Countdown to Mardi Gras

As we approach Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, I keep thinking about Cajun food.

ID-100141594-voraornTherefore, it was no surprise when a recipe for Shrimp Étouffée from Cooking Light caught my eye a few weeks ago.

Although it was a bit time intensive for a week night, I found it was well worth the effort.

I began by mixing thyme, basil and bay leaf with the chicken broth and setting that aside to simmer. Then I created a roux, using canola oil and flour, to which I added the broth mixture and continued with the rest of the recipe.

Although I relied on a recipe from Cooking Light’s A New Way to Cook Light, the online recipe is very similar. However, the cookbook version mostly used canola oil rather than butter. (I actually prefer to use canola oil and skip the butter.)

The recipe, served over rice, was smooth, spicy and delicious, perfect for a chilly winter evening. As a bonus, we even had leftovers to enjoy.

Savoring this dish was like taking a mini-trip to New Orleans.

Image courtesy of voraorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Rich Tomato Goodness

As fall inevitably turns to winter, one of the fresh vegetables I miss most is a ripe, juicy Jersey tomato. The pink supermarket versions just don’t measure up.

ID-100180985-Gualberto107But, as with other vegetables I have mentioned in previous posts, oven roasting transforms even supermarket plum tomatoes, unlocking and concentrating their natural sweetness.

Roasted tomatoes can be tossed with pasta, added to panini, used to top a pizza or added to so many other recipes.

Here’s a quick recipe from Ina Garten, but I prefer to use less salt and olive oil.

Sweet summer goodness even as winter approaches.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Published in: on November 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fruits (and Vegetables) of Summer

This time of year, local farm markets are bursting with fresh produce – watermelon, blueberries, eggplant, zucchini, peaches and so much more.

tomatoes and beans-simon HowdenMy dad has been supplying us with a steady stream of cucumbers from his garden, but I think tonight I’m going to try this Real Simple recipe, Crispy Green Bean Salad With Tomatoes and Shallots.

I’m looking forward to tasting the interplay of green beans sauteed in olive oil, diced tomatoes and garlic tossed with red wine vinegar. I’ll serve it with a baked cod recipe.

I wish the fruits and vegetables of summer could go on forever.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Published in: on July 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Great Escape

A few weeks ago we took a cruise vacation, one of the most relaxing getaways. As we cruised to our destination, all of my stress seemed to be carried away in the ship’s wake.

ImageResearch has shown that vacations serve an important purpose in maintaining our health, although they are often undervalued in our overworked society. Vacations help us recharge our batteries and take a step back from the stresses of life—if we don’t overexert ourselves. Although it may seem that the benefits evaporate within a day or two on re-entry to the real world, studies demonstrate long-term advantages.

In addition to enjoying the ship amenities, we also loved sampling new dishes in the restaurants. Cruise lines offer a variety of delicious menu options for people with many dietary needs. Although we splurged a bit on vacation treats, I tried to balance those choices with luscious fresh fruit plates and egg white omelets every morning at breakfast and huge salads at lunch.

One evening for dinner I particularly enjoyed a cup of watermelon gazpacho during my soup course. I loved this refreshing dish so much that I’m on the hunt for a recipe. Here are two variations I’m considering from Eating Well and  Good Housekeeping.

Stay tuned for my rating!

Published in: on July 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Find Your Oasis

Healthy food is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but I believe there’s so much more to the picture.

rest table-graur razvan ionutSomeone once asked me why Italians are so focused on food, and I explained that it’s not just about the food.  It’s about the people with whom we share that food. As we twirl pasta strands and sip a glass of wine, it’s that refreshing oasis of time spent with family and friends that replenishes our spirits as we laugh and share stories. When it comes down to it, it’s really what matters most.

Although people spend a lot of time talking about family values today, it’s not always reflected in our lifestyles. Career and economic demands force people to work excessively long hours and skip dinner with their families or pull up stakes and move to places where they must build a life from scratch. While it’s always good to experience new people and environments, if we’re lucky, our families offer us stability and so much more. They’re there to celebrate the good times and hold our hands when life gets too hard. They’re a safe harbor in a sometimes tumultuous storm.

Although it’s impossible to alter all of the stresses in your life, when you sit down for a meal, slow down, turn off your cell phone and appreciate the precious gift of friends and family. Your heart will be happier.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 11:27 am  Comments (3)  
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Spring Antipasto

As the days grow a bit warmer and longer, I’m starting to think about spring antipasto. Although this Italian favorite — a combination of fresh and marinated vegetables, meats and other delicacies — is often served as an appetizer, for my family it becomes a light dinner option on busy nights.

source-winnondI usually serve the first antipasto of the season when I receive a call from my dad, who has been carefully nurturing tiny heads of romaine in his garden over a period of weeks. When he calls and says, “The romaine is ready,” it’s time to start planning for antipasto.

