Put an Egg on It


Tuesday night dinner: Brussel sprouts, butternut squash & parsnips roasted with olive oil and thyme, on a bed of farro with mushrooms, topped with an egg (that’s sunny side up, not fried).

Roasted veggies and cooked grains are side dishes by themselves. But put an egg on your plate and you have dinner. Or even brunch. Either way, this is a colorful, satisfying and super-nutritious meal.

For my WW friends, this plate is 9 Smart Points, ready in 35 minutes.

Breakdown:

3 SP = 1.5 cups roasted vegetables with olive oil

4 SP = .5 cup Farro with mushrooms

2 SP = one egg, cooked in a non-stick pan with just a spray of olive oil

 

Getting To The Heart of The Artichoke


Look closer.

That came from nature. The tough outer leaves, the bulbous shape, the furry choke, the tender heart—I am in awe of the artichoke for all these things.  I love to eat artichokes because they’re so versatile: steamed, stuffed, fried, braised, sautéed, with chicken or pasta or in a risotto.  Oh! I’m forgetting roasted, grilled, and marinated (the hearts, of course).

One of the reasons I look forward to fresh artichokes every spring is that I don’t cook them. Few foods inspire such anxiety in me as the artichoke.

It’ll be too hard, I think. They turn brown too fast. All that peeling! What if I don’t remove the choke correctly and I end up choking? Or worse, what if my terrible choke-removing results in a gasping dinner guest? Or boyfriend?  Yikes.  It’s so pretty, I don’t want to cut it wrong. How would I cook it? What if I overcook it?  Oh, look! There’s a zucchini. I’ll just cook that.

So goes my thinking process whenever I am faced with an artichoke in the grocery store. Well, no longer.  After going to six gourmet grocery stores in Manhattan on Friday evening and coming up empty on baby artichokes, Saturday I found myself a beautiful, round and full globe artichoke at Trader Joe’s for $1.29.   It was time to consult the interwebs, cookbooks and magazines about proper care and preparation.  I was already settled on cooking method—steaming—a simple and straightforward approach that would really showcase the gentle sweetness of the artichoke, and also how fun it is to pull apart and eat leaf by leaf. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Our story begins with one medium-large artichoke.

Prepare a bowl of cold, acidulated water. In English, this means get a bowl of cold water, then cut a lemon in quarters, squeeze some juice into the water, and drop the lemon pieces in the bowl.

Using a serrated knife (and yes, a bread knife will do), saw about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Then, remove the tough outer leaves along the stem.


Next, rub one of the lemon pieces all over the artichoke.  (This and the lemon water are essential since artichokes are super-sensitive to browning. And we don’t want brown veggies.) Get a pair of kitchen shears and cut about a quarter inch off the top of each of the exposed leaves. Rub the artichoke again with the lemon.

Using a paring knife, peel the stem. The outer layer is thick, so make sure you remove it completely.

Next, use a big, strong and especially sharp knife to cut the artichoke in half.  Put one half of the artichoke into the bowl of lemon-water. Take a piece of lemon and rub it all over the half you’re working with.

Moment of truth: time to remove the choke. I know it doesn’t look very threatening. It looks soft and furry, not sharp and thorny.  But you have to remove the choke, and it’s better to do it before you cook the artichoke.

So, grab a ginger peeler, or in the absence of the ginger peeler, a spoon and paring knife will do. Trace along the edge of the fur, scooping out the furry bits and scraping along the flesh so that none are left.  You will be left with a vacancy in the middle of your artichoke, like so:

Put the cleaned half in the water, and repeat the choke-removing process with the other half.

Once both halves are cleaned and resting happily in the lemon-water, get a medium saucepan (about 3 quarts or more).  Put in some cold water, about an inch high in the pot, and add a smashed garlic clove. Set the steamer basket in the pot, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.  When the water boils, transfer your artichokes from the lemon water to the steamer basket and cover the pot immediately. Steam for 30 minutes, checking on the artichoke halves periodically to make sure there’s still some water in the pot.  You’ll know they’re done when the centers are pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

Remove the artichoke carefully from the steamer basket and transfer to a plate.  You can do what I did—sprinkle some kosher salt on it & then drizzle with olive oil. Or, you could go with my boyfriend’s preferred drizzling solution: melted butter.

