May 252010
 
The dessert I made for the Lost party was also tropically inspired.  It looked fancy but was actually the easiest dessert EVER and I was able to prepare basically the whole thing in one commercial break. And who doesn’t love a caramelized banana?  I bet Hurley does.  Maybe a few too many.  Seriously, how did that guy not lose weight after 6 years on a deserted island?  Just another of the many mysteries of Lost…


All you do is quarter the bananas and spread on a tin foil covered baking sheet. Put it in the oven at 450 for 4 minutes. 


While the naners are starting to roast, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and butter (just a little).  Pull out the bananas and top each slice with a little bit of this mixture.  Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes.  


And that is all my friends.  I served them with some nonfat vanilla and caramel frozen yogurt and they were a huge hit.  

Nutritional Highlights: I’m not going to pretend that this is the healthiest thing in the world, but when it comes to dessert, this beats a lot of your options by a long shot.  It involves fruit (this one is especially high in potassium) and only has a little added sugar/butter.  Served with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and it’s just not that terrible.  Sometimes you just need dessert, so you might as well make it a little healthy, right?  You’d never know it with this dessert though.  

Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Roasted Bananas
adapted from Cooking Light

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1-2  tablespoon butter depending on how healthy you want to be (I used 2 😉
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 4 large, firm ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • Low fat or fat free frozen yogurt of your choice
Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 450. 
2.  Quarter bananas and place on to baking sheet covered in tin foil.  Put in the oven for 4 minutes.
3.  While bananas are cooking, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter
4.  Pull bananas out of the oven and spread a little of the sugar mixture over each banana piece.  Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes, until the sugar is bubbly on the bananas.  Mmmmm.
5.  Serve hot with frozen yogurt.  This ish is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
May 252010
 
In honor of the much anticipated (and slightly disappointing) Lost finale last night, and because I like any reason to throw a dinner party, I got together with one of my favorite cooking buddies and planned a Lost-themed menu.  Although we ended up opting for wine over my cocktail idea called “Sun and Jin” (made up of orange juice and Gin), we did make a few things that were inspired by the show and the characters.  I was in charge of the appetizer and the dessert, and Sam took care of the main course.


These tropical shrimp skewers have a delicious glaze made up of pineapple, brown sugar, garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce.  You blend together all those ingredients until they’re smooth.


Then you transfer it to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes until it’s a thick glaze.


While the sauce was glazifying, I put together my cute little skewers.  Alternate Shrimp, red pepper, and pineapple. 


Then you brush the glaze on the skewers and put that side down on a hot grill pan.  While that side is cooking, glaze the other side.  Flip after about 1 minute.  Paint some more glaze on and flip again.  and one more time.  And once more so each side gets a total of about 2 minutes.  They get amazingly carmelized and delicious.


If you want to be crafty/cheesy like me, you can save the top of the pineapple to use as a garnish on the platter.  These disappeared fast and I was sad when they were gone  (which is not how I feel about the show we were celebrating…as much as I loved it, it made my brain hurt and I’m somewhat relieved to be free of it).


Nutritional highlights:  Appetizers are one of those things that I have trouble making “healthy”.  Most of the tastiest appetizers (baked brie, bruschetta, spinach artichoke dip) are made up of some combination of bread and cheese and are lacking in nutrients.  This skewer is high in protein and also has pineapple (magnesium, vitamin C, and Vitamin B1 powerhouse), and red pepper (TONS of vitamin C and A).  There is absolutely no fat added to this dish which is pretty cool and your friends doing the low carb thing will be happy.  Perfect for summer bbq’s and Lost parties.

