble and bake the pie: Remove filling and pie shell from refrigerator, place onto countertop or other clean, level work surface, and slowly and carefully pour filling into the bottom of the pie shell, using a spatula to help guide the liquid mixture into the pie shell a bit at a time. (If you dump it in all all once, the filling will most likely splatter all over the place. ;) ) Place pie into a preheated 350°F oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife or fork can easily pierce the filling and come out clean. Pie crust should be a deep golden brown, but not burnt. :) Let cool completely. If desired, decorate surface of the pie with pecan halves. Either serve immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for future consumption. Immediately before serving, top each slice of pie with whipped topping &/or lowfat vanilla ice cream, then serve and enjoy!

Yield: Makes 1 pumpkin pie, about 9" in diameter, or about 8-10 servings.

Chef's Notes: Please note: The pie shell can be made a day or two ahead of time and then refrigerated until you're ready to bake the pie. The dough for the pie shell doesn't need to be refrigerated before it's rolled out, as it's very solid and thick, and binds together exceedingly well.

Please be aware that this recipe's pie shell is crumbly and its texture more closely resembles a graham cracker crust than a traditional pie crust.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

0 Recipe #293: Bulghur Salad with Walnuts, Fresh Vegetables, & Herbs

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Need a simple, quick, and nutritious meal or side salad for lunch or dinner? Then try this recipe. :) Every single ingredient in this salad is raw and fresh; so in other words, there's zero cooking and the kitchen prep's a cinch. It's just a matter of soaking the bulghur, emulsifying the salad dressing ingredients (shake, shake and you're done!), and chopping up the vegetables and herbs. Et le voilà, nothing to it.

This dish goes particularly well with chicken, beef, and fish dishes, although it's perfectly capable of standing on its own as an entrée in and of itself. It's the kind of thing I'd probably make for lunch, or something that might taste particularly good on a warm, summer's day. Of course, you can have it for dinner too, or eat it any time of year. :)

Heck, you could even eat if for breakfast if you really wanted to do so. LOL. I don't know about you, but that's not the strangest thing I've ever eaten for breakfast. Probably one of the more atypical breakfasts I've had over the past few months consisted of a can of sardines on top of some wheat crackers, accompanied by a tomato and cucumber salad. Yeah, it's the breakfast of champions, I know. ;) When I'm I'm a roll with the recipe writing, sometimes creating 2-3 recipes a day, it's just a matter of practicality: Right now, I'm super-busy with various writing projects and other business-related initiatives, and this is in addition to regular workouts, the usual household chores and errands, and running three businesses, not to mention my activities as a one-woman recipe factory. LOL. However, that's not the only reason: It can actually be a good idea to make lunch for breakfast, especially when you've only got so many hours of natural daylight to snap pictures of a whole series of dishes. ;) This is why, when I get a chance, my next blog-related project will consist of constructing a light box, so when inspiration hits, it won't matter what time I start cooking and snapping photos. :-D

Bulgar Salad with Walnuts, Fresh Vegetables, & Herbs

Salad Dressing Ingredients:
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) olive oil
1/4 c. olive brine (reserved from container of gourmet, brined Kalamata olives)
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes, or to taste (use 1/8 tsp. for mild heat; 1/4 tsp. is medium heat)

Salad Ingredients:
1/2 c. bulghur, uncooked (medium grade)
1 c. cold water (for soaking bulghur)
1/2 c. scallions, white and green parts, sliced crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds (about 4 large scallions)
1/2 c. fresh basil, julienned
1/4 c. flat leaf parsley, finely minced
1/2 c. brined Kalamata olives, drained with brine reserved, pitted, and sliced into 1/4"-thick rounds (about 18 large Kalamata olives)
1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 c. diced red bell pepper (about 1 large red bell pepper)
1 1/2 c. diced red green pepper (about 1 large red bell pepper)
1 15.5 oz. can of chickpeas (roughly 1 1/4 c.)
3/4 c. nonfat feta cheese*
1/2 c. walnuts, crushed
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced (makes about 1 c.)

Directions: Mix together all salad ingredients in a cruet, cover tightly with lid, and vigorously (but carefully!) shake until well-blended. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, soak bulghur in cold water for 2 hours until soft and all of the water has been completely absorbed, about 2 hours. Set aside. While bulghur is soaking, place all of the remaining ingredients, except for the avocado, into a large bowl and toss. (It's important that the avocado be diced and added last to avoid being mashed into oblivion. LOL.) When bulghur is ready, drain it into a colander, and then squeeze out excess water using hands to press liquid out, or place in a paper towel and squeeze over the sink. Set aside. Transfer to large bowl containing other salad ingredients. Pour dressing over salad, and let marinate in the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.

Yield: Approximately 2 qts. (i.e., 64 oz.). That about 8 servings of 1 c. per person (or 4 servings of 2 c. each).