To eat, scrape the flesh off the leaves with your teeth, discarding the tough part of the leaves.  You can eat the whole heart and the stem.  Savor them, and you’ll taste spring.

A Love Note to Pasta

Oh, Pasta. It’s been too long. 

I’ve been avoiding you for awhile.  You didn’t do anything wrong—it’s just that…well, every time we get together, I can’t stop myself.  Having Cheese around doesn’t help things—I just overindulge. And then I feel bad about myself…

I’ve gotten tired of grain salads. Polenta’s great, but it’s not the same.  And that dalliance I had with your whole wheat cousin?  That was a mistake.  Won’t happen again.

I have some ideas for us, Pasta.  Big ideas.  I want us to be together again, but since I can’t trust myself with you and Cheese, I need to invite some more friends to this party and——

Oh. Hiiiii!

You’ve caught me in a very emotional moment. I’ve forgotten myself.

Yes, it is true – I miss pasta. Also realizing I have yet to post a pasta recipe on this blog. What’s that about?

I suppose in my quest for weight loss/healthy eating/fruitless attempts not to OD on carbs, I have neglected my precious pasta—my favorite food growing up, a reliable go-to for quick dinners, a perfect main course with nothing more than a little butter, pepper and cheese. In the past week, however, I’ve come across a few recipes that look & sound so mouth-watering I can’t wait to make pasta again. Had a feeling I wouldn’t be alone on this, so I had to share:

Recipe #1: Pasta with Pistachios, Meyer Lemon and Broccoli

Recipe #2: Pasta with Black Kale, Caramelized Onions, and Parsnips

Recipe #3: Roasted Cauliflower Pasta

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr

Weekend Recap: An Unconventional Super Bowl Feast

3BV Chili!

Tonight’s dinner? Leftover chili from last night’s Super Bowl feast.  I had spent a lot of time mulling over the menu, and finally came up with a roster of impressive dishes to feed a small yet hungry party.

No Super Bowl gathering is complete without dip, so I started things off with crudités served with onion & fresh herb dip. At the end of the first quarter, I skipped Buffalo wings in favor of drumsticks—roasted with a hickory spice rub I picked up in New Orleans.

When it came time for Madonna’s performance at halftime, it was time for the main course: chili and skillet cornbread. After searching through my cookbooks and magazines for a good chili recipe, I found one in an old issue of Cooking Light: Three Bean Vegetarian Chili.

I wasn’t cooking for vegetarians, but as chili recipes go this one was big on flavor, color and texture.  The three beans (pinto, red kidney and cannellini) are accompanied by chopped tomatoes, roasted peppers, the usual onions & garlic, and a surprise ingredient—butternut squash. Odd, I thought—but its nutty sweetness really complements the added spices—cumin, paprika, and crushed red pepper. For liquid, you’ve got the juice from the tomatoes (assuming you use canned), and vegetable broth. I had made some from scratch earlier in the week, and the earthy undertones from the mushrooms and parsnip made the chili that much richer.

Cornbread is a perfect accompaniment to this chili (though the tortilla chips in the picture work well too).  Skillet cornbread makes for a great presentation and a really moist, easy-to-cut bread. Garnish the chili with some chopped scallion & shredded cheddar, and you’re good to go.

From prep to feeding time, the chili takes about 90 minutes to make.  This recipe fed 2 very hungry Giants fans, 1 very annoyed and hungry Pats fan, and 1 hungry football fan who maintained neutrality through all four quarters.  I had enough chili left over to make my boyfriend lunch & have a lovely dinner myself.

Side note: For dessert, I made this pudding, a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for ages. Rich, decadent, creamy, spicy chocolate—enjoyed just in time to watch Big Blue win the game.

Pretty Tasty, Pretty Healthy, Pretty Pretty! Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon

I’ve given myself two challenges this week: write a blog post daily, and give my weight loss effort a boost.  Not the easiest task when you write a blog about cooking, but I figured that adding some new dishes to my healthy cooking repertoire would help both my causes. So! Every day I’ll be posting a new recipe with step-by-step instructions, photos & tips—plus Weight Watchers Points Plus values of each dish.

