Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nuts for Cheese

I've been perusing the Super Charged South Beach Book and I'm super-charged about trying some of their new menus. I've read the intro/philosophy/basics so many times, that now I just jump immediately to the recipes. So far, I've selected a number of main courses that sound pretty yummy and can reappear as the next day's lunch and/or dinner and maybe a lunch again. (I can't see me cooking a different meal every night, it's just not my style) And I plan to share these dishes in the blog, and tweak them and re-mix them as long a I'm able to maintain their relative calorie, carb and fat counts. And I also plan on spending a good portion of my paycheck at the grocery store and possibly developing some gastro intestinal issues due to the enormous quantities of fresh vegetables involved. So thank goodness for cheese. Cheese is supposed to be binding. Right?

Well, speaking of cheese, which you know I love, there is a dessert in phase 1 that was truly created for me. It's called Peanut Butter Delight- and it's a creamy, rich-tasting concoction of peanut butter and ricotta cheese that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. The first time I made it I ate 3 times the recommended amount. However in reality, the 1/2 cup serving is very satisfying and decadent. Yes, decadent.

Here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Delight (from The South Beach Diet Super Charged) makes four, 1/2 cup servings

2 cups part skim ricotta

1/4 cup all natural peanut butter

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

4 packets of Equal or other sugar substitute- use real sugar if you like, I'm just not sure of the exact amount you'd need

8 dry roasted peanuts chopped (my contribution)

South Beach recommends that you process the ingredients in a blender. Do that if your blender is not tempermental. Mine is, so I use a hand mixer first and combine all ingredients until they are nicely incorporated. Then I transfer the mixture to my blender and whirl away until I see a silky, smooth, ice cream-like consistency develop. Refrigerate and then serve with chopped peanuts as a garnish. I think that little bit of peanut crunch is nice with such a creamy dessert.

I haven't done a re-mix for this, but my first thought was Nutella instead of peanut butter. Then I read the Nutella label and saw the sugar number was 21 grams versus the 3 grams in the peanut butter. So I guess that will have to wait until next year. Which reminds me, Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Gone Crackers

I'm gearing up for an attempt to lose a few pounds after the new year and have been revisiting old recipes, exercise routines and motivational articles I used to diligently read while working at the gym. When I want to lose weight I usually count carbs and loosely follow the South Beach approach which is probably the route I'll take this time. I admit I will miss the fruits, the breads and of course the sweets. Well, I won't be eliminating the bread completely, but the desserts I've been inhaling daily will not be making an appearance in my new eating plan any time soon.

So let's talk about my plans for bread. I enjoy a sandwich once in a while because it makes me feel FULL, which is important when you're counting calories, carbs or whatever it is you're counting. So when I'm counting, I count on Lavash bread. It's a flat bread that I layer with assorted roasted vegetables, turkey, lowfat cheeses, lettuce and sprouts for crunch, and anything else I have on hand. I then roll it up like a burrito and have me a healthy Dagwood of a meal.

Not all lavash is created equal. I buy Joseph's Flax, Oat Bran and Wheat Lavash which claims to be reduced carb, low fat, high protein with no cholesterol. Each serving contains 4 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, no sugar and 5 grams of protein. Be sure to check the lavash in your market to see how it compares with Joseph's.

So, now that you know how healthy lavash is, how about another treat for when you're counting calories, carbs and whatever else you may be counting. Yes, I've gone CRACKERS!

Lavash Crackers (makes 16 crackers, 2 servings)

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees and cut one sheet of lavash into 16 squares.

Make spice mixture:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place lavash squares on baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle spice mixture on squares. Bake 7 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on paper towels.

Now you're ready for a smorgasbord of tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, low fat cheeses and dips, guacamole, smoked salmon and cold cuts-all healthy choices to top your healthy crackers.

Cracker Re-Mix: Try it Tex-Mex: to the original spice mix add 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder and a pinch of ground cayenne. Make it Italian: to the original spice mix add 1 T grated parmesan cheese

note: I have intentionally omitted the word "diet" from this post because I didn't want these tasty food ideas to be tainted by the negativity the D word connotes. So whether you're watching your weight or simply enjoying smart meals, think about incorporating these good eats into your lifestyle. How about that?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Trinity

I've been a busy gal this holiday season. At least three times a week this month I've had a date after work. Well, a date with my oven that is. I've been competing in my self-declared yearly cookie baking marathon and have now finally come into the home stretch.

One of the things I did differently this year was make up my own All Purpose Flour. As you know, I like to include a little oatmeal and a little whole wheat along with my white flour when I bake. And this little trinity seems to do the trick. It's simply 1 part AP flour, 1/2 part old fashioned oats ground in a spice mill and 1/4 part whole wheat flour. I made a big batch of this and it turned out to be a great time saver and produced some fabulous baked goodies.

Linda's All Purpose Flour
4 cups white flour- I used organic but any will do
2 cups ground old fashioned oats
1 cup traditional whole wheat flour
Sift all 3 flours into a large bowl, stir with a whisk or fork and store in a covered container

I used this mix in my standard chocolate chip cookes and Giada's chocolate hazelnut cookies and they came out great. Better than I expected. So I kept going. It then made an appearance in Erika's Schweddy Balls, my last few ricotta cakes, and a liquored-up version of my pumpkin bread. So if you're looking for more than white flour in your baked goods, and don't know where to begin, give this a try. Any recipe that calls for all purpose flour should adapt very nicely to this blend. And as I love to say, that's one smart reason to have a second helping.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) softened

1/4 cup packed brown sugar or 1/4 cup plus 2T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend

1/4 cup granulated sugar or 2T Splenda Blend

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 large egg

2 cups Linda 's AP flour mix

2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees.In large bowl using electric mixer, combine butter, sugars, vanilla, salt and baking soda until mixture is smooth. Add egg and mix until incorporated. Add flour and when blended, add chips. Drop by heaping tablespoons on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Say Cheese

Since I have a camera now, I was hoping to display here a glorious picture of my chocolate ricotta cake and I'm disappointed that it's just not going to happen. First off- dark, dense chocolate does not really make a beautiful picture- using kitchen lighting no less. But I worked that problem out and got two decent shots. Now it's locating my photos (that are uploaded somewhere) in my Picasa file that's been giving me a problem. Before I started this blog, I bought a book called Google Blogger for Dummies and it helped me get started. I may have to invest in one for Picasa (for dummies) if they actually have one.

On to the cake. I was recently cleaning out my fridge and had a few lemons and a container of ricotta cheese that needed attention. I went to Mike's Table and found his recipe for lemon ricotta pound cake. It was easy. And it was yummy. So then I began experimenting with a chocolate version. I am apologizing in advance for the two sticks of butter, but it just isn't the same without them. And it does make me feel a bit better that this recipe makes a very large cake. So pull out your biggest loaf pan, like the one for Nigella's chocolate cake, and treat yourself to a little chocolate decadence.

Chocolate Ricotta Pound Cake

2/3 cup AP flour
2/3 cup old fashioned oats ground in spice grinder
1/3 cup baking cocoa
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar (1/2 cup Splenda Blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar (1/4 cup Splenda Brwon Sugar Blend)
15 oz part skim ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup brewed cold coffee
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Prepare large loaf pan with cooking spray
In medium size bowl, combine flour, cocoa, ground oats, baking powder and salt. Stir with whisk or fork to incorporate. Set aside
In large bowl mix butter, sugars, ricotta, coffee and vanilla
Add the eggs
Add the dry ingredients
Fold in the chips
Pour into prepared pan
Bake 15 minutes, lower temp to 325 and bake 45 minutes more
Let cool before removing cake from the pan
Dust with powdered sugar

A little background- I tried sifting the dry ingredients. Not necessary. I also dusted the loaf pan with cocoa one time and flour another. The cake was actually easier to remove from the pan when I used only cooking spray. I did take the eggs and ricotta out of the fridge ahead of time and let them come to room temperature. The original recipe suggested you rotate the pan 180 degrees before you lower the temp. I never did that. And I've been tempted to bake it at 350 the whole time, but haven't tried that yet. I've been omitting the powdered sugar, but it is a very good option.

