Monday, May 31, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

Let me count the ways I love my berries. Strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, strawberry sundaes, strawberries and whipped cream. Then there's strawberries with cereal and milk for breakfast or topping custards, puddings, and tapioca. Who can resist Belgian waffles or a yummy fruit salad? Strawberries with bananas, pineapple and sliced kiwi.

Strawberries also make a handsome garnish for salads and fruit punches. Garnish tip: Leave the caps and stems on. Slice sideways not quite to the caps and gently fan the berry slices for a pretty display.

Try a simple fondue dessert by arranging the berries on a dessert plate with a variety of dips like sour cream, melted chocolate, whipped cream, coconut, and chopped nuts. The more elegant French version is to serve the berries with a small bowl of Marsala wine and a mound of granulated brown sugar. The berry is dipped into the wine and then into the sugar and popped into the mouth. Washed down with a sip of the wine. Yum.

And strawberries are more than a way to satisfy your sweet tooth -- low in calories (1 cup is about 55 calories) and full of Vitamin C (that same cup fulfills your daily requirement. But treat your berries gently, they bruise easily. Don't clean them until just before using them. Store the berries uncovered in the refrigerator in a shallow container. When ready to eat them, wash quickly in cold water. Don't let them soak. Drain them well before you hull them.

It's strawberry season and luscious, ripe berries are yours for the picking -- well, after you pony up at the weigh station. Some farms charge by the quart, others by weight. If you don't fancy a Saturday morning in a strawberry field, you can simply stop at the farm stand, plunk down your cash and buy a couple of quarts all ready picked. Either way you'll be headed for strawberry Nirvana!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's in your freezer?

What's in a person’s freezer says a lot about them. Love meat? Betting you have a steak or two. Hate shopping? Exactly how long do you think that old bag of veggies from Giant will last — you know, from before Giant changed its logo? Value freshness? Your freezer is likely empty except for ice cream (preferably Häagen-Dazs).

As you can see from the picture. I love love love my frozen fruits and veggies, and my freezer shows it. I have bags of frozen peppers, corn, green beans, frozen peas. For those diet smoothies I love so much, I keep a couple of bags of frozen berries (which also make for fun ice cubes in my water bottle). My son JP is fond of frozen diet meals for lunch and my husband is addicted to fruit sorbet. We buy fresh most of the time so sometimes it does look a little barren in there, especially right before we go grocery shopping.

And tucked
in the back, inside a Tupperware snap on lid drink cup is some limoncello, leftover from a backyard fiesta that ended in a blur (I was home, not driving). Well worth keeping ice cold for after dinner sometime soon. So ... what do you have in your freezer?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nuant: A Nutty Nifty Gifty

It started a few weeks ago. I made a batch of cashew brittle for a friend with a bad back, remember? Just last week a second buddy had surgery and in two weeks yet another pal o' mine is scheduled for a procedure. Homemade candy makes a thoughtful and yummy get well present. And this particular recipe is as easy as it gets.

When my children were young 'uns, I liked to make this candy for them. Not that candy is ever really good for you but ... using honey and nuts and good quality chocolate makes these bite sized confections a step better than fillers and waxy chocolate found in commercial brands. Not to mention, the husband (AKA Farmer Paul) doesn't complain about the bits and pieces (they call them seconds in the candy trade) that aren't pretty enough to make the nifty gifty boxes.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED NUANT
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon lemon or orange juice
1-3/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 ounces white chocolate
2 wooden spoons
12 x 12 candy board

Moisten 12 x 12 wooden (or bamboo) cutting board with cold water. In a saucepan, combine the honey and juice. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the nuts and continue stirring until the mixture is thick and rich brown in color. Be careful not to burn. Pour the mixture onto the board. With a wooden spoon dipped in cold water, smooth the nuts to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.

Let the mixture sit for several hours to cool completely. Use a sharp knife dipped in water to cut the candy into bite-size pieces. Dip half the candy bottoms into each kind of the melted chocolates (my family prefers the dark chocolate but the white chocolate is my favorite) and set to harden on waxed paper or parchment before storing in a tin or packaging up as a gift. Makes about one pound of candy. Best eaten within 10 days -- if it lasts that long!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gobble Gobble All Year 'Round

Turkey is good for you. A great source of B vitamins that give you energy and also help your body cope with stress — something most of us need on a daily basis. Here's the short list of B vitamins found in turkey: niacin, B6, and B12. All of them little bodyguards for your sanity. Turkey's vitamin cocktail also helps patch up DNA and that will keep your cells in good repair.

