Monthly Archives: November 2012

Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Soup

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It’s a wonder to me how my flavor cravings change so drastically with the seasons. In the Pacific NW, that’s exactly 2 seasons: winter and summer. Winter means perpetual rain with the occasional dry, cloudy day and I find myself in search of rich, flavorful, complex, hearty meals, not unlike the full-bodied, robust red wines that I so enjoy this time of year. In the summer, though, I yearn for light, fresh meals, again not unlike the cool, crisp rose or white wines that I enjoy in the summer.

So here we are in winter and I find myself wanting to roast anything and everything. Roasted vegetables are, in my humble opinion, far superior to their boiled, steamed or sauteed brethren. I have never been good at chemistry and won’t pretend to understand it, but there is some sort of magic in the roasting process that brings out the deep, sweet, caramelized flavors of the most benign of vegetables.

Roasting vegetables is probably the easiest way to prepare them, requiring only a toss in some oil (preferably olive) and the seasoning and/or herb(s) of your choice. You can slow roast them at a lower temperature, 350, for a longer period of time creating the most tender and creamiest of vegetables, or you can flash roast them at a higher temperature, 450, for a shorter period of time resulting in a lightly crisp exterior and slightly soft interior.

Of course I also love soups and stews this time of year, so I had an idea to incorporate the flavor of roasted cauliflower that I so love into a soup. Sounds easy right? My first attempt was literally inedible. I roasted the cauliflower up like I normally do, then pureed it in a food processor with some chicken broth. However the cauliflower didn’t puree up fine enough and kept separating from the broth. It not only looked like a disaster, it tasted just as bad.

I love the golden color of roasted cauliflower

The second attempt was a big improvement. I decided to roast the cauliflower and then simmer it in the chicken broth for an hour before pureeing it. This extra step took a bit longer, but it made the cauliflower so tender that it pureed up beautifully. The only problem was it wasn’t quite creamy enough for what I was looking for. I had to keep experimenting.

Simmering the roasted cauliflower in broth for
an hour is the secret to a thoroughly creamy soup

The problem with making something creamy, of course, is that it typically requires cream, and this is an ingredient that I try to stay away from because of the fat and calorie content. I credit my aunt with providing inspiration for this dilemma — on my last visit she was making butternut squash soup from a cookbook and, as we were commiserating about the cream content, she read aloud the author’s suggestion that yogurt could be substituted for the cream. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Why didn’t I think of that before? It seems so obvious! Of course the trick with yogurt, particularly nonfat, plain yogurt, is to use enough to achieve the desired effect but not so much that the dish tastes like yogurt. I chose a Greek yogurt for this recipe because it’s thicker than regular yogurt so I can use less and still get a thick and creamy soup without an overly yogurt-y taste.

I love the brown flecks from the roasted cauliflower that permeate this soup, and I like to top a bowl off with just a dash of smoked paprika for a splash of color and a little more flavor. Give this a try and let me know what you think!

Recipe of the Week

 

Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of coarse sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large head cauliflower (6-7″ dia), chopped
  • 5 cups homemade, salt-free chicken broth
  • 1 cup nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp creamy roasted sesame tahini

Directions
Preheat oven to 400. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick olive oil cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the curry, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss with the cauliflower. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cauliflower is golden.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a large pot and cover with the broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Puree the cauliflower and broth with the yogurt and tahini until creamy and smooth. Transfer back to the pot and heat back up, season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serve each bowl topped with a dash of smoked paprika.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings of about 1 1/2 cups each

Nutritional Information: Calories 175.1, Total Fat 8.0g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 145.7mg, Total Carbs 15.7g, Dietary Fiber 5.9g, Protein 14.4g

Maple Glazed Bacon Wrapped Chicken and Thyme and Walnut Roasted Sweet Potatoes

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I have to admit that since I started my weight loss journey almost 3 years ago, those big weekend breakfasts of doughy pancakes, thick bacon, and sweet maple syrup have been exceedingly rare in my life. They are a huge drain on my calorie budget, but honestly I haven’t found myself really missing it and so the nostalgia of those days hasn’t tempted my will power like it might others.

Then fall came and I found myself experimenting with fall squash and brilliant orange sweet potatoes and I suddenly thought how great real maple syrup would taste on sweet potatoes. This delicious side dish came together quickly for me. It’s a really simple dressing of olive oil, maple syrup, and just a touch of lemon juice tossed with the sweet potatoes then topped with a sprinkling of thyme and chopped walnuts and roasted to bring out the sweet carmel flavor of these starchy orange beauties.