The Re-Mix: I think this is as good, if not better than the original. If you like orange and chocolate together then you'll like this re-mix. Zest one large orange and extract the juice. You'll get about three tablespoons of liquid. Add these to the butter/sugar mixture and eliminate the brewed coffee. I made this last night and it's really a winner.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a Wrap

I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. I had a fabulous time in LA with Lori. The weather was great, our feast was delicious (we both cooked) and our reunion- the best one yet. It seems that Lori and I have created a ritual for my visits out West which includes a stop the Cheesecake Factory (any location) for pot stickers and grilled chicken lettuce wraps. I just love these two dishes and can't imagine going there and not ordering them. At home on Sunday when I was making my shopping list and apparently reflecting on my meal at the Factory, I decided I'd look in the market for ingredients to create my own lettuce wraps to bring to work for lunch on Monday or Tuesday. I based this recipe on my Asian Green Bean Salad but omitted the green beans and added a few other choice ingredients. This is a pasta-based salad, so if you're watching your weight the bean sprouts in it are a great foil. Plus, they add a nice crunch. Also- the pasta I use is Dreamfields, which claims to be only 5 carbs a serving. One more tip- if you tend to be lazy (like I often am) please take the time to toast the almonds. It takes five minutes and you barely even mess up a pan. This is a vegetarian salad but feel free to add shrimp or chicken, or if it's not too late- some leftover turkey.

Noodle Lettuce Wraps

1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted (I toast them on my stove top in a dry skillet over medium heat)
3 oz uncooked linguini snapped in half
6 oz fresh bean sprouts
1/2 cup frozen petite peas, defrosted
1/2 cup (or more) thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup (1/2 inch) cut scallions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
1 head of Bibb lettuce, washed and leaves separated

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 T dark sesame oil
1 T grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 tsp Sambal Oelek-this is ground fresh chili paste found in the Asian section of the International aisle of your supermarket

To prepare salad, toast almonds and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water. Place cooled pasta in large bowl and stir in bean sprouts, peas, celery, scallions and cilantro.

To prepare dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar. Shake vigorously until blended. Add about 1/2 of mixture to salad and toss well. Cover and chill.

At serving time, place appropriate amount of noodle mixture on individual lettuce leaves and top with chopped egg and toasted almonds. Add more dressing if necessary.

Re-Mix: My favorite way to change this recipe is with the dressing. To the original dressing, add 1-2 teaspoons of creamy peanut butter and shake or stir until incorporated. Taste it to see if it's "peanutty" enough and add more if necessary. If you go this route, serve the wraps with chopped peanuts instead of slivered almonds and eliminate the peas. One more thing- this dressing (with or without peanut butter) has a refrigerator life of about a week, but once you add it to the salad, it's good for about 3 days. Now let's change the vegetables. Anything goes, but my favorite combo is red pepper, corn, cilantro and scallions. It not only looks robust, it tastes fresh and healthy as well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lost and Found in Aisle 20

I recently stopped shopping at my regular supermarket. The one I've been going to for at least 30 years. The prices had become astronomical- imagine a 2.75 oz can of cat food costing the same as a 5 oz can of tuna! Plus, the products I'd been consistently buying suddenly became unavailable. I live in the burbs and just about every market around here has gone gourmet, which I think is great. You can sit down and eat pizza or sip a latte in a cafe-like atmosphere, pretend you're buying cheese in France, and acquaint yourself with products that were unavailable around here a few years ago. Very sweet. But just try and find that container of whole wheat orzo you bought a month ago. You're not going to be successful. Every shopping trip progressively became a traumatic experience- remember I LOVE to cook and LOVE to shop for food. By the time I'd reach the check out counter I was frustrated, my blood pressure was soaring and my spirits deflated.

So while I was contemplating my next move, a very nice market not far from my home started courting me. With lovely coupons- Spend fifty dollars and we'll take off ten. Here's a free box of organic chicken broth for just being a customer. This has been going on now for close to eight weeks. And if you're wondering, cat food is 12 cents cheaper, wheat orzo is readily available and my previously gone from the shelf Lean Cuisine Mushroom and Spinach Pizza is waiting for me every week. I can't say I'm in love, but I'm not sniveling and clenching my teeth at the register anymore.

I'm getting used to my shopping trips, feeling my way around the new digs (it's very hard to teach an old dog new tricks) and making friends with the buyers and staff. And last week when I was lost in aisle 20 I came across a product I hadn't been able to buy in my old market for at least 8 months. Joyva Tahini, that yummy, silky, creamy puree of sesame seeds. I'm a lover of Middle Eastern food and grabbed the container, did a quick 180 back to the produce department and got the necessary ingredients for a Mediterranean inspired salad that would be the bed for my creamy blanket of lemon tahini dressing.

Lemon Tahini Dressing
3 T tahini
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3T)
1 T garlic finely chopped (about 4 cloves)
3 T lite soy sauce
5 T canola oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp (or less) ground cayenne pepper
note- before measuring the tahini, mix it with a blunt knife or spoon to remove any lumps and keep the oil from separating.
Combine all ingredients in a screw top jar and shake to incorporate. Dressing is done.

Mediterranean Inspired Orzo Salad
1/2 cup uncooked orzo (I like RiceSelect whole wheat orzo)
1 pint grape tomatoes halved
1/2 cup scallions cut 1/2 inch
1/2 cup Kalamata olives halved
1 cup cucumber seeded and diced 1/2 inch
1/2 cup chick peas
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
1/2 cup mint chiffonade

Cook orzo according to package directions and set aside to cool. Combine cooled orzo with tomatoes, scallions, olives, cucumbers and chick peas. Add about half the dressing and toss. Refrigerate until serving time. At serving time add the feta, mint and additional dressing if needed.

Re-Mix: Let's start with the dressing. If you can't find tahini, substitute 3 tablespoons of store bought hummus and cut down by half the amount of garlic. You'll also want to add a few tablespoons of water if the dressing seems too thick.
And now the salad. If you're not an orzo fan, omit it and serve the dressed veggies and cheese on a bed of crisp lettuce. Or serve them in a warm pita pocket.
Grape tomatoes are great raw, but they're even better in this salad when they're roasted. Leave them whole and place them on a baking sheet, mist with cooking spray, sprinkle with kosher salt and ground black pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until they start to split. This is a nice change and complements the earthiness of the dressing.
One more ingredient that I think works well in this salad is golden raisins. If you're a raisin fan, give it a try. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
And I can't forget my favorite topping: Sliced hard boiled eggs.

One more note- I also made cookies with tahini and chocolate chips. They weren't bad but the tahini seemed to lose it's nutty flavor in the baking. Anyone been successful ? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A few weeks ago I watched Nigella Lawson prepare a quadruple chocolate loaf cake on TV. Yes. Quadruple. She's always a hoot to watch and that luscious chocolate scenario sucked me right in. I've never made a recipe of hers before but this one had my name on it. I went immediately to the web site, copied down the recipe and read the reviews, something I'm learning to do more often these days. The extra time spent reading about other baker's pratfalls can be quite time consuming, but it does give you tips and general guidelines that eventually save you time and heartache when it comes to preparing the dish on your own. I often don't listen to my own advice and jump right into a recipe without reading it properly, not even knowing if I have all the ingredients on hand. Well this time I read what others had to say and ended up with a splendid chocolate loaf cake. But I did not make a quadruple chocolate cake per se. I made a double chocolate cake with a double chocolate garnish. Yes, I am lazy. My other excuse is, it seemed like over-kill and just too messy. And with the fabulous results I got, I'll probably never do it Nigella's way. So the original recipe is here.

The feedback: Some of the commenters had trouble with the size of their loaf pans and found their cakes oozing over the rims. I got nervous about that so the first time I made the recipe I did what some suggested- I used two small loaf pans. There was no bubbling over, but also not enough rise in the cakes. The recipe calls for a 9 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 3 inch pan. I'm thinking some people didn't measure their pans (that would be me, because I don't know where to measure). Top or bottom? Anybody know? Fannie Farmer doesn't say. Anyway, I dug around my supply of pots and pans and found a very large loaf pan, the kind you'd use for meatloaf if you wanted to feed your neighbor's teenage sons. It's 9 x 5 1/4 x 2 1/2 measured on top. And this worked. Nigella also made her cake in a food processor. I used a hand mixer. She didn't use salt. I added some. And she baked in a 325 degree oven. Many reviewers couldn't buy that concept so they did the regular 350. I stuck with the 325. I also used brown sugar and granulated sugar. And instead of boiling water, I added hot/warm coffee. Ina Garten does it all the time so I figured I'd take a tip from her as well. Oh, and the baking time was an issue for some- they thought not long enough. And the large chocolate chips became a sinking issue for others. Anyway, I think I've ironed out most of the problems presented and came up with a cake you'll be happy to make and share with others.

Double Chocolate Loaf Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson

Cooking spray
1 T cocoa powder (for dusting loaf pan)

1 cup old fashioned oats ground in food processor or spice mill
2/3 cup AP flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (for cooking and baking) softened- first time I ever tried this product
1/2 stick unsalted butter softened
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup Splenda Sugar Blend)
1/3 cup brown sugar (or 3 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend)
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1/2 cup warm coffee
1 cup semi sweet chocolate mini chips

1 cup Hershey's Lite Syrup
2 oz dark chocolate bar shaved

Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Nigella suggests you put a baking sheet in the oven at this time. I haven't figured out why, but I did it anyway.
Take everything you need out of the refrigerator so all ingredients can come to room temp. Prepare loaf pan with cooking spray and dust with 1 T of cocoa powder. Shake out excess.
In medium size bowl sift flour, ground oats, cocoa, salt and baking soda. You will probably have some small pieces of oat bran left over that didn't blend, just discard them. Set bowl aside.
In large mixing bowl combine butter, butter substitute and sugars. I like to mix this for about 3 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla extract and sour cream and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to insure ingredients are blended. Add dry ingredients and combine. Now add the warm coffee and mix, then fold in the semi sweet chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Test with toothpick for doneness. Remember there are chocolate chips in the cake, so don't mistake dark, runny chocolate for an underdone cake. If the crumbs are damp, the cake is not done and needs a few more minutes. My cake was fine at 1 hour exactly. Cool cake in pan for 20-30 minutes and remove to serving platter.

The double garnish: If you think your chocolate meter can handle this, drizzle chocolate syrup over your slice of cake and top with chocolate shavings. And without sounding too decadent, I believe a dollop of whipped cream on top would be divine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Last week we had a Potluck lunch at work. We have these about every 2 months and they're a lot of fun. The feast included appetizers like homemade salsa (very spicy and right up my alley), cheese and sour cream dips and spreads of every kind imaginable (I did not bring in my Sriracha dip), and of course the fresh, raw vegetables which are usually saved for the following day to ease our guilty consciences and still sated bellies. Then there were the chicken salad sandwiches on soft Polish rolls, hot plates of meatballs, chili, soups and pasta dishes galore. Too hard to choose one and too much to choose from. I was in heaven. A kid in a candy store. And desserts, homemade and bakery bought. In heaven I tell you! Well you can't eat everything (at least I couldn't) but I did pretty well. I won't tell you all that I consumed but I will tell you that the Sausage Soup made quite an impression on me. I got the recipe and made a reasonable facsimile last weekend. I say facsimile because Linda F, the maker of the dish didn't really follow the actual recipe either. She's a re-mixer like me. With the original recipe in hand I made my first soup of the winter season and it was sooo good. One thing I keep re-discovering about myself is that I love soup as long as there's an abundance of stuff in it. And this soup has stuff. Here's my version which I'll call Two Linda's Sausage Soup.

Two Linda's Sausage Soup

1 T oil (I used olive)
6 sausages (I used sweet Italian)
1 1/2 cups onions diced
2 tsp garlic, about 4 cloves
1 zucchini halved and sliced 1/4 inch
1 summer squash halved and sliced 1/4 inch
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning (I love this seasoning)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 box 32 oz chicken broth (original recipe called for beef broth)
1 can 14.5 oz diced tomatoes
1 can 8 oz tomato sauce
1 8 oz can of water
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (you can add more)
4 cups fresh spinach
1 can 15.5 oz cannellini beans rinsed
Parmesan cheese to garnish

On medium heat, in large pot brown sausages in oil. When they're golden on all sides remove to a plate to cool (they're not fully cooked yet and will finish cooking in the broth). In the small amount of fat that remains in the pot add onions and saute until softened. Lower the heat a bit if they seem to be browning too much- my stove cooks everything too high. When the onions have softened add garlic, zucchini, squash, Old Bay, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. While these are cooking, slice sausages into 1/4 inch rounds. Add broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, bay leaves, oregano and cayenne. Increase heat until soup comes to a near boil. Add reserved sausages. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add spinach and beans, cook 5 minutes and soup's ready. Top with parmesan.

Ready for the Re-Mix? This is so re-mixed already but here goes... The original recipe was titled Tortellini-Sausage Soup and called for a 12 oz package of cheese tortellini. Linda F opted not to use tortellini and instead used a small cut of pasta. She warns if you're using pasta, cook it separately and add it at the last minute or better yet- to each individual serving bowl so it won't soak up too much of your broth. I chose to open a can of beans instead. Not because I'm lazy, which I am, but I've been on a bean kick lately. Next time I think I'll add whole wheat orzo. Now if you're not a fan of either beans or pasta and want more stuff in your soup, add a diced russet potato 25 minutes after your soup's been simmering. The original recipe also called for a small bag of baby carrots. Linda used them in her version. I didn't, but I did take the liberty of adding all the other veggies. And speaking of other veggies, how about tossing in a bag from the freezer 10 minutes before serving time? Oh, and the sausages. They can be removed from their casings and sauteed. That's how Linda did it. I made disks out of mine. I think you get the picture here. If you have the right seasonings and broth measurements you're going to make a great soup. In closing, I'll borrow a line from my old life in advertising, "the pasta-bilities are endless." Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Square Meal

I'm a "make ahead" type of gal so every weekend I set aside a few hours and cook some dishes for the week. The one dish that I've made consistently for almost two years now is what I call my Breakfast Strata. As you know I try to eat healthy foods. And rather than be tempted by cookies or chocolate bars for breakfast, I pack a square of my strata, nuke it when I get to work and have myself a tasty start for the day. The nice thing about this little concoction is that it packs a punch with protein, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Plus, since you make it ahead you only have one kitchen clean-up and get to enjoy it six times. It's also a great way to recycle things in your fridge you might otherwise throw out. For example, last week I tossed in some stray cannellini beans and I've been known to make an entire strata out of refrigerator leftovers. Give this one a try and let me know what you think.

Turkey Bacon and Cheese Strata
8 slices turkey bacon cooked (I bake mine in the oven at 375 for about 15-20 minutes)
3 English muffins toasted (I like Thomas' 12 grain)
1/2 cup onions diced
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheese (the Italian Blend in a bag is pretty good)
2 T hot sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small container egg substitute (equivalent to 8 eggs)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Prep an 8 x 8 pan with cooking spray and set aside. I like to use the disposable aluminum ones in the supermarket. I haven't had good luck using glass baking dishes.
In medium sauce pan over low flame, sweat onions in canola oil. When they're translucent and tender, they're done. Set aside to cool.
Cut or crumble bacon into 1/2 inch pieces
Slice muffins into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
In large bowl combine bacon, muffin cubes, onions, cottage cheese and shredded cheese. Mix to incorporate. Add hot sauce, salt, pepper and egg substitute. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and top with the parmesan cheese. Bake 45 minutes and let cool to room temperature. When the strata is cooled I remove it from the baking dish, slice it into 6 servings, place the slices back in the baking dish, cover and refrigerate. In the morning my breakfast is waiting for me. Microwave for 1 minute and enjoy.

Re-Mix: I have substituted and changed this recipe in every imaginable way. Here are some suggestions:
* Don't cook the onions, they'll add a nice crunch
* Eliminate the bacon and add sliced grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives
* Eliminate the hot sauce and use 1/2 cup salsa
* Try using Fontina cheese, it's delectably creamy and melts beautifully
* Substitute 1 tsp Dijon mustard for the hot sauce
* No muffins? Use a whole grain pasta

Monday, October 19, 2009


A few weeks ago my friend and cooking buddy Ruth introduced me to PF Changs. Don't ask me what rock I've been living under for the last ten years, but for some reason this restaurant and I had never had the pleasure to experience one another. And what a pleasure it was. We began with soup, lettuce wraps, pot stickers and tempura green beans (all delish), continued with perfectly seasoned citrus-glazed grilled salmon and finished with chocolate cake (eh) and surprisingly good strawberry cheesecake. A very good meal to say the least. And what was my favorite dish on the table? That small dish of dipping sauce that accompanied the tempura beans. Have you tried this creamy, spicy, magical concoction of loveliness? The concoction that has become an obsession/addiction for me. You see, I took home the leftover beans and sauce and when they were gone I wanted more. Correction, I needed more. Not the beans mind you, but the sauce. I had to have the sauce. While scouring the internet for the recipe I discovered some interesting things:

