Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recipe Slimdown #1: Chicken Croquettes

The offer always stands to send me your favorite gut-busting recipe and I’ll take a stab at slimming it down. Here are the results of my first official recipe recreation project:

Q: “So, I'm sitting at lunch today and I had an idea for a Diet It Up version of something I ate a lot of as a kid; chicken croquettes. It was a puree of chicken with very distinctive spices, inside a crunchy shell. They used to make them at the German deli and they called them chicken balls. You could also buy them frozen (Banquet, Swanson, or Tyson used to make them)."

A: I’ll be 100% honest. Until this email, I literally had never heard of a chicken croquette. Potato croquettes? Yes. But, chicken? No way. I did some research on the subject and apparently, this was a big time 1950’s diner meal. Basically, ground chicken is mixed with a rich béchamel sauce, formed into balls, breaded and deep fried. These were often served atop a bed of mashed potatoes with thick, creamy white gravy.

Weaver used to sell chicken croquettes in the freezer case at the supermarket. The product has since been taken off the market. My guess is that most people aren’t going to invest 20 grams of fat in one little chicken ball and Weaver decided to pull them. Just my speculation.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull off a tasty 2010 version of this classic with significantly less calories. I started with the ground chicken and spices. I used some low-fat cream of chicken soup as the base instead of the heavy butter and flour béchamel. Some seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg white helped to bind the croquette together.

I would recommend chilling the mixture for at least an hour before trying to form it into balls. When it was very cold, you could pack the meat together like a meatball. As it warmed up, it was a little harder to get them to hold together. I coated the croquettes in panko and tossed them in the oven, crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t end up with a mess of broken-up chicken slop.

Surprisingly, these CHICKEN CROQUETTES turned out great! The inside is light and fluffy and the breaded crust is crispy without the added oil from frying. I ditched the gravy and served mine with some homemade BBQ SAUCE. The BBQ was the perfect tangy, spicy complement to the chicken. I may not be lucky enough to have tried the original, but my spin on this dish was pretty darn tasty.

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Holla for Jalapeños!

Are you ever in one of those moods where you just need to have the ooey, gooey, cheesy richness that can only mean Mexican food? I was having some fabulous friends of mine over for dinner a few weeks ago and I was in one of those moods. They were being fed Mexican food whether they liked it or not!

I was looking to put out a little picky snack while the steak for steak fajitas was grilling outside, so I found this recipe for Emeril’s BAKED JALAPEÑO POPPERS. I thought stuffed jalapeños would be a cool change of pace from the expected chips and salsa. Plus, I kind of wanted to test this recipe out because I thought it would be equally as great for an app during football season (which I’m super psyched is coming up quickly).

I’m pretty impressed by celeb chefs that opt to bake instead of fry. Let’s face it, a jalapeno pepper that’s filled with creamy cheese, crusted with breadcrumb and fried to a deep golden brown is basically irresistible. The fact that my buddy Emeril decided to bake these instead made me happy. It’s an easy little substitution that can save a whole lot of calories.

Emeril even opts for panko breadcrumb that he spikes with his own seasoning blend instead of the typical Italian stuff that comes pre-seasoned. Panko is definitely lighter and after making these, much crispier. I was even able to dig up the appropriate spices from the depths of my spice cabinet to make the blend. I basically followed the original recipe to a tee except for using reduced fat cream cheese instead of the full-fat version.

This was a great little Mexican themed snack. The peppers were a little spicy and I didn’t cook them to complete mush. I like when peppers have a little bite to them. The filling was rich and cheesy without the “I need to put on sweat pants and vegetate in front of the TV” effect that Mexican often has. The baked crust was nice and crispy but didn’t leave a yucky oily residue on your cocktail plate. I’m definitely going to be making these again when the Jets hit the field in the fall!

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

Jalapeño Pepper on Foodista

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bye Bye Beef, Hello Portobello

For those of us who proudly call ourselves meat-eaters, we can indulge in the occasional juicy beef burger. The ground beef used in a typical burger patty is 80/20 chuck; 80% lean to 20% fat. This is one of the fattier cuts of beef out there. It absolutely produces a flavorful, tender burger patty, but you certainly don’t need me to tell you that it’s not a wise choice for a diet staple.

A popular alternative to beef is the veggie burger. A lot of the supermarket variety veggie patties in the freezer case are trying too desperately hard to taste like meat. The veggies are pureed within an inch of their life and combined with a variety of grains and fillers to mimic the taste and texture of beef. I don’t get it. I like veggie burgers. But I like them to taste like veggies. Broccoli should be proud to be broccoli and not have to wear a disguise to be accepted!

The easiest way for a veggie burger to taste like a veggie is to use the vegetable in its truest form. Hence, the Portobello mushroom. It’s burger shaped and easily absorbs whatever flavor you choose to add to it. Perfect!

