Thursday, May 23, 2013

Silky Chocolate Espresso Mousse

While I'm not one to really crave chocolate, I do get a taste for something chocolaty now and then. The same goes for coffee. I rarely drink it hot, but I enjoy iced coffee drinks and coffee-flavored desserts. This recipe hits all the right spots. It's silky, creamy and decadent without being too sweet. It's super easy to prepare and is best when left to chill overnight when it magically develops it's light and fluffy texture. If you have never tried silken tofu, and even if you don't like firm tofu in savory dishes, try this!

Silky Chocolate Espresso Mousse
makes 6 servings
16oz box organic silken tofu
2 Tbsp. unsweetened coco powder
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder (plus more for garnish)
1/4 c. agave nectar
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
pinch of sea salt
mini chocolate chips
Drain tofu carefully to remove excess water, be very gentle so it doesn't break apart. Place tofu and remaining ingredients except chocolate chips into a blender container. Pulse a few times then blend at high speed for about two minutes, scraping sides of container half way through. Pour into a bowl with a tight-fitting lid and use a rubber spatula to get every drop from the blender container. Chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Serve with mini chocolate chips and a little espresso powder sprinkled on top.
1 serving has ~123 calories, 15g carbs, 6g fat, 5g calcium, 4g iron, 17g potassium

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Recipe Redo - Spicy, Garlicky Pasta

I've been having fun playing with the recipe calculator on the website I use to log my food. I'm also learning a lot, like not all fruits are created equal. For example 2 whole cups of watermelon contains only 66 calories and 8 grams of sugar, while 1 medium red delicious apple has 80 calories and 16 grams of sugars. And also that I have to pee almost immediately after eating 2 cups of watermelon. Oops, sorry that's probably "tmi".
I've also been enjoying reading a cookbook by Susie Middleton called The Fresh & Green Table. The book is written very lovingly and she strives to relate all the information and experience she has to the reader. Susie is not a vegetarian, but believes in "moving the vegetables to the center of the plate" so most of the recipes in the book are vegetarian or easily adaptable - as in just leave out the bacon. Susie is very detail oriented and specific about preparation and methods. For instance, one ingredient for the following recipe is listed as:
 "1 pound/455g small BROCCOLI FLORETS (from about 4 crowns), cut into pieces about 1 to 1 1/4 in/ 2.5 to 3cm long and 1/2 to 3/4 in/12mm to 2cm wide" 
Chapter 10 is devoted to "Mastering the Basics" including "How to get the best results from a recipe" and "How to slice, dice, chop and process tricky ingredients". I think it's a fabulous cookbook for a beginning/intermediate home cook who wants to be a little more refined and likes to follow recipes to a "T". The book would make a wonderful wedding gift for a young couple, but there are plenty of delicious recipes more experienced cooks will enjoy as well. Susie really knows how to highlight farm fresh vegetables and make them shine so that as a vegetarian, I don't feel like I'm eating a side dish.
The first recipe that jumped out at me was this pasta dish, especially since I already had all of the ingredients on hand. The recipe states that it "serves 3 generously", but after reading it through, I thought probably not if you are trying to lose weight. After entering the recipe into the calorie calculator on the "my fitness pal" website, I found that one serving contained 773 calories, 78g carbs and 48g of fat. While I'm sure it would be delicious as written, I would need to make some adaptations to stay within my calorie budget for the day. So I modified it by cutting back on the olive oil, using dry sun dried tomatoes instead of oil packed, increasing the garlic and red pepper flakes for a little more umph. And lastly I gave it a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavors. I used a whole pound of pasta so it served 6 generously at only 471 calories, 64g carbs and 17g of fat, which was well within my calorie budget and tasted absolutely delicious!
Spicy, Garlicky Broccoli and Cellantani
makes 6 servings
1 lb dried corkscrew-shaped pasta
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb small broccoli florets
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (dry, not oil packed)
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
juice from half of a large lemon
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente, about 9 minutes. Remove 1 cup of cooking water and set aside before draining. While pasta is cooking, place sun dried tomatoes in a small bowl, cover with water and microwave on high about 1 minute, allow to soak in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and finely chop tomatoes. In large frying pan or wok heat oil on medium, add garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly for 1 minute then add broccoli. Cook and stir another minute, making sure garlic doesn't burn. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water and cover with a tight fitting lid to steam the broccoli. When most of water is evaporated and broccoli is softened, remove from heat. Add drained pasta, remaining 1/2 cup of pasta water and goat cheese. Drizzle with lemon juice and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in serving dish and sprinkle with Romano cheese.
Adapted from recipe for Spicy, Garlicky Corkscrew Pasta
from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blue Ribbon Portobello Melt

