Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grilled Steak Dinner.. this is healthy eating? Really!!

I have to admit, I have never been a big steak fan. I can vividly remember sitting at the dinner table as a child staring with great displeasure at the London Broil sitting in the center of the table. I absolutely dreaded steak night, and begged for only the very end bits that were hopefully so well done, they tasted more like charcoal than beef. Unfortunately, my parents are rather good cooks, so the steak was usually perfectly rare, not a charred bit to be found. The bright pink meat and its red juices scared the heck out of me and there was just no chance I was taking a bite.

My parents weren't the type to stand for rebellious or picky eating; it was eat your dinner or you may not get up from the table, period. Whenever I was faced with the dismal challenge of eating all of my steak, I would defiantly remain at the table for what seemed to me like hours, dangling my feet and playing with my fork, cutting and re-cutting my meat, trying to hide it in my napkin, or tuck some under my vegetables, sneaking some onto my unwitting younger sister's plate, anything I could think of to give my parents the impression that I had eaten whatever mystical amount "enough" was that evening. I begged, I bargained with offers of doing extra chores, I attempted pouty faces and tears, and I am certain threw a few fits (which of course only landed me in worse trouble).

I can recall a particular ride home from Girl Scouts in a friend's car, when somehow a conversation about food drifted to me talking about how much I despise steak for dinner, and complaining about how frequently we seemed to eat it. This baffled the other kids. The friend's shocked mother remarked "I really wish I could afford to have steak dinners often enough to be sick of them!" I felt a bit ashamed at that, it had never occurred to me that steak might be considered expensive or special, or that others might consider it a treat. The very next time, and every time thereafter, I ate my steak when served without complaint. I still didn't enjoy eating it, but I had been humbled by those remarks and wanted my parents to know I appreciated their efforts.

It took me many years to overcome my extreme distaste for steak, but I did come around eventually. It still isn't my favorite meal, but I outgrew the need to eat it burnt to a crisp and learned to enjoy the meat medium, not quite at the still mooing stage, but certainly still flush pink enough to be considered tender.

My daughter adores steak and could probably devour one every night and be quite content. It is her favorite thing to order at a restaurant, perhaps because she is so very rarely served one at home. Since steak is most definitely on the "good foods" list for low-carb diets, and they also happened to be on sale, I obliged my daughter's request and grilled some NY strip loin steaks, massaged lightly with extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with Montreal Steak Seasoning blend, along with a side salad and green beans.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eating Healthier: You say Potato.. I say Celeriac

I have to admit that I have always been a bit hesitant to try cooking with celeriac. This rather homely looking root vegetable isn't exactly the showiest item sitting in a bin on a grocer's shelves. It looks a bit more like something you might have dug up from your garden and tossed into the pile of tree branches, rocks, and other unwanted garden bed clutter. It hardly appears edible, and certainly doesn't scream to me "eat me eat me!"

As I was planning out which main dish recipes I wanted to try this past week, it was with an almost glum determination that I decided to finally give celeriac a try. I have actually eaten celeriac before, but only raw in a salad, and only at restaurants. Despite my lack of experience cooking with celeriac, quite a few of the low carb recipes I had been looking at called for this odd little veg, and I thought it might be high time to give it a real chance in my kitchen. I settled on a low carb interpretation of the Spanish tapas recipe, Patatas Bravas, which is usually some form of cubed potatoes tossed in a ruddy colored paprika infused sauce. Obviously, this being a low carb recipe, the potatoes were exchanged for cubed and sauteed celeriac. The recipe I used came from Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet Cookbook (page 133).

Basically, you peel and cube a medium sized knob of celeriac, scraping off all of the brown fuzzy bits until it resembles a potato. The skin was a bit stubborn and required a second go around with my vegetable peeler, but otherwise it was not difficult to prep. The next step is to saute the little cubes in some olive oil until they get all golden and tender. Honestly, despite the fact that these smelled nothing like potatoes cooking, they sure did look identical to the real thing. Visually, things were looking up already.

The sauce was a fairly standard patatas bravas red sauce.. a mix of tomatoes, sea salt, garlic, a bit of onion, fresh chili for a little hint of spice, and of course paprika. I have some wonderful smoked paprika that I had brought back with me from a little Spanish imports market on Portobello Road in London, which really helped bring a lot of rich flavor to the dish.