First up: Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon.  As I combed the interwebs for recipes this weekend, I came across this one on The Kitchn. (Oh Kitchn, how I heart thee!)  The minute I read the post I knew I wanted to make this dish.  For one thing, it looks beautiful—the sight of the bright orange broth, bold green just-wilted spinach and pops of red from the sun-dried tomatoes all mixed together is really mouth-watering.

Pretty colors, complex flavors, and healthy? Sign me up.

The other major attraction: flavor. I’ve combined chickpeas and spinach in dishes before, but never with coconut milk and lemon, and it’s the zest of the lemon that adds a special touch of the exotic to this one.  I tweaked the recipe only slightly from the original—I used light coconut milk instead of regular, and added hot curry powder and turmeric (my standby spices any time I make a savory dish with coconut milk).  I didn’t have fresh ginger on hand, so I skipped it entirely and ultimately didn’t miss it at all.

The recipe is super simple and pretty quick—you’ll need about 30 minutes from start to finish, so it works for a week night post-long-day-at-the-office dinner.  And since you can serve this dish with sweet potato and/or rice, pasta or any grain, you can let those cook while you’re focusing your attention on the pot full of pretty, aromatic awesomeness in front of you.

Braised Coconut Spinach with Chickpeas and Lemon

Adapted from The Kitchn

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil). This is about 2 oz whole dried tomatoes.
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 dried hot red pepper or dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon hot curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon pepper (optional; you can get it at Trader Joe’s)
  • 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 15-ounce can light coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Chopped cilantro (for garnish)

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep Dutch oven or heavy stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is beginning to brown. Add the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest, red pepper, curry powder and turmeric. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the chickpeas and cook over high heat for a few minutes or until the chickpeas are beginning to turn golden and they are coated with the onion and garlic mixture.

Toss in the spinach, one handful at a time. This will take about 5 minutes; stir in a handful or two and wait for it to wilt down and make room in the pot before adding the next handful. When all the spinach has been stirred in, pour in the coconut milk and stir in the salt, ground ginger, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer then turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the chickpeas are warmed through.

Ready!

Serving Options:

Serve this dish over cooked sweet potato or over any cooked grain, rice or pasta.  The Kitchn recipe calls for serving over roasted sweet potato, which goes incredibly well with the flavors of the sauce and adds a nice creamy texture when mixed with the chickpeas and spinach. Bonus: it’s super healthy and filling.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Info:

  • 7 Points per serving; 9 when served with ½ cup cooked sweet potato.

Storing:

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and will re-heat well in a microwave—unless you’re using my microwave, which is a horrible device that specializes in uneven heating and disappointing its owner.

Healthy, Easy, Delicious: Beet & Sweet Potato Stacks

Jump for joy: Cheese is involved!

If you’re one of the bazillion people who have resolved to eat healthier, lose weight, or save money, (or some combination thereof) you may think you’re in for twelve months of deprivation-central.  Not so, friends.  It is possible to eat tasty things on a budget and reduce your overall girth at the same time.  I know—I’ve done it before.  I’ve also gone off the wagon—hell, I spent all of December off the wagon—so I’m making a genuine effort to eat a bit healthier and save the really indulgent stuff for special occasions.  I may have eaten pralines every day in New Orleans, but I can’t do that at home (mostly because I haven’t found really tasty pralines in Brooklyn. Thank Christ.)

So! Healthy food.  Healthy food can be pretty and fancy looking and easy to make.  It can be budget-friendly, make-ahead-friendly, and vegetarian-friendly.  It can be filling enough & have just the right texture to be carnivore-friendly.  And most of all, it can be delicious.

Not too long before Christmas, I saw a recipe for Beet & Sweet Potato Stacks on The Kitchn, a blog I check more often than Facebook.   Since I’ve only recently warmed up to beets, I thought I’d give the recipe a shot.  Plus, beets are cheap, and so are sweet potatoes and onions (score!), so if my experiment were a failure, it wouldn’t be a costly one. I also love making really simple things that look so good they make people think I spent an entire day in the kitchen preparing them.

I’ve made this recipe twice and I’ve only modified it slightly.  You can make each of the “layers” of the stacks up to 3 days ahead, which is really helpful if you’re making these for a dinner party.  If you decided to do everything at the same time, plan on needing about two hours from prep time through assembly.