In the summer of 2010 the San Diego County Fair held in Del Mar, California posted a "Sensational Sandwich" contest. Since I had become vegetarian in January of that year, I was having fun converting favorite recipes and making them veg-friendly. A chicken sandwich from an old issue of Cooking Light came to mind for this particular challenge. I got to work making it my own (which often means adding garlic, lots of garlic), and of course sans-poulet.  My family loved it so I sent in my recipe for consideration. From all entries received finalists would be chosen and would create their sandwiches at the fair in front of a live audience which sounded fun and terrifying. A couple of weeks went by and I had almost given up hope, then I received notification that I was chosen as a finalist! 

On the morning of the contest I gathered my ingredients into a cooler, and stopped at Von's to get a loaf of their freshly made Italian bread (one of the secrets to this great sandwich!).There were three other finalists - a banged-out turkey sub, a turkey sandwich with homemade kumquat marmalade, and a homemade head-cheese sandwich with homemade pickled cherries. I was a little nervous & wasn't feeling very confident, but I prepared my sandwich and chatted with by-standers. Everything went off without a hitch, and I presented the finished sandwich to the runner. While the judging was taking place I had a chance to check out the other sandwiches. I was really hoping that I would place in one of the top spots but I was a little worried about the two turkey sandwiches. I thought the one with the kumquat marmalade would take the top prize and I hoped I'd at least place above the head-cheese (gross!)! It seemed to take forever for the judges to decide. When the winners were finally announced, third place went to the turkey sub, and that confused and scared me.  Second place went to the head cheese and I thought, "Oh no, I didn't even place! I lost to head-cheese - really? REALLY?!" Surely the kumquat marmalade would cinch the win, that sandwich looked delicious. But lo and behold, while all this was going on in my head I think it took me a moment to realize the first place blue ribbon and $150 prize went to my Portobello Melt! I must admit I got a little verklempt... I was honored to have been chosen by a panel of judges over three meat sandwiches (at least I think head-cheese is considered meat?!). 

A man approached me after the contest and joked that it was practically cheating to use brie (I know, right?), but hey - the other contestants could have used brie on their sandwiches too!

Portobello Melt
makes 4 sandwiches

2 cups halved grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil - divided
4 cloves garlic, minced - divided
3 large Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed if desired
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1 loaf crusty French or Italian bread (baguette)
4 ounces brie cheese, sliced 1/4" thick
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
kosher or sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach
Preheat broiler on low
Place tomatoes on a sheet pan covered in foil or parchment. Toss with 1 tsp. olive oil, a fourth of the minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Broil on low, stirring occasionally until most of the tomatoes are broken down and blistered, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place mushrooms on another lined sheet pan. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, a fourth of the minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake on lower rack of oven while tomatoes are broiling about 8 minutes, turning once after 4 minutes. While veggies are cooking, mix mayo, mustard and a fourth of the minced garlic together in a small bowl. Slice bread in half lengthwise and spread mayo mixture onto cut side of top half. Toss spinach with 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt & pepper in a medium bowl. Spread bottom half of bread with roasted tomatoes and arrange brie on top. Slice mushrooms 1/2" thick and arrange on top of brie. Top with dressed spinach. and cover with top half of bread. Cut crosswise into 4 even pieces.

As written, one serving is about 548 calories, which I had room for in my calorie budget due to a light lunch. Next time I think I will slice the bread cross-wise into thin slices which should cut about 100 calories. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Summer is coming! Veggie Spring Rolls

It happens every spring. The weather starts to get warmer, the days get longer, trees and flowers are budding, the same morning dove nests near our front door. I love those things about spring, but the spikes of hot weather warning that summer is just around the corner, not so much. So on a recent day when the temperature climbed into the 90's, I needed to make something that wouldn't heat up the kitchen. These spring rolls fit the bill quite nicely. These are not the square egg roll wrappers, they are round and white, about 8" in diameter and come in a round plastic package. If your grocery store doesn't carry them in the Asian aisle, try a specialty market, Asian grocer, or import store. They take a little time to roll, but totally worth the effort when you bring the platter to the table.
Veggie Spring Rolls
makes 12
12 rice paper wrappers (Bánh Tráng) also called Spring Roll Skins
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 large roasted red bell pepper (fresh or jarred)
1 medium zucchini
1 bunch green onions
1 small cucumber
6-12 white mushrooms
1 bag pre-shredded carrots
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

