Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chicken Parmesan with Zucchini Noodles

If you've read this blog at all, I'm sure you know I think fad diets are a crock. Especially that low-carb one. It's simply not good for you to cut out a major food group and carbs can be incredibly nutritious if you eat the right ones!

But if you have gestational diabetes like my good friend Alicia (whose little boy is due in 5 weeks!), you have to watch your carb intake. So it was my challenge to cook something relatively low carb for her to enjoy (while still being very filling, delicious, and nutritious!).

I decided to make a baked chicken parmesan, which is simply a chicken breast pounded thin and coated with panko breadcrumbs and served over pasta. But instead of actual pasta I used thin slices of zucchini and yellow squash to make fettuccine "noodles."

I used the julienne attachment on my mandoline, which worked like a charm (my mandoline was the cheapest $10 version I could find at Target). If you don't have a mandoline, you could use a vegetable peeler to get thin ribbons of zucchini papardelle noodles or just use your knife to cut thin slices of zucchini. Discard the seedy centers of the zucchini (bonus points if you can find some other creative use for them).

I just briefly sauteed the zucchini noodles in a teensy bit of olive oil until they were al dente. Served with a simple tomato sauce flavored with homemade pesto, these healthy veggie noodles were the perfect bed for the crispy and delicious baked chicken breasts.

Try substituting something unexpected and healthy like zucchini next time you're making pasta! You might be surprised at how much you like it.

Chicken Parmesan with Zucchini Noodles
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, pounded to an even thinness
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten with some water
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano preferred)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp pesto (or just fresh chopped basil leaves)
4 zucchini, sliced into noodles (with mandoline or knife)
2 yellow squash, sliced into noodles (with mandoline or knife)
grated or sliced cheese (I used provolone, but fresh mozzarella would be great)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Create a breading assembly line for your thinly pounded chicken breasts. On one plate, mix together flour with some salt and pepper. On the second plate, beat your egg with a splash of water. On the third plate, mix together your panko and grated parmesan.

Coat your chicken in the flour, then egg, then panko, and put on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle top of chicken with a bit more olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway. During the last 3-4 minutes, add grated provolone (or fresh mozzarella slices) and bake or broil until cheese is bubbly.

While chicken is baking, make your tomato sauce. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute your onion in olive oil with some salt and pepper about 7-8 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add can of tomatoes and use wooden spoon to crush into a saucy consistency. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes while your chicken bakes. In the last minute, remove sauce from heat and add tomato paste and pesto.

In another medium skillet over medium-high heat, add a tiny bit of olive oil. Add your zucchini noodles and a pinch of salt and cook until hot.

Mix a little sauce with your zucchini noodles. Add your baked chicken breast and a bit more sauce. Serve immediately.

TWO YEARS AGO: Cold-Press Coffee

Sunday, March 27, 2011

BLT&A Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

It's a good sign when my salads start having greens in them again. It means spring, since most of my winter salads have grains like quinoa, wheatberries, farro, oat groats, or brown rice instead of lettuce.

So what to put atop my spring salad? I decided to turn the quintessential summer sandwich into a salad and it was so good I think it made the sun shine just a little bit brighter this afternoon. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado with a creamy pesto dressing - nothing wrong with that!

BLT&A Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing
lettuce or spinach, chopped
cherry tomatoes, halved
avocado, diced
bacon (I made my own tempeh bacon from this recipe)
1 tsp prepared pesto
1 tsp mayo
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange your lettuce or spinach on a plate. Top with bacon, avocado, and tomatoes.

Shake the pesto, mayo, vinegar, and olive oil in a small jar or whisk in a bowl and add to salad.

Season with salt and pepper.

TWO YEARS AGO: Greens and Beans Salad

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mocha Granita

It seems almost mean to post a frosty dessert recipe the day Minnesota gets another dose of winter snow, doesn't it? But I'm really enjoying this mocha granita right now wrapped up in my blanket with the heat cranked up and pretending I'm in the backyard on a hot July afternoon. I will have to make this again in a couple months to make the daydream a reality!

