Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cubalicious Pork Chops

I’d like to start off by saying, I don’t know if there’s anything remotely “Cuban” about these CUBAN SLOW-COOKER PORK CHOPS. This recipe is courtesy of my mother-in-law. Her husband is Cuban which makes my husband half Cuban and if we want to call these Cuban chops, so be it!

I love having simple recipes like this on hand that can be put together quickly for nights I hit the gym after work and don’t have time to cook. The crock pot is great for that. But if you insist on feeling fancy and up-scale, go ahead and call it a slow-cooker. I won’t judge.

Here are my biggest tips when it comes to the slow-cooker. The concept of “leave your meal cooking all day and it’s ready when you get home” doesn’t quite work out the way it’s intended. Personally, my work day is very long and by the time I get home, the food goes from moist and tender to dry and stringy.

I find that most meats cook best for 6 hours on the low setting, so I set my crock pot to cook overnight. When I wake up in the morning, I put the bowl in the fridge and it’s ready to be reheated for dinner. This reheat tactic is also great for skimming off any excess oil or fat that rises to the top once the food is cooled.

Lastly, use bone-in meats when possible. Healthy eaters are pre-programmed to grab boneless, skinless everything. For the slow cooker, fight the urge. Since the meat cooks for so long, the bones and skin add a lot of necessary flavor and moisture. You can toss the bones and skin before you even serve it.

I have to be honest, pork chops are not my all-time fave so I was psyched to find a way to prepare them that I really enjoy. I don’t normally use a lot of canned ingredients, but the jarred sofrito is an awesome timesaver. All of the herbs and spices are already cooked down into a tasty cooking base. Jarred products can be very salty, so I cut the salt with straight-up tomato sauce and some water. When the sauce cooks down with the meat, just a few simple ingredients become a really delicious main course.

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

Pork Chop on Foodista

Friday, May 21, 2010

Snack Attack, Garbanzo Style!

My project for this week = snacks. I’m protesting trail mix and string cheese! I’m sick and tired of eating some variation on nuts and cheese. It’s really hard for people who have to limit sugar and carbohydrates in their diet to find interesting snacks to munch on. In my experience, food boredom usually equals diet failure. As soon as I start to grow tried of the old staples, I reach for the quick, easy, bad-for-you fill-ins.

An additional challenge is to find something that’s portable. A lot of healthy snack suggestions involve cooking, spreading, assembling or some form of preparation that I can’t accomplish in a wee little office cubicle. My co-workers would find it quite strange if I busted out a cutting board or toaster oven from underneath my desk. The last thing I need is to appear any odder; the bag lunch I pack every day is goofy enough! First of all, it’s silly to haul a bag lunch all the way from Long Island into Manhattan on an hour plus train ride and a 15 minute walk uptown. But I do it almost every day. It saves money and most importantly, calories! I know exactly what’s in the food I’m eating.

Inside this lunch bag is a meal that strongly resembles what a Mom might pack for her 1st grader; an array of little baggies, Tupperware and foil pouches of pre-measured meals and snacks. I snack all day long. It’s the only way I can manage to keep my blood sugar levels in check and maintain a healthy weight.

Always in search of clever snack ideas and in looking at various websites and blogs I read, I came across this idea to roast chickpeas. Chickpeas are a high fiber, high-protein food with very little fat. They also provide steady, slow-burning energy. They’re a really great addition to a healthy diet, but I’ve only had them tossed into a salad or ground down into hummus.

Roasted chickpeas take on the crunchy texture and nutty flavor of roasted peanuts and you can spice them however you like. My take on the snack vaguely resembles the taste of Cajun French fries. I’m calling them, SPICY GARLIC ROASTED CHICKPEAS.

A few tips to getting these to come out fabulous. First of all, moisture is your enemy. Make sure you really drain the beans well. Lay them on a paper towel to wick away any excess water. You also have to cook them enough. I could have gone a few minutes longer on mine for them to be 100% crisp. Be sure to let them cool fully before you pack up a container. You wouldn’t want condensation to soften the crunchy shell.

These came out so delicious that my husband and I ate half of them as they were coming out of the oven. Honestly, you could even pass these off in place of beer nuts to watch the ball game. I’m thinking they would also work on top of a salad in place of croutons. Go ahead, ditch the Polly-o String Cheese and get your crunch on.

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

Chickpeas on Foodista

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pineapple Crunch Sundae: Who needs Red Mango?

After many not-so-subtle hints, my Grandma bought me an ice cream maker for Christmas this year. My first attempt at homemade ice cream was a full fat, full sugar vanilla chunk recipe that turned out delicious. I knew ice cream was terribly bad for you, but when you pour the sugar and cream into the bowl yourself, it’s so much more obvious than when you scoop from a tub and choose to ignore the calories on the back.

