Saturday, February 26, 2011

Orange Pork loin chops.

Pork- the other white meat or is it.  Having grown up in a Jewish but not kosher household I did not have pork very often.  My mother rarely cooked it and I still do not often choose in the supermarket, more out of habit than anything else.  But it is wonderfully versatile, and the lean cuts can be flavorful without the extra bulk.   The right cut can truly be “the other white meat”.  If you don’t eat pork, this dish can be made with chicken breast.  The same rules would apply; take care not to dry the meat out.
What I absolutely adore about this recipe is the scent of oranges and caramelized meat that fills the house.  Serve it with a side salad and the dinner is done.  It also stores well for up to 3 days.

6 Pork Tenderloin chops about 1.5 inch thick.   ( I bought a whole tenderloin and cut it myself)
4 oranges (or oranges and tangerines)
4-5 scallions white parts only chopped
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp of smoked paprika
½ tsp of Mexican chili powder ( I like the hot kind, but you can use mild)
Salt and white pepper

Juice 2 oranges and set the juice aside.  Cut thin strips of zest from the other 2 oranges, carefully avoiding the white spongy part.  Cut the zest into thin long strips.  Cut in between the membranes of the remaing oranges and release the orange segments. 
Preheat a large heavy duty skillet with 2 tbs of olive oil.  Season the chops with salt, white pepper, smoked paprika and chili powder.  Brown the chops on high heat for 3 minutes per side or until nicely browned.  If your skillet is not large enough to fit all the chops at once, you may need to do this in batches.  When the chops are browned, return all the meat to the pan, pour in the oranges juice, and add the zest and scallions.  Reduce the heat to med-low, cover and let the pork simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes.  Add the oranges slices and simmer for 2 min longer.  Remove the chops to the platter and reduce the sauce to the consistency you like.  Pour the sauce over the pork chops and serve immediately.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mixed Greens Asparagus Bird Nest Salad

The life on a diet is boring and full of denial.  All the calorie counting is making me crave fattening, salty, starchy, and gooey food.  Since the investment in my closet that now feels very tight is a great motivator, I look for new ways to entertain my palate.  Salads don’t have to boring, they don’t have to taste like rabbit food and they can certainly lift your dieting mood if you use a little imagination.
This one is a crowd pleaser.  It delivers a balanced meal with mostly light greens, a little crunch and a touch of wonderful protein and there is no butter involved… go figure!  Did I mention, it makes a dramatic presentation when served family style?
So treat yourself, maybe not on a Tuesday afternoon, but on a Sunday night, when you are looking for healthier dinner options that will actually make you dread the Monday morning commute a little less.

Mixed Greens Asparagus Bird Nest Salad.
Makes 4 very generous servings at 300 calories each.
4 cups Mixed spinach and arugula greens  
Asparagus ( about 20 stalks)  
½ cup of roasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
2 bacon strips  
2 duck or extra-large chicken eggs*  
½ tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs red wine vinegar
3 tbs olive oil  
Salt Pepper
*Note:  I like using the duck eggs for these as they have thicker shells and make for easier peeling.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Bake the bacon on the cooling rack placed over a baking tray for about 15 min or until crispy.  This cooking method will help drip away the bacon fat and will make you feel like the grease super fighting hero.
Prepare the vinegrate  dressing by whisking the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper together.
Trim and peel the asparagus.  If asparagus happens to be young (very thin strands) it may not need peeling.   Place the asparagus in heavily salted boiling water for two minutes and then plunge it into ice cold bath to keep the crunch and color. Dry on a kitchen towel.
Prepare the eggs by gently lowering each into boiling water and boiling for 4 minutes.  Once the 4 minutes are up, crack the shells gently and place in an ice bath.  This will help the very tedious peeling process.  The eggs will still be very soft, although the white should be mostly set.  Peel gently, trying not to break the yolk.
Toss the greens with crumbled bacon, hazelnuts and the dressing.  Arrange on a platter.  Arrange the asparagus in a overlapping circle at the edges of the greens, resembling the eggs.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and salt and pepper if desired.  Place the whole soft boiled eggs inside the “nest” directly on the greens.
Wow your guests by breaking the yolks just as you serve.  The warm yolk creates another dressing texture for the salad and provides that gooiness that you have been craving.

Now this semi-diet salad I can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On the lighter side of Granola.

