Archive | August, 2011

The Mighty Caesar

31 Aug

My apologies… this post is WAY overdue!  I made this Caesar Salad to accompany the Eggplant Parmesan from a week ago (er, two weeks ago) and I haven’t gotten around to posting the recipe until now.  The past couple of weeks have been busy– I had to pack up my kitchen into boxes, deal with frustrating movers, then try to find new homes for my gadgets while tripping over half-empty boxes and partially assembled furniture in my new “big city” apartment.  On the bright side, the unpacking is now done (ish) and I will be able to eat, drink, and be merry in my new space. Hurrah!

Enough of me, now onto the Caesar Salad.  I decided to call this the MIGHTY Caesar because the oil found in your typical Caesar dressing is replaced with cottage cheese and plain yogurt– good sources of protein and calcium, respectively– which will help make you… mighty!

As long as you have a food processor or a blender on hand, this dressing is a cinch to prepare and is so much healthier than traditional Caesar dressing.  I really like the tartness that the plain yogurt adds, although I must say that I’ve fooled a picky eater or two who thought this dressing made the salad taste just like “normal” Caesar salad.  See if you can fool your guests!

I love making Cajun croutons to accompany this Caesar dressing.  They, too, are incredibly easy to make and definitely beat the butter-laden store-bought kind.  Instead of bacon, I toasted a handful of sliced almonds in a dry pan over medium heat just until they were aromatic and a golden brown. Right before taking them off the heat, I added a splash of soy sauce and stirred quickly to coat.  The saltiness and crunchiness of the almonds made them taste almost like bacon bits (okay, maybe not) and complemented the salad well.
 

A Mighty Caesar Salad


 
Light Caesar Salad Dressing  (from EatingWell.com)

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/3 cup cottage cheese (1%)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon of salt, or to taste (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

Puree garlic and cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add yogurt, Parmesan, white wine vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and pulse to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Makes about 1 cup.  Per 3 tbsp serving: 45 kcal, 1.6 g fat, 150 mg sodium

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Cajun Croutons  (from Cooking Light Magazine, July 1995)

2 cups whole wheat bread, cubed (I like to use whole wheat buns– you get a better crust to interior ratio!)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

In a medium glass bowl, microwave oil, garlic, and Cajun seasoning on high for 40 to 60 seconds.  Add bread and toss well to coat.  Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, checking frequently to ensure bread doesn’t burn.

Makes about 2 cups of croutons.

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Meaty Meatless Eggplant Parmesan

21 Aug

Eggplants are an interesting vegetable.  Large and deep purple with a spongy flesh that is virtually inedible raw but becomes tender and meaty when cooked.  E’s uncle lives on a farm and grows a variety of vegetables for personal consumption.  Earlier this week he surprised us with two gorgeous eggplants from his garden, along with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

With two eggplants in hand, the first thing that came to mind was Eggplant Parmesan.  I’ve never made the dish before but I sifted through my cookbooks and found a couple of recipes: one was lengthy and involved salting the eggplant then allowing it to sit for 45 minutes.  The other was very straightforward: no salting, relatively few ingredients, and it was much healthier.  Can you guess which one I made?

As an aside, I did a bit of research just to be sure that I wasn’t sabotaging my dish by omitting the salting step.  Adding salt to the eggplant removes bitterness and was a step in traditional recipes because earlier strains of the vegetable were much more bitter than our current strains.  According to the wise Wikipedia, most modern varieties of eggplant do not need this treatment.  Phew.

The Eggplant Parmesan was super flavourful and, in the words of meat-eater E, was very satisfying despite being a vegetarian dish.  Pair this with a healthy Caesar Salad (more on that another day) and you have yourself a balanced meal.  As an added bonus, the leftovers were phenomenal the day after!

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan  (from Crazy Plates)

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs (preferably whole wheat)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried basil
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds),
unpeeled and each sliced crosswise into 8 rounds
cooking spray
3 cups low-fat tomato sauce
(use one that you like– the tomato sauce dominates in flavour.  I used slightly less than the amount called for and there still seemed to be a bit too much sauce)
1 cup shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese (4 oz)
2 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley

  1. In a shallow bowl or pie plate, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, and basil.  Mix well.
  2. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat together egg whites and salt.  Working one at a time, dip eggplant slices into egg whites, then into crumb mixture.  Turn to coat both sides with crumbs. Place slices on 1 large or 2 small baking sheets that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.
  3. Spray tops of slices lightly with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Remove eggplant slices from the oven, turn them over, and spray again with cooking spray.  Return to oven and bake for 15 more minutes.
  4. To assemble casserole, spoon 1 cup tomato sauce over bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Top with 1/2 eggplant slices.  Spoon another 1 cup tomato sauce over eggplant, followed by 1/2 mozzarella.  Repeat layering with remaining eggplant slices, sauce, and mozzarella.  Sprinkle parsley over top.
  5. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and sauce is bubbly.  Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 260 kcal, 6 g fat, 6.4 g fibre