Gather all of your ingredients and have bowls ready to place each veggie into as you go. Slice the yellow pepper, roasted red pepper and zucchini into julienne (very thin) strips. Trim roots and ends from green onions and slice the bunch diagonally across into thin slivers. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice one half into very thin half-rounds (cut the other half into small dice and keep aside for the noodle salad). Slice the mushrooms thinly.
 Fill a large shallow bowl or pie plate half way with warm water. Place a rice paper wrapper in the water to soak for a minute. Remove wrapper from the water and place on a cutting mat, smoothing out any wrinkles & laying it as flat as possible. Place another wrapper in the water to soak. Lay a small handful of spinach leaves in the middle of the softened wrapper, then lay the other vegetables next to and on top of the spinach. Keep about an inch away from the sides, just lay in a long mound. It's nice to be able to see the colors of the other vegetables through the rice paper, so think about this as you lay the veggies out. Only use a couple of strips of each type, or they will tear when you roll them up. Fold the left and right sides over and towards the center. Carefully lift the end closest to you up and over the top of the veggies. It's somewhat stretchy, so don't be afraid to pull a little. Tuck the veggies in with your free fingers as you roll the wrapper over the top, meanwhile also tuck the sides in where you folded the wrapper towards the center. Once you get the wrapper over to about the middle and past the veggies, it's pretty easy to roll up the rest of the way. You want it to be neat and tightly rolled or it will come apart as you eat it. That's it! Keep rolling the same way until you have used up all the rice paper wrappers and always keep one soaking while you wrap another. Use any veggies you have left over (except the avocado) for the Peanut Noodle Salad below. Serve with Peanut Sauce on the side
Peanut Sauce
makes about 2 cups
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 cup water
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Sriracha Sauce or 1 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Whisk all ingredients in a small saucepan until combined. Heat on low until thickened & bubbly. Add more water if needed to make a drizzling consistency. Adjust spiciness to your taste by using more or less Sriracha/cayenne. Reserve 1/2 cup sauce for the noodle salad below.

Peanut Noodle Salad
makes 8 servings
1/2 cup peanut sauce
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1" piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1# lo mien noodles or any long, skinny pasta
reserved vegetables from wraps above
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
In a bowl, whisk together peanut sauce, vinegar, oil, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly. Finely chop vegetables and add along with diced cucumber reserved from wraps above, and chopped cilantro. Add veggies and dressing to noodles, toss until evenly coated. Place salad into serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Two wraps with 1/4 cup of peanut sauce and 1/2 cup of salad comes in at about 560 calories, mostly from the sauce, but come on, you gotta have the sauce!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Red Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

In a little over two weeks I've lost 6 pounds! Even after spending a long weekend in Tucson with some awesome friends, I managed to stay on track. Admittedly, I allowed myself one cheat day, where I went over my calorie goal - but not by a lot. (I totally caved when I saw the white chocolate raspberry mousse.) The next day I got right back on track & I still managed to lose 3 pounds this week. Yeah me! 
On Friday we ate lunch at a place called AJ's. It's a high-end grocery store in a strip mall in Oro Valley, Arizona. They have a huge deli counter area with all sorts of pre-made deliciousness, similar to Whole Foods, and an outdoor grill area with burgers & sausages. I had veggie sushi rolls and half an acorn squash filled with apples & topped with streusel (heavenly - watch for future post!) Well just about everyone else had a big, fat, juicy hamburger of some kind or another. Even when I used to eat meat, I was never a huge hamburger fan - I'd usually get a fish or chicken sandwich. but these burgers looked really good! So when I got home I just had to make some veggie burgers, and you know what? These bean burgers totally satisfied me. The patty is full of flavor and has great texture, but for me it's all about the salsa. Sweet and spicy at the same time, it makes my tongue sing and dance!

Red Quinoa Black Bean Burgers
makes about 8 patties
2 c. cooked red quinoa
1 c. old fashioned oats
3/4 c. corn masa
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded & diced
2 jalapenos, seeded & diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten (or vegan equivalent)
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
2tsp salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. additional oil for cooking patties
Mango Salsa (see below)
romaine lettuce
 ripe avocado
ripe tomato
slices of raw red or white onion
whole wheat hamburger buns

Saute diced vegetables in olive oil over medium-high heat, until softened and lightly browned about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir in cooked vegetables. Pulse half the mixture in a food processor until beans are mashed and mixture is combined but you can still see some chunks. Add this back to remaining bean mixture and stir together with a large spatula until well mixed. Form into 8 patties and press to about 1/2" thick. I have a 2-ounce cookie scoop, and used three level scoops per burger. Saute in batches in olive oil until crispy and browned about 5 minutes per side. Serve with lettuce, and sliced avocado, tomato and onion if desired, with or without the bun.