Pineapple Shrimp Skewers
Adapted from Chow

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups pineapple (about 1/2 of a pineapple) cut into small chunks 
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 20 shrimp
  • 10 small skewers
Directions:

1.  Toss in a blender/food processor: 1 cup diced pineapple, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. Blend until smooth.
2.  Transfer mixture into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in red pepper flakes.  Set aside until you’re ready to use (you can prepare a day in advance if you want)
3.  Skewer shrimp, alternating with pineapple and red pepper (try to cut the pieces to be about the same width as the shrimp so everything will touch the grill grates).
4.  Heat grill pan over high heat.  While it’s heating, paint one side of the skewers with the glaze.  Put that side down on the grill.  Now paint the other side.  After about 1 minute, turn the skewers and again, paint the top side with the glaze.  After another minute, repeat the process.  And one more time (so each side gets two rounds of saucing and grilling).  If you’re using larger shrimp, you might want to make each round a little bit longer but  I used little guys so they cooked really quickly.
5.  Arrange skewers on a platter with the pineapple top if you want to get fancy.  Enjoy!
May 212010
 
When I decided to start this blog, I also decided that I’d venture out side of my cooking bubble.  The bubble involved a lot of chicken, fish, and veggies, but not a whole lot else.  So for my first experience cooking tofu, I enlisted my friend Amanda, ex-roommate and tofu connoisseur.  We chose a whole foods recipe, and I have to admit, it was really good!

 

Well, I guess I should qualify that statement slightly.  Just the way I say Gossip Girl is good…for a CW show, and just the way I say that I’m athletic…for a girl, I’d say that this recipe was really really good…for tofu.  It had great flavor and a pretty good texture after a little finagling with the broiler, but in the end it was still tofu.  First step was to whip up the marinade: Balsamic, Olive Oil, Honey, and Herbs.


Then we tossed in the tofu cubes and let it marinate for about half an hour.  Next time I would maybe let it sit overnight or for a few hours.  We used extra firm tofu and thoroughly and carefully squeezed out all the excess liquid first, cuz apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do with tofu.


Then we spread the tofu out on a roasting pan with some red peppers and put it in the oven.  For the last 15 minutes we added the asparagus pieces because they don’t take as long to cook.  When the tofu wasn’t looking as crispy as we wanted at the end of the roasting process, we removed the veggies from the pan and broiled the tofu for an additional 5 minutes on each side and that was just perfect…for tofu.


Mixed with the asparagus and peppers, it looked pretty great in the end …for tofu. It was delicious hot but also good thrown in a salad the next day for lunch.  


Nutritional Highlights:  Tofu is a great source of protein for those of us (myself included) trying to cut back on their animal product intake.  And, it pretty much absorbs whatever flavor you add to it so it’s very versitle.  But for me, a non-profit-working-recent-grad-recently-financially-independent, the real benefit is that tofu is INSANELY cheap…and not just for tofu.  You can get about 3-4 meals out of one block of tofu, which at TJ’s (trader joe’s) what a whopping $2 and some-odd cents.  Do the math.  


Balsamic and Herb Roasted Tofu
adapted from Whole Foods Market

Ingredients

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey 
1 large clove minced garlic 
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
Sea salt and ground pepper 
16 ounces extra firm tofu 

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
2.  Combine the ingredients for the marinade: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, agave nectar/honey, garlic, oregano, thyme, sea salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. 
3.  Drain the tofu and gently press to remove as much liquid as possible. Cut tofu into cubes. Pierce the tofu in several places with a fork to allow the flavor to permeate the tofu. 
4.  Pour balsamic mixture over tofu and marinate for at least an hour. 
5.  Spread tofu on a shallow 9×13-inch baking pan.  Pour any left over marinade over the tofu.
6.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the tofu and continue to bake an additional 10 minutes. 
7.  Then, assess the crispness factor.  If it’s not brown enough for you (it wasn’t for us), then turn on your broiler and broil for 5 minutes, monitoring closely.  Then turn the tofu pieces and broil for another 5 minutes.  They should be lookin good and crunch by now!  Mix with whatever combo of roasted veggies you like and enjoy!


May 182010
 
There are few things better than a picnic.  To just lay around on the ground for hours with good food and good friends on a beautiful day is just about my favorite thing to do.  So I decided to kick off the picnic season (yeah, it’s a season) by making some awesome sandwiches and trying a new pasta salad recipe.  


Every good picnic needs some healthy fresh fruit, so I decided to cut up some kiwi, cantaloupe, and strawberries.  


