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Archive for March, 2010

I don’t love salad, but I have found that adding some fresh herbs and avocado can make it really delicious and filling.  I’ve been avocado obsessed lately and I’m convinced they can make almost anything better.   

I also really like to make my own dressing.  It’s easy, fine, not as easy as taking the lid off of a bottle, but still really easy and fresh. 

I keep getting distracted by Dancing with the Stars so here’s the components for a yummy salad, use them  in whatever amounts you like.

  • Mixed Spring Greens
  • Roma Tomato, chopped
  • Cucumber, chopped
  • Chickpeas
  • Fresh Dill
  • Avocado, diced

This is the dressing I had with this salad.  Just whisk it all together.

Honey Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • A variation to the salad is replace the dill with fresh cilantro and the chickpeas with black beans.

    Coming up later this week:

    • Sautéed spinach with leeks and mushrooms
    • Carrot salad with ginger and cilantro
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    My family loves seafood, especially salmon and tilapia.  I stumbled across this recipe when I wanted to do something a little different with the tilapia my husband brought home from Costco.  (I love Costco!)  It is very easy, extremely quick and my 3 and 4-year-old ate it up!  I served it with oven roasted broccoli and baked potatoes.  In retrospect I should have served brown rice and poured the juice from the pan all over it because it was super yummy delicious.  The cooking time on this really depends on the thickness of the tilapia fillets.  Mine were about ¾ inch thick in the middle and took 15 minutes, thinner fillets would take more like 8 – 10 minutes.  If you don’t have pineapple juice substitute lemon juice or orange juice.

    4 (6 ounce) tilapia fillets, without skin

    2 garlic cloves minced

    ¼ cup pineapple juice

    4 tsp. soy sauce

    1 tsp. sugar

    ½ tsp. salt

    2 tbl. olive oil

    Garnish:  thinly sliced scallions

    Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 450°F.  Oil a baking dish just large enough to hold fillets in one layer.

    Arrange fish in baking dish.  Stir together garlic, pineapple juice, soy sauce sugar and salt in a small bowl.  Whisk in oil until well blended, then pour vinaigrette over fish.

    Bake fish until just cooked through, 8-10 minutes.  Sprinkle with scallions.

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    Chocolate, I Love You

    There are times when chocolate is necessary.  If I don’t happen to have a bar of chocolate lying around I usually have the ingredients to make one of my two favorite chocolate recipes.  My mother always made everything from scratch when I was young.  When I was 9 and a neighbor came over and asked if we had a brownie mix she could “borrow” I had no idea what she meant.  It’s so much yummier when you make it yourself, and really not that much more difficult.  And even if all the ingredients aren’t necessarily healthy or good for us, at least we can pronounce them all.

    Dark Chocolate Shortbread is easy, rich, and not too sweet.  The Fudgy Brownies are an adaptation of a Gourmet Magazine recipe that I really wanted to make but only had Dutch-process cocoa and not the unsweetened baking chocolate the recipe called for.  The result was great so I’ve made them the same way ever since.  Enjoy!

    Dark Chocolate Shortbread (makes 16 wedge-shaped cookies)

    1 stick (8 tbl.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

    ¼ cup sugar

    ½ tsp. vanilla extract

    1/8  tsp. salt

    ¾ cup all-purpose flour

    ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

    Blend butter, sugar, vanilla, and  salt in a bowl with a fork until well combined.  Add flour and cocoa and blend with a fork just until a soft dough forms.

    Divide dough in half .  With floured fingertips, pat dough into two  6 inch rounds on an ungreased large baking sheet.  Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm, about 30 minutes.

    Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

    Prick dough all over with fork.  Bake until centers are dry to the touch and edges are slightly darker, about 15 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet on a rack for 10 minutes, then cut each shortbread into 8 wedges (while still warm) with a large heavy knife.  Transfer to rack to cool completely (or just start eating them at this point).

    Fudgy Brownies 

    1 stick butter, cut up

    6 tbl. unsweetened dutch-process cocoa

    2 tbl. canola oil

    1 cup sugar

    2 large eggs

    ½ tsp. vanilla extract

    1/3 cup flour

    ¼ tsp. salt

    Place rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 325°F.  Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan, knocking off excess flour.

    Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium size (microwave safe) mixing bowl.  Add the cocoa and canola oil and stir with a fork or small whisk until well combined.  Add the  sugar, eggs and vanilla, then beat until well combined.  Stir in flour and salt until just combined.

    Pour batter into baking pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

    Cool completely in pan, then cut into 16 bars.

