Dec 302010
 
Maybe you’ve heard about this little blizzard in New York City? If not, come out of the box you live in and listen up.  There was a blizzard…a big one.  The city basically closed down on Sunday and Monday and no one could really get in or out of the city.  I was so glad, when I finally made it back, that I still had some of this in my freezer ready to heat up for dinner.    This vegetable tortellini soup is the kind that warms you from the inside out.  Not so bad to be snowed in with a bowl of this.  




I used whole wheat cheese tortellini and added some extra veggies (duh) to the original recipe I got from my sister, Brea.  Quick side note here: Brea’s idea of cooking dinner usually involves putting some turkey between two slices of bread, whipping up a side of baked lays, and finishing the gourmet meal with a pickle. BUT, this is one of the few things Brea will actually make, therefore you know it’s quick, easy, and worth the effort!  

Nutritional Highlights:  This soup is full of vegetables and is light and brothy.  A few whole wheat cheese tortellini does add some carbs/fat but it makes this soup hearty and a complete meal that won’t leave you hungry.  By getting the whole wheat variety and trying to keep your soup to tortellini ratio appropriate, it’s a completely healthy dinner.














Tortellini Soup

  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tspn parsley
  • 2 tspn oregano
  • 1/4 tspn pepper
  • 1 box frozen spinach or fresh spinach
  • 4 cups chicken broth (or veg)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • whole wheat tortellini
  • Optional add ins: carrots, zucchini, green beans
Directions:  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot.  Add chopped onion and saute for about 5 minutes until onion is soft.  Add minced garlic and seasonings and sautee another minute.  Add the broth, tomatoes, and water and bring to a boil.  Add the frozen or fresh spinanch and any other vegetables, add at this point.  Bring to a boil and let simmer about 20 minutes.  Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Before serving, bring back up to a boil and add the whole wheat tortellini and cook as long as tortellini instructs.  Serve and enjoy!
Dec 222010
 
I had a holiday pot luck lunch at work this week.  I remembered it fondly and with terror from last year.  With about 70% homemade desserts, and 30% deliciously heavy holiday apps and sides, I left the lunch on a jolly sugar high that would crash miserably around 2 pm.  I figured that as resident health blogger, I might as well contribute one dish that would be somewhat healthy but still have a holiday flare.  Thats why I threw together this quinoa, filled with roasted winter vegetables and festive fruit.  I’m glad to say that we all happily made a little room on our cheese, bread, and cake filled plates for some of this high protein, veggie packed dish.  

Key ingredient 1:  Brussel sprouts.  On the vine!



Key ingredient #2 and 3:  Gorgeous winter fruit like organic granny smith apples and my favorite little jems…pomegranate seeds.

 Key Ingredient #4:  Roasted sweet potatoes. Because what holiday is complete without these beautiful spuds?



I love making quinoa because it can be a catch all for any ingredients you want to throw together.  In this case, my random selection of my favorite winter produce + some toasted pecans and goat cheese made a gorgeous, healthy salad, that even among such tempting treats, was a total crowd favorite at the Holiday party!

Nutritional Highlights:  I feel like I’m constantly going on and on about brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes…I’m kind of having an obsessive phase.  Although it shouldn’t be a just phase, because they’re CRAZY good for you.  Cruciferous veggies are high in calcium and sweet potatoes in beta carotene–and both are always finding themselves on “top 10 foods for you” lists.  Pomegranates are up there too, with their antioxidant powers.  And quinoa, even though it looks like your average grain, is packed with protein and low in calories.  

Quinoa with Roasted Winter Vegetables, Fruit, and Goat Cheese

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked according to directions on the box
  • 3 small sweet potatoes peeled, cubed
  • 1 stalk of brussel sprouts, cleaned, halved
  • 2 granny smith apples, chopped
  • Seeds from 1 small pomegranate
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • Apple Cider vinaigrette, recipe follows
Instructions:  While quinoa is cooking, roast vegetables.  Ideal cooking temp for potatoes would be 425 and for brussels 375 but for the purpose of ease of this recipe, you can roast them together at 400 degrees.  Drizzle with olive oil, a little maple syrup, and salt and pepper spread out in one layer and roast for about 30 minutes or until just tender and brown.  Cool quinoa and veggies.  Mix all ingredients including fruit, nuts, and goat cheese.  Toss with a little vinaigrette and enjoy this simple, yet incredibly tasty holiday salad.

Apple cider vinaigrette:  Mix 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/2 finely chopped shallot, 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard, a squeeze of honey, salt, and pepper.  Taste and adjust if needed.  Toss dressing with quinoa before serving.  
Dec 172010
 
Considering Hanukkah ended over a week ago, this post isn’t necessarily the most timely, but I still have to honor my left half.  I realize that probably makes no sense.  See, I’m half Jewish.  When I was younger, kids would jokingly ask me, which half?, so I’d simply answer, the left half.  So ever since then, my left half has been my Jewish half.  I’m sure there’ll be a Christmas post coming soon at you from my right half so stay tuned.  Anyway, what better Hannukah tribute then homemade Matzo Ball Soup and healthified Potato Latkes?