I thought the flavor was pretty good. It wasn't really all that comparable to a plate of authentic patatas bravas, but I still enjoyed it. The celeriac, when cooked this way, took on a very soft and almost creamy texture. I'd love to serve it without the sauce as a side to some eggs, as a healthier alternative to hash browned potatoes. The celeriac tasted much more like a parsnip than a potato however, and my daughter was unfortunately not fooled. She refused to eat more than a few forkfuls. Also, although this was considered a main course recipe in the cookbook I used, I have always thought of this sort of thing as more a starter or perhaps a hearty vegetable side dish.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating Healthier: Indian Spiced Eggs and other Breakfast Musings

Normally I am not much of a big-breakfast-eater kind of girl, certainly not on ordinary weekdays. Don't get me wrong ... on a cozy weekend morning I like nothing better than to enjoy a calm morning baking some blueberry muffins or savoring some fresh, homemade waffles. My typical weekday breakfasts usually would be a piece of fruit, coffee (there is always coffee in my world), and a serving of yogurt with a little bit of honey drizzled on top or a sprinkling of crunchy granola. If I can get my hands on a really good chewy, malty, truly NY style bagel, then a freshly baked seed coated or rye slathered with cream cheese hits the spot every time.

Weekday eggs for breakfast have never really been my thing. I do like eggs, I love them in quiches and omelettes or poached and dropped into soup or over a salad. I can't tell you just how many "egg-mayo" (aka egg salad in the US) sandwiches I used to eat in London, where you could easily grab one at just about any sandwich shop or grocery store. I am the first one to grab for a deviled egg on an appetizer tray, unless my daughter beats me to it. But I rarely feel like making one for breakfast on just an ordinary run of the mill morning. Like pancakes and waffles, breakfast eggs seem more like hearty weekend food to me.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I started out my week of lower carb eating facing what seems like an endless amount of breakfasts involving eggs. So far over the past 6 days (starting last Thursday), I have eaten eggs for breakfast nearly every day. It feels a bit discomforting to laugh in the face of my usual mindset of what is the "norm." Here is my diary of "what I ate for breakfast" so far:
  • prosciutto strips wrapped around buffalo mozzarella
  • poached eggs with sauteed baby bella mushrooms
  • baked avocado with salsa, crumbled bacon, and buffalo mozzarella melted on top
  • eggs "over easy" with crispy bacon strips
  • slices of ham wrapped around strips of more mozzarella and avocado
  • Indian Spiced Scrambled Eggs
The Indian Spiced Scrambled Eggs were based on a recipe from Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet Cookbook. They were certainly a bit more fussy than I would normally feel like bothering with on a weekday, but since I happened to have all of the ingredients, and because I had fond memories of eating similar dishes in the past, I gave them a try. And honestly, other than a bit of chopping, this was really quite easy to prepare.

The basic idea is quite simple, really: First, chop up a small spicy chili (I used a jalapeño, which I partially de-seeded, not wanting fire quite so early in the morning), a small tomato, a bit of fresh cilantro (aka coriander), and whisk that all up with a couple of eggs (organic & brown in my case). Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and tiny bit of ground coriander seed and cumin. Next, slice up some onion and sauté in a bit of butter and olive oil, I used only a teaspoon of each and perhaps 1/4 of a smallish onion. Once the onion softens up and begins to turn a golden color, drop in the egg mixture and toss everything around scrambled eggs style until everything is cooked to your liking. A really nice breakfast, definitely filling, and it sure didn't feel like I was dieting.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happiness & Sunshine

I have recently had the honor of being nominated for my very first blogging awards. Since I don't have much experience with memes and blogging awards, please forgive me for being a bit clueless about the process and for my slight tardiness in responding. As some of you may be aware of already, my life has recently been spinning a bit, well... erratically. I keep waiting for all of the craziness to go away, for my life to go back to some semblance of normal, but I still have to be patient a bit longer for that to happen.

The only way I know of to stay on top of all the stress and pressure and downright miserable-ness of it all is to try to stay cheerful. It is very easy to turn very sour or even a bit mean and grouchy when faced with seemingly endless struggles, and yes there have been times when I have cried myself to sleep over it ... or grabbed a bag of trail mix (my crutch food) and nibbled away nervously while thinking about what on earth I will do to resolve things. But mainly, I just try to wake up each morning as if everything was all a bad dream. I start over and try to do whatever I can to keep a smile on my face. Cooking and baking have always been one of my biggest outlets for creating some joy in an otherwise dreary day. After all, who can be that miserable when you can smell brownies baking?

