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

 

A Burst of Red & Gold in Winter

Beets

Beets, along with lentils and escarole, are foods I avoided in my childhood and grew to love in my twenties, when I was broke and teaching myself how to cook.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time, it was winter, and I had my fill of butternut squash. Beets are cheap and widely available, so I decided to give them a try.

I remember being in the produce department at Fairway, stunned by how inexpensive the beets were. Fifty-nine cents a pound! Always one to get the best bang for the few bucks I had, I bought the largest beet I could find. It was about the size of a grapefruit, enough to supply me with a week’s worth of beet salads.

I went home and consulted the oracle: Mark Bittman. In How to Cook Everything, Bittman advises that the most foolproof way to cook beets is to roast them, and so I followed his directions: trim the beets of any hairy-looking roots, wrap in foil, and roast for an hour at 400 degrees, or until the tip of a knife can easily cut through the beet’s flesh.

An hour went by, and I went to the oven to check my shining wrapped beet. It was hard as a stone. I gave it another fifteen minutes, then another thirty, and then finally, after two hours and twenty minutes of cooking time had elapsed, the tip of my knife was finally able to slice through the beet.

The long cooking time was a result of the size of the beet. Bittman didn’t mention anything about that in his recipe, and although I got the biggest beet of the bunch at Fairway, it was not significantly larger than its neighbors. Roasting a single vegetable for over two hours seemed like a waste of energy, but I decided to refrain from judgement until I tasted the beet.

“Earthy” is not an adjective that I equate with “delicious”; earthy-flavored foods remind me of the dirt they came from. Beets do have an earthy taste, much the way chard does. But roasting brings out their sweetness and cuts that earthy undertone, which is particularly strong in larger beets. I recommend going for the smaller ones.

Here are some helpful tips that I’ve learned from my blunders in the kitchen:

—Don’t roast red and golden beets together. You want to keep these guys separated as they’re cooking and after you cook them.
—Have a couple pairs of disposable gloves standing by. They will protect your hands from looking like you’ve just murdered a large animal.
—On that note, wear an apron.
—Allow the beets to cool before you peel them. Handling a steaming hot beet is like handling a hot potato—it won’t stay in your hands for long!

Without further ado, here’s my recipe for…

Roasted Beets

 

Overall time: 2.5 hours
Active time: 15 minutes)

 

Ingredients:
—3 small to medium red beets
—3 small to medium golden beets

 

(You want beets that are smaller than a tennis ball here. The bigger the beet, the earthier the taste, the longer the cook time. No, no, and no.)

 

Tools:
—A paring knife
—Aluminum foil

 

(Heavy duty foil is nice but not necessary. Avoid the cheap thin stuff, unless you have enough to wrap them multiple times. You don’t want an explosion of beet juice in your oven, do you?)

 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

 

Rinse and dry your beets. Use your paring knife to trim the hairy roots, and carefully shave away any blemishes. You don’t want to cut into the beet that much, otherwise the juices will run out in the oven and your beets will be dry.

 

Wrap the golden beets in foil, making sure they are completely enclosed. Then do the same with the red beets.  Put the beets in the oven and set the timer for 55 minutes. Then go find something to do.

 

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the foil packages from the oven, and open one of them (you can wait a few minutes to do this. No sense burning your fingers!). Take your paring knife and put its tip to one of the beets. If it cuts into the flesh easily, you’re done. If you have to apply some pressure to cut into the beet, wrap the package back up and return it to the oven. Give it another 10 minutes of baking time and check it again.

 

When you are done, set the beets aside to cool in their packages for about an hour. Then, put on your disposable gloves and set about the business of peeling. The peels should slide right off. Place the red beets in one container and the golden ones in another, and leave them out and uncovered until they are completely cool. Then refrigerate. I don’t recommend slicing the beets until you’re ready to use them. This way they stay moist and sweet. By the way, one cup of beets cooked this way is 0 (that’s ZERO) Weight Watchers Smart Points.

 

Now, what do you do with them?

 

Put them in a salad. Not only will they add gorgeous color, they’ll also make the salad more filling.  My favorite combination: beets, baby spinach, goat cheese, some crushed walnuts gently coated in a balsamic/honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s the same salad I posted on Monday.

 

Or, if you wanted to make a super healthy, delicious and eye-catching appetizer, you could put your beets to work in this recipe.

 

Happy Cooking!
J.