The prominent ingredient in PF Changs green bean sauce is Sriracha
Sriracha is the generic name for a Thai hot sauce named after the seaside city of Si Racha in the Chonburi province in Thailand
Sriracha sauce has been taking the web and cooking circles by storm
I have indeed been living under a rock
I chose to make this recipe because it used mayonaise which would deliver the creaminess I remembered. Thank you HiHo. And I was pleasantly surprised to find the Sriracha sauce AND the Japanese mayo in my local supermarket. I bought the Sriracha, but the mayo was eight dollars so I figured Helman's would do the trick. I pretty much stuck to HiHo's recipe with a few changes:

Sriracha Mayo Dipping Sauce
3/4 cup Lite mayonaise

2 1/2 T Sriracha chili sauce
1 1/2 T chopped scallions (white ends only)

1 1/2 T chopped garlic
1/2 tsp prepared horseradish

3 T water (or more if you like it thinner)
Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate unused portions if there are any. (makes approximately 1 cup)

So, with dip in hand, I began to indulge myself. So far I have feasted on grilled shrimp, avocados, linguini, grilled asparagus, lentil-corn fritters, tuna salad, home made sweet potato chips (you get the picture), all doused or dabbled with my homemade Sriracha Mayo. My favorite? A good old hamburger with lettuce, tomato and a healthy slathering of sauce.
Re-Mix: If you're not a chili fanatic, but like the warmth and flavor that chilis offer, I think you'll enjoy the Sriracha Mayo in these dips. In a blender or food processor combine 1 container (16 oz) of low fat cottage cheese with 6 T Sriracha Mayo and blend until smooth. This makes a delightfully creamy, hint-of-chili cheese spread that's perfect with raw veggies, crackers or chips. OR, if you're not a cheese lover, try 1 container (16 oz) of low fat sour cream mixed with 6 T Sriracha Mayo. Refrigerate for an hour or longer to let it set up, garnish with thinly sliced scallions and dip away!

Now it's your turn. How are you going to tame (or heat up) your Sriracha sauce?

Friday, October 16, 2009


About 4 years ago an acquaintance gave me the infamous $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe with the warning that it was the best cookie she'd ever tasted. She referred to it as an "adult cookie" (whatever that means) and it sounded intriguing. So of course I made them. And yes! they were delicious, quite possibly one of the best cookies this adult had ever eaten too. But what was most intriguing to me was the ground oats in the recipe. Prior to this I had only used oats in traditional oatmeal cookies, which I adore. I remember eating the cookies and thinking how light and airy they were. Could it be the ground oats? With this question in mind, I incorporated them into my standard pumpkin bread recipe and it was a success. And then they worked just as well in my chocolate hazelnut cookies, blueberry cake and so on and so on. I was on to something. So here's a tip on getting some whole grain goodness into your baking: Replace 1/2 to 3/4 of the AP flour in your recipes with ground oats (I grind Old Fashioned Oats or Quick Oats in my spice mill). You've just given yourself a healthy excuse to have another cookie or slice of cake.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Bread
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (my bible)
Makes 2 loaves (medium size loaf pans)

Cooking spray
2 tsp flour

2 cups oats, ground in spice mill
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 cup Splenda Blend (or 2 cups granulated sugar)
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs (or 2 eggs plus 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup ground oats
1/4 cup Splenda Blend (or 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
4 T softened butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Prepare loaf pans with cooking spray and flour
In small bowl, prepare topping by combining all ingredients. Set aside
In medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, salt, baking soda and spices. Set aside
In mixing bowl, combine oil, Splenda Blend, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin and water. Add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Pour evenly into prepared pans and sprinkle topping over batter. I press the topping down a bit, so it's not too crumbly when I remove the breads from their baking pans. Bake 55-60 minutes until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Cool a bit and remove from pans.

Re-Mix: If you like this recipe, how about adding a touch of chocolate to your pumpkin creation? It's easy. After combining all ingredients, remove 1 cup of batter to a separate bowl and stir in 1/2 cup Hershey's Lite chocolate syrup and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips. Pour or ladle half of the original pumpkin batter into 2 loaf pans. Top with the chocolate mixture, and finish with the remaining pumpkin batter. Insert a knife into the batter and make swirling motions through the mixture. Eliminate the topping and bake 55-60 minutes.