I try to keep the details of my personal trials and tribulations fairly private, so forgive me for not going into great detail about everything that is going on in my life. I'd really rather share a smile and a cookie with you all anyway :) Since I am trying really hard to stick to this new diet I am trying out this week, I sadly have no cookies or other goodies today, but I can at least share this with you instead:

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies

Thank you to Karen of Eat Drink Wash Up, who blogs about her creative versions of recipes from both the US and England, and Judy of Bebe Love Okazu, who shares recollections of her Japanese and Chinese family recipes, for these two awards. Your kindness really brightened my day and I really appreciate it. I enjoy reading both of your blogs and you have both given me such inspiration to try new recipes.

As part of the Happiness Award, I have been asked to list 10 things that make me happy, so here you go:

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1) seeing my daughter's eyes sparkle and her face glow when she is doing something she truly loves

2) my best friend, who lives much too far away, but talks to me every single day

3) the sound of birds chirping

4) holding a baby in my arms

5) baking treats for someone I love

6) freshly brewed coffee, especially first thing in the morning

7) chubby bumblebees in a garden

8) cute cuddly animals

9) the scent of lavender

10) the color blue

As part of both the Happiness and Sunshine Awards, I have been asked to spread the joy around by mentioning some of the blogs that bring me happiness and brighten my days. I know that some of you don't participate in awards or tags, but I want to mention you just the same, even if you can only accept this with a smile. If you wish to, you may pass on either or both of these awards to some of the blogs that inspire you, or you can just have a seat and nibble a few cookies. :)

So here are my nominees, which will be for both awards, since each of your blogs have brought me both Sunshine and Happiness:

Marie from A Year from Oak Cottage - you have always been there to cheer me up and offer words of wisdom, and your Canadian and English recipes are fantastic

TulipFairy from Tulip's Kitchen - for giving me the inspiration to try out healthy recipes and reminding me to actually use all of those kitchen gadgets I bought

Edith from Precious Moments - seeing your lovely decorated cakes and all of your other amazing baked goods always makes me want to run to my kitchen and start baking something

Anne from Anne's Food - for sharing your delicious Swedish recipes and adorable photos of your beautiful cats and precious baby

Coleen from Coleen's Recipes - everything you have shared on your blog makes me so hungry, especially those yummy baked goods

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen - your photos make all of your recipes look so delicious, you always inspire me to try new ingredients and try out wonderful healthy fish dishes, soups, and salads

Charlene & Kevin from Welcome to Our World - for sharing your Malaysian recipes and your quick & easy US recipes, reading your blog makes me homesick for NY in a happy way

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eating Healthier: Day 1 Ham & Feta Salad

I have a confession to make. I have had an extremely rough year and have found myself falling into the dreaded seeking-comfort-in-food trap. The person staring back at me in the mirror could, quite frankly, stand to lose a few pounds. I need to seize control before things get out of hand. So today I am attempting to turn over the proverbial new leaf and have started reading through my copy of Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet (as well as the companion cookbook), which is essentially a low-carb type eating plan. At this point, I am more interested in getting my feet wet, not taking the whole diet plunge just yet. The recipes sound pretty good, so I figured it was worth a try.

NOTE: Before I begin, I do need to clarify something. While looking up the link to share with you for the Idiot-Proof Diet I am trying out, I learned that there is actually another entirely different diet plan with almost the identical name (theirs does not have a hyphen). I know nothing about that other plan and thought I should mention it only to clear up any possible confusion. Also, I am not being paid by anyone to mention this plan nor do I personally know the creators and I have not been asked to mention their books. I am just sharing something I am trying out for myself.

My First Day:

Breakfast: The book had a list of no-brainer type quickie breakfast ideas. My typical breakfast would usually be a serving of yogurt, a piece of fruit, and some coffee - but today I went with the IPD's suggestion to have some slices of prosciutto wrapped around a small serving of fresh buffalo mozzarella. I'm not convinced that my usual breakfast is any less healthy, but I was willing to try something new.

In the IPD world, coffee with caffeine is supposed to be a no-no, but that is just not happening. Happily, a splash of cream is on the "OK to eat" list, although sugar is not allowed. I don't add sugar to my coffee anyway, so at least I was still on track there.

Lunch: Ham & Feta Salad (pictured above), based on a suggestion from the cookbook.