Then for the sandwiches–a requirement for a good lunchtime picnic.  I thought of my two favorite sandwiches I’ve had so far in New York.  On the left is my version of the grilled chicken press (the #6) from Grey Dog’s: grilled chicken, pesto, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and spinach.  On the right is my personal favorite…my version of the brie, green apple, arugula and honey mustard sandwich from Penelope.  The key is this honeycup mustard which is super spicy and sweet.  Probably my favorite condiment in the world.  And I don’t say that lightly.

    

 

But the real star of this post is this healthy pasta salad.  Pasta salad is one of those things that can be a bit of a let down.  You think noodles and you think it’s gotta be delicious, but then it’s often lacking flavor and freshness.  Well not this one.  With zucchini, tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, chickpeas, Parmesan, fresh herbs, and a bomb homemade dressing, this pasta salad was by far the best one I’ve ever made/tasted.


It’s especially great for a picnic because the dressing won’t get narsty in the heat like most mayonnaise based dressings. Plus it’s a lot better for you. 


Put it all in a picnic basket or cooler and head to your favorite park: Central, Bryant, Madison Square, Prospect…you pick.  But the view from the Sheep’s Meadow in Central park really can’t be beat.  



Nutritional Highlights:  By adding chickpeas, lots of veggies, and a mayonnaise free dressing to whole wheat pasta, pasta salad is no longer something you need to avoid.  This one is high in fiber and vitamins.  For the sandwiches, try to use whole wheat bread and fresh ingredients.  Plus, you can bring a Frisbee or a mitt and softball and get some exercise after your picnic to make it even healthier!


Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Chickpeas and Vegetables:


Ingredients:

2 cups (before cooking) whole wheat pasta (fusilli works great)
1 can Chickpeas
1 large zucchini
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Fresh herbs: I used about 3 tablespoons chopped basil and 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dressing:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 shallot, finely chopped 


Directions:


1.  Bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta as directed, until al dente (this is important! no one likes mushy pasta salad).
2.  While it’s cooking, cut zucchini into quarters and then slice.  I sauteed it in a tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes over medium heat to soften and brown it slightly and to bring out the flavor.  You can also just throw it in raw if you prefer.
3.  For the dressing, simply whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.  
4.  Strain pasta and put in a bowl.  Let it cool for a few minutes.
5.  To the pasta, add cooked zucchini, raw halved grape tomatoes, can of chickpeas (drained), fresh herbs, Parmesan, and salt and pepper.
6.  Pour dressing on gradually, mixing pasta salad and tasting until it is coated to your liking with the dressing.  
7. Pack everything up and go have a picnic!! This would also be great to serve at a BBQ or as a side dish with dinner.  Enjoy!

May 122010
 
About a week ago, my life improved drastically.  It was in the 70’s every day and I began to remember all the incredible things that come along with spring in New York:  picnics in central park, jogs along the river, brunches outside, sundresses, and walking everywhere because there’s no reason to get in a cab.  But just as soon as we got a delicious taste of spring, they went and ripped it away.  Rain.  Cold.  Misery.  It’s back, and I was mad and hungry.  So I made something warm and comforting to make it just a little bit better.


This variation on Chicken Cacciatore is definitely healthier than what you’d get in a restaurant, but surprisingly enough, just as tasty.  Giada pulled through again with this one.  The first step was to brown the chicken.  I used to be severely against dredging chicken (just ask my mom).  Because, obviously, that teaspoon of flour that sticks to the chicken would make me incredibly fat.  Guess what, I was crazy.  Not only does it add such a minimal amount of carbs/calories, but it creates this beautiful brown color that you just wont get without it.  I even used whole wheat flour to avoid the refined stuff.


After you brown the chicken, you remove it from the pan and work on the sauce.  The vegetable base is onions and red peppers, but I also added mushrooms because I love them and it seemed to go with the theme.  If you don’t like them, just follow Giada’s version.  Add the vegetables to the pan with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and saute.  Add the wine and simmer the mixture so it begins to reduce.  Finally add the tomatoes, broth, and oregano. 