Ice cream, especially homemade, is a real treat once in a while. Whenever I’m on vacation, I find a way to sweet talk my husband into an ice cream sundae for lunch, topped with the works. But, frozen yogurt is a much more sensible alternative if you like to enjoy a cold dessert a little more often than the once-a-year family trip. The good news is, I LOVE frozen yogurt. I actually refer to the summer months as “fro-yo” season!

My favorite fro-yo stop is Red Mango. The yogurt is all natural, it’s fat free, there are no artificial sweeteners and they have a huge variety of healthy toppings to add, from chopped nuts to fresh fruit. Red Mango isn’t trying to dress itself up and call itself ice cream. I love that. It tastes like tangy yogurt in frozen form. It’s creamy and completely refreshing without guilt.

I would consider this little dish my take on turning a fruit and yogurt parfait into a dessert. The Pineapple Crunch Sundae features TANGY VANILLA FROZEN YOGURT that I made at home in the trusty ice cream machine and it’s topped with my own TRULY HEALTHY GRANOLA. The grilled pineapple base is super simple. Just brush the fruit with olive oil and grill for about 5 minutes on each side until it’s nice and sweet.

The yogurt is a salute to Red Mango. It’s literally just yogurt, a little sugar and vanilla. It’s tempting to go for fat-free yogurt. But in doing some research, I’ve found that commercial frozen yogurt vendors have access to food stabilizers and freezing equipment that the normal consumer does not. They can take a fat-free main ingredient and produce a creamy product. For us regular folks, I opted for 2% to make sure the yogurt had the right consistency and didn’t turn icy.

The granola is my own creation. I spent a lot of time in the supermarket trying to find products that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup. That stuff is in everything! I don’t care what the corn industry’s cute little marketing campaigns are trying to convince us, it’s just bad for you.

To make a very long story short, the fructose in corn syrup is not absorbed into the blood the same way sucrose, or table sugar is. It doesn’t trigger your body’s “I’m full!” response, so you’ll continue to feel hungry and consume more calories to make up for it. Welch’s does make a 100% juice concentrate that doesn’t contain any additives and Sun-maid brand dried fruits are made with just “fruit and sunshine” like the commercial claims. These products are found in the regular grocery store sitting right next to the corn-syrup culprits on the shelf. You just have to flip over the bag and read the label.

If you aren’t into making your own yogurt or granola from scratch, you can still make the same dessert from store bought ingredients (I highly recommend Bear Naked Granola). You can change-up the fruit and flavors to your tastes.

Sometimes it’s just as satisfying to skip the hot fudge and whipped cream.

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

Frozen Vanilla Yogurt on Foodista

Monday, May 3, 2010

Stealth Bean Guacamole

The weather was so gorgeous this past weekend, all of the restaurants in town had their front doors wide open with little bistro tables lining the street. I was sitting outside, enjoying a nice date-night dinner when a waitress at the restaurant next door pulled a cart alongside one of her tables. Being the Nosy Nelly that I am, I couldn’t help but notice a huge bowl of guacamole being prepared tableside. This got me thinking, is it possible to diet-up guacamole? Can something with so few ingredients stand up to substitutions?

I hit the supermarket the next morning on a mission to see if this would actually work. A friend of mine saw Bethenny Frankel from Real Housewives of New York City make a “Mock-a-mole” which substituted mashed green peas for some of the avocado. Let me tell you, if there’s anything I hate more than any of those horrendous Housewives shows, its peas! I’ll try just about anything, but peas score highest on my “I won’t budge, this just doesn’t taste good to me” list. Plus, peas have a pretty strong flavor and I felt they would change the taste and texture of the dip.

So, I opted for white beans instead. Goya sells “small white beans” in a can that have a very mild flavor and are much less grainy than the texture of some of the larger beans. I used one avocado and mashed it up along with the white beans, flavored with typical guacamole flair and voila my friends, guacamole!

So let me explain why guacamole needs a substitution anyway. You’re probably thinking, how can mashed-up fruit be all that bad for you? Avocados are actually very good for you. They’re high in “good” monounsaturated fats that help promote healthy cholesterol. However, fat is calories no matter how you slice it and avocados are very fatty. A medium-sized avocado packs on about 30 grams of fat which translates to over 300 calories. For someone trying to watch their overall calorie count, this is an awful lot of calories to invest in a very small amount of food. By swapping out some of the avocado for beans, you’re still getting the health-benefits from the avocado, but also cutting the fat and adding some fiber and protein to the dish.

Most importantly, this really does taste just like guacamole. I’m the first to admit when something is a nice substitution but doesn’t come close to the original. This is a home run. I like a chunky texture to my guacamole, so you can see some of the white beans mixed throughout. If you really wanted to hide the beans, you could run them through the food processor for a smoother texture.

I baked up some of my own cumin-dusted whole wheat chips to dunk. You can score the recipe for both the chips and the guac here.

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

Guacamole on Foodista