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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Feeling Good, Eating Good: Veggie Pasta Salad w/Mustard Dressing

The last week of January and first 3 days of February were pretty good. I ended January having lost another 2.8 pounds, bringing me within 5 pounds of my mini-goal of reaching 50 pounds lost by my birthday in March! It's getting to be time for the the Chinese New Year, on February 7th, The Year of the Rat. We move into the leap year month of February with its 29 days - always a bonus when Black History Month gets an extra day to make it Daily Equal to the rest of the months; I don't feel like a fat old depressed troll because I was able to ride 18 miles over the weekend - including a trek over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. My photography projects have been enjoying a revived interest in subject matter. There are several photography projects on which I'm working, and I'm enjoying the process.
As for feeling stuck in a rut, it's not quite that extreme. I'm definitely trying to figure out what my next move is creatively speaking. I'm mulling around some ideas with cooking, writing, recipe creation, photography and the weight loss. An idealized and fully realized concept of my blogs? I'm not sure, but an idea is morphing within me. Like the weight loss, it may be slow in coming off, but I think I'll get to a new place.
Last week's Weight Watcher's theme was a variation on "Stirring it Up." The folks in my group have been emailing each other with ideas and questions, all of us trying to find ways to stir things up within ourselves in order to stay on a road of success. This time of year makes me think of hibernation and slowing down. The short amount of sunlight and too many over-cast cold days have a psychological affect on me. I wonder how it effects others. We may all be experiencing a a natural dormancy behavior. Not that we should give up our successes and backslide, mindlessly eating and not exercising. It might be a slow process that will suddenly bloom once spring arrives. Or so I hope...
Another reason why for feeling good is I've been good to myself. Eating right and cooking some great meals. Planning my lunches for work in advance, and taking healthy foods. What a difference it makes to have my little picnic lunches each day! A co-worker with said my packed meals reminded her of the the Molly Ringwold character in The Breakfast Club. My lunches are not as affected as the Japanese Bento Box with fancy chopsticks shown in that movie, however, I do pack a mean meal with decent dishes, napkins and silverware. Hey, you have to show you care and it extends to your brown bag too. If I'm not going out to eat, I might as well feel like I'm dining out.
Here is one of my newest pasta salad/side dish creations, a low-fat whole grain pasta with sauted veggies. I whipped this up and discovered a neat new way to make a pasta dressing that incorporates sauce ideas that I've been using a lot. I'm listing the recipe as I made it. Feel free to substitute whatever veggies you have on hand, mixing up the colors and textures for visual and taste appeal.

Vegetable Pasta Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette Ingredients:
  • 2 Cups Uncooked Whole Wheat Pasta - Penne, Fussilli, Shells or Elbows
  • 1/2 Pound String beans- trimmed
  • 2 Medium Carrots - peeled and julienned
  • 1 Medium or 1/2 Large Red Pepper - julienned
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
For the Dressing:
  • 1/4 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar or Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard or Whole Grain Mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon Capers
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - peeled (papery skins removed)
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until the pasta is cooked through but still has a firm bite - al dente.
  2. When the pasta is cooked, drain it but do not rinse it. Set pasta aside in a large bowl, cover and keep warm.
  3. While the pasta water is coming to a boil, prepare the vegetables - Blanch the string beans until they are tender but still crispy - 6 minutes maximum in boiling salted water.
  4. While the string beans are cooking, add in the 2 garlic cloves and blanch them at the same time. Drain the string beans and carefully remove the garlic cloves. Add the string beans to the cooked pasta and set the garlic cloves aside.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute the peppers until they are crisp tender - about 5 minutes. Remove the peppers from the pan and add them to the pasta and string beans.
  6. In the same saute pan, add in the carrots and 1/4 cup of water. Bring the water to a simmer and cook/blanch the carrots until they are crisp tender - about 3 minutes. The water should evaporate as the carrots are cooking; if all of the water has not evaporated, remove the carrots from the saute pan with a slotted spoon. Add the carrots to the pasta, string beans and peppers, toss to combine and season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  7. Make the dressing - Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and capers. Mash the blanched garlic cloves either with the back of a fork or through a garlic press and add to the vinegar and mustard. Whisk to combine and slowly add in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over the pasta and vegetables and stir to combine thoroughly. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Curried Cauliflower, Lentil & Pumpkin Stew

I'm still on a pumpkin kick. Our Weight Watcher leader, Pat, has been discussing ways to kick start motivation to turn your life around. It's working! Anyone who has read or was a fan of my YAHOO! Blog, you may remember that in October 2007 I was writing and sharing a lot of pumpkin recipes. Pumpkin is the unsung culinary hero ingredient in the kitchen.