Bring the sauce to a simmer and put the chicken back in the pan.  Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.  This chicken is so moist and tender, and the sauce is authentic and flavorful.  I served it over some whole wheat pasta with as simple salad and it made a great rainy night meal.  Still pretty angry that spring taunted me, but it’ll be back…


Nutritional Highlights:  If you read this post, then you know that all the ingredients in here are healthy.  It’s a low fat/calorie meal that’s high in vitamins and protein.  So I’m going to tell you, instead, why you should make this recipe with organic chicken breasts.  Yeah, it’s more expensive, but even I, the impovershed non-profit worker,  always spring for organic when it comes to meat.  Non-organic chickens are fed antibiotics, kept in terrible conditions and, because of this, are prone to all sorts of diseases.  I even read that chicken feed often contains an arsinic based additive.  Pretty sure that’s not good for you.  Organic birds are NOT fed antibiotics, live in a cleaner environment, and are reared for at least 81 days, allowing them to grow at their natural rate (unlike conventional chickens that are pumped with growth hormones and only grow for 42).  Just buy organic chicken. It’s worth the price bump.  

Chicken Cacciatore

adapted from foodnetwork.com, recipe by Giada

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, for dredging
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers (I left them out because I don’t really like them, but feel free to throw um in there)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

1.  Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to lightly coat.
2.  In a large heavy saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Set chicken aside.
 3.  Add the last tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and saute the mushrooms, bell pepper, onion and garlic tover medium heat until the onion for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 
4. Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes so the wine can reduce. Then add the tomatoes, chicken broth, capers (if you want) and oregano. 
5.  Put the chicken back into the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally and covering with sauce.
6.  Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve!!  
May 102010
 
I have a resolution for this spring and summer, and so I’m professing it here to all of you so I’ll be forced to stick to it.  At least once every 2 weeks, I vow to go to the farmers market in union square, and pick out some sort of local, organic produce that I have never cooked with before.  So far on my list are: fresh artichokes, rhubarb, beans in the pod, beets…and the list will continue to grow.  My first trip to the farmers market was a little overwhelming and it’s also early in the season so I played it a safe and bought some really cool potatoes.   By really cool potatoes, I mean a bag of mini heirloom potatoes of all different shapes, sizes and colors.  Hence, cool potatoes.


So instead of finding a recipe and then getting the ingredients like a normal person, I had an ingredient and just needed to find a recipe to do it justice.  I went to the two sites I usually check first: my favorite cooking blog, smittenkitchen.com, and epicurious (website with the recipes from bon apetit and gourmet magazines).  Soon after I began my recipe search, I found this recipe on BOTH my favorite sites so I knew had to make it.  And this recipe, turned my cool potatoes, into quite possibly the worlds tastiest potatoes.  Also, can we talk about the fact that these colors exist in nature????



This impressive side dish is SO easy to throw together.  All you do is mix together whole grain dijon mustard, olive oil, the tiniest bit of butter (deep breath—it’s ok),  lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and salt.  You toss your washed and cut potatoes in the mixture and spread them on a roasting pan. 


After about 40 minutes and a few turns, these potatoes get crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  And the mustard mixture gives them flavor that was unlike anything I expected.  Make these.  Even if you use normal, less cool potatoes, I bet this recipe will be just as tasty.  


Nutritional Highlights:  Unfortuantely for our friend Mr. Potato head, he got a pretty bad rep due to the low carb/Adkins/south beach diet fads (lameee).  It didn’t help Mr. Potato, that people usually consume him in the form of fries, chips, or even baked but drowning in butter, sour cream, or cheese.  I’m here to say that even though potatoes do have carbs, they are also a natural, low calorie, high fiber food that can help protect against heart disease and cancer.  When prepared properly, and eaten in moderation, potatoes can be a healthy, inexpensive, and delicious part of your diet.  