Really Healthy Blueberry Bran Muffins

15 Aug

My time as a “Londoner” is coming to a close so this summer I’ve been trying to take advantage of the fertile Southwestern Ontario land that surrounds me.  In June, I went strawberry picking at one of London’s several berry farms (all are within a 15 km radius from my downtown apartment).  Wild black raspberries and garlic scapes were foraged in July while hiking around a large lake at the city’s edge.  And to round off a summer of Ontario berries, E and I went blueberry picking just outside of the city last week.

Strawberry Pie (made in June with freshly picked Ontario strawberries)

I’d never picked blueberries before but my coworkers had raved about how quick and easy it is.  Sure enough, with berry buckets strapped to our waists (to leave our hands free to pick), we quickly gathered 4 pounds of berries in less than 20 minutes.  We barely put a dent in our assigned row!  I was amazed at how easily the ripe purpley-blue berries came off of the stem while the underripe green and red ones stayed put.  Meanwhile, E had fun testing the differences in taste between the underripe and ripe berries… I think more ripe berries ended up in his mouth than in his bucket!

Berry bucket + fanny pack = really stylish

A mix of ripe and not-quite-ripe blueberries

Now, what to do with all of these blueberries?  I didn’t want to make a blueberry dessert so instead I decided on one of my favourite snacks: blueberry bran muffins.  Up until now, my go-to recipe contained far too much sugar to be considered a healthy muffin.  Sifting through my cookbooks, I found a recipe that was virtually identical to my go-to, but used apple juice concentrate (1/2 cup) instead of brown sugar (2/3 cup).  Perfect!

First out of the oven, these muffins were a shock to the palate.  Despite the natural sugars in the apple juice concentrate, they were not AT ALL sweet.  I was mildly disappointed but thought “at least I have a really healthy muffin”.  But, after letting them sitting overnight I found that they were subtly– almost perfectly– sweet.  In hindsight, I think the warm blueberries just needed a bit of time to release their juices into the muffin.  If the muffins aren’t sweet enough for you, spread a bit of blueberry jam on top (I made a batch with the rest of our blueberries)… delicious!

Blueberry Bran Muffins

Really Healthy Blueberry Bran Muffins
(adapted from the cookbook Power Eating)

1 cup sour milk* or buttermilk
to make sour milk, add 1 tablespoon vinegar to a 1 cup measure; top with milk and let stand for 5 minutes
1.5 cups natural wheat bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Combine sour milk and wheat bran in a bowl.  Stir to combine and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Mix well.
  4. Whisk together egg, apple juice concentrate, oil, and vanilla.  Add to wheat bran mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Add flour mixture to wheat bran mixture, stirring until just combined.  Fold in blueberries.
  6. Distribute batter evenly between 12 muffin cups and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let muffins cool in tin for 15 minutes on a wire rack, then remove from pan and allow muffins to fully cool on the wire rack.
  7. Store muffins in an airtight container in the fridge.  Allow to sit overnight (at least) before eating.  Enjoy!

Makes 12 muffins.  Per muffin: 105 kcal, 2 g fat, 4 g fibre, 160 mg sodium

The Quest for Healthy Cheese

12 Aug

I’ve never made cheese before but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.  To me, homemade cheese has always been something for the pros… certainly not for your basic home cook like myself, I thought.  But after seeing a simple recipe for paneer (Indian cheese) in a recent issue of Chatelaine magazine, I finally had the confidence to try it out.

According to the oh-so-wise Wikipedia, paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine.  It is made by curdling heated milk with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar.  The result is an unsalted, unaged, non-melting, farmer’s cheese.

Almost all recipes that I stumbled across called for 2 litres of whole milk (3.3% milk fat) and 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  That’s it.  Determined to make a healthier version, I decided to try making paneer with skim milk.  Several websites indicated that it could be done but that the result would be a more rubbery and grainy cheese.  Sounds yummy, right?!?  I figured the texture might actually be palatable since paneer is usually sauteed in oil first and then added to dishes containing TONS of wonderful Indian spices.  Plus, I couldn’t justify making paneer with whole milk knowing how much healthier it could be if skim milk were used.  (My estimates indicate that paneer made with skim milk contains half as many calories as full-fat paneer and virtually no fat, compared to 16 grams of mostly saturated fat per half cup serving of whole milk paneer)

The basic steps in making paneer are as follows:

  1. Bring 2 litres of milk to a boil over medium heat
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and stir while curds separate from the whey
  3. Pour mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander and gently rinse with cold water to remove lemon flavour
  4. Gather ends of cheesecloth and twist ball of cheese to squeeze out any remaining whey.  Tie cheesecloth to sink faucet and let hang for 5 minutes.
  5. Place on a plate, set another plate on top, and weigh down with cans or a heavy pot.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  6. Unwrap cheese and voila!

