Monday, August 30, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower

Mac and Cheese is one of those dishes that is easily manipulated for increased health points. Adding vegetables, subbing wheat pasta for white, and using less of a more flavorful cheese are all easy changes that add vitamins, reduce fat, but maintain flavor. This modified version is so healthy, that a hearty serving is mighty filling without all of the heaviness characteristic of traditional baked casseroles.

I made several modifications to the recipe below which I eagerly retrieved from another recipe blogger, Tina. Ingredients that I changed are indicated with an asterisk in the original recipe provided below. Here are some notes about my changes...
  • Instead of fresh cauliflower I used a 16-ounce bag of the frozen vegetable. According to the National Institutes of Health, "Generally, vegetables are canned or frozen immediately upon harvest when their nutrient content is at its peak." Knowing this, there is virtually no excuse for skimping on your veggie intake; vegetables in the freezer section of your grocery store are almost often conveniently packaged in pre-sliced, par-cooked form. All that stands between you and their nutritional benefits is a little thawing. (Enter our favorite appliance: the microwave.) It came as a suprise to me to learn that cauliflower is a significant source of Vitamin C. For more information about this vegetable, check out its federal profile on the CDC website.
  • Instead of bread, I used 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs with 1 piece of wheat bread and some multigrain pita chip crumbs.
  • Instead of 1% milk, I used skim, because it was what I had on hand. I suppose the small addition of fat from the milk would make this even creamier.
  • Instead of sour cream, I used plain, nonfat yogurt, making this dish a calcium power-punch. Eating 3 daily servings of low-fat dairy products can offer a number of health benefits; advantages can include increased bone strength, maintanence of healthy weight, and improved heart function and healthy blood pressure. More about these dairy-induced gains is provided by the National Dairy Council.
The Edibles:
  • 12 oz. multigrain elbow macaroni (or any smallish pasta)
  • 1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped*
  • 4 slices multigrain bread, torn*
  • 1/2 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 & 1/2 c. (6 oz.) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 & 1/2 c. reduced-fat sour cream*
  • 1/2 c. 1% milk*
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
The Making:
  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the cauliflower during the last 3 minutes of cooking time; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse the bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Add the parsley, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and pulse to combine; set aside.
  3. Return the pasta pot to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil (I used non-stick olive oil cooking spray). Add the onion, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, just until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Mix in the pasta, cauliflower, cheese, sour cream, milk, and mustard.
  4. Transfer to a shallow 3-quart baking dish that has been greased with non-stick olive oil spray, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Yield: Makes 6 servings

Estimated Nutrition Facts per Serving (For Original Recipe)
Calories: 537; Fat: 23g (sat 9g); Cholesterol: 51mg; Carbohydrate: 63g; Sodium: 692mg; Protein: 24g; Fiber: 8g; Sugars: 8g

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Edamame Power Hummus

Some call edamame the super or wonder vegetable because it is the only vegetable that contains all nine essential amino acids. This makes edamame a complete protein source, similar to meat or eggs. Edamame also contains isoflavonoids. They are found in all soy products and are being studied for their health benefits.
Although most researchers agree that further research is needed, recent studies propose the following possible health benefits of soy:
  • Soy protein may help reduce insulin resistance, kidney damage, and fatty liver in people with diabetes, according to a study in rats.
  • A new study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicated that soy protein containing isoflavones (phytoestrogens) significantly reduced overall cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol, and raised HDL or "good" cholesterol, especially in men.
  • A study in women reported that regular consumption of soy foods was associated with healthy cholesterol levels.
  • The component thought to be at least partly responsible for soy's health benefits is a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones. Isoflavones also appear to work with certain proteins in soy to protect against cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  • Results from a new study in China suggest that eating more soybean protein may help prevent and treat hypertension.
  • A study in which 12 postmenopausal women drank 36 ounces of soy milk daily for 16 weeks noted an anti-inflammatory effect of the isoflavones found in soy. According to the study authors, this may be important in the prevention of bone loss and cancer, among other things.
I found my edamame pre-shelled in the frozen foods section of Trader Joe's. It is rarely sold fresh, but it is available frozen year-round. Don't fear frozen veggies; studies have shown that they can be just as--if not more--nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Of course, some taste better when eaten fresh (zuchinni and asparagus to name a few), but edamame is one vitamin powerhouse that maintains its punch (and subtle crunch) when thawed.
The Edibles:
  • 3/4 of a 16-oz. can of garbanzo beans (also known as chick peas)
  • 1/2 c. edamame, shelled
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic (or the equivalent in jarred or powdered)
  • generous sprinkling of fresh or dried parsely
  • generous shake of ground coriander
  • light sprinkle of onion salt (alternatively you could use onion powder generously)
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
The Making:
  1. Whir together all the ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for prime flavor-age. Conversely, you can be like me and excitedly use any vessel on hand to deliver your Edamame Power Hummus straight to your tongue. Store in a sealed container for maximum one week.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tomato & Basil Stuffed Pork with Balsamic Reduction

Barry the Basil plant has reached adolesence! He may not be big, but I did what I feel was adequate research into the harvesting of basil leaves and determined his time had come.

Feeling that his debut could be anything but ordinary (in other words, a marinara sauce with basil simply would not do), I conjured up this recipe based on the ingredients I had on hand... and the ingredients I love.

Fresh, summery tomatoes? Check.

Creamy, locally-produced feta? Check.

Apartment-grown basil? Check!
And then there's the balsamic vinegar... I don't know about you, but I cannot get enough of a good balsamic reduction. In fact, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I will say that it took everything I had in me not to lick this plate clean. (Finger-to-mouth swipes did the job quite well, so don't you worry; my restraint was due to the void of balsamic to lick!!)
The Edibles:
  • 4 pork chops, flattened to 1/2-inch thickness
  • Italian dressing, enough to coat the chops for marinading
  • 1 tsp. choved garlic (about 1 clove)
  • 1/4 white onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, diced into small peices
  • 2 T. (about 4-6 leaves) fresh basil, finely diced
  • 2 T. feta cheese
  • 1 c. balsamic vinegar
The Making:
  1. Marinate chops in a sealed plastic bag for at least 1 hour up to overnight. Flip bag whenever you think of it; massage the chops to get them super flavor-infused
  2. Spray a small non-stick sauté pan with non-stick olive oil cooking spray. Place over medium heat; after 30 seconds over heat add chopped garlic. Heat for an additional 30 seconds, stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add diced onion; cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, basil, and pepper and cook for an addition 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  3. After cooling, add feta to onion-tomato-basil mix. Stir to incorporate.
  4. Remove chops from plastic bag; discard mariande. Prepare each chop by placing about 1/4 cup of tomatoey mix in the center of each chop. Tie with butcher twine, using at least two pieces per chop (three if they're jumbo chops) to secure filling.
  5. Grill stuffed chops over medium-high heat (375-400) for about 20-25 minutes. Check for done-ness at the 20 minute mark by slicing into a thick part of the chop.
  6. While the pork cooks, place balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to medium to medium-high. Allow vinegar to gently boil for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half. The vinegar will be quite viscous, thick, and stickly similar in thickness to acrylic paint.
  7. Once chops are cooked, serve with a drizzle (or heavy-handed spoonful as we like it in this house) of your homemade balsamic reduction.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homemade Almond Butter

The serious female domination in my family has taken on a life of its own. Just recently we've jokingly labeled ourselves (rather proudly, I should add) the Association of Major Boss Ladies. Though some of us younger generations are more appropriately titled, "Major Boss Ladies in Training [MBL(IT)]", the name is perfectly descriptive of our collective bossiness (though we prefer to say that we're just a group of definitive decision makers, movers, and shakers).

Nevertheless, I believe it is an almost unanimous trait (Momo may be the only exception) of all Boss Ladies to have a particular weakness for nut butter. For a group of strong-willed women, we all are hilariously perilous when faced with a jar of creamed nut.

Thus, I decided to make my own nut butter. As a Major Boss Lady in Training, I will be able to control just how much I make and of what exactly it is made. My guess is that this recipe will make about 4 tablespoons. (I only guess because I made mine with about 1/2 as many nuts and didn't measure the outcome before I spread it on toast... perilous, I tell you!)

In theory, 4 tablespoons should be enough to cover at least 2 sandwiches (depending on your shmearing tendencies), and isn't enough to cause serious damage if ingested all at once. Hey, we all have our vices, right? It's about working with them and allowing ourselves a little wiggle room so we don't go crazy!!
The Edibles:
  • 24 almonds, roasted, unsalted
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
The Making:
  1. Grind up ingredients in food processor until you have made a paste. Unless you're fortunate enough to have a heavy duty food processor, it's recommended that you grind for 30 seconds to one minute and allow for 30 second breaks in between sessions. This will help ensure you don't overwork your appliance.
  2. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yummy Yammy Salad

Chicago is hot in the summer. Cost-saving efforts cause us to leave the A/C off until it is deathly blazing. Needless to say, on one particularly hot day for dinner I wanted to make sweet potatoes (mostly because they were the only potato type in the vicinity of our kitchen), but I could not fathom turning on a stove or oven or any other heat-producing appliance. Enter the 20th century marvel: the microwave oven. I cubed the lone potato we had in our possession, plopped it into a microwave-safe Pyrex bowl with about a half-inch of water and covered it with a large plate, and nuked the taters until they were fork-soft.

Upon removing from the miracle wave appliance, I carefully drained the hot water from the dish and tossed in with the dressing. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for prime flavor maximation.