On Sunday mornings, I like to brew a pot of coffee to sip while I read the New York Times and listen to the United States of Americana on the Current. It's a weekend routine I love. But I usually end up with at least a half pot of coffee leftover and since I hate wasting anything, I created this useful way to repurpose leftover coffee.

All you need to do is sweeten and flavor your leftover coffee with some sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla, freeze in a shallow dish, and then scrape it up with a fork. Those spots in the mocha pictured below are real vanilla bean flecks (usually crazy expensive but I bought a ton of vanilla beans during my last trip to Mexico for cheap!).

You end up with what's technically called a granita. It's a nice alternative to ice cream, and is reminiscent to me of a chopped up popsicle. Granitas are often made with fruit juice (like my Clementine version), but I loved this mocha version with a rich chocolate flavor that tastes even more chocolatey with the coffee.

This would be a classy, simple, and make-ahead dessert to serve at a springtime dinner party (but warn your guests of the caffeine factor!). Also, it would make an awesome at-home version of those expensive Starbucks frozen frappuccino things if you simply added some milk.

Mocha Granita
Half of a pot (6 cups or so) leftover coffee, hot
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

Mix all ingredients together until dissolved. Taste to make sure it's sweet and chocolatey enough for you. Pour into a shallow pan and freeze.

Use a fork to scrape up shards of the dessert and spoon into a serving dish.

TWO YEARS AGO: Steel-cut Oatmeal

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sweet Green Curry

Every year when the weather starts to turn to springtime temperatures and the sun shines brighter and longer, I crave asian food. I think that's because most of the asian food I like is absolutely crammed with tons of vegetables and they're cooked very briefly so they stay nice and crunchy.

Of all the asian cuisines, Thai is my favorite. This began when I moved to Minneapolis 10 years ago and my friends and I started going to Chiang Mai Thai in Uptown on a regular basis for happy hours. An embarrassing percentage of my first post-college paychecks went to Chiang Mai Thai (and Herkimer and Bryant Lake Bowl) that year. Those were the days, my friends.

Here is what I love about Thai restaurants - every dish is customizable to whichever type of protein you want to add (beef, pork, chicken, tofu, mock duck, or just vegetables). As a vegetarian, the entire menu is available to you (truly, that is exciting to non-meat-eaters)! Also, the spice level is customizable as well. So if you love spicy food like I do, you can order anything on the menu and order it extra hot or super mild.

Back to Chiang Mai Thai, it was there that I first ordered and loved sweet green curry. It's a classic Thai combination of spicy and sweet. You certainly could make your own green curry paste, but it comes in the grocery store with all recognizable ingredients on the label so I deem it acceptable to purchase pre-made.

Also, a wok is not necessary to make a great curry or stir fry, you could simply use a large skillet. But I love my wok. It gets very hot and it holds so many vegetables! This was a monster batch of curry (I could've fed an army) and it fit very comfortably in my big wok.

If you can chop vegetables, you can make this dish. The trick is to do all your prep in advance because once you start cooking, you need to cook it quickly to avoid mushy vegetables. You want all your veggies to be crisp-tender to get that springtime crunch in your dinner.

The green curry paste is spicy. Start with 1 spoonful, taste, and add more if you can stand it. As already mentioned, I love spice so I used nearly the entire jar to season all my veggies and I recommend providing extra Rooster sauce for those at your table who like it hot!

Sweet Green Curry
Protein of your choice, cut into bite-sized chunks (chicken would be great here)
Vegetables of your choice, cut into bite-sized chunks - choose a bright variety of colors
I used: broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, onion, red pepper, yellow pepper, and water chestnuts
1 can coconut milk
1 jar green curry paste
canola oil
salt and pepper
extra hot sauce
brown rice, cooked (or another whole grain like wheatberries, farro, quinoa, oat groats, etc)

In a wok or large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp light oil (NOT olive oil) over high heat until it shimmers. Add your protein (if using) and stir constantly until cooked through. Remove from pan.

Ad a bit more light oil and add your vegetables, one at a time. I started with the onions and mushrooms to get some color on them. Then the peppers and carrots. Finally the broccoli, green beans, and water chestnuts.

Stir your veggies constantly. When they are hot and cooked but still crunchy and crisp, add back your protein, then add the whole can of coconut milk and a big spoonful of curry paste. Add salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more curry paste if you want more spice.

