Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vegetable Quiche Cups

Here's a portable, make-ahead breakfast that's low in calories, high in protein and bursting with vegetables. What's not to like?

The recipe comes from the South Beach Diet, which one of my clients is following. She loves these so much (I make her a double batch each and every week) that I decided I had to try them myself.

I have to say, I prefer my variation more than the original (I'm not a huge pepper and onion lover), but regardless, these little nuggets of eggyness are great to have handy for breakfast, a snack after working out, or even as an hors d'oeuvre before dinner.

Vegetable Quiche Cups
Makes 12

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (see my tip below)
1 cup liquid egg substitute (I use Egg Beaters original)
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 cup diced green bell peppers
1/4 cup diced yellow onions
pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with foil baking cups and spray each one with nonstick spray.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Divide the mixture evenly among the 12 muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cup comes out clean.

These may be frozen and reheated in the microwave for about 10 seconds per cup. Remove foil liner before microwaving!

My Variation: Use 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes and 3/4 cup feta cheese instead of peppers and cheddar cheese.

My Spinach Thawing Tip: Take spinach out of box and place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 3 minutes. Remove plate from microwave and place spinach in a clean kitchen towel. Wrap it up and squeeze over the sink until all the liquid is released. Much easier than boiling and draining, or attempting to drain the spinach in a colander.

Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slow Cooked Apricot Chicken

When my daughter was younger, she called our crock pot the "slow maker." The irony is, every crock pot I've ever owned cooks food in double time. I am now on my third "slow maker," and have learned that if a recipe says "cook on LOW for 6 - 8 hours," my dish will be done in 3 hours.

Apricot Chicken was no exception. I loaded the crock pot with almost 2 pounds of boneless thighs (the package was 2 lbs.; by the time I was done hacking off the fat, I think I had about 1 1/2 pounds, so I threw in a boneless breast from the freezer as well) and topped the poultry with a sweet and tangy apricot sauce. In three hours, dinner was ready. I served this with brown rice and green beans.

"Slow Maker" Apricot Chicken
Serves 4

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, fat removed
salt and pepper
1 (11-ounce) jar apricot preserves
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
sesame seeds, optional
soy or hoisin sauce, optional

Spray crock pot with nonstick spray.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in greased crock pot.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for sesame seeds.
Pour sauce over chicken. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 - 8 hours, or HIGH for 3 - 4 hours (mine was done after 3 hours on LOW).

Serve over rice. Sprinkle servings with sesame seeds if desired. Serve with soy or hoisin sauce for drizzling.

Recipe adapted from Stephanie O'Dea, Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula and Prosciutto

I've got a day off from cooking! So I sat at my desk this morning and sorted through the stack of papers on my desk, most of which are recipes I want to try. There might have been a few bills and school permission slips in the pile, too, but those weren't calling to me. Next, I did what any good personal chef would do on her day off - I cooked.

Inspiration was easy to come by this week, because we just got a Wegmans! I will not tell you how many visits I've made to the store since it opened four days ago because I'm pretty sure you wouldn't believe me. It's more than four. But I digress.

I've found some awesome products at Wegmans, which helped me pull this meal together in no time at all. I didn't even need a cutting board - talk about easy. I know we'll enjoy this for the next couple of days as we shuttle the kids to the school play and generally enjoy our hectic life.

In fact, if I know myself, I will keep adding things to this dish each time I eat it to make it a little different - I think sun-dried tomatoes or kalamata olives would be really great. See what you think.

Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula and Prosciutto, a la Wegmans
Serves 4

1 pound of washed cauliflower florets, large ones cut in half (get them at Wegmans!)
1 pint of grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
12 ounces dried orecchiette (or any other small pasta shape)
1 4-ounce package of diced prosciutto (get it at Wegmans)
2 T. Wegmans Basting Oil (guess where you can get this?)
4 - 5 ounces Wegmans baby arugula
1/4 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees convection roast, or 425 degrees if you don't have convection. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick spray. Toss the cauliflower and tomatoes with 1 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and cook pasta as directed on package. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Place the pasta back in the pot.

After 10 minutes, remove the sheet pan from the oven and toss the diced prosciutto with the vegetables. Drizzle with 1 T. Wegmans Basting Oil. Roast for 5 - 10 more minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly browned.