Sunday, I was trying to come up with a new vegetarian dish to use up the veggies in the fridge. I also needed to make enough of something tasty to take to work. One of the tricky things about the Weight Watchers Core Plan and working at a Kosher/Conservative synagogue building is the constant need to have precooked vegetables and/or vegetarian meals that are "safe" enough for my diet plan and for the rules of the building. I have to be aware of not bringing to work foods such as shellfish, meats, or mixing dairy with hidden meat products in the ingredients. There are only so many tuna salads I can eat in a week, especially with the mercury scare of late. Quite frankly, not being a vegetarian is hard! Maybe I should put that in bold letters! I know realistically that as moving towards a more vegetarian approach is healthier and more environmentally friendly. I won't preach, because the lesson would be lost on my own ears. I'm too much of a carnivore to give up meat, is a more attractive option. Plus, it's cheaper! Have you seen how much groceries are costing these days? Organic milk is over $3 bucks for a half gallon. Fruit and veg at most grocery stories is costly and it's not even that great.

I perused a slowcooker recipe book at Williams-Sonoma, which gave me a few new ideas. I read about a curry dish that doesn't need to cook in the slow cooker, though should you want to use one, it's a fine idea. I found that my modified version of the dish cooked within 45 minutes. For best results this dish is better the next day, allowing the flavors to meld together.

Curried Cauliflower, Lentil & Pumpkin Stew

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive, Vegetable or Canola Oil
  • 1 Large Onion - Cut into Large Dice or half-moon slices 1/4 thick
  • 3 Medium Carrots - Peeled & cut into large chunks/dice
  • 2 Medium Parsnips - Peeled & cut into large chunks/dice
  • Large Head of Cauliflower - cut into large florets
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Curry Powder
  • 1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 4 Cups Vegetable Stock - Reserving 1 Cup for later use (chicken stock can be used, but then it's not truly a vegetarian dish)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste
  • 1 Cup Lentils - French or Green Lentils, though Red Lentils are great too
  • 2 Tablespoons Each Fresh Parsley and Cilantro for Garnish - optional


  1. Wash, peel and cut all the vegetables as directed
  2. Use a stock pot, dutch oven or other 5 quart pot with a tight fitting lid. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the onions until they are translucent - about 3 minutes.
  3. Add in the carrots and parsnips and sweat the vegetables for 5 minutes.
  4. Add in the cauliflower and garlic; stir to combine and saute 1 minute.
  5. Add in the curry powder, stirring to combine and to toast/bloom the flavor of the curry seasoning.
  6. Stir in the pumpkin puree and 3 Cups of the vegetable stock- stirring well to combine, incorporate and thin the pumpkin puree.
  7. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, lightly covered for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with a bit of salt and pepper. If mixture is too thick, add the reserved 1 cup of vegetable stock.
  8. After simmering 20 minutes, pour in the cup of lentils, stirring to combine. Cover pot tightly and cook for 15-minutes, or until the lentils are al dente and the vegetables are fork tender. If the lentils have absorbed too much liquid, you can add some water to thin the mixture.
  9. Taste and adjust seasonings again, adding more salt and pepper, additional dash of curry powder.
  10. Garnish with the chopped parsley and cilantro and serve over brown rice or basamati rice.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Heart Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

In the event that I am unable to post an entry from my maddening slow home computer, I'm doubling my recipes for the day! Susan Hill, the best teacher at the preschool/synagogue, (where I work) does fantastic cooking projects with her preschoolers. She found this recipe via her sister, who got it from a friend who lives in California. The recipe has changed hands, coasts, and ingredients since the original version was written. Who knows how it'll wind up - it's like a "whisper down the lane" game.

Last week, Susan's class baked cookies using a recipe that was dairy free & heart healthy . It's an oatmeal cookie that is one of those "ya gotta try this cookie to believe how good it is" recipes. Liz figured out that the Weight Watcher Points Value of my version is equal to 1 POINT! So you can eat them guilt-free, in moderation. The cookies are easy to make and they take to modifying and tweaking. Susan told me that there are versions with red beans and garbanzo beans. I took the liberty of adding some pumpkin puree, cut down the sugar a tad, and increased some of the flavors. You can add dried fruits, nuts and chocolate chips to it, as you see healthy and fit. It's best to use an ice cream scoop to spoon out the cookie dough. You'll get a uniform size.