If you have the means, this dish may be improved with the addition of fresh chopped basil. Nom nom nom!
The Edibles:
  • 3 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. honey Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato, cubed and cooked
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste
The Making:
  1. Whisk together first 4 ingredients. Pour over cooked sweet potato cubes. Stir gently to cover cubes with balsamic dressing.
  2. Try a bite. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Another recipe that uses cucumbers? Another that uses tomatoes? You may be sick of these basic veggies (or are they fruits?), but here in this household they're a staple because they're in season, fresh, inexpensive, and above-all, good for you!

The main reason I decided to even post this ridiculously basic recipe is to share the making of the ridiculously delicious dressing for the cucumbers and tomatoes. It is pretty much inevitable that you will not have the spice blend I used on hand, I'm sure it will be just as delicious with some sprinkles of paprika and onion powder... or completely omitted. If you have the means, I highly recommend searching for the Celestial Seasonings blend or a spice blend like it, because the flavors are a great mix that can be used to amp up anything from tofu to pork chops. (A suggestion as a substitute: Perfect Pinch Roasted Garlic Bell Pepper Seasoning from McCormick)

The Edibles:
  • 1 T. rice vinegar
  • 1 T. apple cidar vinegar
  • 1 T. honey dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • hearty shake of Celestial Seasonings "Sweet Peppers and Onions" blend
  • 1 cucumber, zebra peeled & sliced
  • 2 c. cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • sea salt & pepper, to taste
The Making:
  1. Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Pour over cucumber slices and tomato quarters. Stir gently to make sure all of your veggies get covered with some of the dressing's goodness.
  2. Try a bite. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Teriyaki Turkey Burgers

If you have nightmares about smelly, dry turkey burgers, these burgers will turn your world upside-down. Jay has become the teriyaki burger master, and not only do these not smell funky, which a common characteristic of ground turkey, they are way way moist and simply "OMG!"-worthy!!

So where are the "good" pictures of these juicy bad-boys? I know; I know. The ones I've included barely do them justice. I find it hilarious that the only images I have are of them on the grill. Chalk it up to the fact that as soon as they're plated, all I want to do is dive in and enjoy the amazing the meat that just oozes teriyaki goodness. Seeing as we've made these twice in the past month, I have a feeling they'll make a more glamorous appearance in the near future.

The teriyaki we use is special, some might say, "veri veri" special. It's called Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki and it rocks my socks off. If you feel like going all-out, top these burgers with some chopped mushrooms (I prefer portabellas for both in the burgers and on top) sauteed in a little bit of teriyaki. Jay likes his with swiss or meunster cheese, but I'm more of a plain ol' burger kinda gal.

The Stuff:
  • medium bowl (for mixing your meat)
  • grill (for gillin')
The Edibles:
  • about 1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 3/4 c. teriyaki sauce
  • 3/4 c. mushrooms, chopped
  • 3/4 c. plain bread crumbs
The Making:
  1. Preheat grill.
  2. In a large bowl combine bread crumbs, mushrooms, and teriyaki sauce. Add turkey to the mixture and form into 5 patties, about 3/4" thick.
  3. Place patties on grill, cover and cook on medium heat. Patties should take anywhere between 12-14 minutes to cook. Cut into a thicker patty to ensure that they are fully cooked and not pink.
  4. Our favorite way to serve them? On a pretzel roll, topped with meunster cheese and 1/4 c. teriyaki-sauteed mushrooms.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Deviled Tomatoes

A few nights back, as we prepared dinner, Jay mentioned this appetizer in passing, but with a definite "they were ahhhh-mazing." We tend to speak in code. Calling someone else's food, "ahhhh-mazing" is like a challenge to my own, and he knows it. The question was... could I recreate it such that it would produce a similar reaction? I asked for more specifics, and Jay went on to tell me that at a recent backyard gala of sorts a friend's mom served a filling similar to that provided below and spooned it into what I'm guessing were de-seeded grape tomatoes. Feeling less ambitious, I chose to make these using plum tomatoes which would require a less concentrated effort to de-seed.

I'm not going to lie, the bacon does contribute to the depth of flavor, but I think vegetarians could enjoy this bite sans animal and still enjoy it. I recommend making the filling at least 30 minutes ahead of time in order to allow for maximum flavor melding.

"Now, what was the result?" you ask. It was undoubtedly a harried rendition of the inspiration appetizer, but Jay was left speechless.
The Edibles:
  • 1 T. mayonnaise or miracle whip
  • 2 T. greek yogurt
  • 1 T. dijon mustard
  • 2-3 T. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 2 T. real bacon bits (omit if making for vegetarians)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, halved, seeds scooped out
  • chopped chives, sea salt, and pepper to taste
The Making:
  1. In a small bowl mix together first 7 (6 if you're a veggie) ingredients.
  2. Portion out filling into the four plum tomato halves. Top with chives, sea salt, and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve at your most classy of get-togethers.