Thursday, April 29, 2010

Have a Flaco Cinco de Mayo!

With Cinco de Mayo coming up next week, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what last year’s food tribute to this Mexican holiday entailed. If memory serves me, it was something to the tune of: a pitcher of Margaritas, a mixing bowl full of guacamole and some form of meat covered in cheese and stuffed into a tortilla. Sound familiar?

Do you have any idea how many calories are in just that one Margarita? *Spoiler Alert. If you intend to be able to enjoy that whole pitcher of limey goodness without guilt, you might want to consider skipping to the next paragraph*. The answer is, 500-700 calories and 50 grams of carbs! In one drink!

A moment of silence please, this is a sad discovery. Margaritas are one of my all-time favorites (a few blackmail-worthy photos might back this up). The sour lime compliments cheesy Mexican food perfectly. But if that one drink is 700 calories, imagine what a few servings of guacamole and a plate of enchiladas add to the list. You’re probably enjoying a whole day’s worth of calories in just one sitting!

Consider my recipe for Flaco (skinny) Huevos Rancheros with Home-style Salsa as an alternative. This lightened-up version of a Mexican classic is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It includes all of my favorite Mexican flavors on one plate. The guacamole is replaced with a few slices of fresh avocado. Shredded meat is replaced with eggs. Heavy sauces are swapped out for a fresh tomato cilantro salsa that can be thrown together in minutes.

I keep the portion on the small side. With all of the toppings going on, I find it quite filling. Of course you can easily add another egg if you want something a bit more substantial. If you’re in the mood for an “adult” beverage to pair with this, go for a Mexican coffee instead of that Margarita (a splash of Kahlua and a dollop of light whipped cream). After this meal, you won’t need a siesta to sleep off the calories.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Huevos Rancheros on Foodista

Monday, April 26, 2010

Adventures in Grilling: Volume 2 - Macaroni Salad Makeover

When you’re having a group of people over for a BBQ, the easiest thing to do is grab a few containers of pre-made potato or macaroni salad from the deli to go alongside your grilled fare. It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser and doesn’t require any extra work in the kitchen. I won’t knock it, I’ve been there. But these salads are big time diet busters. The typical deli variety macaroni salad usually has as much mayonnaise as it does macaroni! It’s full of saturated fat, carbs and even sugar. Overall, not a wise choice.

I’m offering an alternative to those typical deli salads with my Caprese Pasta Salad. It’s quick and easy and worth the few minutes of extra time at the stove. I love Caprese Salad. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a layered salad with slices of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves. I could have easily made a traditional Caprese Salad, but it can get fairly pricey to buy fresh mozzarella for a group. I stretched it along by taking the same flavors and turning it into a hearty pasta salad side dish. You start by marinating bocconcini mozzarella balls and quartered cherry tomatoes in Italian dressing. I usually put this mixture in the fridge to marinate a few hours before I want to make the salad so the flavors can really develop. If you don’t have the time, just let them soak for at least half an hour. After the marinating, this dish comes together in a snap.

Instead of going for a mayo-based dressing, this one uses olive oil as the base. It’s fairly common knowledge that olive oil has a whole slew of health benefits. But, I never really knew exactly what they were. I just knew I was supposed to eat it. After a quickie Google search, I discovered that olive oil is packed with mono-unsaturated “good fats” and can help to achieve balanced cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. Sign me up! Going one step further and swapping out the white pasta for whole wheat boosts the overall protein and fiber content in this dish.

If I’m serving this as a side, I put it out at room temperature. But, you can also serve it hot topped with grilled chicken for a quick weeknight dinner. Just pull the pan off the heat a few minutes before you toss the cheese and tomato mixture into the skillet. If it’s sitting right on the flame, the cheese clumps together and makes serving a little stringy. Hot or cold, I hope you’ll try out a new BBQ staple.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Earth Day, Recycle That Chocolate!

Easter has come and gone and your leftover chocolate bunnies are probably nibbled down to their waist by now. My chocolate Easter Bunny, dubbed “The Professor,” stands at a whopping foot and a half tall. It isn’t Easter without a cute, cuddly animal-shaped confection. In this case, he’s an avid reader to boot!

