19 12 / 2011

2 cups broccoli
black pepper

Fill a medium-sized saucepan halfway up with water, and put on to boil. When water is boiling, add the broccoli. Boil for 2-3 minutes and then reduce to a simmer. Cook 5 more minutes, until the broccoli is tender, but not floppy. Drain.

Put the broccoli into a bowl and cover with a good deal of freshly grated pepper. While the broccoli is still hot, follow suite with a decent amount of grated or shaved Parmesan cheese, so it melts over the veg. Serves 1.

Meal Cost:
broccoli- $1.50
parmesan- $0.50

Total Calories:
broccoli- 50
1/2 cup parmesan - 220

That is $1.50 and 270 calories! Perfect for a quick and healthy lunch, like the one I had today after class, when I only had twenty minutes before I had to rush off to an appointment.

OR try Sesame Broccoli!

2 cups broccoli
red pepper flakes
1 tbsp sesame oil

Same deal, but after draining the broccoli, put it back in the pot for a minute, so that when you pour in the sesame oil, you have more room to toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle on some red pepper flakes, according to your liking, and you’re good to go!

Total Calories:
broccoli- 50
sesame oil- 120

This one has fewer calories AND is cheaper, because you should have sesame oil in your pantry!

Questions? Contact me here.

06 12 / 2011

I LOVE brussels sprouts. I like them boiled just fine, with a little spread of butter and a bit of salt- but like many vegetables, they’re best roasted, as they become caramelized, which makes them more fuller with flavor, and sweeter. And it’s with this latter technique that I’m far more able to win alleged sprouts-haters over to my side.

I’m not sure if this is just an American thing, but it’s weirdly hard to find a brussels sprout recipe online that doesn’t feature brown sugar or maple syrup. I have indeed sampled brussels sprouts in maple syrup-based sauce at the few Thanksgivings we’ve had at others’ homes, and found them delicious. But not only do sugar and syrup add a chunk of fat and calories, there’s actually no need for sweet additions to vegetables that are already being caramelized.

1 lb brussels sprouts
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt, to taste
garlic powder

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Foil up a baking tray.

Slice the bases off the brussels sprouts. Remove any torn or discolored outer leaves. Slice each sprout in half.

In a bowl, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and the Dijon mustard. Add the brussels sprouts, a pinch of salt, and toss well.

Shake the sprouts onto the prepped baking tray, so they lie in a single layer. Shake a bit of garlic powder over them. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned and beginning to crisp. Enjoy hot or cold.

Serves 4 as a side.  

Meal Cost:
1 lb brussels sprouts- $2.00
olive oil- pantry
balsamic vinegar- pantry
Dijon mustard- pantry
salt- pantry 
garlic powder- pantry

Total Calories:
1 lb brussels sprouts- 241
1 ½ tbsp olive oil- 180
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar- 8
1 tbsp Dijon mustard- 10

The total cost of this side dish is $2. As it serves four people, the number of calories per person is 110. (OR, if you have a similar reaction to me when I taste these, making a single meal of these comes to 439 calories.)

13 9 / 2011

1 large spaghetti squash
1 lb mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup parmesan, grated
fake butter
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and PAM a baking sheet. You may think that the best/only way to bake a squash includes first halving it. If you’re using a weighty squash, and you want to avoid injury or ruining your best butcher’s blade- and I speak from experience- I suggest you do not attempt to cut the squash in half first. Instead, use a fork to poke some holes around the squash, then lay it on the baking sheet, and bake for 1 ½ hours, until the skin has browned and become soft.

Clean the mushrooms. (I used baby portobellas here, but in the past I’ve used regular button mushrooms, and they’re equally delicious.) There’s apparently some argument about how you shouldn’t expose the underside of mushrooms to water, because it affects the end result taste-wise (I guess similar to why you shouldn’t wash the insides of bell peppers?). SO use a folded paper towel to carefully wipe the dirt off the tops of the mushrooms. Then, snap off their bottoms and slice them up thinly.

PAM a skillet, and turn the burner to medium-high. Add in the garlic, the mushrooms, and then some sips of water so the mushrooms cook. When the mushrooms are done, add in a couple sips of milk. S & P. Stir. Simmer a little longer until the pan juices have reduced a little, until the mix is more of a topping than a sauce.

When the squash is done, carefully halve it and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Pull out the flesh of the squash using a fork, and fill a medium-sized bowl with the strands. Spray in some fake butter. S & P. Add a cup of Parmesan, and mix well.

To serve, spoon some spaghetti squash onto a plate, and top with the mushroom mixture. If desired, sprinkle with a little more cheese. Last night, I served this cheesy, tangy squash with a couple mini lasagnas! (Recipe to come soon.)