The best Monday dinners are the ones that take 15 minutes to make

I like to spend Sundays in the kitchen cooking for hours. These are my moments of zen, and on a practical level, I do the bulk of my cooking for the week ahead. After a long, cold Monday like today, I like a meal that takes no time but doesn’t feel like leftovers. Here’s a great example…

On the right: soy-mustard marinated pork tenderloin

On the left: salad of mixed baby greens, golden and red beets, walnuts and goat cheese. Dressing is an EVOO/balsamic/Dijon mustard/honey concoction that is just perfect on beets.

And, that entire plate comes to 8 Weight Watchers SmartPoints. Squee!

  

Lip-Smacking Lemon Curd

Picture this:

You’ve been wanting to make lemon curd for weeks. After a lengthy search for just the right recipe, you find one that calls for the following:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest

The recipe yields 1 and 1/3 cups curd, which would be enough for you—but you’ve been invited to a dinner party tonight.  And the irrepressible overachiever within you thinks it would be a fabulous idea to surprise your host with sponge cupcakes, strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier and agave syrup, and some of that lemon curd.

Solution: double the ingredients, double the curd.  Easy enough.

But as you’re gathering all the elements, you realize you have only 3 eggs. And just under a cup of sugar. You find 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (exactly!) wrapped in the fridge, but that’s all the butter you find.

You have laundry at various stages of washing and drying in the basement. You have not showered, and the bed hair you woke up with isn’t the sexy kind you can get away with outside the home. Four pots, each containing lunches and dinners for the week, are at various stages of cooking on the stove. The dinner party is less than 3 hours away, and it’s pouring outside.  You’re not particularly anxious to run to the grocery store, nor do you have time.

You could stop here, just bring the bottle of wine you told the host you’d bring to the party.  But you’ve been wanting to make lemon curd all week. And because the cake batter has been mixed—and you can’t very well serve a naked cupcake—there’s no turning back.

New plan: Make the curd, but just increase the ingredients by a third.

Again, easy enough. But you’ve forgotten how to add fractions. And you’re running out of time. Did I mention you really need a shower? The pot filled with black bean soup is bubbling over. The phone is ringing. It’s Mom. Those phone calls never last 5 minutes.  What do you do?

Stop thinking and cook.  And somewhere in between, just breathe.

RECIPE:

Tart Lemon Curd,

A Very Happy Accident by Yours Truly

bastardized from Cooking Light’s Lemon Curd (May 2000)

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • a scant cup of sugar
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5 medium-large lemons’ worth)
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Method:

Combine eggs, zest and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until sugar dissolves.  It’ll take about 3 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and the butter. Continue stirring, and cook until the mixture loosely coats the back of a spoon. It’ll thicken as it cools.

Transfer the curd to a bowl to cool for about 10 minutes. Then, get a piece of plastic wrap big enough to cover the bowl. Poke a few holes in it, and then place the plastic wrap directly on top of the curd. This prevents condensation from forming, but more importantly it prevents a thick, rubbery skin from forming on the curd (note: this applies to any hot/warm pudding or custard).  Refrigerate.

Once the curd is [mostly] chilled, you can transfer it to a glass jar. It keeps for about a week—if it lasts that long. You’ll get about 16-20 servings from this recipe, assuming each serving is about 2 tablespoons. (In which case, it’s 2 Weight Watchers Points Plus per serving.)

A couple of notes on taste…

This curd is ideal for spooning over a sponge cake, a croissant, sweet bread or macerated berries; or, mixing it with yogurt and granola.  You could call it “tart”, but I like to think the limited sugar helps to preserve the integrity of the lemon’s punch and zing. Tracie, who hosted the dinner party, loved the stuff, as did our friend Liz. My boyfriend found the curd a bit too tart. If your sweet tooth needs a little more sweet, add more sugar. Or, you could just follow the original recipe.

Sunday Cooking Wrap-Up: When One Ingredient Makes All The Difference

My day began with a minor disaster—and a lesson: don’t attempt to separate eggs without being properly caffeinated first.  After 5 wasted eggs and 2 cups of coffee, I successfully separated nine eggs and made an angel food cake for my father.

While the cake was in the oven, I prepared a savory experiment for my boyfriend—an ultimately successful adaptation of David Tanis’s Orecchiette al Forno (you can find the recipe here).  My adaptation may qualify as a new dish entirely—I didn’t use orecchiette, and I didn’t bake the dish, so we can cross out the “al forno”. This is how it turned out:

Conchiglie Rigate with Broccoli Rabe, Sausage & Ricotta

Instead of orecchiette, I used conchiglie rigate (ridged shells), a sturdy pasta that holds up to reheating and even better—has the perfect concave shape to trap bits of sausage and sauce, so the all the flavors really get into the pasta.  Before preparing a container of this lovely dish for a surprise delivery, I stole a few bites. (Okay, more than a few.) I think my boyfriend will be happy.