Add the cooked vegetables and prosciutto to the pasta in the pot. Stir in the baby arugula and mix to combine. Moisten with a bit of the pasta cooking water. Stir in the cheese, a little at a time (we don't like it too cheesy so I only used 1/4 cup of Parmesan - we might add a little more at the table). Taste it. Add another T. of basting oil, if you'd like, or some salt and pepper.

Inspired by a recipe by Pamela Anderson in Fine Cooking.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mediterranean Lunchbag Cod with Linguine

What a fun and healthy way to enjoy fresh fish! If your family likes Mediterranean flavors, I guarantee they will love this light, healthy dinner.

The recipe comes from Michael Chiarello, who used swordfish and red onions, two things my kids do not like. I adapted the recipe using vegetables and fish that we like - you can do likewise. Served with a side dish of Sauteed Spinach with Garlic, this was a delicious dinner.

Mediterranean Lunchbag Cod
Serves 4

1 can San Marzano whole tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano (I did not use)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup (1 small) minced red onion (optional - I didn't use)
2 tablespoons rinsed, drained capers
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
12 pitted and sliced kalamata olives
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, well-drained (my addition)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch dried crushed red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound dried linguine
4 brown paper lunch bags or 4 large sheets parchment paper
4 (6-ounce) portions of fresh cod
freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Feta cheese, if desired


Put sliced tomatoes in a large bowl and season with pepper. Add parsley, garlic, onion, capers, peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir gently just to mix and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook linguine until al dente. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Reserve.

To cook the fish: Place a small square of parchment or waxed paper at the bottom of each paper bag. Using tongs, place equal portions of the linguine in each of the bags. Top with a spoonful of the tomato-vegetable sauce. Lay a piece of fish on top and top with another spoonful of sauce. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Fold over the tops of the bags, place them on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.

To serve, transfer the bags to 4 dinner plates and let each diner cut open the package to enjoy the aromas. Or, if your family is appalled at the sight of a lunch bag on their dinner plates (as mine was), cut open the bags yourself and gently slide each portion out onto a dinner plate.

Top with cheese if you must.

Recipe and photo credit: Michael Chiarello. Recipe ingredients and instructions were changed somewhat by yours truly.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fridge Benefits

It's pretty horrifying how much food goes to waste in the average American home. I've read statistics that state up to 50% of the food we buy ends up in the trash. I shudder when I have to go through the fridge and toss wilted or mushy produce, leftovers that have sat too long, and other unidentifiable (and stinky) objects.

Many of our best intentions are derailed each day. You want to cook great meals, eat more vegetables or cut down on fast food, but then life gets in the way.

Short of hiring a personal chef (I couldn't resist!), here's a terrific tip for you to try next time you're tempted to scrap making dinner in favor of a trip to the drive-thru: Open your fridge and use what you've got. (I don't have statistics on how much people spend each year on take-out food, but I'm sure the number is equally as horrifying as the waste statistics.)

Back to my fridge: I had purchased a beautiful looking bunch of locally grown kale at the farmer's market earlier in the week. If I didn't use it soon, it would be trash. The fridge also held an open jar of pasta sauce, a Parmesan cheese rind, half a carton of chicken broth and a small bowl of chick peas, all still viable. In the pantry, I noticed a half-full box of lasagna noodles that looked perfect for the meal. In the time it took to cook the pasta, we had a truly delicious (and very cheap) meal.

Like with many of my recipes, use this as a guideline or inspiration next time you're wondering what to make for dinner.

Pasta with Kale and Chick Peas
Serves 2

6 lasagna noodles, broken (or any pasta shape)
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bunch fresh kale, leaves pulled off of stems and rinsed well
chicken broth
leftover chick peas (1/2 cup?)
crushed red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese
marinara sauce
optional delicious additions: walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, a dollop of pesto or ricotta cheese, grilled steak or shrimp...

1. Boil a pot of water. Add salt and pasta. Cook as directed and drain in a colander.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and stir it around until you can smell it. Then add the kale, tearing it up as you go. Stir it all around. When the kale is bright green (1 minute or so), pour in some broth. Cover the pan and let the kale cook for about 5 - 8 minutes.

3. When the kale is tender enough for you, throw in the chick peas and the cooked pasta. Stir it all around and taste it. You might want to add crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter. Make it taste good!

4. Spoon the pasta and kale into bowls. Top with a couple of spoonfuls of marinara sauce and some shaved or grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy.