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.