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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grilled Tortillas with Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Bananas

One of my guilty pleasures is a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, along the lines of a vegetarian Elvis-style sandwich. I adore peanut butter, love bananas and the combination of the two is nearly perfect. At times I may add a drizzle of honey or if I'm feeling really decadent, I'll add my other most guilty pleasure to the sandwich - Fluff or Marshmallow Cream. I can eat this on soft whole wheat, on toast, without the bread or in this latest offering, on a wholewheat tortilla, lightly grilled with light canola oil butter and sprinkled with luscious oozing dark bitter chocolate. I'm drooling as I write this! Don't be too alarmed though at the thought of something fattening or unhealthy. A good quality peanut butter, in moderation, is full of protein and necessary fat. Fluff, while pure sugar, is non-fat and a good source of a quick burst of energy. I like to take a peanut butter and fluff sandwich with me when I bike. Bananas are high in potassium, helping to lower diabetes and keep leg cramps at bay. Dark chocolate, in 68% or higher cocoa ratios is good for the heart - there's less sugar, little milk product and higher antioxidants. Whole wheat tortillas and bread should and could be higher in fiber. Hey, I'm not advocating cheap Skippy with a Hershey bar on wonder bread here!


For tonight's dessert, we wanted a little something but it was too cold for ice cream, light low-fat ice cream mind you. So, having seen versions of this and eaten a few as well, I decided to make one for dessert to share. We had one whole wheat flour tortilla in the refrigerator, some very ripe bananas, a bar of Scharfenberger Dark Chocolate, Simply Jif Peanut butter and Land O'Lakes Canola Oil Light Butter Spread. The recipe is easy - spread some peanut butter onto the tortilla, add banana slices on top, sprinkle with one square of chopped dark chocolate (or use chocolate chips); fold the tortilla in half and grill on a lightly buttered grill pan or griddle for a few minutes on each side until the tortilla is lightly browned and the peanut butter and chocolate start to ooze. Enjoy! (But only once in a while. It may be dark chocolate, fruit, lighter peanut butter and butter on a whole wheat non-fat tortilla, but it's still decadent!)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Soba Noodle Salad

Did you ever notice that when you have an idea, or a taste for something, suddenly you notice it everywhere? Case in point, I've been wanting to make and blog the recipe for a cold soba noodle salad for months. I either never get around to taking a photo, another recipe takes precedence, or the salad was not made. I've been short on recipes, blog entries and time to cook lately so the
timing of this dish could not have come at a better moment. The original inspiration for the recipe has been literally laying about my kitchen for a few months, a soba noodle label from a prepared foods container; The ingredients were readily available in my kitchen; a version of this recipe also appeared on a TIVO taped episode of Martha Stewart. All signs pointed to - MAKE THIS SALAD!
This is an easy, tasty and versatile recipe. It was so simple, that I could almost say you could get away with 3 ingredients to make it: Soba Noodles (or any type of thin, preferably Asian, noodles); A sesame dressing (or make your own, following my recipe); A bag of Broccoli Slaw mix. We could make it 4 ingredients - adding some shredded sushi or seaweed wrappers but that might scare some of you - so I'll say that's completely optional gilding. The recipe version I've written can be modified - my favorite style. The dressing I made is another variation on my Essential Soy Dressing Sauce, about which I've blogged before. Feel free to use whatever dressing you want; you can add peanut butter to the dressing for a satay style version; chop, prep and julienne your own veggies; add tofu, chicken, shrimp, or whatever protein you desire. It's a starting point, open to interpretation. The most important things are to try something new, experiment, and learn to eat and purchase less processed foods - in the long run, you will be eating healthier.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad Ingredients