So after making a cake for dad and pasta for my boyfriend, it was time to make something for myself.  On chilly & rainy days like today, the only thing I want is soup.

I cooked some beans, gathered and chopped my veggies, and defrosted my chicken stock—all the makings of a hearty soup. But I wanted a little something extra. Not heat or spice or meat, but a something fresh with a nice pop.

Enter pesto. A little bit of pesto sauce does what dried herbs cannot do—add the sweet zing of fresh basil, garlic & extra virgin olive oil in one concentrated shot.  Plus, it turns average soup into something fancy-sounding: Soup al Pistou. Oui!

Vegetable Soup al Pistou

Adapted from WeightWatchers.com

Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4 (about 1.5 cups soup/serving)

Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups cooked cannellini beans, with a 1/2 cup cooking liquid (or just used canned)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 3/4 cup diced tomatoes (with their liquid)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 4 heaping teaspoons pesto sauce
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (for topping)

Method:

Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Next, add carrots, celery, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

Add chicken stock, raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in beans, peas, zucchini, and tomato. Allow mixture to cook at a rapid simmer (you don’t want a rolling boil) for another 10 minutes. Add spinach, stirring into the soup until it’s wilted. Remove the pot from the heat, add the other teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste.

Divide soup into 4 bowls. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of pesto on top of each bowl, following with the grated cheese.  Have a seat, a sip of wine, and stir up your soup. Enjoy with a piece of warm, crusty bread. Voi-la!

 

Note – If you’re dining alone like me, and want to save the rest of the soup for lunch and dinner during the week, refrigerate the soup (without the pesto or cheese) within two hours of cooking. It’ll keep for 4-5 days. Add the pesto and grated cheese when you reheat the soup.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Value

  • 5 per serving

A Perfect Meal to Kick Off Spring: Pasta with Fresh Ricotta, Herbs & Spinach

Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Herbs & Ricotta

Do you ever find that there is a certain food you love that you can’t keep in the house, because once it’s there in plain sight—staring at you, tempting you—you’ll throw any willpower or sense of portion control out the window and eat the whole thing?

I call these danger foods. For my boyfriend, it’s Nutella. For my father, it’s pound cake. For me, it’s fresh ricotta cheese. (And we can add fresh mozzarella, burrata, St. Andre, drunken goat, and Taleggio to that list.) I can’t keep cheese around because I can’t just have one slice. I must have more. I must have it all.  But because I’m not a big fan of feeling shame and stomach cramps, I don’t keep it around.

I made an exception this weekend and bought a container of freshly made ricotta at Fairway. And though I have at several points this weekend stolen a spoonful from said container, I had enough willpower to set aside plenty of this precious cheese to prepare a recipe I’d been meaning to make for a whole year: Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Herbs and Ricotta.  A photo of this dish graced the cover of the April 2011 issue of Cooking Light, announcing the arrival of spring and a welcome break from root vegetables, casseroles and winter stews.  My, did it look pretty!

Spring had arrived, and I had fresh ricotta. Time to get cooking. But before I got started, I made a few substitutions.  Cooking Light’s recipe calls for fresh dill and chives—lovely herbs, but I associate them more with potato or cucumber salads, not pasta.  I elected to use fresh basil and oregano—bright and sweet with some peppery notes. And I kicked up the amount of ricotta from 1/3 cup to a heaping 1/2 cup. Why?

Why not.

RECIPE:

Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Fresh Herbs & Ricotta

Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2010

Serves: 3 – 4

Total Time: 30 minutes; Active time 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. uncooked pappardelle pasta
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 heaping 1/2 cup of fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Tools:

  • Food processor (optional)

Method:

Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove; add salt and cover. Cook pasta according to package directions, taking care not to overcook.

While pasta is cooking, place spinach in the food processor and pulse a few times to lightly chop. Set spinach aside. Add basil, oregano and parsley to food processor; pulse until chopped (but not minced). Add to the spinach. (If you don’t have a food processor, no worries—use a sharp knife for the chopping, and mind your fingers!)

Once the pasta is finished cooking, set aside about 1 cup of the cooking water before draining.

Return pasta to the pot. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta with about a 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add to the pasta. Next, add the chopped herbs and spinach, olive oil, Pecorino, salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine, and add additional cooking water if the mixture is too dry.

