Monday, March 29, 2010

Herb-a-licious

When you’re cutting down on fat, carbs, or sodium in your diet, you NEED to replace it with something else. Otherwise you’ll end up eating a boring piece of grilled chicken and steamed vegetables every night. Snooze. After two nights of that diet, I’d be at Burger King next in line for a Whopper with cheese. That scenario is completely unnecessary. When you’re cooking at home, try replacing your sauces and gravies with spices and herbs. You can add a ton of flavor to your food without having to hide the taste of the boring grilled chicken under a heavy, fattening topping.

I’ll admit. I’m new to herbs. When I was little, my mom used to spice up her white rice with rosemary. Hey, she had the right idea, but those sprigs of rosemary were huge! To a little kid, it looked like entire pine trees had fallen into my dinner. So, I thought to myself, maybe I’m missing something here, I’ll just dive in a give it a try. But, they tasted like pine trees too! Has Mom completely lost her mind and started stretching our dinner with weeds from the yard? Every time that bowl of rice came out, my brother and I would beg for ours “without sticks!”

I’m still not into rosemary. But, I’ve gotten over my herb-phobia and found a few that I really enjoy. The best part about it is that in diet lingo, they’re FREE. Zero calories, zero fat, zero salt. You could eat an entire bunch of parsley if you were so inclined. Go ahead and herb-up your food with reckless abandon!

My example here is an Herb-Crusted Pork Roast with Sautéed Cabbage and Apples on the side. Basically, this is that same chicken and veggie from before; a piece of meat with a veggie on the side. But look at how much more interesting the meal can be when you add a few spice and herbs. I thought the spice combination sounded strange. Cinnamon and cumin in the spice rub and cilantro in the crust? But, the flavors really did work well together. The cilantro-based crust added a lot of flavor to the dish. Plus, the technique of crusting the meat kept the pork nice and juicy. I would definitely invest in a digital instant read thermometer for roasts. Super dry pork is just terrible.

The cabbage side dish was a nice accompaniment. I don’t usually like fennel seed. But, when you crush it up into a fine powder it’s very subtle. I added quite a big splash of the vinegar. I like things sour. Next time I think I’ll cut the apples into big chunks rather than slices so they don’t wither away. A nice bite of apple with the cabbage would have added something. Overall, I really enjoyed this meal. It was hearty and filling with tons of bold flavors. A solid replacement for that dreaded chicken cutlet.

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


Pork on Foodista

Friday, March 26, 2010

Not So Porky Sausage & Peppers


I’m certainly not revealing any ground-breaking news here. At this point, the world has become so health conscious, everyone knows that sausage is NOT very good for you. If you’re one of the few people out there living under a rock, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Sausage isn’t the key to perfectly clear arteries. But when I need a quick dinner that I can throw together in 15 minutes after work, sausage and peppers is a solid go-to. The easiest fix is to swap out the pork for turkey, but I was reluctant to try turkey Italian sausage. Some things are best left un-fussed with.

Most sausages made from anything other than pork lack the proper casing that makes sausage so great. I like when the outside gets all dark and crispy and pork-free casings just don’t crisp-up. I couldn’t get them to brown. They basically end up steaming in the pan and come out looking pale and grey; not very appetizing. Despite my clear prejudice, I decided to try it anyway. After some trial and error, I found the trick to dealing with the turkey sausage thorn in my side. First, the links need to be very dry. Roll them on a paper towel to make sure they aren’t carrying along any excess moisture. Second, your pan needs to be screaming hot so the second the meat hits the surface, they start to brown. Slimy sausage problem solved!

If you make this simple substitution to your favorite recipe for sausage and peppers, you can save over half the amount of fat as the original. A typical grilled turkey sausage link has around 9G of fat. A pork sausage can have up to 22 grams of fat per link! That’s approximately 30 percent of the amount of fat you’re supposed to have in one day and it’s squeezed into this one measly link of sausage. I’m sharing my own recipe here. My suggestion is to buy hot sausage. Everything’s better when it’s a little spicy. What’s life without a little spice anyway?

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


Sausage on Foodista

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lamb, the other red meat

My husband and I have this geeky tradition of waking up on Saturday mornings, drinking our Diet It Up coffees (fat-free half & half and Splenda) and watching our favorite food shows on TV. Should I be at the gym instead? Probably. But the gym will still be there in a few hours. There’s something great about throwing on a big fluffy blanket and snuggling-up on the couch before attacking the day. Rachael was making Lamb Burgers with Tabbouleh Salad this week. Honestly, I stopped to watch the episode for the Tabbouleh. Even at 8AM, I was already getting psyched for dinner.

Tabbouleh is the kind of salad that makes me think of spring; tomatoes, cucumber, fresh herbs. Saturday was the first beautiful day since the ground was covered in snow and I thought this dish would well suit the sunshine. I was right. The veggies are crisp and refreshing. The dressing is tangy with lemon zest and lemon juice and the bulgur gives the salad a nice al dente texture. It’s fresh and bright and was surprisingly easy to make. I did read some of the recipe reviews on the Food Network site and some crazy people were up in arms that it isn’t true to the original Lebanese dish. Guess what people? I don’t care. If you expect Rachael Ray to be turning out traditional cultural food in 30 minutes, you’re crazy. Go eat at Grandma’s house. But this salad tastes great and it’s entirely more nutritionally balanced than a side order of French fries.