Not to mention, turkey is one of the leanest meat sources around. Four ounces of turkey breast, even served with a small piece of yummy skin, has less than 1 gram of saturated fat. That’s nothing compared with the 4.5 grams found in the same amount of flank steak or killer ham with up to 5.5 grams of fat. And the leftovers make great sandwiches in a hurry -- yummy enough to keep me away from the deadly drive-thru window that got me needing the Flat Belly Diet! in the first place!

SPICY ORANGE-PEPPER TURKEY BREAST
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup orange juice
1 (5 to 7 pound bone-in) turkey breast
1/2 cup low-fat low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons dry white wine or cooking sherry

In a small microwave-safe bowl stir together ginger, pepper, cumin, and marmalade. Microwave 1 minute on high. Remove from microwave oven and stir in juice, oil and soy. Blend well. In a large cooking bag combine turkey and orange mixture. Seal bag and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, turning occasionally to marinate evenly.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove turkey from bag, discard marinade. Return turkey to cooking bag and reseal. Place bagged turkey in a roasting pan. Cook at 325 degrees F for approximately 2-1/4 hours, following manufacturer suggested directions on cooking bag packaging for bone-in turkey breast.

Once breast is cooked, let stand while preparing sauce. Pour 1/2 cup of pan juices and 1/2 cup chicken broth into a small sauce pan. Heat to a low boil. In a small bowl blend together well the wine or sherry and cornstarch. Add to simmering broth mixture and stir until thickened. If desired add a dash of more red pepper flakes. Don't forget the cranberry sauce. Three slices weighing about 4 ounces with 2 tablespoons of sauce are about 300 calories. Feeds 8-10 people.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

And now for something completely different ...

Experimenting in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do. Two ripe avocados have been hanging out on the counter all week waiting to be sliced and eaten with the chicken salad I never made. Two packages of low fat cream cheese, a box of almond crisp cookies and lemon yogurt two days from the best used by date -- necessity is the mother of invention.

What the heck. Turns out that avocado puree, lemon yogurt and cream cheese make a subtle interesting blend of flavors. The pale slightly greenish yellow color might take some getting used to visually. But the taste? Yummy. And yeah, those are homemade candied lemon peels hiding behind the cheesecake, ready and waiting to be used as garnish after dinner tonight. Happy Mother's Day!

AVOCADO LEMON CHEESECAKE
Crust
1 cup finely ground almond crisp cookies
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Thoroughly moisten the cookies crumbs with the butter. Press the crumbs in the bottom of an ungreased 8-inch X 3-inch spring form pan. Set the pan in the refrigerator until filling is mixed.

Filling
2 medium ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and cut in chunks
2 eight ounce packages of low fat cream cheese
4 whole eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup lemon low fat yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all the ingredients in a food processor. Blend thoroughly on medium speed until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan with crust from the refrigerator and pour batter into pan. Place spring form pan on a baking sheet to prevent messy spills. Bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 1 hour or until center of the cake jiggles only slightly.

Shut off the oven and open its door, leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool for another hour. Run hot tap water over a butter knife, then carefully run the knife around the edge of the cheesecake to make removing the cake from the pan easier. Place uncovered cake on a plate in the refrigerator to chill for no less than 4 hours before serving. Garnish with a small dollop of fresh whipped cream or creme fraiche (Silver Palate Cookbook, page 339) and a thin slice of candied lemon peel. Loosely cover leftovers with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for 2-3 days. Serves eight.

As for the calories? I have no idea so be reasonable! LOL

Friday, May 7, 2010

There's Nothing Like Garden Fresh

Every year, Frank the Rototiller Guy makes his late-April appearance in our garden space. I'm guessing in his younger years he wowed the ladies with his coiffed head of still thick hair complete with long sideburns eerily reminiscent of The King. He causes quite a stir in our neighborhood while he does a great job getting our soil ready for early plantings.

Farmer Paul wasted little time in putting down what plants flourish in the cooler spring days and nights. Yesterday, the cabbage patch went in. Not to mention the perennial bed and our herb border boasted the first harvest of the new season with ready parsley and ripe rhubarb. And so it begins ...