The key to eating healthy is not to skip breakfast… or so they tell you.  Personally, I love breakfast, but actually having it makes me hungry all day long.  I am pretty happy with just a cup of coffee in the morning.  However if you need to fuel your workout and you believe the nutritionists… low fat yogurt with fruit makes a great healthy breakfast.   I love yogurt, I love it even more when there is a lot of stuff in it, like fresh fruit, nuts and granola.  Granola gives you crunch, it fools you into thinking that you are eating desert or something really decadent.  And are you?  Oh, boy, when I look on the back of most commercially produced granolas; I may as well be eating a croissant for breakfast.  Have you seen how many calories are in 1/3 cup of granola?  How much fat? And the nutritional information is given for a serving size of a measly 1/3 of a cup, sometimes even ¼!  That is like 2 tablespoons! Definitely not enough to make any kind of impression on the whole yogurt experience.   So, I thought out to make a healthier version. 
The reason granola has so much fat and calories, is because it is made with massive amounts of butter or oil or both.  It makes sense, it needs to brown up nicely in the oven and have a crunch.   And how do things get brown and crunchy? Fat!  Lots of it! 
If I was ever going to heighten granola to something remotely healthy, the fat would need to go… but where?  What can it be substituted with?  I read that you can replace some of the butter in baking recipes with fresh bananas or apple sauce.  Bananas would burn in the oven, but apple sauce may be a solution.  I didn’t have any, but I had apple butter, which is nothing more than baked apple sauce with a bit of vinegar in it.  At 20 calories a tablespoon it sure beats butter.  I did add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the mix, but I figure for 5 cups of granola it did not spoil the health factor.  Besides, olive oil is good for you.
Next, I had to tackle the sweetness factor.  Most commercial granolas have tons of sugar.  I am not a fan of too sweet of a crunch, so I ended up with just 1 tablespoon of brown sugar ( hey, if you going to use sugar, may as well go for the one with some flavor) and 1 tablespoon of agave syrup. 
I used a whole cup of mixed dried fruit for added sweetness and that chunky ‘stuff” that makes granola interesting.  Granola baked up beautify, came out all brown and crispy… and not too sweet.
Over home-made yogurt and some fresh blueberries…made my pre-workout snack a blast.
Home-made Granola
½ Cup serving – 200 calories ( And with a cup of low-fat yogurt, the whole breakfast is 320 calories, leaving you plenty for the rest of the day)
5 cups of oats (steel-cut oats are best here or any type of long cooking ones.  I only had quick cooking oats on hand so I committed a culinary crime and used them instead)  
½ cup King Arthur bread toping mix.  It has flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and lot of other goodness.  Can be substituted with a handful of your favorite seeds  
1 cup chopped dried fruit.  I had dried currants, peaches, apples, pears and prunes.  
1 tbs brown sugar  
1 tbs agave syrup or honey  
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried ginger
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 tbs of apple sauce or apple butter  
2 tbs of olive oil  
½ cup any nuts (I used almonds)  
Note:  If you are using raw nuts, add them to the granola mix at the last 5 minutes of baking, otherwise they will burn.  If your nuts already roasted, toss them with your ready granola.  I like raw nuts, so I just toss them in like that.

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Combine the oats, seeds, dried fruit, brown sugar and spices and mix well.  Add the apple sauce, olive oil and agave syrup and work well with your hands until all the ingredients are evenly moistened and there are no big clumps.  Do not add the nuts at this time or they will burn.

 Add the apple sauce, olive oil and agave syrup and work well with your hands until all the ingredients are evenly moistened and there are no big clumps.

Spread the mixture evenly on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, stirring often, until granola is nice and brown and crunchy.  Add the nuts at the last 5 minutes of baking or toss them in afterwards.

Let cool and store in an air tight container.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Lighter meal project continued – Mediterranean eggplant salad.

Forgive my regression to fatty, comfort food last week, it has been and still is a very long, cold winter.  Now I am back on track for my lighter meal’s project. 
For me, the toughest part of dieting does not come from depravation, but from boredom.  Another day, another salad… yes, you can make a low-calorie salad a million ways, but it is still just another salad.  I want something a little more exciting, something requiring a fork and a knife to navigate.  Something light and fresh, yet delicious and something which just ultimately reminds me of summer, which I miss dearly.  And, yes, something that does not look like your typical salad.
This recipe is inspired by the book  “Around my kitchen table” by Dorie Greenspan.  It makes a wonderful light lunch, a great dinner side dish and an even better late-night snack.  Of course it will be a thousand times more delicious in the summer when all the local fresh produce is in season, but I could not wait this long.
You can switch up the ingredients.  I used feta as it is one of the lighter cheeses packing a lot of flavor, but cubed fresh mozzarella would work well also.