To go along with the salad, Rachael made these amazing lamb burgers. Lamb really isn’t my thing. It’s usually gamey and tough with lots of fatty pieces that require you to turn your dinner plate into a carving station so you don’t get a mouth full of animal fat. Gross! My mom always made lamb on Easter and I was the bratty kid who threw a fit and made my poor mother make me something different. Once difficult, always difficult! But, I’ve never had ground lamb before and I wanted to give it a try. We found this adorable German butcher in our neighborhood with men named Fritz and Hans wearing little white paper hats serving up wursts and kraut behind the counter. Some supermarkets sell ground lamb, but ours didn’t have it. Fritz saved the day.

I loved the texture of these burgers. They were nice and juicy without being greasy or fatty. The patties were very soft in the middle but had a nice crust from searing the outside. The spice combination was really interesting. It reminded me of some Moroccan food I’ve tried. You top the burgers with shredded raw red cabbage and red onion. This added the perfect amount of bitterness and crunch. Instead of ketchup (snooze!) you whip up a “tsatziki-like” Greek yogurt sauce. The whole package is served inside a toasted pita. I’m definitely going to use this trick for other burgers. I try to limit my carb intake and I also find that some burgers just have too much bread. I end up pulling the top of the bun completely off. The thin pita was the perfect wrapper for the meal. I did substitute fat-free greek yogurt and 100% whole wheat pita for a health boost. Otherwise, I made the dish as-is.

Open up your windows, let in some fresh air and enjoy spring!

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



Lamb on Foodista

Monday, March 8, 2010

Soufflé, A Poofy Dessert

I’d like to start off by saying; I don’t know a thing about soufflé. I’ve never made one and I don’t recall ever eating one. I do know that they’re fancy and French sounding and can be prepared as a savory meal or a sweet dessert. When I think soufflé, I picture panicked chefs in puffy white hats screaming “my soufflé has fallen!” in a thick French accent. This may be a tad dramatic, but I was skeptical.

I’m always on the lookout for lighter dessert recipes to try. Bon Appétit featured this Raspberry Lemon Soufflé on their website a few weeks ago. I have a recipe for a Raspberry Lemon cookie that I really like, so I was trying to capitalize on the same flavors without all of the fat and calories. I have no idea if this is how you make other soufflés or if this is even what a soufflé is supposed to look like. But, if you can whip up egg whites, you can make this dessert. It was surprisingly easy. You basically make a syrup from pureed frozen raspberries and fold a few whipped egg whites into it. That’s the whole dessert. It comes together really quickly.

The result was a fluffy custard. The top browned up and formed a nice meringue-like crust. The inside was creamy but very light. You don’t feel guilty eating it because half the dessert is just air! The best part was the raspberry flavor. The lemon added the perfect about of tartness so it wasn’t overly sweet. Be sure to serve it right away. The soufflé did start to sink while we were photographing it. “Quick! Take some pictures before the whole thing falls!” I guess that French chef imagery wasn’t too far off the mark.

If you’re watching your sugar intake, this dessert does use real sugar as well as the natural sugar from the fruit. The plus side is that there’s no flour or fat to worry about; just a few egg whites. In my opinion, it’s pretty darn healthy and extremely tasty. Chocolate is my go-to dessert so if this was yummy enough for me, I guarantee you’ll like it too.

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



Soufflé on Foodista

Go Ape-$#!; for Banana Bread

I’m the first one to admit that baked goods are pretty tricky when you’re trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle. I can admire a piece of cake from across the room and instantly gain three pounds. But sometimes, egg beaters for breakfast just aren’t cutting it. I literally eat eggs 6 days a week. It’s crazy! But, what else is there to have for breakfast that accommodates a low-carb diet?

I try to stay away from diet-branded products like those Weight Watchers cakes or South Beach Diet granola bars. Scientists may have found a way to cut calories enough so people lose weight, but I don’t trust a bunch of ingredients that require a few college degrees to understand. What the heck is fractionated palm kernel oil? Beats me. I’m picturing some test tube concoction that men in white lab coats turn into a cereal bar before your very eyes. I say, “no thanks” to food that could be served to George Jetson. I’d much rather take a half hour on a Sunday afternoon and make something myself at home. Football season is over so I have some time to spare on Sundays.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the website, hungry-girl.com. It’s dedicated to diet tips and tricks. They often review products or offer fake-out recipes. It’s an interesting resource, but they tend to lean towards pre-packaged “convenience” foods that I’m not a huge fan of. Every once in a while, they hit on something worth trying. I made the Hungry Girl Banana Bread recipe over the weekend. There’s no oil, no eggs, no added sugar and it still tasted like banana bread. Instead of white sugar, this recipe uses Splenda. I’m on a sugar-restricted diet, so I used the Splenda. If you aren’t a fan of sweeteners and aren’t restricted by sugar, you could easily swap out the Splenda for sugar, or substitute half the Splenda for brown sugar. Honestly, I liked it as-is. The texture was a little off. It was spongier than traditional banana bread, but I popped a slice in the toaster and it took care of that easily. You could also add walnuts if you like, but I didn’t really miss them.