Meal Cost:
spaghetti squash- $1.50
mushrooms- $3.00
garlic- $0.20
parmesan- $0.50
milk- $0.25
fake butter- fridge or pantry
PAM- pantry

Total Calories:
1 spaghetti squash- 300ish
1 lb baby bella mushrooms- 110
2 cloves garlic- 8
3/4 cup parmesan- 300
1/4 cup 2% milk- 52

The total cost is $5.45. This side is surprisingly filling! As a small side, I’d say it could feed as few as 4, to as many as even 8 people. Assuming there are 4 especially hungry eaters at the table, the calorie count per person is around 200. Or you can eat it as a 2-person meal for 400 calories each!

Questions? Contact me here.

25 8 / 2011

I’m back from two weeks visiting lovelies in Brooklyn, a handful of pounds heavier from a tour of favorite dumpling and pizza joints. Returned happy from the holiday, but looking forward to getting back into my regular cooking and eating routines. So in that vein, here’s a beauty for you!

Baked Eggs in Tomato & Bell Pepper Ragout

1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
4 tomatoes, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
three eggs
fresh or dried basil
red pepper flakes
parmesan, grated
salt and pepper
olive oil
PAM or fake-butter spray

Preheat oven to broil. PAM a metal-handled skillet, and set it over a medium-high heat. Add in the sliced onion, peppers, and about half of the garlic. Pour in half a cup or so of water. As the water boils and reduces, add more. Repeat this process until the veggies become soft, and eventually turn the heat to low so as to coax them to caramelize. Whenever, add shredded fresh basil, or dried basil, to taste.


(Basil and peppers from my garden!)

As the vegetables are cooking, take out a saucepan and add in the rest of your garlic, your diced tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, the tomato paste, and a handful of shredded fresh basil- or a sprinkling of dried basil, to taste. S & P. If you’ve a bottle of open wine handy, if you like, you can add a glug of it to the pot, and then set it to boil (to remove alcohol content).

(Tomatoes also from the garden.)

Stir well every few minutes, while keeping the pot on a medium-high heat. When the ingredients start resembling more of a sauce, reduce heat to low, while you’re waiting for the skillet vegetables to be ready.

When the peppers and onions are caramelized, pour your tomato sauce into the skillet. Stir.

Using a wooden spoon, create three small spaces in the ragout, and immediately fill these spaces by cracking an egg into each. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes. When the whites look semi-set, put the skillet under the broiler for JUST a couple minutes. I like the yolks still runny in this dish, so the flavors of each ingredient deliciously meld- rather than just complement- so I don’t even close the oven door, but just stand for a minute or so, holding the pan just over the top oven shelf. When the yolks pale slightly in color, and the egg whites no longer jiggle all over when you shake the pan a little, you’re good to go.

To serve, shake or shave on some parmesan, and sprinkle with some red pepper flakes. Garnish with a couple fresh basil sprigs. One of my brothers toasted some tortilla halves, and we used them to scoop up some of the sweet tomato-egg goodness.

One of the brothers enjoying his share.

Meal Cost:
bell peppers- $2.00
onion- $0.10
farmer’s market tomatoes- $1.00
garlic- $0.30
tomato paste- pantry
eggs- $0.50
basil- garden or pantry
red pepper flakes- pantry
parmesan- $0.50
salt and pepper- pantry
olive oil- pantry
PAM- pantry

Total Calories:
2 bell peppers- 60
1/2 onion- 30 
4 tomatoes- 100
3 garlic cloves- 12
2 tbsp tomato paste- 25
3 eggs- 210
parmesan- 220 for 1/2 cup
olive oil- 120

The whole recipe comes to $4.40! If three people are eating, the calorie intake per person is around 260. If each person adds a tortilla half to their meal, each calorie intake is around 310 calories. Right on.

Questions? Contact me here.

15 8 / 2011

THIS is my new absolute favorite kitchen tool.

What is it? The Swissmar brand Julienne Blade that turns anything and everything into noodles! AND it’s only five bucks!

There are loads of recipes online that recommend the zucchini noodle as a legit spaghetti replacement. Those recipes therefore generally feature pasta sauce or other variations on the typical pasta-lover-on-a-diet theme. THAT ATTITUDE IS TOTALLY SELLING THE ZUCCHINI NOODLE SHORT. If you treat it as a pasta substitute, you’re not going to be as happy an eater than  as if you use the julienne peeler to help you get to know the zucchini better, to find out to coax out its best flavor with the help of the right ingredients.

Zucchini noodles are sharper than flour-pasta, their taste has a bit of a edge. Squash noodles have a softer taste, that, when stewed in olive oil and garlic becomes mild and somewhat sweet. The combination of zucchini and squash in this dish is a perfect pair, and the subtly of this savory dish is brought out with the topping of the slowly caramelized peppers.