Essential Soy Dressing Ingredients:
  • 1/2Cup Low-Sodium Soy Sauce (use a good quality, preferably organic soy sauce)
  • 1/3 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar or Mirin (look for Low Sugar/Low Sodium)
  • 3-4 Dashes Thai Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam) OPTIONAL
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai Sweet Soy Sauce - Or Honey or Molasses
  • Finely Grated Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Chili Sauce/Paste or Hot Sauce more or less to taste (it's HOT)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Minced Ginger
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice Powder (optional)
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Sesame Oil
Directions:
  1. Mix, whisk or shake all the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl or in a tightly covered jar or salad shaker.
  2. The dressing will keep, covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Soba Noodle Salad Ingredients:
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, add two tablespoons of salt, preferably kosher salt, to the pot. Add in the Soba Noodles and cook according to package directions, about 8 to 9 minutes.
  2. When noodles are cooked, but have a bit of bite to them, drain and rinse under cold water. Shake to rid the excess water.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cooked soba noodles and the package of broccoli slaw. Pour the sesame soy dressing over the noodles, stirring to combine. Sprinkle in the sesame seeds and garnish with the shredded nori, if using.
  4. Chill well before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings as a side salad.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Healthy & Lightened Whole Wheat Pasta Alfredo

Believe it or not, there is a way to make a pasta dish with an "Alfredo" or "Carbonara" style sauce that is light and somewhat healthy. It's not hard to make and the recipe borrows on ideas from my favorite cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. It is also a variation of a recipe I posted last month, Whole Wheat Pasta with Lemon and Ricotta Sauce. Today's offering is much more satisfying and filling in a way that my lemon and ricotta pasta was not. What I discovered to making this dish have more body, texture and over-all mouth appeal was the addition of pureed cauliflower. I used less non-fat ricotta, added in some olive oil and used grated cheese at the end for an extra punch of salty flavor. Next time I make this, I think I'll add some crispy pancetta, turkey bacon or Canadian bacon bits so that it becomes a carbonara dish. However, I won't be taking that to the shul for my lunch!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Pound Whole Wheat Spaghetti or Linguine
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Ricotta
  • 1 Cup Cauliflower Puree (use frozen cauliflower, cook and mash or puree in a food processor or blender)
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 6 Sun-Dried or Oven Roasted Tomatoes - cut into small pieces (don't use oil cured or packed) optional
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 3 or 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Bunch of Basil Leaves - chiffonade for garnish
  • Parmesan Cheese - for garnish
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When it reaches a boil, add in two tablespoons of salt before adding the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package directions. One minute before the pasta is done, add in the frozen peas to defrost and cook through. If using very dry sun-dried tomatoes, add them to the pasta cooking water too so they will reconstitute; otherwise if the sun-dried tomatoes are pliable, add them to the pasta once it's drained.
  2. Before draining the pasta, reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and peas and keep warm in the pasta pot.
  3. In a small sauce pot, heat the quarter cup of olive oil and the minced garlic cloves over low-medium heat until the garlic begins to caramelize - about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low to keep the garlic from burning. Remove from heat and pour the garlic and oil mixture over the cooked pasta and peas.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together the pureed cauliflower and ricotta cheese. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Thin the mixture starting with one cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. If the ricotta and cauliflower mixture is too thick, thin it further with the addition of the pasta cooking water. Pour this mixture over the the pasta, peas and sun-dried tomatoes, gently mixing to incorporate the ricotta/cauliflower mixture.
  5. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with a garnish of chopped basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Joy Luck Club

Photo - Newly hatched baby chicks.
The PreK class had an incubator and 12 chicken eggs that hatched on
Monday and Tuesday, March 16th & 17th.
Maybe it's the end of the winter season and the false hope-starts of spring weather but lately I've been feeling a bit low in my joy department. I spent an interesting 45 minutes on Tuesday afternoon discussing with my therapist people who are energy vampires who suck the light and joy out of my life. Sounds so dramatic! From time to time I will be around low-energy people, or someone who is so morosely unhappy with their life but they don't realize it and I don't realize it until I'm completely drained. As I struggle with my own demons and craziness, depression and mania, I find it difficult to not absorb other peoples issues. Before I know it, I'm experiencing panic where I feel as though I'm suffocating and all the happiness has been drained out of me, like a dementor's kiss has been planted upon my soul. I also find it hard not to want to help or give counsel, it's my nature to want to do more. Sometimes it's just better to listen as help isn't always what is needed. While I try to work on this and recognize the warning signs of impending gloom I also need to refuel my joy reserves. I need a visit with a joyologist To that end, I am posting a few photos of people, places and things that bring me joy and add to my inner light-ness. We all need a pick up now and then, consider this as my contribution to the 25 (more or less) random things about me genre sweeping Facebook and the country!
An old Cadillac outside of Mr. Joe's Cafe, across the street from Termini Bros Bakery, 8th & Tasker Streets. I love old cars, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters. The stylish design and cool details always intrigue me. This car looks like something that ought to be in the cartoon movie, Cars. The wacky sunshield in the window is the perfect adornment to the car's personality.

