Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Asian Summer Rolls

I've been to many different types of restaurants that serve some version of this cold dish. Whether it be Vietnamese, Thai, or Asian fusion, the summer roll, or fresh spring roll is a light refreshing (normally) appetizer that leaves you wanting more food but not feeling so full that you wonder why you ordered an entree. J is a huge fan of these and tends to order them whenever possible; so when I discovered that our grocery store was now carrying rice paper wrappers (sometimes called spring roll wrappers), I knew I just had to try these out for ourselves.

I was a little nervous about these at first. Anytime you are working with a new ingredient, especially one that seems so delicate it can daunting. This was surprisingly easy. The prep work took a little but of time but the actual wrapping was fairly fast. I think the next time would be much faster because I'm used to it. You should definitely prep everything before you try to start preparing these.

Asian Summer Rolls

8 rice paper wrappers
32 small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
1 1/2 cups rice vermicelli, cooked for cold noodle preparation according to package
1-2 cups red leaf lettuce, julienned
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
4 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp peanut butter (any variety)
1 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp ginger
1/2 cup warm water (to taste)

  1. Combine first 6 ingredients of dipping sauce. While mixing with a whisk, gradually add warm water until sauce reaches desired consistency/taste. Set aside.
  2. In a large pie plate soak rice paper wrappers (do each one right before you fill and wrap it, not all at the same time) according to instructions on the box. My package suggested hot water for 15-20 seconds. As the water cooled it took a little longer to softened. I even had to microwave my water once to keep it warm. Be sure you are using a microwavable container (my pie plate was Pyrex).
  3. Lay wrapper on a very clean tea towel to dry excess moisture and begin filling.
  4. Place 4 shrimp in a row in the center of the wrapper.
  5. Top with 1/8 of the noodles. Then add one 1/8 of the mint and cilantro, then 1/8 of the lettuce.
  6. To wrap, fold the top fairly tightly over the filling (do not tear). Fold each of the sides in tightly and then making sure there isn't too much air inside, fold the bottom up over it all. The roll should be firm not floppy.
  7. Repeat for remaining 7 wrappers.
  8. Serve with dipping sauce, makes 8 rolls.
I calculated these summer rolls at 2 WW points apiece. I did not calculate for the sauce. We at a few as a main course for something nice and light.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pork Ragout

This is a another Cooking Light recipe. I was making it and I decided that I wasn't a fan of the texture (or even the flavor for that matter).  Perfect excuse to use my new kitchen appliance (big grin). I received a lovely immersion blender for Christmas. I hadn't asked for one but surprisingly I've been thinking of different ways to use it now that it is here. I've already gotten some use out of my new wok, which I will be posting later on. All this recipe needed was a little insight (I'm not tooting my own horn) to wrap the flavors together. It was also too chunky for my taste so here it is, Pork Ragout my way adapted from Cooking Light.

Pork Ragout (adapted from Cooking Light)

1  pound  boned pork loin
1  (4-ounce) link hot Italian turkey sausage
1  cup  chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4  teaspoon   kosher salt
1/4  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4  cup  fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
3/4  cup dry red wine
2  (15-oz) can Italian-style chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp cinnamon
8 oz  dry penne  pasta, cooked according to package instructions
1/4  cup  grated fresh Romano cheese (I also added some Parmesan)
  1. Trim fat from pork; cut pork into 1/4-inch cubes.
  2. Remove casing from sausage and break in to pieces. Cook sausage in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned; stir to crumble. 
  3. Remove sausage from pan. Add onion to pan; saute 4 minutes or until lightly browned.
  4. Add pork, and saute 5 minutes. Add sausage, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
  5. Stir in broth and wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. 
  6. Bring to a boil; cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. 
  7. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. 
  8. Using an immersion blender, blend sauce until reaches desired texture. Serve over pasta, and sprinkle with cheese.
The cinnamon added a sweetness without added extra calories. I think that it made all the difference between a sauce that was lacking something and bitter and a full-bodied flavor. I'm not trying to be cocky but it was really tasty once I took that one little risk. If could also have been a huge disaster.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pasta Fagioli

I would call this a recipe makeover but all I did was adapt an already light recipe to suit my taste (not turn a decadent recipe into something light). Pronounced by many Italian Americans as pasta "fa-ZOOL", this is one of those recipes that will fill you up and keep you full all afternoon. It is 7 WW points per cup, but one cup is all you need to feel full and satisfied. With a salad you might feel hungry again in a little while. You can probably lighten up the recipe even more but for this time I made it the way I have in the past. It is very thick, bordering on a stew more than a soup so with just a little more broth or water you can stretch the recipe to feed more which would make the calories less per serving. I really enjoy this soup and plan to eat the rest of the pot as lunches for the entire week!

Pasta Fagioli (adapted from Cooking Light) Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces hot turkey Italian sausage
1 1/2 tbsp bottled minced garlic
1 cup water
1 (16-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
4 oz. uncooked pipette pasta
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, divided
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed
Dried parsley
Crushed red pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add sausage and garlic; saute 2 minutes or until browned, stir-ring to crumble.
  3. Add water, broth, and tomato sauce; bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in pasta, 1/4 cup cheese, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and beans; bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes or until pasta is done. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Garnish each serving with parsley and red pepper.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Biggest Loser Recipe Makeover #2: Chicken Caesar Salad

Bottled salad dressings are full of sugar, preservatives and fat. They also don't usually taste very good. I was trying to find a way to make something very light that still tastes flavorful and I stumbled upon several recipes on Cooking Light. This Creamy Caesar Dressing and Herb Croutons were just the thing to spice up boring romaine lettuce and chicken. While I try to eat as healthily as I can sometimes price and convenience override some of my choices. I always knew that the half a chicken breast that come in the family packs are way too large to be one serving. Instead of freezing 2 breast halves, I have been trimming, cutting and pounding my boneless skinless chicken breasts into paillards. Then I label each pack with the number of ounces of chicken so I know exactly how many WW points we are eating.

Chicken Caesar Salad (with recipes adapted from Cooking Light: croutons and dressing)
Serves 2

2 4 oz. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning

4 cups romaine lettuce torn or cut into pieces
1 tbsp finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Herb Croutons:
1 cup Italian bread, cubed
olive oil cooking spray
Italian seasoning, to taste
salt and pepper

1/3 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt (can also use regular variety)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 small garlic cloves, minced

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spay bread cubes with cooking spray and toss with seasoning. Toast in oven 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set croutons aside for salad.
  2. While the croutons bake combine ingredients for salad dressing and whisk well. This make 1/4 cup of dressing and you only need 1-2 tbsp per person. You can refrigerate what you don't use for 4 days or so.
  3. Rub chicken on both sides with Cajun seasoning. Broil under high heat approx. 4 min each side or until done (depends on thickness of chicken). Cut into pieces for salad.
  4. Combine lettuce and dressing, add chicken and croutons. Top with a sprinkle of cheese.
The guilt free full taste Caesar salad was very tasty, quick and easy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Red Velvet Cheesecake

I decided to be daring this year... For Christmas Eve, I was asked to bring a dessert. I generally don't like to bring a dessert because I have trouble coming up with an idea. I don't bake often and I consider myself to be a good baker. I don't think I've had many kitchen disasters involving desserts that I can think of. Maybe if you count the time I was 13 and in Home Ec we forgot the extra cup of flour in the chocolate chip cookies and they came out shiny and tasting horribly of butter. And when my oven was one big hot spot and burned all but one section of my orange cake I was bringing to Easter. Then I had to start over and rotate the cake in the oven every 15 minutes. And we all remember the expired yeast episode. So when I decided to make my first cheesecake ever and a fairly "different" one at that, I was a little concerned with the outcome. I had an assistant in the kitchen, which I think was very helpful for the whole dessert. (He was also a very useful photographer.) According to the guests at my parents' house this was pretty good. I think the key to liking this cake is you have to like red velvet and cheesecake. Personally I thought the cake was gorgeous but average taste. I think it has real wow power visually though and worth making for that reason. The original recipe called for a cream cheese frosting. I thought that sounded too rich and made a simple whipped cream with a little vanilla and sugar.

Red Velvet Cheesecake (adapted from The Recipe Girl)

17 Oreos, finely crushed
1/4 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp sugar

3 8oz. packs cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
2 1 oz. bottles red food coloring

  1. Combine crumbs, butter and sugar. Press into 9" springform pan.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare water bath: Fill roasting pan with 1 inch water. Heat in oven while oven is pregheating.
  3. Beat cream cheese and sugar 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix at a low speed until combined and pour into crust.
  4. Layer 2 sheets of foil wrap bottom of pan gently. Place pan into water bath.
  5. Bake 10 minutes and reduce heat to 300 degrees F. Bake 75 minutes or until center is firm.
  6. Turn off oven and let stand 30 minutes. Remove from oven and water bath and place on a wire rack to cool.
  7. Run a thin knife around edge of cheesecake and cook several hours until room temperature.
  8. Cover and chill 8 hours.
  9. Remove sides of spring form pan.
I spread homemade whipped cream on the top and garnished with mint leaves and store bought red icing.

The Biggest Loser Recipe Makeover #1: Turkey Meatballs with Yogurt

My family (J, Dad, Uncle Brubo, Aunt Tetanie, Uncle Gorbo, Aunt Eeshu, and myself) have all put up $100 to see who can lose the biggest percentage of weight by March 31st. I have been using my online WW tools. I started a running regimen (Couch to 5K in 9 weeks), although it's been too chilly to really keep up with that since after I got over the stomach flu (ugh!). I decided to my own make-over of a recipe that was already a big hit here. Remember Lamb Meatball Gyros with Yogurt and Mint ? I have changed the meal to contain less fat, mostly by using turkey instead of lamb.

1/2 pound ground turkey
1/8 cup golden raisins, chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
kosher salt and pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg white
3 scallions (white and light green parts), sliced

Follow the original directions but be sure to cook the meatballs long enough because it is turkey instead of lamb. This recipe served 3 with approx. 5 meatballs apiece and it was 4 WW points for that plus a 1/4 cup of fat free Greek yogurt. I mixed the yogurt with a little kosher salt and dried mint. Instead of pita I used 1 WW point sandwich things. Delicious substitutions! (Maybe The Simpsons in the background while I type is a poor idea).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas Cake

I've been gone so long I don't know how to start a post anymore. I had the stomach flu this last week. I went to CT to visit family for the holidays. I haven't really been cooking since I made a cake for Christmas Eve (more on that later). This particular cake I make at the beginning of December to take to a friend's house for dinner. Personally I think this cake is appropriate for any season. I don't like cherries, especially in dessert but these are easy to avoid and I can usually find someone at the table on whom I can pawn them off. The best part of this cake is the crispy top. I find this goes very well in the morning as well, almost like a coffee cake. My mother uses a standing mixer and my grandmother mixes by hand. The cake comes out differently depending on which method you use. I think I creamed my butter and sugar with a hand mixer but the rest I did by hand. I don't know if I recommend that.
Christmas Cake

1 lb. confectionery sugar
1/2 lb. butter or margarine
3 cups flour
8 oz. walnuts
5 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tsp. baking powder
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries, drained

  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Add eggs one at a time.
  3. Add vanilla, flour, and baking powder.
  4. Roll cherries in a little flour (this will keep them from sinking- some of mine sank because I didn't mix them in well enough and were already on the bottom when I poured the cake into the pan).
  5. Fold in nuts and cherries.
  6. Pour into greased and floured tube pan.
  7. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I thought the cake came out very well considering I don't really enjoy baking all that much. Something made it a little drier than I would have liked but again. Feel free to enjoy with coffee or milk and it doesn't matter.