Zucchini & Squash Noodles with Sweet Peppers

2-3 zucchini
2 summer squash
1 white onion
1 red bell pepper, seeded and halved lengthwise
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and halved lengthwise
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and halved lengthwise
Parmesan, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
powdered garlic
balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat your oven to broil. Cover a baking sheet with foil, and lay out your bell pepper halves, insides facing up. Drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle on some powdered garlic. S & P. When the oven is hot enough, roast your peppers until soft and browning, about 6-8 minutes. It could take less or more time, depending on the reliability of your oven, and I generally feel it’s a good idea to check in with your oven light every few minutes. Turn peppers and roast on the other side, about 4-6 minutes. Remove quickly and, using tongs or a fork, place bell peppers in a medium-sized bowl. Cover tightly with cling film, and leave to one side.

Hold the stem end of a squash or zucchini in one hand, and hold the peeler in your other. Starting at the top of the vegetable each time, drag the peeler all the way down to create noodles. If the vegetable is softer, do not bother trying to noodle-up the inner flesh that holds the seeds- you will just make a mess.

(Thanks to The Cilantropist for the pic)

If you have a mandoline, you can use it here to thinly slice the onion into translucent curves- or you can simply use your sharpest knife (always! the sharper your knife, the less you cry!) to turn the onion into thin slices.

PAM a large saucepan and put it over a medium-low heat. Add in your onions, and sauteed for a couple of minutes. Add the minced garlic, and some more PAM or a drizzle of olive oil, as needed. Stir.

When the onions are beginning to lightly brown, and the garlic becomes aromatic, add your vegetable noodles to the pan. Drizzle in 2 tbsp of olive oil, then S & P. and stir. Add in your sprigs of oregano and basil leaves (or their dried counterparts, to taste). Turn up the heat a bit; these vegetables will cook slowly but steadily, and it’s important to keep an eye on them, and to regularly stir to ensure that they do not burn. Once the veggies have become soft, turn the heat to low.

I’ve found that due to their shape, julienned (and mandolined) vegetables better soak up whatever sauce they are cooked in, to an exquisite, subtle result that I haven’t found in regular pasta-based dishes. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding how much olive oil you add. Actually, much of this dish depends on your own taste. At this stage, when the heat is turned to low, I personally like to add a lot of ground black pepper, and to stir in at least a handful of grated parmesan. You can easily add more or less cheese, or perhaps would prefer to leave out the herbs, whatever feels good. Without the peppers, the noodle part of this dish can taste rather bland, so try to experiment with how many herbs you choose to add.

Leaving the pan on low, and checking back every few minutes to stir, and more evenly cover the veg with the herbed olive oil, return to your roasted peppers. Peel back the cling film (it should have grown cloudy underneath, as the pepper continue to steam-cook in their own heat). Remove each soft pepper half at a time, and, with the aid of a small knife or fingernail, peel off the skin of each, and discard it.

PAM a small skillet, and put it over medium-low heat. Chop the skinned pepper into medium-dice and put them into the pan with a couple shredded basil leaves. You can add a little glug of olive oil here, if you’d like, but the peppers are usually still pretty oily at this point. Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes, while setting the table, and bringing your noodles pan back up to medium-high in preparation for serving. Remove the oregano sprigs before eating.

I don’t have a final picture because I halved the recipe and ate it last week, the whole lot of it, in a sort of euphoric daze brought on every forkful of peppery, cheesy, covered in sweet. It was thunder storming and too late for dinner, and I was sitting at the kitchen counter, watching the dark and the rain, eating slowly and drinking a glass of my cheap red wine, the lights flickering, and a flashlight and my camera phone both beside me, waiting, but forgotten.

The vegetables get smaller than you realize, so I’d say that this recipe serves about 2 people, realistically, for it to be considered a meal, and not a side. It is definitely a light dish.

Meal Cost:
2 zucchini- $4
2 squash- $3
1 onion- $0.20
bell peppers- $4.00
parmesan- $0.50 (I recommend you invest in a 24 oz. shaker-container of Kraft 100% Real Parmesan Cheese, which costs about $8)
garlic- $0.70
oregano & basil- garden or pantry
balsamic vinegar- pantry
olive oil- pantry
PAM- pantry
salt and pepper- pantry

Total Calories:
2 zucchini- 62
2 squash- 80
onion- 60
bell peppers- 90
parmesan- 220 for 1/2 cup
garlic- 8
balsamic vinegar- 8
olive oil- 300 for 2 1/2 tbsp

Altogether, this recipe costs about $12.50, which is a bit steep. I went by typical grocery store prices on the veg, but this meal could easily be a lot cheaper if you went to your local farmer’s market instead! Each serving is around 415 calories, depending on how much olive oil you use (keep track!).

Questions? Contact me here.