Serve over brown rice or quinoa with extra hot sauce.

TWO YEARS AGO: Seared Tuna Salad

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

17 Bean Mexi Salad and Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits

Between the ages of 18 and 30, I was a very self-satisfied semi-vegetarian and thought I was so healthy because I had quit eating red meat. In reality, I was incredibly unhealthy because I wasn't replacing the missing meat with the right things. I was doing what many people (and most restaurants) think when they hear "no meat" which is "extra cheese."

Cheese is great, but it is not a good substitute for meat in most circumstances. I was eating too much (poor quality) cheese and missing some huge nutritional components in my diet - fiber, iron, protein. One great substitute for meat is the lowly bean. Since then, I've very consciously emphasized beans and lentils in my diet and it makes me more full and gives me more energy!

I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found this awesome bag of 17 Bean & Barley Mix at Trader Joe's. The recipe on the bag tells you how to turn it into soup. I don't know about you, but if I have to look at another bowl of soup this winter I might throw the bowl at the wall in protest. So I decided to turn those 17 beans and barley into a bright and fresh crunchy mexi-flavored salad.

It's practically a rainbow of beans (I hope I'm not the only one who thinks these beans are so beautiful!) mixed with green and yellow split peas and probably a bunch of other legumes I've never even heard of. To go with the salad, I made two ingredient biscuits. Yes, you read that correctly. Two. Ingredients.

I found the recipe in Relish Magazine (it comes in the Sunday edition of the Fargo Forum and my mom saves them for me). Of course, I added a few more ingredients (cheddar cheese and pickled jalapenos) to jazz them up, but the basic recipe is so easy.

The combination of the limey bean salad with the piping hot biscuits was so delicious and filling. And I know it was incredibly good for me even without a speck of meat in the entire meal. Also, that bag of beans makes a week's worth of food. Both the cooked beans and uncooked biscuits freeze excellently.

17 Bean & Barley Mexi Salad
1 bag mixed beans, soaked overnight (note: if you don't soak it's OK. Just follow the instructions on the bag for the quick soak method, which is to boil the beans for an hour. Alternatively, you could use a few different kinds of canned beans but it won't be as pretty or cool)
1 can corn, or 1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 red onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced fine
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 limes, zested and juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot sauce (I like Cholula)

Cook your beans in boiling water with a couple of bay leaves for about 35-45 minutes or until tender. Add salt to taste and drain. Mix your beans with the corn, onion, pepper, jalapeno, tomatoes, and cilantro.
Separately whisk together lime juice and zest, oil, salt, pepper, cumin, and hot sauce.

Mix dressing with beans and veggies. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature with freshly diced avocado.

Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits, adapted from Relish Magazine
2 cups self-rising flour (if you don't have self-rising flour, just use all-purpose flour and add 2.5 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup diced pickled jalapenos

Mix all ingredients together until moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured counter and knead 10 times. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut into biscuits.

Place on lightly greased baking sheet, brush tops with olive oil or melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cheesy Spinach Crepes

Crepes have been on my "to-do" list for months, even though I've never had one before. Last weekend, I watched Giada make them filled with peanut butter and jelly and it didn't look too complicated so I decided it was time to give them a shot.

Little did I know it also happened to be Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday and Pancake or Shrove Day in England and it's apparently the traditional time to make crepes. So I was not alone in my crepe-making adventures this week.

Crepes are super thin pancakes. Not having ever enjoyed a real one, I've no idea if mine were better or worse than they're supposed to be. However, I thoroughly enjoyed them anyways. I thought they turned out eggier than pancakes and were more of a thin omelette. I think I may have undercooked them a little, too. It didn't matter though since I have nothing to compare them to, and I thought they were awesome.

I filled my savory crepe with fresh mozzarella, spinach, shallot, and sundried tomatoes. It was incredibly delicious. The batch below makes about 8-10 crepes. You can make them all and reheat them later from refrigerated or frozen, or keep the batter in your fridge for a day or two to enjoy fresh and hot.