Once the ears bite the dust, I start to get sick of all that super sweet chocolate. I decided to make these Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies to use up the leftover bunny parts. I swiped this recipe from and substituted the chocolate chips for chunks of chopped up Easter chocolate. I used salted butter and found that the finished product was a tad on the salty side. I might consider using unsalted butter, or dropping the added salt to ¼ teaspoon.

It’s really hard to pass off a light cookie as a real cookie, but these come fairly close. They’re made with whole wheat flour and ground up oatmeal so they almost taste like an oatmeal cookie without the oatmeal cookie spices (cinnamon or nutmeg). They’re a tad on the dense side, but the outside of the cookie crisps up and the inside stays nice and soft like every good cookie should. My mother-in-law thought they were great for dunking in coffee or milk if you’re the dunking type. I prefer mine to steer clear of a beverage bath. The soggy crumbs in the bottom of the glass after a dunk-fest give me the creeps!

If you want something sweet and you bust that bunny out of its cellophane package, you’re likely to nibble away until you’ve probably consumed hundreds of calories worth of candy. You can have one of these cookies for only 99 calories and enjoy a piece of chocolate and a baked good simultaneously. Not a bad deal. Who needs those stinkin 100 calories packs from the supermarket? To top it off, the whole grains offer an added fiber and protein boost to the snack.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Lighter Chocolate Chip Cookies on Foodista

Monday, April 19, 2010

You Can't Beat Beets

I warn you in advance, you’re going to see a lot of recipes popping up that I’ve created to compliment grilled foods. Grilling is such a great option for the health-conscious eater. The grill gives a smoky flavor boost to foods and also allows a lot of the fat and calories to drip away from meats. I cooked up some steaks last weekend and I came up with this Roasted Beet Salad as a side dish. There’s a time and a place for pickled beets. They look fine sitting in a bowl at the end of the salad bar, but I was trying to up the ante here. I prefer the effect of roasting the beets. They turn soft and buttery and form a nice backdrop for a salad.

A few fun facts about beets from the health professionals; they’re thought to ward off heart disease and certain forms of cancer, lessen inflammation and protect against birth defects. A few fun facts about beets from yours truly; numero uno: remember to wear gloves when you attempt to peel the beets after roasting. If you neglect this important pointer, your hands will look like a child who unsuccessfully colored a vat of pink Easter eggs. Numero two: try desperately to remember that you ate a whole bunch of beets for dinner. Don’t convince your husband that you’re internally bleeding after a post-dinner trip to the restroom. I speak from personal experience.

Back to the recipe; the peppery arugula in this salad complements the sweetness of the beets perfectly. Folks who are watching their sugar intake shouldn’t be eating too many beets since they’re a high-sugar vegetable. Just watch your portion size. The creamy goat cheese and crunchy walnuts finish off the salad on a high note. No need for potato salad at this barbeque! This steak and salad combo was a really elegant looking plate and tasted so yummy that you really won’t miss a buffet of mayo salads.

I’d also like to mention that my little bro writes a super informative beer and food blog. He’s really successful in pairing different (and often obscure) brews with home-cooked meals. I tried my hand at this idea and served this dinner with an interesting canned beer called Hell or High Watermelon from 21st Amendment Brewing Company. Yes, you heard me correctly, watermelon beer. For those of us girly types who like our wheat beer with tons of fruity undertones, this one hits the spot. It’s crisp and refreshing and although I paired it with this meal because I just happened to have it in the fridge, it really did work out well. The fruit flavor in the beer went nicely with the sweet beets but at the same time cut through some of the fattiness of the steak. Definitely give this one a try.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Beet on Foodista

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coco-Razz Cream Pie

I’m super excited about this recipe. I made this up entirely from scratch and I’m pumped at how great it turned out! The inspiration for this dessert came from a Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices flavor called Coconut Raspberry Tart. With the temps finally hurdling over 60 degrees here in NY, my husband took a trip to Ralph’s last week for a treat. He came home and raved about the flavor so much, we wanted to recreate the same idea in pie form. The result was Coconut Raspberry Cream Pie.

Coconut cream pie is typically a flaky, buttery pie crust filled with rich custard made from egg yolks and tons of sweetened, shredded coconut. Then you top that whole shebang with a thick layer of real-deal whipped cream and more shredded coconut. It’s a delicious pie, but terribly fattening and packed with sugar. It’s the kind of dessert that has you plopped on the couch with your jeans unbuttoned in a post-sugar stupor. This just won’t do!