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    So I’ve been reading YOU: On a Diet, which is really interesting by the way, and Doctors Oz and Roizen really want us all to eat more cooked tomatoes.  Tomatoes contain lycopene which is full of antioxidants that  reduce the risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.  I have no idea of what macular degeneration is but it sounds bad and I’m sure you’ll google it if you want to know.  The amount of all this good stuff is concentrated in cooked and canned tomatoes.  I love pasta with tomato sauce but the family would probably get sick of it if we had it 3 times a week.  I came up with this pizza because its super easy, the crust is just a whole wheat tortilla, and it has whole grain, tomato sauce, cheese for protein and veggies all in one.  I like to use jarred pasta sauce because I can screw the lid back on and heat it up later in the week with some cream cheese mixed in for cheesy tomato spaghetti.

    Lean Ham and Pineapple Pizza

    Seriously Simple Personal Pizza is extremely versatile, make it any way you like.  Kids can make their own pizza, keeping them busy for a few minutes and making them feel important.  Use good quality olive oil based pizza or pasta sauce.  Poorer quality sauces might have the dreaded and evil high fructose corn syrup, (see below if you want to know why it is so evil), and they usually have a higher water content that makes the crust soggy.  Don’t limit yourself to mozzarella cheese, use whatever you or your kids like.  We usually use Colby jack, and a sprinkle of Parmesan.  It’s a fun way to have your kids help cook and its fast and I’m fairly sure healthy – as long as you don’t use half a pound of cheese on one pizza.

    You will need:

    • Whole wheat burrito or enchilada sized tortillas (Check the label for wholesomeness, but I usually get the store brand ones because they are slightly thinner and get crisper)
    • Pizza or Pasta sauce (about 1/4 cup per pizza)
    • Cheese (about 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup per pizza)
    • Whatever toppings you like, ham and pineapple, mushrooms, red and green bell peppers, onions, spinach, leftover rotessiere chicken, olives. 
    • You will also need non-stick cooking spray and cookie sheets.  One cookie sheet per 2 pizzas

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray the cookie sheets with cooking spray.  Top your tortilla crust with about 1/4 cup of sauce.  Use more if you like a lot of sauce but your pizza may not get crispy in the middle.  Top sauce with cheese and other toppings.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes on lowest oven rack.  If you are using 2 cookie sheets use the 2 lowest racks and switch them halfway through.  Let them rest for a minute of two before slicing.  Enjoy! (seriously)

    The Sweat of the Devil, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)  

    My new friends Doctors Oz and Roizen say that your body doesn’t even recognize HFCS as food because it is so remarkably unnatural.  When you eat calories from a healthy food like nuts your brain recognizes the right kind of calories and sends “I’m satisfied” messages to you brain so that you stop eating when you’re full.  That part of your brain can’t recognize HFCS so your desire to eat is less inhibited and you eat more of the “bad ” food because your brain doesn’t think you’re satisfied.  Not only do you eat more of the processed food item at the moment you may eat again sooner because you still feel hungry. 

    It really is a fascinating book, a little technical, but it explains so much about why we eat the things we do and how it all affects the way we think and feel and vice versa.  They also have YOU: The Owner’s Manual which contains a lot of the same info, but isn’t focused on weight loss.  For more info www.realage.com.

     

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    I have wavered back and forth on the issue of whole wheat pasta for the last 10 years or so.  You didn’t know it was an issue?  I’m making it one.  Years ago I decided I liked it because I frequently made a pasta dish with lots of olive oil, basil, crushed red pepper, and a ridiculous amount of parmesan cheese.  Sometimes I added kalamata olives.  This concoction would make sardines taste super yummy, so I can’t use this as my guide.  More recently I placed whole wheat pasta in the super gross category because Ragu didn’t cover the flavor very well and I just didn’t like the texture.  After having kids I have had to rethink yet again because my kids love pasta, and I don’t want to deprive them of pasta.  We eat everything else in its whole grain version, whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, so why not whole wheat pasta?  The answer is….build up, build up….wait for it, wait for it….

    its Super Gross!

    Actually, I do only use whole wheat pasta.  After some experimentation and trial and error, I have decided that it can be yum.  My kids don’t seem to care, they eat it like its yum, and who am I to argue with them?