If you want to try this at home, follow this recipe from Aarti Sequiera which gives much more detailed instructions.  As a heads up, don’t be disappointed when you are left with a seemingly teeny tiny bundle of cheese.  Typically, 8 cups of milk yields 2 cups (12 ounces) of paneer.  I was only left with 7.5 ounces, a mere 63% yield.  I would have failed if this were a chemistry lab!  Perhaps it was because I didn’t allow the milk to completely curdle, or maybe it was because I used skim milk?  Who knows…

Ball O' Cheese in the making

Voila! Homemade Healthy Cheese

There are a ton of Indian dishes that use paneer, my favourite being Saag Paneer (also known as Palak Paneer, or Spinach with Paneer).  This recipe (also from Aarti) uses plain low-fat yogurt instead of cream… my kind of cooking!  It’s a bit time consuming but the final product was WELL worth the effort.  Spicy spinach-y goodness… yum yum.  Make sure you have naan bread on hand– it’s the perfect accompaniment to this dish!

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer:  Spinach with Indian Cheese   (adapted from Aarti Sequiera)

1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil, divided
8 to 12 ounces (1.5 to 2 cups) of paneer or firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 package (300 g) frozen spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (1 inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (approx 1 tbsp)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt, and 1 tbsp canola oil.  Add paneer cubes and toss gently, taking care not to break up paneer.  Set aside.
  2. Puree spinach in a food processor until smooth.  Alternatively, spinach can be chopped very finely.
  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, spray with non-stick spray, and cook paneer for 5 or so minutes, until lightly browned.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  4. Heat remaining 1/2 tbsp oil.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is evenly toffee-coloured.  Add a couple of tablespoons of water as the mixture cooks if it looks like it is drying out or burning.
  5. Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin.  Sprinkle a bit of water to prevent the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the spinach and mix well.  Add a bit of salt and stir in 1/2 cup of water. Cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat and slowly add the yogurt, stirring continuously.  Add the paneer.  Turn heat back on to medium and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

Makes 3 servings.  Per serving (approximate): 220 kcal, 8 g fat, 350 mg sodium, 3 g fibre

The Summer Squash Conundrum

10 Aug

I was at the garden on Monday morning to tend to “my” bean plants, which haven’t been doing so well.  I call them my bean plants because I have a bit of an attachment to them; back in May I was assigned the task of planting the kidney bean-like seeds along the west fence of the garden.  Since then, I have diligently watered and weeded around the seeds, anxiously waiting for the plants to flourish.  Some have grown significantly while most have had their tops eaten off by the deer.  Sigh.  On a positive note, a few of the plants have recently flowered so it looks like there will be beans (if only a few) after all.

While at the garden, I picked up a few treats: a turnip (great for turnip “fries”, which look just like french fries but have that characteristic turnip bitterness), a few patty pan squash, and a handful of these odd looking berries:

Cape Gooseberries (aka Ground Cherries)

After a bit of research, I discovered that these are called cape gooseberries (also known as ground cherries) and grow inside of a husk-like pod, which creates a beautiful “leaf” at the top of the berry when opened.  As for taste, they are kind of like a sweet, fruity tomato.  Not my favourite, but they’re pretty and make a nice garnish.

Now, to the squash.  I picked up two patty pans that were lying in the middle of the garden after having been dislodged from their respective plants after a thunderstorm the night before.  I also picked one that was MASSIVE because I figured it would have otherwise gone to waste.

The patty pan squash family

While trying to decide what to do with my squash family, I went online to read up on patty pans.  They come in 3 different colours (yellow, green, and white– we have the white variety in our garden), have a similar texture and taste as zucchini, and are normally cooked when they are no more than 2 to 3 inches in diameter.  Uh oh.  My little guy fit the bill but the massive one was more like 8 inches!  Apparently there is no harm in eating larger patty pans but they tend to lose flavour and tenderness with age.  With that, I decided to slice and saute the two smaller ones in a little bit of olive oil (delicious! tasted just like sauteed zucchini) and I chopped up the massive one to make… a SOUP!