Heart-Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

  • 3/4 Cup Mashed or Pureed White Beans - look for low or no sodium and/or organic Navy or Great Northern Beans
  • 3 Tablespoons Canola Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar - packed
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Egg or 1/4 Cup Egg Substitute
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla - best quality
  • 3 Cups Oats
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour - King Arthur brand is great!
  • 2 Tablespoons Pumpkin or Apple Pie Spice or Cinnamon - Optional
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • Optional: raisins, nuts or chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the mashed beans with the canola oil, pumpkin puree, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth and creamy. You can use a food processor to incorporate all of the wet ingredients, starting with pureeing the white beans, then adding in the pumpkin, sugars, egg and vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, combine dry ingredient and whisk to incorporate.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture.
  5. Using a 4 ounce or small/medium cookie scoop, drop onto a greased cookie sheet or a sheet pan lined with a Silpat or Parchment Paper. If using a Silpat or Parchment, then it does not need to be greased.
  6. Slightly flatten the cookie dough down, as they will not spread on their own.
  7. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, rotating pans half-way through the baking time.
  8. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
  9. Makes 24 - two tablespoon size cookies.

Carrot, Fennel and Orange Salad

Winter in Philadelphia - We are months away from consistent spring warmth and miles from sunny groves of Florida oranges. I think it's the ideal time to make a refreshing citrus salad to cure the winter and food blahs.

This is not a new or original recipe, I've taken an idea from the January/February 2008 issue of Every Day Food and have enhanced and embellished a fantastic salad. It's the kind of side dish or salad course that can be adapted to suit your tastes and what you feel like purchasing at the market. The basics start with thinly sliced pieces of fresh fennel and orange segments. The vinaigrette is whisked together in a jiffy using some lemon and orange juice, the zest of the orange, salt, pepper and bit of olive oil. It holds well for a day or two, so if you make a big batch, you can bring some to work for your healthy lunch. It's also a great topping or side dish for a simple poached or grilled chicken, salmon or tilapia.

Salad Ingredients:
1/2 Fennel Bulb - root end removed - and bulb thinly sliced
1 Large Carrot - shredded or julienne
1 small cucumber - peeled, seeded and cut into medium dice cubes
Segments from 1 Large Orange - cut into small pieces- use the zested orange, then cut away the outer peel. Cut into the orange segments to remove from its membrane.
1 Tablespoon Capers
4-5 Cerrignola Olives - chopped (optional)

Directions: Wash, peel and cut vegetables. Add all ingredients to a bowl or shallow dish and toss to combine. Dress with vinaigrette and serve immediately. Cover and refrigerate any left-overs and use within 2 days for best taste!

For Vinaigrette:
Zest from 1 Orange - zest an orange first, using a micro planer/zester
Juice from 1 Orange - about 1/4 cup
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon White Wine or White Balsamic Vinegar
Pinch of Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions: Mix together the juices of lemon and orange, the orange zest, and the vinegar. Season with pinch of salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Pour over salad and serve.
Unused vinaigrette's will hold for up to 1 week in a tightly covered container refrigerated.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stuck in a Rut

I am having one of those infuriating and frustrating days where I'm angry and want to through my computer out a frickin' window. Mostly I'm upset with the slowness of my internet connection. I'm also frustrated with myself for feeling like I'm in a stuck place and I don't know how to or can't get myself out of this rut. For the past 2 weeks I've realized in a clear and annoying way that I'm just not living up to my potential. The terrible thing is - I feel immobilized by fear to do much about it other than gripe to myself. As I take weight off of my body, I also notice that I am peeling away pyschological layers as well. I feel vulnerable in a way that I'm not used to feeling. The old catch-22 cycle of protecting oneself with armor, or in my case fat and food, to stave off the hurt and fears of living a full life of promise and potential.

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? What potential do you possess that you just are not utilizing? It is easier to ask than to answer. More and more I find that I don't want to answer the question, because I don't know how to answer the question, as oppossed to trying to figure how to answer the question.

The start of a new year can be refreshing or frustrating - as new beginnings represent the unlimited freedom of potential yet to be realized. I realize I'm setting myself up here for a hard fall by having so much freedom before me, unbounded by too much that could be done. Instead I need to give myself the permission to go slowly, step forward in ways that feel comfortable to me.