You should also know, this is my very first solo attempt at homemade chicken broth.  Sorry, sweet little organic chicken…you’re about to get boiled.  Along with some parsnips, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, black pepper corns, salt, parsley, and bay leaf. 



Now on to the Latkes.  I went out to get all the ingredients for these latkes, and as I was about to get started, I reazlied I had no mechanism to shred the vegetables.  Kind of a problem.  So what did I do?  I sat down with a knife and cut tiny little pieces of potato and zucchini to get as close to “grated” as possible.  An hour and some sore hands later, I was ready to make latkes.  I mixed mine with egg, whole wheat flour, panko bread crumbs, and parmesan for an extra twist.  I pan “fried” them in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil supplimented with some olive oil spray because I was worried they would stick.  Despite the lack of shredder and large quantaties of oil, these browned up beautifully. 



And while I had originally planned to make some homemade apple sauce with the four apples in my fridge, after the shredding incident (or should I say lack-there-of), I needed something low maintenance.  Good thing I had a jar of motts from last time I baked!

 
 After so many years of marveling (or should I say, kvelling) over my grandmother’s tasty soup, I didn’t think I was capable of making anything nearly as good.  No offense to Grammy, but I was wrong.  This was just as tasty and the matzo balls were the perfect balance between fluffy and firm (I personally like a little firmness in the center).  Although it’s not traditional, I put some of the boiled chicken back in the soup because I like it, and this is only a half Jewish soup so I only have to follow half of the rules. 


Nutritional Highlights:  I didn’t really do anything to “healthify” this soup except for making sure to skim as much fat off of the broth as possible.  But really, Matzo ball soup isn’t so bad as is. One Mazto ball is about 45 calories and a cup of chicken broth is probably somewhere between 30-50.  Not bad at all.  As for latkes, a normal latke is all potato and fried in a lot of oil, making it not much better than french fries.  My version used half potato and half zucchini to lower the carbiness a bit.  I also used one egg/one white to make it a little lighter.  My cooking method was also much lower in fat.  By using only a little bit of olive oil and some olive oil spray, I didn’t add too much fat, but the fat I did add was a good healthy one!

Homemade Chicken Stock
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds chicken necks, backs and wing  (I just used a whole 3.5 pound chicken.  For first timers like me, don’t forget to check if there’s a liver inside the chicken and take that out)
  • 3 celery ribs, cut into big chunks
  • 3 carrots, scrubbed and cut into big chunks
  • 2 parsnips, scrubbed and cut into big chunks 
  • 2 onions, unpeeled and quartered
  • 1 head garlic, cut horizontally in half
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • I also put in a big hadful of parsley to add a fresh, herby flavor


Bring all ingredients to a boil in an 8- to 10-quart heavy pot. Skim froth every half hour or so. Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered for 3 hours.

Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. If using stock right away, skim off and discard any fat. If not, cool stock completely, uncovered, before skimming fat, then chill, covered.



For the Mazto balls:  I used my grandmother’s ancient recipe.  Passed down to my mother.  It goes like this:  buy a box of Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix, and follow the instructions exactly. 


Potato-Zucchini-Parmesan Latkes
Ingredients:
  • 1 medium baking potato (shredded)
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini (shredded)
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (or any kind of bread crumbs you have)
  • 1 egg + 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil/spray for cooking
  • Apple sauce for garnish

Instructions


 Mix first 7 ingredients.  Heat large non-stick pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil or spray liberally with olive oil spray (or a combination of both).  Drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and then flatten with your spoon to form pancakes.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side.  Before flipping, I sprayed the top of the latke with more olive oil spray to prevent stickage.  Repeat process until you have used all your batter.  This recipe made about 12 latkes. 
Latkes are a fun way to be creative.  Try mixing in shredded apple, sweet potato, or butternut squash for healthy twists on this classic!
Dec 132010
 
The last time I was home in Chicago,  I went out for brunch with my sister at a place called “Orange”.  Jenna ordered the oatmeal, but when it arrived at the table, we were a bit confused.  So confused that we stopped the waitress to let her know she brought the wrong dish–because we were certain it was french toast, not oatmeal.  But she assured us that it was indeed, oatmeal.  Intrigued, we tasted it, and it was SO good.  Crispy on the outside and soft and warm in the center.  And thus began my infatuation with pan seared oatmeal, and I became obsessed with finding a way to make it myself.  