Cheesy Spinach Crepes, adapted from Allrecipes
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all purpose flour
1 large shallot (or 1/2 red onion), minced
3 large hands full fresh spinach, chopped
salt, pepper, and fresh grated nutmeg to taste
4 large sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, diced
fresh mozzarella, diced
fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a blender, briefly pulse together eggs, milk, water, salt, and melted butter. Add flour and blend again until well mixed and no lumps remain. Let batter sit while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

In a medium skillet, saute your shallot in some butter or olive oil. Add all the spinach, some salt, pepper, and nutmeg and cook until all liquid is evaporated and spinach is wilted. Add diced sundried tomatoes. Set mixture aside.

In a crepe pan or medium non-stick skillet, melt a pat of butter over medium-high heat. When It's melted and bubbly, add slightly less than 1/4 cup crepe batter. Quickly swirl pan so batter coats bottom evenly. Cook until it bubbles and sides come away from pan.

Flip (I used my fingers) and cook on the other side for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove to a plate. Add fresh mozzarella cubes, the spinach mixture, and grated parmesan. Roll up like a burrito.

Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven.

Storing crepes: I made several of the spinach filled rolled crepes and ate them for lunches during the week. They were awesome at room temperature or even reheated a bit in a microwave.

I also made several plain crepes with the remaining batter, let them cool, separated them with waxed paper, and stored them in a ziploc bag. They can either be refrigerated or frozen this way for enjoyment at a later date.

Bonus Dessert Recipe!
Banana Nutella Crepes
Make crepes as described above.
Spread half of the crepe with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and sliced bananas. Fold and dust with powdered sugar. Eat immediately.

ONE YEAR AGO: Spinach Cakes

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms on Greens and Grains

Boy have I been eating lots of what I call "peasant food" lately. It's mostly plain winter food that's kind of monochromatic - all those potatoes and mushrooms just make everything kind of a brown/white mess. But it's the hugely nutritious type of brown and white foods anyways so there's no guilt.

It seems I've been practically mainlining mushrooms into my system. Here's another way to enjoy them that looks fancy but it isn't. It's simple and rustic. Just remove the stems, chop them up, add some cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Scoop some of that filling into the mushroom caps and toss them into a hot oven.

As the 'shrooms bake, your kitchen will smell so amazing that you will want to take them out early and eat them. Resist the urge. You will be rewarded after 25 minutes with sweet and rich roasted mushrooms filled with a garlicky cheesy stuffing.

Serve them just like that for a tasty one-bite appetizer, or perch them on top of a pile of fiber-filled brown rice (cooked in vegetable stock) and mixed with a huge handful of chopped fresh spinach for a hearty entree with a perfectly paired glass of pinot noir.

Stuffed Mushrooms on Greens and Grains
1 package crimini mushrooms (the largest ones you can find)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan or other hard cheese like asiago, romano, pecorino, etc
2 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp thyme leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove stems from mushroom caps and chop finely. Line up mushroom caps on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

In a mixing bowl, add chopped mushroom stems, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir together and add olive oil (about 1/4 cup) until the mixture is moistened.

Spoon stuffing into caps. Drizzle a tiny bit more oil over the top of all the caps. Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve over 1 cup cooked brown rice mixed with 1 cup fresh chopped spinach.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What the F is Kale?

It's my new catchphrase, and I've said it about 50 times already today. It makes me laugh every time. Thanks to an anonymous commenter (who I'm 99% sure is my oldest younger brother Nick) on my last post about Potato and Greens Gratin, I realize I talk about kale non-stop and it might be an exotic or unknown ingredient to some of you. So, what the F is kale?

Kale is a relative of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts that is high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, and calcium. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and blocks the growth of cancer cells. It tastes awesome.

See that wrinkly looking bundle at the top of the photo above? That is Tuscan kale. It's also called dinosaur kale, black kale, lacinato kale, and cavolo nero. It's my favorite kind of kale.

This type of kale is less common in big-box type grocery stores. I buy it at the farmer's market, co-op, Kowalski's, Whole Foods, and Lund's/Byerly's but they don't carry it at my closest local grocery store Bergen's SuperValu. In more rural or large stores you will probably be more likely to find curly kale in the produce section by the rest of the lettuces and cabbages. It's not quite as rich and sweet as the Tuscan kale, but it is still good.