PARSLEY PANKO HADDOCK
4 six ounce pieces of boneless haddock fillets
1 cup panko Japanese style plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup fresh finely chopped parsley (dried just won't do)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon citrus zest (I used lemon this time but lime, orange and even grapefruit works.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9 x 12 baking sheet. Thoroughly blend yogurt and citrus zest, set aside. In a medium bowl, mix breadcrumbs, parsley, pepper and olive oil. Make sure the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Place the fish on the oiled baking pan. Using a basting brush, add a generous layer of the yogurt and zest to cover the top of each piece. Liberally cover the yogurt blend with the parsley panko mixture. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish turns white and flakes easily when tested with a knife tip. Garnish with a slice of the citrus you used in the recipe. Feeds four. 255 calories per serving.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chicken again?

If ever there was a day that chucking the diet was tempting, today was the day. Flat tire, engine light on and then there was that pile of work toppling over on my desk. But John Paul weighed in at his physical on Monday eight pounds lighter and I'm down by a fair number flabby pounds so far.

Psyched to be making progress, we needed a healthy low fat, low cal meal in a hurry, and one that didn't make us feel deprived. This chicken tenders recipe cooked up fast, easy and delicious enough to feel like we were cheating -- the perfect way to cheer us through an otherwise crappy day. If I've said it once, I've said it fifty times -- chicken doesn't have to be boring.

ZESTY COCONUT CRUSTED CHICKEN TENDERS
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons drained crushed pineapple
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 pound chicken tenders
1 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon olive oil

Blend yogurt, pineapple, orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon of the ginger and 1/8 teaspoon of the curry powder in a small bowl. Cover and set in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, toss together coconut, breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon of the ginger, 1/8 teaspoon of the curry powder plus the cayenne until evenly blended. Blend honey, orange juice and olive oil in a separate shallow bowl. Dip chicken pieces in honey mixture then roll to coat with the coconut. Place chicken pieces on prepared baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes or until chicken in cooked and coconut crust is light golden brown. Serve with yogurt dipping sauce.

Serves 4 at 360 calories per serving. Add a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a drizzled tablespoon of orange sesame dressing to make a 400 calorie meal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cocoa Candy Time

No special utensils are needed to make these scrump-dilly-umptious cocoa almond rum balls. Have your mini-food processor handy to fine chop the almond slivers and grind the vanilla wafers. A grater to get enough white chocolate shavings to roll the candies in for the finishing touch and you're good to go. You'll have approximately three and a half dozen yummy truffle-like sweets to give away ... or not!

COCOA ALMOND RUMMIES
1 cup almond slivers, finely chopped
1 cup finely ground vanilla wafers
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup rum
1/2 cup grated white chocolate bar for rollimg

Combine almonds, cookie crumbs, confectioners' sugar and cocoa in a large bowl. Mix well. Add honey and rum and stir, making sure to moisten all of the mixture evenly. Form the mixture into one inch balls with your hands and roll them in grated white chocolate. Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving. If desired use individual candypapers found at any craft or specialty baking supplies shop. Stores well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Flavor improves over time.

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Chicken is a staple for those of us trying to get healthier. Chicken day in and day out doesn't have to mean boring dining. Reasonably priced, low-fat, high-protein and it goes well with any side you can think of.

What's not to love?

Hadley asparagus time here in the Pioneer Valley means steamed fresh and slightly crunchy asparagus spears on the side. But if you're not lucky enough to have local asparagus where you live, some warm wilted arugula will add nice color and flavor. Drop a few raspberries in a glass of white wine and enjoy.

So why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To get away from my hot skillet!

ROAST CHICKEN BREAST DIJON
2 boneless, skin on chicken breasts with drumette attached (5-6 ounces each piece)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup flour (oat or whole wheat)
dash of salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup white table wine
3/4 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into halves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly season chicken, adding a bit more fresh ground pepper than salt. Dredge seasoned chicken in flour and shake off excess. Set aside.

On the stove top, heat olive oil in a 10 inch oven proof skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken skin side down in the skillet about 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Turn over and sear one minute longer. Add potato halves, cut side down on the bottom of the skillet and place browned chicken on top, skin side up. Place skillet in oven and bake 25-28 minutes or until chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

Remove skillet from oven and transfer chicken and potatoes to a plate, loosely covering meat and potatoes with foil to stay warm. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat in the skillet. Set the skillet over medium on the stove top. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix cornstarch into the wine and chicken broth. Pour mix into skillet and quickly whisk in the Dijon to keep sauce smooth. Sprinkle red pepper into sauce and allow to thicken over a low boil for just about one minute. Add more broth for desired consistency. Spoon one or two tablespoons of the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.