To save a few bucks, I bought the bananas on the “this produce is too gross to sell at full price” rack at the supermarket. A bunch of eight bananas was marked down to 75 cents because the peels were slightly bruised. The bananas were fine on the inside and you need very ripe fruit to mash up for the bread. I guess I’ll have to cut back on making fun of the old ladies I see shopping this particular sale rack!

This was definitely worth a try if you have a few minutes to make something homemade. As an added bonus, the entire house will smell like freshly-baked bread. You just can’t get that from a box!


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



Banana Bread on Foodista

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chocolate for breakfast? Yes you can!

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to cook this week, but I always make time to eat! I bought a box of these VitaMuffins at the supermarket last week because the self checkout machine so nicely spit out a $2 off coupon for me. Even the cash register is encouraging me to eat healthy! I know these have been on the market for a while, but they’re a little pricey and I didn’t think they’d be good enough to splurge for $5 a box. But on sale, I’d give them a try.

My first reaction was, “this is the tiniest muffin I’ve ever seen.” They are definitely small. I didn’t count on them to be enough to eat for breakfast, so I scrambled up some egg beaters in the morning and tried the muffin as a morning snack a few hours later. As instructed, I unwrapped the plastic and let the microwave do its work for 20 seconds. I took the first bite expecting a rubbery, artificial taste. I was completely surprised. They’re very moist and the few chocolate chips sprinkled on top get all melty when you heat them up. The muffin was very chocolaty and not in a “chocolate-like flavoring” way. This tasted like a legit muffin! I couldn’t believe it!

So, I flipped over the box expecting the caloric info to be terrible. Some of these products marketed as “healthy” are complete imposters. Never trust the fancy packaging. Graphic designers are paid big bucks to fool us into thinking a standard chocolate muffin is good for you. But, I was surprised yet again. They’re only 100 calories, 1.5 grams of fat (no trans fat) and 9 grams of sugar. To top it off, they bring 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 15 added vitamins and minerals to the party. In that little muffin? That’s crazy talk. These must be made entirely of chemicals. Wrong again. The first four ingredients are Water, whole wheat flour, organic sugar and egg whites. Go out and buy a box, they’re perfect if you need a sweet start to your morning and I was surprisingly full for a few hours after just a few bites.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bouillabaisse: just a fancy way to say fish stew

Every time I go out to eat at a nice restaurant, I order seafood. This has become a standing joke with my husband and I. We play the “let’s guess what Trish is going to order” game. If there’s a piece of fish sitting on top of a vegetable on the menu, I order it; probably because I don’t cook it much at home. I’m not too adventurous in the seafood cooking department. Without much experience preparing it, the last thing I want to do is screw up a $15 piece of fish. You know how disappointing it can be to make a special trip to the store for something, come home, spend an hour cooking and want to toss the final result right out the window. But, in the name of trying new things and teaching myself to not turn into a raging lunatic if everything doesn’t come out as planned; I made a trip to the seafood counter.

I was visiting with my family over the weekend and remembered my Mom making this great fish stew when I still lived at home. Now that I’m all grown up, I don’t have the luxury of getting mom-cooked meals 24/7. Let me tell you, it’s a major bummer. She’s the best home cook ever. But I digress. This delicious fish stew is called Bouillabaisse. Leave it to the French to come up with a snooty title for everything. Sorry to spoil the mystery here, but it’s just fish stew.

Have you ever tried asking a mom how they make one of their specialty meals? “I add a little of this and a little of that, the recipe says this but I leave it out, stir until it looks just right.” That’s mom language for “I completely make this up.” Well, isn’t that just great. I’m used to reading recipes, so Mom busted out some cookbooks from the 70’s (copyright 1978, I checked) and I took two different recipes home to review. I’m pretty proud of this dish because I basically came up with it on my own. I just kept adding and tasting until it came as close to Mom’s as I could remember. My husband and I were wildly impressed with ourselves.

I didn’t have to diet this up much. This recipe is pretty healthy on its own. I left out any trace of butter and used a tiny amount of olive oil to sauté the vegetables. Instead of serving the stew with a giant roll of Italian bread, I made little crostinis out of a French baguette. I’m sure there are French chefs out there with rather strong opinions as to what classifies as a Bouillabaisse. I’m certainly no French chef. I was just looking for a healthy way to enjoy seafood. Since it's winter here in NY, a piece of grilled fish just didn’t seem hearty enough to do the trick. Feel free to substitute the seafood for whatever looks fresh at the market that day. In the end, this dish felt like eating restaurant food even though it was off a snack tray in the living room of my one bedroom apartment.

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


Bouillabaise on Foodista