Mediterranean eggplant salad.  -  240 calories per serving
( makes 4 servings, the recipe is easily multiplied.)
1 Large firm Eggplant  
2 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil  
Salt and Pepper
½ pint of cherry or grape tomatoes quartered lengthwise  
¼ of red onion finely diced  
1 leafy celery stalk finely diced  
½ red or yellow bell pepper finely chopped  
5 large calamata olives diced  
1 tbs of capers, drained and roughly chopped  
Parsley or basil chopped  
2 tbs of any low slated crumbled feta  
1 English cucumber julienned.  
Pre-heat the oven to 375F.  Peel the eggplant with a vegetable peeler in horizontal stripes, making sure to leave some of the skin intact.  Cut into 1inch thick rounds.  You will now have about 4 equal size rounds; you can save the smaller end pieces for some other use.  Brush the eggplant with 1 tbs of olive oil on both sides, season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for approximately 40 min, turning once, until the eggplant is golden brown and soft but not mushy.

Prepare the salsa.  Combine tomatoes, onions, pepper, celery, olives, capers and parsley.  Stir gently and let sit while the eggplant bakes. 

While the eggplant cools, add the crumbled feta.  Top the baked eggplant with the tomato salsa, julienned cucumber and lightly drizzle remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top.  Season with salt and fresh pepper.

Now that’s a salad!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The best hangover cure - Frittata and Hair-of-the-Dog Bloody Mary

I know I promised a month of healthy, low-calorie food for the ever dieting audience… but sometimes you need to feel a little sorry for yourself.
I don’t know about you but if I had one to many the night before, all I can think of the next day is comfort food, something rich, delicious and preferably warm.  .  And I wake up ravenous Hangover is the punishment for the good time but at least you can make it bearable by treating yourself to an ultimately feel good meal.    This meal works as breakfast, lunch or dinner or whenever you might happen to wake-up.  It takes minimum effort, fifteen minutes to cook, because who wants to slave in the kitchen when your legs feel like jello and a headache the size of Texas.  And you don’t’ need to go shopping, chances are you have most of the ingredients in the house already and if you don’t the substitutions are endless.  So stay in your pajamas, wallow in self-pity and enjoy, preferably with a little Hair-of-the- Dog (recipe below).
“Raid your Fridge” Frittata
7 large eggs
½ cup of milk
2 tbs butter
½ cup of ham (or sausage or bacon or any combination of any meat you may have in the house).  What the hell, make it a full cup.  Chop as even cubes as you can manage in your delicate condition.
1 cup of “melty” cheese.  Any well melting cheese would do.  I had smoked aged cheddar, but you can use fontina, mozzarella, whatever…
3 tbs of grated parmesan
Tomatoes, peppers, fresh herbs or any vegetables on hand that can be cut into cubes  up and sautéed in a few minutes.
1 tsp of harissa or hot sauce (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Heat a non-stick, oven-safe skillet with 1 tbs of butter and brown whatever meat you are using. ( If using bacon, it would be a good idea to pre-cook it and drain the fat).  Add the cut up vegetables and cook for another 2 min on med-high heat.  In the meantime, whisk the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and harrisa ( or hot sauce).    Add another tablespoon of butter to the skillet and wait until it is melted.  Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed on the surface before poring the eggs.  Pour the egg mixture and lower the heat to med-low.  Cook the eggs for a few minutes, gently loosening the sides and the bottom with a spatula.   When the edges begin to set, add all the melty cheese, herbs, and sprinkle with parmesan.  Bake in the oven for 10 min or until the middle is set and the cheese is fully melted.  You can broil the Frittata for 1 min at the end to get a nice brown cheese crust.
Serve with a simple salad to make yourself feel better about all the calories.  Don’t forget the most important part of the meal:  Hair-of-the-Dog Bloody Marry.

Hair-of-the-Dog Bloody Mary
1 ½ cups of V8 or Tomato Juice
½ cup of vodka ( more or less is up to you)
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
½ tsp of Tamari or Soy sauce
1 tsp of horseradish (fresh or preserved)
1 ½ tsp of hot sauce ( I like Asian hot sauce)
Squirt of lemon juice
Salt, pepper
Celery stalk for serving
Mix Tomato juice and all the ingredients except vodka.  Mix well and let stand for a few minutes before adding the vodka.  If you possess enough foresight, you may want to do this a night before and leave in the fridge overnight.  This way in the morning you just add the vodka and voala! ( Although how many of us really plan to get drunk?)
Serve over ice in a tall glass with a celery stalk.