I got the idea for this CHEESY PORTOBELLO BURGER WITH LEMON MAYO from watching an episode of Emeril Green on the Planet Green channel. That’s such a great show. Viewers write in with a cooking dilemma and Chef Emeril saves the day by inviting them to cook with him right in the middle of a Whole Foods market using fresh, local produce. Right up my alley.

The Portobello caps soak in a balsamic-based marinade. I would strongly recommend patting the mushrooms dry when you pull them out of their marinating bath. A soggy mushroom leads to a soggy bun and a soggy bun is NOT good eats.

The “burgers” are topped with creamy blue cheese. I know you probably want to get on my case for using full-fat blue cheese in a healthy recipe. I consider the mushroom to be a blank canvas. They’re free. You can eat as many mushrooms as you want on any diet, so the addition of blue cheese isn’t adding an obscene amount of calories to the overall dish. I will admit, I’m false advertising in the photo a bit. I tried the recipe with feta cheese for the close-up since I had it in the fridge. Go for the blue cheese, it’s totally worth it.

Emeril whips up his own fancy lemon aioli to go along with this burger. The first time I made this recipe, I tried the aioli and failed miserably. Rather than risking the loss of a ton of olive oil on round two, I doctored up some plain old mayo to make it simpler. The tangy lemon mayo sauce balances the richness of the blue cheese. Grilled red onion adds just enough sweetness and crunch.

This Portobello really gives the almighty beef burger a run for its money. Meat eater or vegetarian, give it a go.

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

Portobello Mushrooms on Foodista

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

...And Now For Something Completely Different

By turning a hobby for healthy cooking into a blog, my husband and I have also unearthed an appreciation for food photography. I act as food stylist while he sets up the shots. I should also mention that we do this with basically no supplies. We’re using a point and shoot digital camera and lighting set-up that involves bedroom lamps all in the kitchen of a one bedroom apartment.

Every once in a while we enter a food photo contest on Food2. The site comes up with a theme for the contest every few weeks so unfortunately, we sometimes have to break from the healthy food trend and dish up what they’re asking for. This week was birthday cake. We prefer pie to cake, so our spin on it is called Birthday Cake Pie. Cake and Pie together at last! If you have a facebook account and have a spare second to rate the photo (preferable with 5 stars!) we’d love the support. Please keep in mind that after sampling our creation (and how strangely delicious cake pie actually was), we tossed the leftovers. This is a diet website after all.

Click here to vote!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beat the Heat Summer Salad

For those of you that live on the east coast, it’s certainly no surprise that temps are blowing way past 90 and reaching into the 100 degree territory. It’s a face-melter out there! I happen to love the heat if I’m sitting poolside in a bathing suit sipping lemonade. I don’t have the same appreciation for the scorching sun while riding public transportation to and from the big city.

I came up with this salad recipe last night after making the trek home from work. The heat made it a chore just to breathe, let alone cook a 4 course meal. Actually, I’ve been trying to eat larger portions during the day when I feel the hungriest and scale down my dinners at night since I don’t get around to eating until at least 7 o’clock.

I wanted something refreshing; the dinner equivalent of a dip in the pool. My go-to for a light dinner is always salad, but I was looking to punch up the hum drum lettuce and make it a little more interesting. The resulting creation is a SHRIMP AND AVOCADO SALAD WITH GRAPEFRUIT VINAIGRETTE.

These flavors worked out really well. The combination of tart grapefruit with buttery avocado and crunchy almonds balances nicely. The avocado adds some necessary creaminess. Toasting the almonds makes all the difference in the world here. Invest the extra 5 minutes in toasting them. As a rule, I top my salads with chopped nuts in lieu of croutons. Almonds are at the top of the “power foods” list. They’re the most nutrient-dense nut you can choose from so I opted for almonds.

The shrimp adds enough protein for this to be considered a meal. Since it’s summer, I tossed the shrimp on the grill for added smoky flavor. “I” obviously means I sent my husband out to battle the blazing temperatures to grill these shrimp. Don’t feel too bad for him. He was fully armed with a cold beer in hand (not even a light beer! For shame!).

And please don’t think we have some fancy grill setup that Bobby Flay would be jealous of. We grill up everything on a funky little camping stove on the side of our apartment. No frills works just fine. If you prefer, shrimp sautéed in a little olive oil on the stove would be just as delicious.
The dressing is very light and just enough to tie the whole salad together. It’s intended to be thin; just enough to lightly coat the spinach leaves. My grapefruit was fairly sweet, but if yours are too tart, you can always add a little honey to the dressing to balance it out.

It’s fresh, it’s quick, and it’s easy; an instant cool-down on a hot summer day.

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

Spinach on Foodista