It’s important to lay the slices in a single layer

The trouble I had was in crafting the main dish to accompany this delicious side. The idea of a maple based glaze over grilled chicken came to me early, but every time I tried and tweaked the recipe it still seemed somehow incomplete. Then suddenly it dawned on me that one of the things I love most about those big breakfasts with maple syrup was dunking a piece of crunchy bacon in it. To cut down on cholesterol, I could certainly use turkey bacon, however turkey bacon is actually higher in sodium than real bacon. Plus, by controlling the portion to just 1 slice of bacon per serving, I can minimize the fat and calorie impact of the dish.

Mmmm… Bacon…

Over a year ago I invested in a cast iron grill pan. You see, I love grilled meat. Done right, it’s juicier, more flavorful and leaner than meat fried in a pan or baked in the oven. In the Pacific Northwest, though, the grilling season is a short one when your patio, upon which your barbecue is fixed, is inconveniently deep in the backyard with no cover and no lighting. The grill pan allows me to get a barbecue flavor and appearance on my meat without leaving the warm, dry coziness of my kitchen.

Look at those lovely grill marks!

At last, my meal came together. I love this meal, it has all of the flavors of those big weekend breakfasts without leaving me feeling stuffed and heavy.

Recipes of the Week

 

Maple Glazed Bacon Wrapped Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp grade A maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of coarse sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices of bacon

Directions:
Whisk together the olive oil, syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper. Reserve half of the mixture and set aside. Take the remaining mixture and pour over the chicken tenderloins then cover and let marinate for about 20 minutes.

Take the 4 pieces of bacon and cut in half to create 8 shorter slices. Wrap each slice around each tenderloin, securing the bacon with a toothpick.

Heat a ridged grilling pan over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken for 1 minute on each side, pressing down to create nice grill marks. Reduce heat to medium low, brush the chicken with the reserved liquid, and continue to cook for 2-3 more minutes until the bacon is cooked completely and brushing with the liquid throughout the process. (If too much liquid forms in the bottom of the grill pan, pour it out.) Remove from pan, let sit for 1-2 minutes and serve.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings of 2 tenderloins each

Nutritional Information: Calories 188.4, Total Fat 7.0g, Cholesterol 22.1mg, Sodium 346.3mg, Total Carbs 10.3g, Dietary Fiber 0.0g, Protein 20.6g
Thyme and Walnut Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, about 5″ long, peeled and cut into slices about 1/8″ thick
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grade A maple syrup
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of coarse sea salt
  • freshly ground balck pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, syrup, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss with the sliced sweet potatoes then arrange the sweet potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the walnuts and thyme over the top of the potatoes ensuring they are evenly covered. Bake at 450 for about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 162.9, Total Fat 8.7g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 64.7mg, Total Carbs 20.4g, Dietary Fiber 2.6g, Protein 2.4g
 
 

Creamy Saffron Quinoa with Vegetables

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I have always said that a cornerstone of my weight loss success has been to incorporate 1-2 vegetarian days per week into my diet. Not only is it easier on the wallet, but the leaner protein and boost of vegetables is perfect for a healthy lifestyle.

So one would think that quinoa, being high in protein and gluten free, has had a regular place on my table, right? Well, one would be wrong. I tried various salad and entree recipes that called for quinoa and just could never get it right. It always cooked up too heavy and flavorless for me. And so I’ve avoided quinoa, leaving the unused bag tucked neatly away on the top shelf of my dry goods cupboard.

On my last visit to Napa, I was chatting with my aunt about cooking and quinoa came up. She suggested that I rinse the quinoa really well before cooking it and that I use broth instead of water then let it simmer a little longer than package directions. I went home and gamely pulled the bag of quinoa out of the cupboard, enthusiastically resuming my experiments.

My aunt’s tips were right on. The quinoa cooked up fluffy and full of flavor. I then tried adding different herbs and spices to the quinoa while it was cooking, and I liked it even more. I especially like the saffron, it adds a subtle exotic warmth to the dish that makes me yearn for the Mediterranean sun on my face. I sauteed up some vegetables and stirred in some light cream cheese to make a creamy base that mixed perfectly with the quinoa for a hearty and healthy vegetarian entree.

I am continuing my experiments with quinoa, particularly a steaming method of cooking recommended by my friend Laurie, that is promised to be perfect for light salads. So expect to see more great quinoa recipes in the future, but for now make sure to give this one a try. It’s delish!

Recipe of The Week

 

Creamy Saffron Quinoa with Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 cups homemade, salt free vegetable broth
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup tricolor quinoa
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 baby zucchini, shredded
  • 4 ozs light cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse well under cold water for 1 minute.

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a medium pot. Add the saffron and quinoa. Stir, reduce to low, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the broth is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and salt. Cook until the onion is transparent and just lightly browned.