Chef's Notes: If it's easiest, you can make the bulghur a day in advance, or the night before. It refrigerates well, and will keep in the fridge for a few days after you make it. In fact, the whole dish tastes better after it's been marinating in the fridge in a tightly sealed, non-reactive container for a day or two. :) The lemon juice and other acidic ingredients will help keep the avocado from oxidizing.

*To make this recipe vegan, just omit the feta cheese, or replace with a non-dairy cheese substitute like shredded soy cheese, etc.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

0 Recipe #292: Cherry, Apple, & Pear Tart (Made with Asian & Bosc Pears)

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This tart is best eaten while it's still warm.

This tart's got a balance of both sweet and tart flavors (pun intended!), just as a fruit tart should. As it bakes in the oven, the fruit will caramelize and become deeply infused with all of the spices, thereby intensifying the flavor of all of the ingredients and making your whole house smell good. :) The filling becomes a delectable ooze of soft warm flavors, which is contrasted nicely by the slight crunch of its crust. Enjoy this dish plain or with a scoop of lowfat vanilla ice cream. :)

Cherry, Apple, & Pear Tart (Made with Asian & Bosc Pears)

Filling Ingredients:
3 c. pitted dark sweet cherries (preferably fresh, but if unavailable, frozen will work too)
1/4 c. dried, all natural (i.e., no sugar added) cherries*
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and sliced into wedges (makes about 1 1/3 c.)
1 large Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and sliced into wedges (makes about 1 1/3 c.)
1 yellow apple, peeled, cored, and sliced into wedges (makes about 1 1/3 c.)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. all natural, no sugar added natural apple sauce
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. salt

Crust Ingredients:
2 c. oat flour (or use 2 c. whole oats and grind into finely powdered oat flour in a food processor)
1 c. walnuts, crushed into small pieces
1 Tbsp. honey
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) all natural, no sugar added cherry juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground clove
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 c. oat flour, for flouring work surface and rolling pin

Directions: To prepare filling: Place all of the fruit (fresh and dried cherries, pears, and apple) into a large bowl, then quickly cover with lemon juice and apple sauce to prevent oxidation. Next, add honey, vanilla extract, and all spices for the filling. Set aside, or cover and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the crust.

To make the crustEither use 2 c. pre-ground oat flour or put 2 c. whole oats in a food processor and  pulse until finely ground into a powdery consistency (or as close to it as possible!).  Add walnuts and pulse again until finely ground. Add remaining crust ingredients, minus the 1/4 c. oat flour (for flouring the work surface and rolling pin), and continue to pulse until thoroughly combined. Dough should be thick and stick together; do not over-mix or crust will be too hard when baked. Remove dough, scraping out remaining bits with a spatula. Form a dough ball and then place it upon a clean, even surface, uniformly floured with about 1/8 c. of the reserved oat flour. (You might want to first cover your countertop with wax paper to make clean-up easier and faster.) Flour a rolling pin with the remaining 1/8 c. oat flour, and roll out the dough ball until it's about 1/4" thick, always starting from the center outward, to form a large disc shape, about 12" in diameter.

Bake the crust: Carefully transfer dough to a 9" nonstick fluted tart pan (with removable bottom) or 9" pie plate, using your thumbs to press the dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pan/pie plate. You might need to work the dough with your fingers to help it spread out so that it reaches the upper lip of the tart pan/pie plate. Place tart crust/shell into into an oven preheated to 350°F and bake crust for about 10-12 minutes, or until light golden brown. (Do not bake the crust for much longer, or it will become hard and burnt when the tart is baked. It still needs to be baked first, as the crust needs to solidify a bit in order to keep it from becoming porous and thus, too soggy after the filling is added.) When the crust has finished baking, remove them oven and let cool completely. Then cover pie shell in wax paper, weigh down with a pie beads (or dried beans), and refrigerate for 2 hours minimum, preferably overnight if possible.

Assemble and bake the tart: Remove filling and tart shell from refrigerator, place onto countertop or other clean, level work surface, and carefully add filling, using a spatula to scoop it out into the tart shell a small clump at a time. (If you dump it in all all once, it'll splatter and a few pieces of fruit will most likely go flying. Not that I know this from experience or anything. LOL.) Place tart into a preheated 350°F oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife or fork can easily pierce the filling and come out clean. Tart crust should be a deep golden brown, but not burnt. :) Let cool completely. Either serve immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for future consumption. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: Makes 1 fruit tart, about 9" in diameter, or about 8-10 servings.

Chef's Notes: Please note: The tart crust can be made a day or two ahead of time and then refrigerated until you're ready to bake the tart. The dough for the crust doesn't need to be refrigerated before it's rolled out, as it's very solid and thick, and binds together exceedingly well.

*You can find no sugar added dried cherries at Whole Foods Market. Places like Trader Joe's and Wegmans might also carry them as well, but I know for certain they're carried at Whole Foods because I've bought them there recently. :) I've looked in regular chain grocery stores (like Giant and Safeway), but every dried cherry product I've found there thus far contains refined sugar.

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