Daffodils and Tulips pushing up through the ground in spring - a sure sign that the season of renewal and rebirth is arriving. Daffodils are my favorite flowers, their sunny optimistic brightness brings joy to my heart.Baseball and the Phillies - another sure sign of Spring! Less than 3 weeks until Opening Day (or night). This year we have tickets to the first Phillies game of the season, the Ring Ceremony Game, Closing Day and 16 other games throughout the season. I'm sure I'll have a ton of photos to post over the 160 game season!Baby Hamlet - How can I dress you up? Let me count the ways. Our nearly 13 year old Jack Russell Terrier, Hamlet, gives me countless hours of fun and joy - except when he's been bad or has eaten something nasty off the street, which is about every day. But then there are precious moments like this one where he lets us swaddle him in a blanket - causing Liz to exclaim for the 1,000th time, "I always wanted to wrap the dog in a blanket, take a picture and use it for a Christmas card. I'd entitle it 'And they wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes". I roll my eyes and groan and we laugh and giggle. Good times.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Turkey Meatballs and Veggie Tomato Sauce

When you eat junk food and intake too much sugar and caffeine, your entire body rebels. Mine is craving a detox, a purification from having ingested a lot of sweets and way too much coffee on Sunday. Since it's been a year and a half on the Weight Watchers healthy wagon train, I don't tend to consume a lot of sugary-high-carb-fully loaded cream treats. But I did Blanch, I did. There was a coffee house cabaret at Liz's church on Sunday, and I was helping set out the goodies and coffees. One bite lead to several more, and before I knew it, I had managed to have a sampling of about 5 things and four cups of coffee, though the four coffees were over the course of the day, three prior to the event, and one more at the event, with raspberry syrup and half and half. The only other time I can relate to feeling this way is after a road trip when I've eaten too many fast food meals or meals out at restaurants. I want fresh, clean food, filled with veggies, light on the sodium, oil and simple carbohydrates. A home-cooked simple meal is in order. Luckily I had a stocked fridge full of foods you can feel good about eating. My body wants to go to food rehab, and I'm ready to comply.
This lightened and veggie packed turkey meatball and vegetable tomato sauce is just what the 12 step plan ordered. The tomato sauce is one I've been making for the past year, you can check our the recipe via this link. As for the lighter turkey meatballs, over the years I've moved from ground meat to ground turkey or chicken; purchasing lean meat that is 93% fat free or greater. Frying is a mess, so I've been baking the meatballs. In addition, I've cut out the plain white breadcrumbs in favor of whole wheat or oatmeal; use less eggs, skim milk instead of whole or 2% and little or no cheese. Key to flavor, is to bulk up the spices. One other breakthrough I've made - adding finely shredded carrots and zucchini to the meat mixture. I've add these vegetables to the tomato sauce. I've added shredded carrots to turkey burgers to keep them moist, adding them to the meatballs was a light bulb moment. I know I'm on to something, my favorite Food Network show, Healthy Living with Ellie Krieger, had a similar recipe. Of course, if you put twelve monkey chefs in a kitchen, eventually one of them will come up with this recipe, no culinary idea is that unique, though I'd like to think I've had one or two good ones over the years. These meatballs are moist and tender, and you will get nearly double the amount of them by adding the shredded veggies. More food with less calories. By jove, I think I've got it!