Add the cherry tomatoes and zucchini and cook for 3-5 minutes, just until the vegetables have released some of their juices and there’s a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Stir in the cream cheese, gently smashing it into the pan with the back of wooden spoon until the vegetable mixture is creamy. Stir in the cooked quinoa and cilantro until well combined. Serve immediately.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 266.5, Total Fat 8.5g, Cholesterol 15.0mg, Sodium 211.3mg, Total Carbs 39.1g, Dietary Fiber 4.8g, Protein 10.3g
 
 

Greek Stuffed Chicken and Zucchini Ribbon Salad

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You know you’re a tomato-aholic when you:

  1. carefully comb all the nurseries looking for just the right variety of heirloom tomatoes;
  2. actually dig up your entire garden and move it with you when you are forced to move unexpectedly in the middle of the summer;
  3. spend hours every day trimming, fertilizing, staking, watering and nurturing your precious plants back to life after a traumatic move;
  4. have every available windowsill lined with green tomatoes once the fall rains hit so that come November you still have homegrown tomatoes on hand; or
  5. all of the above.
Yes, that’s me. My name is Colleen and I am a tomato-aholic.
I have always had a passionate appetite for homegrown vegetables. My mother is an avid gardener and, as a child, we always had large, plentiful vegetable gardens. This is something that I’ve continued in various sizes and stages throughout my adult life, starting with a patio garden when I was younger and could only afford apartments. It has grown from there, particularly as I have added more fresh fruits and vegetables to my diet.
I think my favorite vegetable to grow, though, is the tomato. It is amazing to me how many different sizes, colors, and flavors this one plant type can come in. I particularly love to grow a variety of small, sweet cherry tomatoes, pulpy romas, and juicy, meaty heirlooms. The heirlooms require the most patience as they take longer to mature. I always feel like a kid on Christmas morning when I find my first red brandywine ripe on the vine.
The red brandwines are my favorite. I love to eat them simply sliced and drizzled with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and ribbons of fresh basil. They are also amazing just slightly warmed atop a crispy summer tartine or in a pannini with mozzarella and avocado.
As great as these hearty giants of the garden are, I also adore my cherry tomatoes. These tiny gems make a great afternoon snack and are essential in just about any salad I make during the growing season. I also like to toss them in pasta for a burst of flavor and a pop of color in the dish. And that’s exactly why I added them  to this zucchini ribbon salad.
I love the flavor combination of the sweet cherry tomatoes with the mild zucchini, peppery arugula and basil, and citrus-y white wine vinaigrette. They also add a much needed pop of color to the otherwise very green salad. In my opinion, the appearance of the dish is just as important as the flavor as your eye has to like what it sees first, leaving your tastebuds in delicious anticipation of the pleasure to come.
Recipes of the Week
 
Greek Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (not packed in oil), diced
  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pound total)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350.

Use a fork to mix together the feta, oregano, garlic and sundried tomatoes. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife to butterfly each chicken breast open. Spread open along the seam and place between two sheets of plasticwrap or in a resealable plastic bag. Use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound the chicken so it is an even 1/4″ thickness across the breast.

Put half of the cheese mixture along the long side of one of the breasts. Roll the breast up and secure the ends with toothpicks. Repeat for the other breast.

Bake covered for 15 minutes then uncover and bake for 15 minutes more or until the chicken is lightly browned and cooked through.

Remove from oven and let sit for 3 minutes then slice into round medallions. Serve immediately.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 151.7, Total Fat 3.4g, Cholesterol 62.5mg, Sodium 243.9mg, Total Carbs 4.4g, Dietary Fiber 0.6g, Protein 24.8g
Zucchini Ribbon Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 medium baby zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced into thin slices, about 1/16″ thickness (I use a mandolin on the thinnest setting)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 cups fresh baby arugula
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine (I recommend a sauvignon blanc with citrus notes)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch (1/8 tsp) of coarse sea salt
  • 2 leaves society garlic, chopped (or can sub one small clove garlic minced)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes

Directions
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the zucchini and let boil for 1 minute. Remove the zucchini and plunge immediately into an ice water bath. Let soak for about 5 minutes while you prep the rest of the salad.

Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet on medium heat until just lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Toss the arugula and basil in a salad bowl.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, wine, lemon juice, sea salt, and society garlic. Drain the zucchini ribbons and add to the dressing, tossing to thoroughly coat the zucchini. Spread over the top of the arugula/basil mixture.

Top with the cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 112.1, Total Fat 10.3g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 63.6mg, Total Carbs 4.3g, Dietary Fiber 1.3g, Protein 1.8g