Mango Salsa
makes about 2 cups

2 large ripe mangoes
1 large jalapeno (seeded if desired), minced
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
juice from one lime
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

Peel, seed and dice the mango, mix with remaining ingredients. Add salt to taste. Toss well to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

One patty served on a bed of romaine lettuce with toppings and 2oz. mango salsa is about 375 calories, with the bun about 495.

Enjoying a REAL Spring! Chunky 3-Bean Veggie Chili

Having grown up in the Midwest, I really enjoy all four seasons in this order: Fall for the beautiful leaves and crisp days. Winter because given the choice, I'd rather be too cold than too hot, and snow just makes me happy. Spring when the tulips, daffodils and crocuses pop up through the last of the snow. Last and definitely least, is summer. Don't get me wrong, I do not miss the humidity of the Midwest one bit, but it gets really hot here in southern California - 110-112° is not at all unusual. And if you ask me, we don't even get a real winter here, but talk to a local and they will be freezing at 50° - give me a break! The seasons go from summer to fall to spring and right back into summer again. Quite often by the middle of April the temperature is already climbing into the 90's and the kids are jumping into the pool right after school. That's not even what I would call a real spring!

Even though I know summer is right around the corner, we've enjoyed a nice long REAL spring this year. After a rainy February, other than a couple of hot days here and there it's been in the 70's during the day and 50's at night - which means I can still make some chili. This one is chock-full of veggies and gets it's depth of flavor from several different chili powders. All these veggies would tend to water down the flavor, so it calls for quite a heavy hand with seasonings.

Three-bean Veggie Chili
makes 6-8 servings
1 small onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small carrot
1 small zucchini
1 small red bell pepper
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp green New Mexico chili powder
1 Tbsp jalapeno chili powder
3-4 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp finely ground black pepper (or to taste)
15oz. can black beans
15oz. can kidney beans
15oz. can great northern beans
15oz. can petite diced tomatoes
15oz. can crushed tomatoes
6oz. can tomato paste
2 cups water or vegetable stock
Dice onion and mince garlic. Saute in olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Chop remaining vegetables into small dice. Add carrot to pot and cook, stirring occasionally until they begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Add zucchini and green pepper, and cook another minute or two. Add seasonings and stir to coat evenly, saute for a minute or two. Add tomatoes, paste and water/stock. Scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Stir and cook over medium heat until lightly bubbling. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. Add more water/stock if too thick. Serve with minced raw onions and a dollop of plain non-fat yogurt if desired.
1 cup of chili served over half of a large baked sweet potato is about 250 calories

Friday, April 12, 2013

Heirloom Caprese Melt

My local grocery store had some beautiful organic heirloom tomatoes yesterday. I never really loved eating raw tomatoes until I tried heirlooms. This is what a tomato should taste like. Some of the other varieties are okay in a pinch, but given a choice I'll take the heirlooms evey time, thank you very much. For lunch today, I wanted to use up some of the odds and ends in the fridge before I go grocery shopping this weekend. On the counter I noticed the end of a loaf of Italian bread that the rest of the family had with dinner last night, and in a basket next to the bread sat my heirloom tomatoes. Mona Lisa, an Italian grocer and deli in San Diego's Little Italy, makes a delicious caprese sub with fresh mozzarella on crusty Italian bread. That sounded good, but all I had in the fridge was some shredded mozzarella and I was picturing it melted & caramelized, so this is what I came up with:
Heirloom Caprese Melt
(makes 4)
1 small loaf of Italian or French bread (baguette)
3 heirloom tomatoes
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic
1 Tbsp fresh oregano
1 Tbsp fresh basil
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat broiler on low setting. Finely mince the garlic and herbs. Mix 1 tsp of the herb mixture with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cut the bread in half across the middle, then slice each half lengthwise, scoop out some of the soft insides and place cut side up on a sheet pan. Core and slice the tomatoes and arrange on bread halves. Drizzle each with 1 Tbsp of the oil and vinegar mixture. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella, Parmesan, remaining herbs, salt and pepper. Place into broiler, and cook until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, watch carefully so it doesn't burn.
I served this with small hearts of romaine, sliced crosswise, drizzled with remaining dressing and sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese and black pepper.
With the salad, it's about 482 calories per serving.