Building an antipasto is as individualized as you would like it to be. I begin by layering a platter with freshly washed and dried salad greens and top that with an array of fresh vegetables, including celery, carrots and maybe some sliced radishes. I add olives, a few hard-boiled egg wedges, maybe marinated artichokes, anchovies (strictly optional!), and a bit of provolone cheese and thinly sliced capicola. (Traditionally, antipasti often contain a variety of cheeses and cured meats, but I focus more on lean protein and vegetables.)

A few years ago Better Homes & Gardens published a Special Interest Publication featuring Italian recipes. Its antipasto included prosciutto-wrapped bread sticks and steamed seafood tossed with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. I served this version for Christmas, removing as much fat as possible from the prosciutto, and it was delicious.

This year I’d like to add grilled vegetables to my antipasto mix. As you can see, antipasto is limited only by the ingredients you have on hand and your willingness to experiment.

Buon appetito!

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Published in: on April 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Taste of Spring

As I prepared for Easter this year, I began searching for a light recipe for our pasta course for dinner.

ID-1005334I found this Cooking Light recipe, Pasta With Asparagus, Pancetta and Pine Nuts. It seemed like the perfect choice.

I tested the recipe last Sunday for dinner, substituting cooked and crumbled turkey bacon for the pancetta and toasted chopped walnuts for the pine nuts. It was very easy, and it was just the taste of spring we were craving.

I’ll follow up this course with a lean ham and assorted sides, and then I’m going to try Cooking Light’s Pistachio Pavlovas with Lemon Curd and Berries, a nice light dessert that looks gorgeous.

Happy Easter!

 

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Published in: on March 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Valentine’s Treat

As I’ve written before, chocolate in any form is one of the best parts of Valentine’s Day.

feb 14 2013 049-cookies and teaThis Cooking Light recipe for Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies came in handy this year for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, delivering morsels of gooey dark and semisweet chocolate in a chewy, caramel-y cookie.

This cookie has become a favorite, but when I made them I swapped out some of the chocolate chips for the same amount of chopped walnuts. For the best results, follow the directions carefully and be sure not to overbake the cookies. If they become too crisp after storage, pop a small piece of bread into the tin to restore their chewiness.

These cookies are perfect with a cup of coffee or tea after dinner with your Valentine.

Published in: on February 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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Kitchen Inspiration

While I’m on the topic of roasting vegetables, I’d like to share a cooking strategy I learned from Kathleen Flinn’s book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.

cutting board-carlos portoIn this book, Flinn shares her story of a new culinary adventure that began in her supermarket. As she browsed the aisles, the author and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris noticed how often shoppers filled their carts with processed foods rather than opting for fresh foods. They frequently fall into a pattern of preparing meals from powders and mixes simply because they don’t think they have the time or skills to cook from scratch.

With this in mind, she set out to teach nine volunteers how to prepare fresh, healthy food that is far more delicious than the packaged meals they came to rely on. The classes not only increased the volunteers’ confidence in the kitchen, the new cooks gained a better quality of life.

Many of her strategies offer inspiration on using foods already in your fridge. For example, she shared a recipe she picked up from an Italian friend, tossing vegetables, olives and chopped garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in a hot oven. Halfway through, she added fish fillets, covered them with the vegetables and continued roasting them. She explained that she has done the same using chicken breasts.

I remembered this one night as I wondered what to do with a package of flounder. I loosely followed her instructions, tossing thawed frozen green beans, sliced red bell pepper and onions, and black olives with olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a few pinches of oregano and rosemary. I roasted them for 10 minutes at 450°F in a large pan; then I tucked a few flounder fillets under the vegetables and roasted the mix until the fish flaked easily with a fork. It was simple and delicious and tasted so fresh.

The book is filled with great ideas for easy meals prepared from fresh ingredients, including easy sauces, vinaigrettes, “flavor splashes” for vegetables, homemade artisan bread and soups. Although everything is not heart-healthy, it’s easy enough to choose slimmed down variations or tweak some of her techniques.

Next, I’d like to try her recipe for Fish en Papillote — fish, vegetables and seasonings that are wrapped in parchment and then baked. A flavorful option with an easy cleanup!

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bringing Out the Flavor

Vegetables are integral to a healthy diet, but cooks often try to enhance their flavor by coating them with butter, melted cheese, or even too much olive oil.

My husband often reminisces about the asparagus frittatas his mother and grandmother used to make in the summer. However, when I tried to replicate this dish, mine never tasted quite the same. Always on a quest to lighten the food I prepare, I didn’t use nearly as much oil as they did when sauteing the asparagus before adding the eggs. Consequently, the asparagus in my version was more al dente and didn’t match his memory of what a frittata should taste like.

Alternatively, I tried partially steaming the asparagus and then sauteing it with a bit of olive oil. Unfortunately, this version lacked the flavor we sought.

What made the difference, though, was when I began roasting the asparagus spears at 400°degrees F for about 10-15 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Roasting intensified the natural flavors of the asparagus and delivered a whole new depth.

After roasting the asparagus, I cut it into bite-size pieces, heat a saute pan coated  with nonstick spray, and add the vegetable to a combo of beaten eggs and egg whites.  A real winner!

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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