I did a little bit of research, and figured out that all you have to do is cook steel cut oatmeal (I sweetened mine with apple cider, brown sugar, and cinnamon) and then spread it out in pan to cool in the fridge.  To my delight/shock, it became solidified enough to cut into triangles.  Then you pan sear it (in butter if you’re crazy) or just with some butter flavored pam to keep it light.  Garnish with any type of fruit, nuts, and dried fruit.  

























Nutritional Highlights:  We all know that oats are healthy, but did you know that steel cut oats are even better for you than the rolled kind?  The rolled oats you usually see go through a whole lot of processing before they turn into that flat oat you know and love.  Steel cut oats go through a lot less processing.  They’re high in fiber and low calorie.  Prepared with skim milk, water, and a little bit of brown sugar for sweetness makes this a filling, high energy breakfast.  I threw in some flax seed and wheat germ too, because why not!  Perfect for an impressive brunch or for an everyday breakfast because they save really well.  I’ve been packing a little tupperware with one triangle, some fresh fruit, and a few nuts–SO good!

  • Ingredients for the Oatmeal:
  • 2  cups  water
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1  cup  fat-free milk
  • 1/4  cup  loosely packed brown sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1 1/2  cups  steel-cut (Irish) oats
  • Cooking spray or butter for searing
  • Topping Ideas: fresh fruit (banana, pear, apple, berries), dried fruit (cranberries, raisin, apricots), nuts (pecans, almonds, hazelnuts)…the possibilities are ENDLESS!

Preparation

Combine 2 cups water, 1 cup apple cider, 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; stir in oats. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon oatmeal into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or until set.
Use a sharp knife to cut the oatmeal into 8 equal rectangles; cut each rectangle in half diagonally to form 16 triangles.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter (or use cooking spray) in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 8 oatmeal triangles; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 tablespoons butter and oatmeal triangles. Top oatmeal triangles with your favorite fruit, nuts, dried fruit, and a drizzle of maple syrup.  
Dec 072010
 
You’ve seen it before, you’ll see it again…another mexican inspired recipe on tush cook.  I know it’s predictable, but when I was pondering how to use a leftover can of pumpkin and stumbled across this twist on black bean soup, I just couldn’t resist.  To go with this unique soup, I made some delicious and surprisingly easy Shrimp Tacos with a warm corn salsa. 


First I made the salsa by charring corn in a pan and then adding diced tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and cilantro.  The shrimp was simply sauteed in garlic, cumin, chili powder and lime juice.  I served them in corn tortillas with some sliced avocado on the side. 

 The Soup was a pretty basic black bean soup but with the addition of canned pumpkin for a fall twist.  Topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and cojita cheese, this soup was such an interesting version of a classic.  You can impress guests with your creativity or just make this on any night of the week.

Nutritional Highlights:  Black bean soup is always healthy–full of protein and fiber and very low in fat.  But with the addition of pumpkin, this soup is unstoppable with alpha and beta carotene providing antioxidant effects.  The body converts these to Vitamin A which promotes healthy vision and ensures proper immune function.  The shrimp tacos are a low fat, high protein meal choice.  While most tacos can be covered in cheese and sour cream, these have a simple, healthy salsa and a touch of avocado for some healthy fat.  


Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa
adapted from Redbook

Salsa:
 1 cup(s) fresh or frozen corn kernals
1 can(s) (14.5 ounces) fire-roasted petite diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers (I used diced tomatoes with green chilis)
1/3 cup(s) finely diced red onion
1/4 cup(s) chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoon(s) fresh lime juice
Shrimp Tacos
8  corn tortillas
1 tablespoon(s) olive oil
1/2 teaspoon(s) minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon(s) ground cumin
3/4 pound(s) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
1/4 teaspoon(s) pepper
1 tablespoon(s) fresh lime juice
(I added a 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder to the mix for a kick)
1 small Hass avovado, peeled, pitted, and finely diced

Directions
  1. Salsa: Heat corn in a dry large nonstick skillet over high heat and cook, tossing corn frequently, 4 minutes or until lightly charred in spots. Add tomatoes and onions; cook 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in cilantro and lime juice. Keep salsa warm.
  2. Tacos: Stack tortillas and wrap in damp paper towels. Place in microwave.
  3. Heat oil, garlic, and cumin in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp, salt, and pepper and cook 3 to 4 minutes, tossing several times until shrimp are firm and cooked through; remove from heat and toss with lime juice.
  4. While shrimp cook, steam tortillas in microwave on high 1 to 2 minutes or until softened. Fill each tortilla with 6 or 7 shrimp and top with warm corn salsa and diced avocado.


Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
adapted from Gourmet 1996

  • three 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans (about 4 1/2 cups), rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup minced shallot
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups beef broth (I used vegetable to keep this vegetarian)
  • a 16-ounce can pumpkin pureé (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Sherry vinegar


Garnish:

  • Garnish: toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and cojita cheese or queso fresco

  • preparation

  • In a food processor coarsely pureé beans** and tomatoes.In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened and beginning to brown. Stir in bean pureé. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and Sherry until combined and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Just before serving, add vinegar and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season soup with salt and pepper.  Serve soup garnished with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.
(** My variation:  Only puree 2 of the cans of beans.  Leave one whole to make the soup a little chunkier and add it when you mix in the bean puree)
Dec 022010
 

It happens every year.  The temperature drops into the 40’s, I’m starting to see my breath in the air on my walk to work, and I’m fighting the transition from my wool coat to my giant puffy coat to delay my inevitable metamorphisis into the Michelin Man.  And right around this time, I start craving italian food.  Warm, tomatoey, comforting, and hearty.  The problem with Italian though, is that it often is accompanied by a mountain of pasta or a puddle of oil or a layer of cheese.  My goal with this recipe was to make a quick, easy, lighter Italian meal that would still fulfill my craving.  Think that looks like pasta under that ratatouille? Think again.




First lets talk sauce, the key to any good italian meal.  The beauty of ratatouille, the sauce not the mouse, is that you can throw in just about any vegetables you have/like, cook them down, and you’re done.  I used traditional veggies like mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, and eggplant.  Instead of using real tomatoes here, I made the process a little quicker and easier by adding my favorite store bought tomato sauce (which is now Trader Joe’s brand arrabiata sauce because it’s so tasty and less than $3 a jar!). 
Now for what goes under that delicious sauce.  Instead of pasta, I used spaghetti squash.  Now this was my first time using spaghetti squash so i really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was kind of picturing having to shred zucchini into spaghetti like strands.  No no no.  After some investigation, I got this big oval spaghetti squash, cut it in half (the long way), scooped out the seeds, and baked it in the oven for about an hour.  When I removed the squash and let it cool, I was shocked to find that just by scraping the flesh with a fork, long spaghetti like strands came out.  It’s a produce miracle.   
Now a little disclaimer on this stuff.  I was obsessed with it…so tasty, and it had a little bit of crunch which I loved.  That being said, I wouldn’t say this is going to fool anyone into thinking it’s pasta.  I wouldn’t show up to my boyfriend’s Italian grandparents house on Sunday (pasta night, of course) and say, hey guys, this time we’re going to use squash instead of pasta.  This stuff will not replace pasta, but hopefully it can be an addition to your diet and substitution to make every once in a while when you’re looking for a lighter dish.

Nutritional Highlights: the stats….
                               Spaghetti Squash      vs        Spaghetti
Calories in 1 cup               42                                   221
Fiber                                 2                                    2.5
Carbs                               10                                    43
Now it may not taste exactly the same as pasta, but when you look at these numbers it’d be hard to choose the pasta.  Plus, the squash has added nutrients like beta carotene, also is known as vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to boost the immune system and maintain healthy eye function. Spaghetti squash also contains significant amounts of niacin, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, and vitamin C.  Topped with this healthy ratatouille and a little basil and parm (hey, can’t have “pasta” without some parm), and you have an incredibly healthy and satisfying meal. 
And this is just one example of what you can do with spaghetti squash! It’s the perfect vehicle for any sauce and toppings you want to try!
—————————————————–
Addendum:  Remember when I posted this without a recipe?  Well I’m sorrrrrrry and here it is!

Cooking Spaghetti Squash:

Method – Baking





If baking whole squash, then pierce the flesh all over with a fork. Bake for 1 hour in a 375F oven. Once tender, cool for few minutes till you can handle it, chop it into half, scoop out the seeds and prepare just as above.
If baking already cleaned and chopped pieces, place them rind side up and bake for 20-30 minutes (or until tender) in 375F oven.
Method – Microwave
You can cook the whole squash in a microwave. But make sure you pierce it with a fork to avoid it bursting inside the m/w. Placing smaller pieces is a better bet.
Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place squash cut sides down on a microwave safe bowl. Cover it with a plastic wrap leaving little to create a steam vent. Cook for about 7-8 minutes (depends on m/w power and side of the squash). If you do not have carousel, then turn the dish every 3 minutes for even cooking.


My Ratatouille Recipe


Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small box white or baby portabello (cremini) mushrooms
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1-2 bell peppers (diced)
  • 1-2 zucchini, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • Other veggie options: onion, yellow squash, anything you have!

Directions:  In large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium/high heat.  Add the minced garlic cloves and stir for 30 seconds.  Then add your veggie groups one at a time in order of cooking time (first red peppers, then zucchini, then eggplant, then mushrooms).  Wait a few minutes before adding the next group.  You can also add them at the same time but then you’ll end up with crunchy peppers and mushy eggplant and mushrooms. Once veggies are cooked, add the pasta sauce and stir until it’s heated through. 


Serve over spaghetti squash and garnish with parmesan and fresh basil.  Enjoy!