Divide into 4 bowls and serve immediately. Eat slowly, and savor the start of spring.

Note:

Pappardelle are wide-ribbon pasta. If you can’t find pappardelle, fettuccine works well in this recipe. And though I love fresh pasta, I find dried pasta holds up better here.  

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • 10 Points Plus per serving (and worth every one!)

Need to use Leftover Buttermilk? Try Blueberry Muffins with Crunchy Cinnamon Topping

Have you ever bought a quart of buttermilk, only to use a half-cup for a recipe and then completely forget that said buttermilk is in your fridge?  Then one day, you find the buttermilk, open the carton and gag, only to throw the aged lumpy mess away?

Yep, I’ve been there. And the last time I found myself with leftover buttermilk in the fridge, I was determined not to let it go to waste.

So, the experiments began.

I used the buttermilk in place of butter & cream in cheesy mashed potatoes (success), as a soaking liquid for chicken that I ultimately breaded and oven-fried (success again), and mixed some into my parsnip & apple smash (a delightful success). But because a little buttermilk goes a long way, I still had some left. What to do?

I remembered a buttermilk berry cake recipe I read last summer on Creamed Butter, a blog written by my friend Andrew’s fiancé, Adrienne.  The cake looked delicious and the recipe was so simple I dubbed it “Lazy Summer Cake”—it requires so little effort, and though it’s not fancy, it’s incredibly satisfying and a great way to showcase the marvelous berries of summer.

I didn’t really feel like making a cake, but revisiting the recipe gave me an idea: muffins. The great thing about muffins is that they’re perfectly portioned, not to mention portable, which makes a muffin an ideal breakfast on a busy morning. As you’ll see from the pictures on Creamed Butter, the cake is pretty light, but it’s not high-rising, so I had to do a little tinkering to make the cake recipe muffin-friendly.

For starters, I substituted the all-purpose flour with cake flour (an easy sub is included below).  I made sure to sift the cake flour a few times until I had a pile of snowy, feathery light powder—ideal for a delicate crumb and a generously puffed muffin top. I kept the rest of the proportions in the recipe the same, except for the berries—I used a pint of blueberries—then folded them into the batter instead of placing them on top. You could use less berries, but I like muffins with a lot of fruit.  Finally, I prepared a crunchy topping of oats, cinnamon, sugar and crushed sliced almonds.

The result is a portable, pretty and satisfying treat perfect for breakfast or to kill the mid-afternoon slump—and unlike most coffee shop muffins that are lead-weight and huge, you a muffin that won’t give you carb coma. At first bite, you’re greeted by the warmth of the cinnamon sugar and the crunch of the oats & almonds, followed by the pop of juicy blueberries & the hint of lemon in this gently sweet cake. Bliss.

Now go make some.

RECIPE:

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Creamed Butter, Summer Buttermilk Berry Cake

Time: 40 minutes

Tools:

  • Electric mixer
  • Fine mesh strainer (for sifting flour)
  • Mortar & pestle (for topping)
  • 12-muffin pan
  • 12 muffin cups

Ingredients

For the muffins:

  • 1 cup cake flour*
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3-cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Topping (all measurements are approximate):

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sliced almonds

* One cup cake flour = 1/8 cup cornstarch and 7/8 cup all-purpose flour. The easiest way to do this is to put 2 tablespoons cornstarch into a dry measuring cup, spoon flour in to fill the rest and level off. Mix with a fork or whisk before sifting.

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper cups in muffin pan, and spray the cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray if you have it. (If not, no big loss.)

Combine the ingredients of the topping into a small bowl, then use your mortar & pestle to grind the oats and almonds down a bit as they mix with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour once into a medium bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift two more times and set aside.  In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and lemon zest, until all are fully incorporated.

Alternating the flour and the buttermilk, mix with the butter/sugar/egg mixture until just combined, beginning and ending with the flour.  Gently fold in the blueberries with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Use a spoon to fill each cup about 2/3 full, then spread the tops until they’re even.  Use a clean spoon to sprinkle the topping on each cup of batter. You’ll have enough to coat the surface of each one.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the middle muffins comes out mostly clean (if it’s got blueberry juice on it, that’s a good thing.)

Eat warm or at room temperature, with a cup of tea or mug of coffee.  If you’re prepping breakfast for the week, allow the muffins to cool completely before wrapping each individually with plastic wrap, placing into a zip-top bag and then putting them into the freezer.

Voi-la!

PS – Weight Watchers Points Plus per muffin: 4!

PPS – This is my 50th post!