I gained a bit of weight in the last week and I haven't been as active as I'd like to be. I've only ridden my bike twice this month on rides outside of going to work. Oddly, I am not so upset with myself for having gained a half pound in the last week. This has happened before. It's a bit of a reality check for me - making me have to touch base with what I'm eating and getting back in control with healthier habits. This time of year - the cold wintery wet January's of years past make me see that some of my feelings are in synch with the weather and lack of sunlight. The shorter days make me want to hibernate and crawl into a cave for a long dormancy. Perhaps that's what part of this winter enui is - a dormancy within me. It's taken me over 5 months to reach this point in my weight loss journey. It may take another 5 months to get closer to the rest of my weight goals, retrain my brain to think happier more positive thoughts, and to see the potential before me as individual blank pages onto which I can create a new and productive artistic adventure.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Before During and Now

Monday evenings are the night for my weekly Weight Watcher's Meetings. I've been attending the meetings and working the program for 5 1/2 months. We started on July 30, 2007, and have not missed a meeting or weigh-in except for the Monday's when the center was closed for a holiday. Both Liz and I have been successful with our weight loss and change to our life style. Usually on Monday nights after my meeting, I feel pumped up, energized and revived. The meeting leader, Pat, is inspiring and fills each meeting with genuine inspiration and care. Even on the evenings that I've not had a significant weight loss, or even on the nights when I've gone up half a pound, I come away feeling positive. Tonight is no exception. I've lost another pound an half - bringing my new weight loss total to 43 pounds!

As Liz and I both reach new milestones, and lose a few stones in the process, I thought it might be visually stimulating to mark our weight loss over the past few months via pictures. Here's a recap of the past 5 months.

Here we are before we started weight watchers - July 4, 2007 in Spoleto, Italy.

Bowling at Lucky Strike Lanes - Labor Day Weekend 2007. We had been on WW for about 1 month. I lost about 11 pounds by the, Liz was at 9 or 10 pounds.

One of our many self-portraits - at the final Phillies game of the 2007 Season - Sunday, September 30th. We were doing WW for 2 full months. We were both closing in on 20 pounds lost - a combined loss of nearly 40 pounds!

Christmas Day - 40 & 33 Pounds lighter! It was a very happy Christmas!

December 29th - We attended a wedding for Veronica & Jason - and we both felt like blushing brides! This silver jacket is over 2 years old, but fit me infinitely better! By the final weigh in for the year, I had lost 41.4 pounds and Liz had reached 35 pounds. When we think about the combined weight loss of 76 pounds; Going down 3 sizes; giving away over 10 bags of clothes; and the health strides we've both made in 5 months, it's OUTSTANDING & ASTOUNDING!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

As I See It

13th & Bainbridge Street - Philadelphia, PA
It was a photo-happy day for me, starting with this find on my way to work in the morning. Adding to my photo-journalism were the following other finds:

Philadelphia's most elegant woman. She is always impeccably attired, her hair, face and clothes pure stylistic perfection. I have no idea who she is, but I have seen her around Rittenhouse Square and in the Ardmore Suburban Square Shopping District for the past 15 years. I managed to capture her image at La Colombe Cafe.

The warm 60 degree temperatures brought out hoards of people to Rittenhouse Square, as evidenced by the children's art - Sidewalk Chalk Charlie was at it again!

The warm weather brought out the hot boys too.

And the bikers were geared up ready to ride. This is Chuck - a very amiable fellow.

Closing out the day - I spotted this sign in the Paoli area - Hey, Roofers gotta eat too.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Welcome to the New Blog! As a way of beginning the New Year, I am starting the first post with a new recipe. I've been on a bibimbop kick of sorts - Liz has been calling it my bibbidi-bobbidi-boo food. The food craze began with a visit to Giwa Korean Restaurant on Samson Street, between 16th & 17th Streets. I love their food but can't always get away from the office to go there for lunch, nor do I want to spend my money and calories there on a weekly basis. Naturally, I realized not only could I make a version of this wonderful dish myself, I could lighten the calories, the cost and up the power-food potential. Hence, my creation of bibbidi-bobbidi bibimbop. The photo of my New Year's creation is a bit misleading inasmuch as I am borrowing liberally from several Asian cuisine styles. I've used Somen noodles instead of sticky brown rice, because that's what I had on hand. Whatever vegetables I had in the fridge went into the stir fry. One day it was zucchini, another version had celery and string beans. Since I always try to keep a variety of Asian sauces in the pantry, I mixed together a soy mixture I consider one of my essential sauces to keep on hand. The sauce is a myriad of flavors, predominately Asian, not especially Korean - more like a Thai Sauce influence sans the lemongrass.