Mustard-Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2007
Supposed to make 5 servings, but 3 of had no problem cleaning the plate…


Ingredients:

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons (1/4 stick or 1/2 ounce) butter, melted
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 1 big, one small)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel (I left this out by accident so it’s your call)
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, pepper to taste
1.5 pounds of small mixed potatoes, cut in half

Instructions:


1.  Preheat to 425°F and spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. 
2.  Mix mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel (optional), and salt in bowl.
3.  Add potatoes and toss in the mustard mixture. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and toss the potatoes until they’re evenly coated. 
4.  Spread potatoes in single layer on the roasting pan. 
5.  Roast for 20 minutes, turn potatoes (actual potatoes, not the pan), and roast for another 20 minutes.  
6.  Transfer to a serving platter and enjoy.  Double the recipe for big groups.  

May 052010
 
To some, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday commemorating the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (thanks Wikipedia). But to me, it’s an excuse to eat Mexican food, drink margaritas, and maybe even sport a festive sombrero. I know that might sound ignorant, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me because this recipe is that good. For my less than authentic feast, it seemed fitting to select a recipe from an American chef who specializes in Mexican inspired dishes—Bobby Flay. The first step of my Fifth of May meal I did the day before…making the (amazing!) tomatillo salsa. Although the flavor was complex, making it was not. You just lay out all the ingredients on a roasting pan and toss with some oil.


Then you roast them for half an hour. As you can see from my pictures, I halved some of the tomatillos and jalapenos but upon further reading I think you can definitely leave them whole.


Then you blend together the roasted tomatillo/garlic/jalapeno/onion mixture with some lime juice, cilantro, and honey, leaving you with a lovely, very professional looking salsa with incredible flavor.


The salmon was pretty easy to make as well. The glaze is a mixture of chili powder, honey, and mustard. Start by grilling for 3 minutes, skin side down. Brush with the glaze and flip. Wait another 3 minutes, cross your fingers that yours doesn’t stick like mine did, and flip again. The stickage wasn’t horrible, but next time I’d maybe try some non stick spray or a better tool to flip with. Brush again with the glaze and let fish continue to cook until it is done to your liking. I like mine cooked through so that was about another 3 minutes.


Top with a little bit of the tomatillo salsa. The flavor of the sweet salmon glaze against the spicy/tangy salsa is so tasty. You also might be wondering, what’s that awesome looking quinoa on the side and how do I make it? Well stay tuned because that recipe will be up soon!


Nutritional Highlights: I can’t say enough about the nutritional benefits of Salmon. It’s constantly on those “top 10” foods lists because of the Omega 3 content among many other things. This salsa, and most salsas in general, is great for you, with few calories and virtually no fat (other than a tiny bit of oil for roasting), and this version adds variety to my diet by incorporating tomatillos, something that I rarely (if ever) eat. Plus, the spice in this dish will kick up your metabolism and keep you full.




Tomatillo Salsa:



 Ingredients-
– One pound tomatillos
– ½ red onion, roughly chopped
– 6 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
– 2 large jalapenos, stems cut off
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– ¼ cup fresh lime juice
– 1.5 tablespoons honey
– ¼ cup cilantro leaves (I used a little less)



Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375. Spread tomatillos, garlic, Jalapenos, and onion on roasting pan. Toss with oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast for 35 minutes.
3. Transfer to blender and add lime juice, cilantro, and honey. Puree until smooth. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to serving bowl or store in fridge for future use.



Chili-Honey Glazed Salmon:


Ingredients:
– 4, 6 oz salmon filets
– 2 tablespoons honey,
– 1.5 teaspoons chili powder (recipe called for ancho chili powder but I used the regular stuff cuz I’m cheap and/or lazy)
– 1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
– 1 tablespoon (ish) vegetable oil
– Salt and pepper



Directions:



1. Heat Grill (or grill pan). Brush salmon with oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Once grill is hot, put salmon in, skin side down and grill for about 3 minutes. Brush the top and sides of the salmon with the glaze. Flip it.
3. Grill for another 3-4 minutes. Flip it back over, hopefully with minimal sticking. Brush again with the glaze and cook until it’s done to your liking. To tell if it’s done, flake the fish with a fork at the thickest point. I like it cooked through but some people prefer it a bit rarer so use your judgment.
4. Top with or serve on the side the tomatillo salsa. Enjoy!