You should always rinse and dry your kale when you bring it home from the farmer's market or grocery store. If not using it right away, I wrap it in a kitchen towel and store in a ziploc bag in the fridge. It will last up to 5 days like this before getting wilty.

The thick stems are rarely edible so you should always peel the leafy parts from the stems before eating. One exception is this Warm Lentil Salad recipe that calls for you to saute the stems separately from the leaves.

You can eat kale leaves raw. I like this Hippie Salad recipe with apples, onions, craisins, and sunflower seeds.

You could also use raw kale in your Green and Lean Smoothies.

Kale goes great in soup to add a burst of beautiful green color and cram extra nutrients in each serving. This Cabbage Dumpling Soup pairs cousins kale and cabbage together for a super nutritious bowl of germ-fighting goodness.

I use the orange and green combination of sweet potatoes or squash and kale quite often. First in this Sweet Potato Kale Soup,

Kale pairs nicely with pasta in this Summer Pasta Toss. That's another cool thing about kale - it works with both summer and winter dishes. It would be fun to re-make this pasta toss with roasted winter vegetables like broccoli and carrots.

If you want to get fancy, try the Mushroom/Kale Ravioli that I made with wonton wrappers and added to squash soup.

Another awesome kale recipe is Kale and Chard Panade (chard is similar to kale, just more delicate leaves and closer in texture to spinach). Topped with a poached egg....yummmm.

And I can't forget my new discovery, Stir-Fried Kale, seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger.

But my all-time favorite, favorite way to enjoy kale is to simply saute it with onion, balsamic vinegar, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I do this to a couple of bundles of kale and can eat it all in one sitting. This balsamic kale is the perfect sidekick to eggs, with or without a thick slice of grilled bread.

There you have it, practically an entire book's worth of kale recipes that I love. If you have never had kale and are feeling adventurous, I dare you to seek it out next time you're at the grocery store and give it a try. If you do, make sure you tell me about it - or invite me over to eat it with you!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Potato and Greens Gratin

I'm actually starting to feel embarrassed about the overabundance of kale on the blog. Sort of. Maybe. I guess not really. OK, not at all because I've got another kale recipe for you to try (it's my personal goal to get each and every one of you loving kale before I quit this blog!).

This time the kale is layered with potatoes, cheese, and milk in a gratin. A gratin is a French name for a casserole-style dish that's got an ingredient (usually vegetables) baked with cheese and/or butter until it forms a browned upper crust.

You can use any greens you want, but I find spinach to be too limp and mushy on its own so adding lots of kale gives it a more chewy and satisfying texture. The spinach and kale mixture was sauteed with a shallot and spiced with fresh grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I have heard that nutmeg is a great flavoring with dark leafy greens AND anything creamy. Since this dish has both, it was a no-brainer to add it.

I had baby honey gold potatoes that needed to be used up and I used my mandoline to slice them all as thin as possible. The cheese I had on hand was either a baby swiss or parmigiano reggiano so I used both.

Simply begin layering all your ingredients in a buttered casserole dish, add milk or cream, top with more cheese and butter, and bake until done. Voila. Delicious and healthy winter side dish.

Potato and Greens Gratin
3-4 cups thinly sliced potatoes (the waxy ones like yukon gold work best)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bundle kale, cleaned, stems removed, and leaves chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
fresh grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper
2 cups grated cheese (gruyere would be great, but anything will work)
1 cup whole milk (or maybe a bit more)
2 Tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter a casserole dish.

In a medium skillet, saute shallot, kale, and spinach in a pat of butter or some olive oil and season with fresh grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook until shallot is soft and kale and spinach have wilted. Let cool and if it's watery, make sure you squeeze out the liquid in a kitchen towel.

Begin with your first layer of potatoes in the bottom of the casserole. This part is important, so listen up: add a very light dusting of salt and pepper. Add a thin layer of sauteed greens. Add a thin layer of shredded cheese.

Repeat layers (don't forget to lightly salt and pepper each layer of potatoes) until all your ingredients are used up. Pour milk into dish, it should come almost up to the top of the potatoes. Your top layer should be cheese. Dot top with little chunks of butter.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until a nice brown crust forms. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.