Turkey Meatballs with Shredded Carrots and Zucchini Ingredients:

1 Pound Lean Ground Turkey or Chicken
1 Medium Zucchini (about 1/2 cup) - finely shredded
2 Medium Carrots (about 1/3 cup) - finely shredded
2 Tablespoons Dried Italian Spices
1/4 teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 Small Onion - (about 1/2 cup) Finely Minced
4 Garlic Cloves - minced
1/2 teaspoon Salt and 1/4 teaspoon of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese - finely grated (optional)
1 Egg - lightly beatened
1/4 Cup Skim Milk
1/2 to 1 Cup Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs - if using fresh, trim crusts and pulse in a food processor

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet - line it with parchment or a silpat, or spray it with cooking spray to coat completely. Set aside.
  2. Combine the all the ingredients, ground turkey though the skim milk and begin to gently combine. Add in the breadcrumbs, using as much as you need to to make the mixture hold together, but not too much to make the mixture too dry.
  3. Use a quarter cup measure or a small/medium ice cream scoop to measure out small meatballs; roll into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Continue to scoop out and form the meatballs. The mixture should yield two dozen.
  4. When all the meatballs are formed, place into the oven and bake for 20 minutes; rotate the pan after 10 minutes and if desired, turn the meatballs over to brown on the opposite side.
  5. Add the meatballs to tomato sauce of choice and bring the sauce to a simmer for 20 to 35 minutes. Serve meatballs over whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce. Makes 2 dozen meatballs.










Friday, March 6, 2009

Square Root Day and the Meaning of Life

03/03/09 was my 42nd birthday. I'm happy to be in my forties and I love that 42 is also the start of the 6th-Seven year cycle of my life. Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy thought that 42 was the answer to the Universe and meaning of life. March 3, 2009 was considered Square Root Day, as 3 is the square root of 9. I'm big into numbers, not enough to be a numerologist, but enough that to see and seek rituals and superstitions around combinations of numbers and dates occurrences. I like my date of birth, I suppose most of us do. It's our special day and most people share well wishes, congratulations (sometimes condolences!) and of course, we get presents! What's not to love? I am especially fond of my numerology of being born on the third day of the third month.
March is an unusual month, full of unexpected highs, lows and temperature fluctuations. It's the rebirth month of the seasons, taking us out of the dark winter and into the tender newness of spring. I like the colors that start popping up, the spring onion greens, carnation pinks, Mellon-ball oranges and Meyer lemon yellows. I tend to dress in Easter colours most of the year, come March, April and May, I feel that my fruit loop hued wardrobe is appropriate to the season. My temperament and moods also seem to follow the crazy month of March, at times gentle as a lamb but more often as vocal and voracious as a lion. The weather can start out hot and then turn cold with snow showers all in the span of a work day. I can remember my 34th birthday, Liz and I spent the whole day together, doing fun things that we normally wouldn't do together, like going thrift shopping, exploring neighborhoods we didn't often visit, checking out new places in the city. The weather that day was over-cast but balmy, kind of like South Florida winter weather - warm but with a lot of humidity. I went out without a jacket, probably just wearing a tee shirt. By the end of the day, the temperature went from the mid-60's down to the 30's in a matter of hours. Balmy to stormy winds. Kind of like my moods some days.
One of my birthday customs is to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show, as it is always during the first week of March, it coincides nicely with my my birthday. My mother would often take me when I was a little girl, so it's become at tradition for me to attend the Flower Show. This year I went with a co-worker, Nina, and Liz. The three of us wandered downtown, stopping for tea at T-Bar, and then a bite to eat at the Reading Terminal before we wandered into the Flower Show. We spent more time gabbing and visiting than we did at the flower spectacle, but we did manage to see some fantastic displays. Our friend, Bailey, one of Liz's chorus singers from the Opera Company, owns an exquisite flower boutique, called Moda Botanica. Bailey entered into the flower show this year and won Best in Show and Best Modern Floral Arrangement. We were so thrilled for him and genuinely impressed by his magnificent display and exhibit. Once we saw his space, most other displays palled in comparison. Later, Liz and I had a quiet dinner at Paradiso, my favorite Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. It was a pleasant day all around and I spent in the way I wanted, with people I like, doing things that I enjoy. A birthday gift to myself.