Basically, my interpretation was a hearty handful of mixed leafy greens, a farm fresh tomato cut into wedges, a small block of feta cheese (1 ounce) cut into cubes sprinkled over the lettuce, and a few slices of deli ham torn and strewn over the top. I had to break a rule here - I used fat free honey mustard dressing, but just a tiny spoonful. I don't even like fat free stuff, I bought it by mistake and now I am stuck having to use it up. Why is fat free dressing bad? It has a lot of added sugars. Oh yeah, and it doesn't taste all that fantastic either.

Dinner: (Note to self: Eating out is a real toughie when you are trying to stick to a new eating plan).

Thursday nights are when my daughter has her skating lessons. By the time skating is over, it is already past dinner time and she is usually fairly ravenous, so most of the time we plan to eat out afterward. Knowing that I wouldn't be eating at home, it was probably not the best day to start trying out a new eating plan. Then again, if I waited for the perfect night every day, chances are great that I would come up with a brand new excuse not to start each and every day.

I still tried to stick to my plan ..mostly. Since I knew Cracker Barrel has a low-carb section on their menu, it was at least easy for me to select something reasonable, which was Grilled Chicken Tenderloin Strips, with turnip greens, green beans, and sweet potato casserole. The sweet potato casserole was the only item that broke the "rules" so I didn't feel that bad about eating them. Oh yes, and the biscuit & corn muffins they bring out with your meal... temptingly delicious little things. I will have to work hard to resist them next time. Tonight however, I was unsuccessful.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Simple Comfort Food: Miniature Potato Kugels

Last night I wasn't feeling terribly inspired to cook anything particularly elaborate for dinner. I knew I had some really nice fat, juicy chicken & apple sausages hanging out in the fridge, so I decided to grill them up. To serve alongside them, I tried out a new recipe for mini potato kugels. This particular version of a kugel was the savory type; think of something similar to a potato pancake, only baked into a casserole. They are really quite scrumptious and very easy to make.

The concept of making individual portions of a potato kugel had never occurred to me before. I have to say that this was a brilliant discovery! I actually am quite excited to try making mini portions of all of the kugels I make, as this was such a convenient way to prepare them. I made just half the recipe and I really was kicking myself for not making triple the amount. These were really so good.

The basic idea here is to grate up a potato, a carrot, and a small amount of onion, mix it with an egg and some matzo meal to bind it, and heavily season with salt & pepper. How incredibly simple is that? For my half recipe I baked these for only about 40-45 minutes, just until the edges started to get really golden and just a bit brown and crispy.

Small Batch Mini Potato Kugels
(as adapted from Babycat's recipe here)
makes 6 individual portions

1 medium-large yellow skinned potato (Yukon Gold), peeled and grated, you will need 1 cup once grated
1 small carrot, peeled, grated
2 Tbsp onion, grated
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/8 cup canola oil
1/8 cup matzo meal or cracker crumbs or plain bread crumbs
1/2-1 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp pepper, or to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease 6 muffin tins. Grab your grater (or a food processor) and using the larger holes, grate your potato, carrot, and onion into a large bowl. Whisk together the egg and oil, then add this to your grated vegetables. Mix together, then add the matzo and seasonings. Don't be too skimpy on your seasonings, as potato kugels can often taste quite bland. Be careful with the pepper, however. My daughter is always very quick to point out that I use too much pepper, so if you are not terribly fond of it, you might use less than I have suggested.

In any case, mix everything and portion the mixture out into your muffin wells. Bake for about 40-46 minutes, until they are golden and just beginning to brown on the edges. Serve immediately. They will be soft, savory and there won't be any leftovers.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Credit Crunch Lunches: Leftover Grilled Chicken Tenderloin Salad

I have always been a fan of using up my leftovers in new ways, even if it is something as simple as a salad. Right now, when times are still a bit tough financially, this is not only desirable, but essential. The other night I had made some grilled chicken tenderloins after marinating them overnight in a simple mix of Italian salad dressing, a little honey, and some lime juice. As I often do, I made a bit extra.

For lunch the following day, I decided to mix up a quick and easy salad using up some of the leftover chicken and some vegetables I had on hand in my fridge. I tore up some crisp green Romaine lettuce hearts, sliced up a really juicy fresh vine ripened tomato, added a handful of shredded carrots and grated just a tiny sprinkling of mature sharp Cheddar from Vermont over the top. Next, I added chunks of the cold chicken, then tossed it all together with a very small amount of light Ranch dressing. This not only was surprisingly tasty, but it also was quite photogenic so I decided to share it with you today.