Custard pies are fairly easy to lighten up and recreate. I started with the crust and worked my way up. My crust is made from low-fat honey grahams and oatmeal. I did use real butter to make sure the final crust turned out nice and crispy. The last thing you want is a soggy mess. Or, have you ever been served a slice of pie where the crust is all crumbly and gets stuck in the pan? You end up with a plate full of smoosh. This crust will stay put when you slice it.

What gives this dessert a little twist is the raspberry layer. It might sound odd, but trust me on this one, it’s amazing. The raspberry adds the perfect tart element to balance out the sweetness of the filling.

For the custard, I made the filling from sugar-free vanilla pudding mix and Cool Whip Lite. I will definitely mention that Cool Whip is wretched stuff. While I was making the pie, I tried a spoonful. Bleh! It tastes like flavorless marshmallow. I spit it out. Normally I don’t recommend using a product that’s a chemical knock-off of real food. But, have no fear; I’m using it sparingly in this recipe as a textural element. It gives the filling the perfect light and fluffy consistency without many added calories. There really isn’t a lighter alternative and you won’t actually taste it. Phew!

This recipe calls for whole milk in the filling. Don’t be tempted to substitute low-fat or skim milk. I was tempted, I even tried it. That whole pie went right in the garbage! The pudding didn’t set and while it was chilling, a puddle of watery grossness formed on the top of the pie. Nasty! Skip the puddle and use the whole milk.

Another few calorie savers include coconut extract. Most of the coconutty flavor in this pie comes from the extract. No mountains of shredded coconut = no post-sugar coma. A typical coconut cream pie is also topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. This is completely unnecessary here. The filling is creamy enough, just top with some fresh raspberries and a sprinkle of toasted coconut for garnish.

I really should add one important disclaimer. Dessert is not exactly an every day meal for a health-conscious eater. Don’t go eating a whole damn pie because I told you this is a lightened up version! Keep portion control in mind and treat yourself once in a while. My recipe is designed for a 7” mini pie pan. For a couple of bucks, invest in one. It serves 4 and you aren’t left with a whole pie hanging around the kitchen calling your name at 2AM. Of course, if you want to make a full-sized version, just double the recipe and invite over some friends to share. I guarantee you could serve this to a group of diet doubters and they would find it just as delicious as I do. It’s that good!

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Raspberry Coconut Cream Pie on Foodista

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Adventures in Grilling: Volume 1 - Seafood

Newsflash, asparagus is in season right now so look for it on sale and looking fabulous in the supermarket. In searching for a recipe that’s appropriate to serve with asparagus on the side, I remembered this South Beach Diet salmon dish that I made a few months back. I’ll give credit where credit is due, I didn’t make this dinner. Gasp! My husband Joe tackled this one all by himself. Pretty snazzy job if I do say so myself, but since I’m the diet guru of this duo I’ll give you the rundown on the recipe. This Salmon with Creamy Lemon Sauce calls for broiling the Salmon in the oven. Since we have a new addition to our one bedroom apartment (a tiny little grill for two), we opted to grill the whole meal. Brush the salmon with some olive oil as well as brushing a little on the grill so the fish doesn’t stick. Season with salt and pepper and grill the fish for a few minutes on each side. While you’re at it, do the same with the asparagus and grill the vegetables until they start to char on the outside. I’ve never had grilled asparagus before. I always steam it. Well, this grilled version was FAR superior. It looses some of the wet sliminess and takes on a more nutty and smoky flavor.

For the sauce, instead of making a legitimate cream sauce, you make a “cream-like” sauce using sour cream as the base. The original recipe uses fat-free sour cream, but I prefer the reduced-fat. For all of you traditional cooks out there, I know sour cream probably doesn’t sound like much of a cream sauce to you, but you do get the same effect with the sour cream and you save a TON of fat calories. I’m reading Julia Child’s, “My Life in France” and I’m sure the Queen of Butter herself would be appalled at a cream sauce made with anything but real cream! The sauce is really creamy and the lemon/caper combination is a nice sour note in contrast with the fatty fish. I really like this dish. It’s super easy to put together on a weeknight and it looks fancy enough that you could pass it off as special-occasion fare without any carbs or guilt. Bon App├ętit!

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Salmon on Foodista