You do not need to have a wok to cook good simple Asian-Style food, though it does make a difference. Wok cookery gives the most intense high heat with a shallow small bottom and slopped sides to push food against. Lately I've been using a Calphalon One cross-bred saute/braising pan. I get the searing I need with sides high enough to keep in the liquids. I am in the market for a new and better wok, the one I have is 20 years old and not at all up to my culinary expectations! Even though I work part-time at Williams-Sonoma, the mecca of all things culinary, I just haven't brought myself to spend the tuppence on a wok that costs over $50! However, I see a wok in my future. My friend Rachel justified the expense to me by stating "...for the kind of cooking I do, it's worth the investment." Sound advice there Ms. Rachel! Thanks for the permission to spend $80 or more with even with my discount! But I digress. You have come to read a recipe and hopefully head off to your own kitchen to concoct your own bibbidi bobbidi boo food.

Notes: The sauce can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time. Prepping the vegetables is the hardest most labor intensive step, but it's not all that hard. Baking the tofu yields the best texture. Tofu can be stir fried, but it's easier to handle if you bake it. It's a more authentic Koren dish if you add a lightly fried egg to the final dish. Keep the egg yolk on the soft side. As you mix in the egg with the veggies and noodles, it will create another layer of sauce that is divine!

Essential Soy Dressing Ingredients:
  • 1/3 Cup Low-Sodium Soy Sauce (use a good quality, preferably organic soy sauce)
  • 1/4 Rice Wine Vinegar or Mirin
  • 3-4 Dashes Thai Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam)
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai Sweet Soy Sauce
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Chili Sauce/Paste - OR more or less to taste (it's HOT)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Minced Ginger
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice Powder (optional)
  • Pinch Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Sesame Oil

Directions - Mix all of the ingredients, except the sesame oil, together in a glass jar or measuring cup. Whisk to combine; slowly whisk in the sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, adding more chili sauce/paste, pepper or soy sauce. Sauce can be kept refrigerated, in a tightly covered/sealed glass jar for up to 2 weeks. Use over rice, noodles, or as a marinade for chicken, pork, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, tofu, or tuna. It's good over almost anything!

Bibimbop Stir Fry Vegetables and Noodles

  • 2 Medium Carrots - julienne or shredded
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - julienne or small dice
  • 1 Medium Onion - julienne
  • 1 Medium Red Bell Pepper - julienne
  • 2 Large Celery Stalks - julienne on a bias cut
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced or sliced
  • Sesame Oil - use as needed
  • 1 pound Tofu - cut into 1 inch cubes and baked
  • 1 Egg per serving - lightly fried, coddled or poached; with the yolk on the dippy or soft side
  • 1 Package Somen or Soba Noodles - 3 bundles, cooked according to package directions, drained and kept warm
  • 2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds - lightly toasted for garnish


  1. Wash, peel and cut vegetables. This is the most important and labor-intensive step. Pre-cut and packaged fresh vegetables are fine in a pinch, but cost more in the long run!
  2. Preheat pan or wok over high heat. Work in batches with your vegetables, one vegetable group at a time. As you stir fry each kind of vegetable, once it is fully cooked, remove it from the pan/wok and set it aside on a platter. Later, when you add your cooked vegetables to the noodles, arrange each vegetable group in small rows or clusters.
  3. Drizzle in 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil for each stir fry batch. Stir fry the onions until they begin to caramelize and turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove onions from pan/wok and set aside on a platter.
  4. Continue stir frying all of your veggies until they are cooked through but are on the slightly crunchy/crispy side.
  5. Add a bit of water to the pan and steam and stir fry the carrots until they are fork tender but still retaining a bit of crunch, about 3-5 minutes.
  6. The celery should turn translucent - about 2 minutes.
  7. Garlic cooks the fastest. Add it to the pan 30 seconds before adding the zucchini to the pan. The zucchini should be firm and tender - not over-cooked and falling apart. Stir fry about 2-3 minutes.
  8. The bell pepper may take the longest to stir fry - up to 8 minutes. Be careful not to char the pepper.
  9. Cut the tofu into cubes - about 1 inch by 1 inch. Add several tablespoons of the Essential Sauce Soy Mixture to the tofu and bake at 350 degrees in a oven-safe pan 30-45 minutes, or until firm and slightly crispy around the edges. Baking the tofu retains the texture and keeps it from falling apart. You can stir fry the tofu if you want, but I have found that baking it is the simplest way to handle it.
  10. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain, but do not rinse. Add a few tablespoons of the Essential Soy Sauce mixture to the noodles and toss to combine.
  11. Arrange the vegetables on the noodles in small rows or bunches. Top the veggies with a lightly fried egg, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and pour a few tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture over the entire dish.
  12. Serves 2 to 4, depending on how hungry you are!