RECIPE

Beet & Sweet Potato Stacks

Adapted from The Kitchn

Serves: 2 as an entrée; 4-6 as an appetizer

Tools you will need:

Aluminum foil, a peeler, a 9×13-baking dish or a cookie sheet, a plastic cutting board, a large skillet (NOT nonstick) and a good sharp knife. Also, you’ll want to wear an apron or an old T-shirt. (Beets, people.  I do not have to tell you what they’re capable of.)

Ingredients:

For the stacks:

2 large beets, without their greens
1 large uniformly shaped sweet potato (or 2 – the important thing is you need 1 pound)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon of sweet paprika
1 dash cayenne pepper
½ cup walnuts, toasted (optional)
1 large onion
4 oz. baby spinach, rinsed and dried (you can use up to 6 oz.)
3 oz goat cheese (use a log or medallions, not the crumbles)

Vinaigrette recipe follows

Method:

Part I: Prep (Make day-of, or 1 – 3 days ahead)

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub, rinse and dry the beets, then wrap each completely with aluminum foil (if you have the heavy duty kind, this is a great time to use it).  Once the oven hits 400, put the beets in, and set your timer for 1 hour. Then leave the beets alone.

While they’re cooking, rinse & peel your sweet potato.  (The Kitchn’s recipe says to slice the potato unpeeled, but I find the skin to be too tough). You’ll want to cut your slices about ¼ to 1/3 of an inch thick—but more importantly, make the slices even to ensure even cooking. Toss the slices with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the paprikas, cayenne and salt.  Crack some pepper on them if you like.

This sweet potato weighs exactly one pound.

Once the slices are coated, rinse all the spice off your hands and grab a cookie sheet.  Line it with parchment or foil (if foil, spray on some non-stick spray).  Arrange the slices on the sheet, as I have in the picture below, and put them in the oven (you can put the beets on the side—they’ll be fine).  Allow potato slices to bake for 20 minutes.  Then, take them out and turn them with a fork or spatula, and let them bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until you see brown spots and your home smells like sweet potato and paprika (which is magical in and of itself!).  Once those babies are done, allow them to cool completely.

Ready to bake!

Done!

Once your oven timer goes off, remove the beets from the oven and let them cool for at least 30 minutes to an hour before unwrapping them.  On a plastic cutting board, unwrap the beets and gently rub the skins off (careful! They can be slippery! ).  By now you will look as if someone or something has bled all over your hands, so give them a rinse, and get your knife ready.  (Here’s a tip for slicing beets, onions or any round vegetable:  slice a little piece off one side and use it as a flat bottom.  Now it won’t roll out of your hand.) You’ll want to cut your slices the same thickness as the sweet potatoes.

Refrigerate the sweet potatoes and beets in separate containers.  You can stop here, or you can make the onions and spinach.

Get a large (10 – 12”) stainless steel or cast iron skillet and set it on the stove at medium high heat.  Peel the outermost two layers of your onion and slice it (great time to use that tip!) into rings, about ¼ inch thick.  Separate the rings completely.  (Feel the burn yet?  God, how my eyes hate this part.)

Place the onions in the pan once it has heated.  Don’t add any oil or salt or stir vigorously.  Just leave ‘em alone for at least a minute, and then give a quick stir.  Let them cook dry for 5 minutes, and you’ll see they’ll start to brown.

Once they are brown, but not black or burning, add 2 teaspoons of oil and a generous pinch of salt to the pan.  Stir, and let the onions continue to cook for another 5 minutes.  They will shrink a lot while they’re getting nice and caramelized, and that’s what you want to see.  (Pause! Smell the magic!)  If the onions are sticking to the pan at any point during cooking, you can de-glaze the pan with some white wine, beer, or chicken stock—whatever you have handy (hell—cognac could work here too).

When the onions have about a minute left, add your spinach, and just let it sit on top of the onions for a minute before stirring.  The leaves will wilt very quickly, and once they do you can turn the heat off and put the pan on another burner to cool.  If you’re not making the stacks right away, you can refrigerate the spinach/onion mixture.

You can toast the walnuts a couple days ahead, but it’s best to toast them before you assemble the stacks.  Freshly toasted walnuts smell like… okay, I don’t have the right description in my head right now, but they smell good. Really good. And they taste great, too.  The basic rule of toasting nuts—whether you do it on the stove or in the oven—is that they’re ready to come off the heat once you can smell them.  If you leave them too long, you’ll have to deal with the smell of burnt walnuts, which is most foul.