    First, buy the skinny pasta, the small fat varieties makes the texture more prominent.  I only use spaghetti.  Macaroni or rotini are too fat.  Second, cook it for one minute less than the shorter cooking time listed on the box.  I cook  spaghetti for 8 minutes.  Third, drain it – do not rinse it!  Fourth, cook or heat whatever sauce you’re using in a pan large enough to accommodate all the sauce and the cooked spaghetti.  After you have drained the pasta add it to the pan with the sauce.  I learned from the Sopranos, you know the episode where Ralph explains to Rosalie the secret of cooking good “Macaroni and Gravy”, the hot pasta absorbs a little bit of the sauce adding flavor.  That is also the reason you cook it one minute less because it will be absorbing more water.  Unless you like your pasta mushy then by all means cook it longer.  Back to the point.  After you stir around the pasta and sauce for a minute or two its ready to serve and already combined!  When I was a kid my parents always plopped the plain pasta on the plate then put a spoonful of sauce on the middle of it, then all the pasta in the middle was coated and the poor noodles on the edges didn’t get enough.  I had a rough childhood.  So here is a recipe that you can try at home. If you are a vegetarian obviously omit the scallops and add, hmmmm I don’t know, chopped kalamata olives and a little parmesan.  Enjoy!

     Spaghetti with Bay Scallops, Fennel and Tomatoes (adapted from bon appetit magazine) serves 4, start to finish 30 minutes if you’re really organized) Calories 457 Fat 13g Fiber 6g

    8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti

    3 tbl extra virgin olive oil, divided

    1 medium fennel bulb, very thinly sliced, plus one tbl chopped fennel fronds

    1 medium onion, halved, thinly sliced

    1 pound bay scallops

    1 6 ounce container cherry tomatoes, halved if large (I forgot to buy them, so I used chopped romas)

    1 tbl Pernod, or dry vermouth works too

    4 tbl chopped fresh parsley

    juice of half a lemon

    Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.  Drain, reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.

    Meanwhile, heat 2 tbl olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium  to medium high heat.  Add sliced fennel and onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Saute until wilted but crisp-tender, about 6 minutes.  Using slotted spoon transfer to medium-sized bowl.

    Add remaining 1 tbl of oil to skillet.  Add scallops and saute until just opaque in center, about 2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon transfer to bowl with fennel and onions.  Add tomatoes to skillet and saute until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Return scallops, fennel and onions to skillet.  Mix in Pernod (or vermouth).

    Add drained pasta to skillet; toss to coat (use tongs), adding reserved pasta cooking liquid 1/4 cup at a time if it seems dry (I added almost all of it).  Stir in parsley and fennel fronds.  Transfer to a large shallow bowl, or just leave it in the skillet if you don’t want to have to wash another large vessel.  Squeeze lemon juice all over.  Top with Parmesan if you like, the purists will never know.

    a special thanks to my good friend Lindsey for declaring she hates whole wheat pasta on Facebook sometime last year, it got me thinking

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    I cannot keep a houseplant alive.  They all die at my hands whether I water, don’t water, diligently pay attention or ignore.  We have one plant in the house, some kind of succulent that refuses to die.  In college I had two cacti that died very soon after I acquired them, although much later on I learned that both my roommates were watering the cacti everyday, so maybe that one wasn’t my fault.  Anywho I seem to have some luck with plants of the outdoor sort, especially my veggies and herbs from last summer.  Growing time will soon be upon us, even though the weather in Cincinnati is pure yuck right now.  So this year I’m going to plan ahead and plant before the middle of June.

    I am a landowner, I have a yard, it’s even big enough for a garden, but I choose to plant in containers.  My backyard borders “the woods” as I like to call it, and a large variety of wildlife and insects and other unsavory critters live there making a backyard garden difficult for me to maintain without a 20 foot barbed wire fence. 

    Last year I planted and successfully grew tomatoes, red bell peppers, basil, mint, thyme, oregano and parsley.  And yes that is in fact a Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter as you may have seen on tv.  But before you ask incredulously, “Oh my gosh did you actually buy that off the infomercial?”, no I didn’t, I got it from QVC, so there!    

    The ability to walk outside your back, or front door, and cut fresh herbs or to pick a fresh tomato is surprisingly rewarding.  I found myself finding and creating recipes so I could use as many of my homegrown ingredients as possible.  

    It was also fun for my kids (they’re 3 and 4 and still easily entertained) to help water and pick things too.  We also had this insane pear tree that had so many pears on it that it almost broke in half despite my efforts to prop it up by whatever means necessary.  I even crossed the line into tacky by using PVC pipe to try to keep it upright.  I did not however go so far as to tie it with rope to the drain pipe on the corner of the house, which was suggested.  There would have been no crossing back after that.

    This year I plan on planting my container garden again along with some non-container experiments as well.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

      

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