05 8 / 2011

Early this afternoon, when I was driving to my friend Shaun’s house for a pick-me-up, my GPS decided, as it is occasionally wont to do, to take me through a ‘short cut’. The ride should only have been at the most a half hour, but after absentmindedly bobbing my head along to the radio for-who-knows-how-long, I zoned back in to find myself in the middle of a field, surrounded by cows. The winding road I was driving upon was covered with a sweeping canopy of leaning trees and their leaves, and the sky was quite blue and clear, and it was all very beautiful- and I immediately panicked. What the…?! What were all these painted barns and little cottages draped in American flags?? Had I crossed a state line? Had the GPS tired of its little occasional games with me, and was now on full-on strike? The GPS was indeed still humming away to itself, unperturbed. On its screen was a single blue line that seemed to stretch out infinitely, which I simply could not take the prospect of- because I was famished.

I’ve always been useless at things like directions and time and space, and I am accustomed to being lost, almost to the point where it’s no longer a bother. But this day was different. I’d just left a two-hour long morning appointment, and before that, I had overslept, so I’d only had two handfuls of woken minutes before having to rush out of the house. I’d been so preoccupied that I’d brushed off the thought of breakfast, which is always a mistake, but especially when considering that rash decision from the point of what appears to be the wilderness.

It is still unbelievable to me that I can live in a suburb only twenty minutes from center city- a suburb which is somehow simultaneously only a relatively short ride from nowhereland? But thankfully, it is possible, and there was only one more agonizing half hour in the country, that bizarrely ended with me anxiously trailing behind two pick-up trucks involved in what I believe was a full-on drag race…at one in the afternoon. I surfaced into one of those ye olde towns that tend to- excluding, of course, the times i plan to go to such places on purpose, as a sort of charming escapade with friends- bring out this nervous suspicion in me, as if my sub-conscious is wary of some kind of time-travel trap. But it was at least some age of civilization, and I was able to pull over next to the overpriced five and dime store to re-set my GPS- and was soon enough turning the corner into Shaun’s driveway.

So I think my moral of this too-long hunger story is that sometimes it’s too easy to get pulled into the lure of gourmet slow-cooking, the delight found in cultivating tastes and stewing flavors into brightness, the enjoyment of leisurely meals, ladled out and consumed along with the stories and laughter of friends around a table. Or even, the anticipation of sitting alone to supper, with the opportunity to mull over the day and contemplate the peace of the uninterrupted meal… But it’s not only important not to skip meals, but it is also essential to have a knowledge base of easy quick fixes, snacks and meals alike, that one can snap up to sate hunger either before rushing off somewhere. (Although it is tempting to eat snacks and even meals, in the car, studies shows that individuals are healthier and leaner when they sit down to meals. Researchers suggest this is because setting the table and sitting down for a length of time better psychologically establishes the event of eating, which in turn, really cuts down on the urge to snack between meals, and to overeat in general.)

What this brings me to is three main points that I’ll talk about in upcoming posts:

1) It’s great idea to always have ingredients in your fridge and pantry that you know could turn into a quick and healthy snack at a moment’s notice. An example: carrots and hummus.

2) Build up a knowledge base of quick recipes.

3) Prepare food ahead of time. Certain meals, such as soups, can be frozen. Other standards- such as bean chili, which I detail below- can simply be cooked in the beginning of the week, stored in the fridge, and eaten throughout the next several days.

Black Bean Chili

1 can (16oz) stewed or crushed tomatoes
2 cans (150z) black beans, drained
2 cans (150z) beans of choice
2 medium onions, chopped
2-3 bell peppers, cored, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Take out a soup pot, and drizzle in some olive oil. On medium-heat, saute onions and peppers. (I used three green peppers I picked from my garden yesterday.)

After a few minutes, or when the onions have become translucent and the pepper tender, add the garlic. Saute til aromatic, and then add the rest of the ingredients. S & P, to taste. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least a half an hour.

This recipe serves 8, OR serves you well for 8 different meals. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and are also very filling, so have been shown to help with weight loss. They are delicious spooned over a bowl of roasted vegetables, or even just a bowl of this bean chili, warmed and sprinkled with some diced scallions and a Mexican mix of cheese or a couple cheddar shavings, is perfect.

Meal Cost:
1 16oz can crushed tomatoes- $.50
2 cans black beans- $1.78
2 cans kidney beans- $2.00
onions- $0.40
2 green peppers- $2.00
garlic- $1
olive oil- pantry
cumin- pantry
cayenne pepper- pantry
chili powder- pantry
dried herbs- pantry

Total Calories:
crushed tomatoes- 120
black beans- 800
kidney beans- 840
onions- 120
bell peppers- 66
garlic- 12
olive oil- 120

Altogether, this recipe costs about $8. That evens out to a dollar a serving- so cheap! Each serving is around 270 calories.

Questions? Contact me here.