This soup was totally improvised so the recipe below is just a guide.  The best (and most necessary) part is the Moroccan spice mix.  I had some leftover from a snack I made last week (roasted chickpeas, which I am still determined to perfect… more on that another day) and decided to throw some in.  It’s a super flavourful spice mix that will definitely become a staple in my spice rack.  For this soup you can use just about any summer squash– zucchini, yellow summer squash, or patty pans.

Summer Squash Soup

Summer Squash Soup

1/2 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 extremely large patty pan squash or 4 zucchinis, chopped into 1 inch cubes
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth (or water)
2 tsp Moroccan spice mix (see below)
salt, to taste (optional)

  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add onion and garlic and saute until softened and beginning to brown.
  2. Add squash and saute for another minute.  Add spice mix and saute for 1 minute, or until spices become fragrant.
  3. Add vegetable broth, cover pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.
  4. Remove pot from heat, allow to cool slightly, and puree in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender.  Add salt to taste.  Serve warm or cold.

Makes 3 servings.  Per serving: 105 kcal, 3 g fat, 3 g fibre, 300 mg sodium

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Moroccan Spice Mix    (from Fine Cooking magazine)

2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika (I used regular)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of ground cloves

Mix all spices together and store in a glass jar.

Mock-A-Mole (+ Super Easy Homemade Salsa)

8 Aug

Mock-a-mole, as in mock guacamole… not the arcade game “whack-a-mole.”  Confused?  Let me explain.

I had a couple of friends + my sister over for dinner a couple of weeks ago.  I decided to go with a Mexican theme and do tacos since they are so tasty but not something I would make for just one or two people.  As a bonus, most of the work can be done in advance.

Super Easy Homemade Salsa (scroll down to see the recipe)

Guacamole was a must, and this was the perfect opportunity to try a recipe for light guacamole that I had been eying since I purchased “The Best Light Recipe” cookbook last summer.  The cookbook is written by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, a magazine renowned for its “near obsessive dedication” to finding the best methods in home cooking.  Each recipe reads like an elaborate experiment (perfect for the science nerd in me) with the authors testing and re-testing an array of different ingredients and cooking methods in order to obtain the best product.

The Best Light Recipe cookbook

For this lightened up guacamole (aka Mock-a-mole), 2 out of 3 avocados were replaced with cooked, pureed lima beans.  It sounds odd, but the end result was not much different in taste from traditional guacamole.  The flavour was actually a bit brighter, perhaps due to the addition of a dollop of low-fat mayonnaise for added creaminess.  The downside?  The skin of each lima bean had to be removed by hand (otherwise the puree won’t be as smooth), which was easy but time consuming.

According to the recipe, most traditional guacamoles contain 100 calories and 9 grams of (healthy) fat per 1/4 cup serving while this light Mock-a-mole has 70 calories and 4 grams of fat.  In the end, I’m glad I tried it but I’m not sure the handful of calories saved were worth the effort!

Mock-a-mole

Light Guacamole aka Mock-a-mole   (from The Best Light Recipe)

Note:  I omitted the tomato and cilantro, but only because I had a couple of picky eaters over for dinner

1 medium tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
1 cup frozen lima beans
1 medium ripe avocado
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp light mayonnaise
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves
1 medium jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 tbsp minced red onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
ground black pepper

  1. Place the tomato in a small colander set inside a bowl and set aside to drain.
  2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Add the frozen lima beans and cook until tender and creamy, about 5 minutes.  Drain the beans and rinse under cold water until cool.  Pat the beans dry with paper towels then remove the skins by pinching the beans so the skins slide off.
  3. Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop out a quarter of the flesh. Puree a quarter of the avocado, skinned lima beans, lime juice, mayonnaise, and salt together in a food processor until smooth, 1 to 1.5 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  4. Cube the remaining three quarters of the avocado into 1/2-inch pieces and scrape into a medium bowl.  Add the pureed lima mixture, drained tomato, cilantro, jalapeno, onion, garlic, and cumin; stir gently to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.  The guacamole can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 day if covered with plastic wrap pressed flush against the surface of the dip.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 2 cups.  Per 1/4 cup serving: 70 kcal, 4 grams fat, 3 g fibre, 210 mg sodium

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Super Easy Homemade Salsa   (from Allrecipes.com)

This is a great alternative to store-bought salsa.  It’s incredibly fresh in flavour and a cinch to prepare in the food processor.

1 can (28 oz) stewed tomatoes, drained
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 cup canned sliced green chiles (or canned pickled jalapenos)
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt, to taste

  1. Reserve several of the canned tomatoes and chop coarsely.
  2. Place remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Blend on low to desired consistency.
  3. Add coarsely chopped tomatoes and stir to combine.