Part II: Assembly

If you’re working with previously cooked “layers”, take everything out of the fridge about an hour before you assemble (and take the goat cheese out, too).  You’ll want everything to be at room temperature.

Grab a cookie sheet, line it with foil, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Time to build the stacks! Start with a beet round (this recipe provides enough of everything you’ll need for 6 stacks).  Spread a dollop of goat cheese on each round.

Next, add a slice of sweet potato to each stack, gently but firmly planting it atop the goat cheese.  Then add the onion/spinach mixture on top.  Put just a small, teaspoon-sized amount of goat cheese on onion/spinach mixture, and start again with the beet slices.  The goat cheese acts as the glue in this recipe, so don’t skimp.  If you want to add more than the amount I suggest, knock yourself out.

Pretty! And ready to go in the oven.

You can put them in the oven as they are, or—and here’s something I should have done and didn’t do—wrap each stack around with aluminum foil (check out the pictures here).  This will ensure the stacks stay upright.

Next, put the stacks in the oven and allow them to back 15 to 20 minutes until they are heated through.  While they are baking, toast the walnuts (if you haven’t already) and make the vinaigrette:

Ingredients:

1 ½ tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon honey
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of ground pepper
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, or combine them all in a jar, cover securely, and shake.  Set this aside for the moment.

When the stacks are done baking, gently remove the foil and hoist each stack onto a plate using a metal spatula.  Top each stack with the toasted walnuts and drizzle the vinaigrette over each to finish. Voi-la!

Hooray! It's dinner!

Serving suggestions:  If you want to serve the stacks as an entree, they pair well with creamy polenta (even better with creamy and cheesy polenta).  Rice is always an option, but I would stay away from brown rice here.  You’ve got a lot of fiber going on already.

Good to know: If you have leftovers, these fare well from an overnight stay in the fridge.  I found the flavors to be more intense and better blended together after I reheated two stacks the next day. Also, for the Weight Watchers people (of which I am one), a serving of two stacks is 7 Points Plus.  If you forgo the walnuts, you’re looking at 6 points.  Not too shabby!

Craving the Comfort of a Simple Sandwich

I went to my friend Kristin’s baby shower on Saturday.  The party was held in a beautiful room at the Dyker Beach Golf Club.  The tables were dressed immaculately with white china and blue cloth napkins, a centerpiece of blue hydrangeas, and at every place setting there was a favor: a Ball jar, wrapped with baby blue ribbon tied in a bow, and filled with Hershey kisses.

“That’s been my favorite,” Kristin told me. “Every day, I craved chocolate.”

“Cravings” is a word you hear a lot when it comes to pregnancy.  I’ve heard of some women craving foods like fried pickles and ice cream, sometimes together, and others crave simple things. Shortly before my arrival, my mother craved cherries—lucky for her, I was a summer baby, and cherries were in peak season just before I was born.

But, as many of us know, you don’t have to be pregnant to crave a particular food prepared a certain way from a specific place.  If you’re craving a burger from Shake Shack, a frozen veggie burger prepared at home in a frying pan is not going to deliver the goods. A craving has to be satisfied; an unfulfilled craving might drive you mad.

On Friday I found myself with a strange craving for a simple yet incredibly comforting sandwich: peanut butter with bananas and honey.  Lord knows what brought that on, but I had to have it, and I had to have it my way.  The few times I’ve ordered the sandwich in a diner, I have found the application of peanut butter to be too heavy, the presence of banana too light, and the consistency of the sandwich leaning on soggy.  When you crave a food, wait ever so patiently to acquire it, and the anticipation of finally eating this food is so tremendous you might burst, the disappointment of not getting what you expected can ruin your day.

So, it was up to me to get my sandwich, a sandwich I thought about repeatedly Friday and Saturday, and then finally prepared Sunday morning: two slices of fresh whole wheat bread from the local bakery, warmed in the oven until just crisp, and topped with a gentle, thin spread of creamy peanut butter, followed by a sliced ripe banana and a drizzle of honey. It took all of six minutes to prepare, and it made my day.