Month: December 2012

2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Cream of Spinach Soup

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spinach soup

This picture was taken a while ago. Its not such a great caption but I guarantee that this soup tastes a lot better than it looks.  Spinach was not one of my favorite childhood foods. I would swallow my taste aversions for spinach and eat it anyways. Whenever I think of spinach, the first image that enters my head is Popeye The Sailor Man’s bulging biceps. Therefore, it was difficult for me to take spinach seriously.  I grew up on spinach soup but I’ve always eaten the pre-made frozen packaged soups. That is when my dislike for spinach began to dissipate. Now I’ve been utilizing spinach,fresh and frozen in a lot of dishes such as sides,casseroles, salads, and now soup. But as I started to take an interest in cooking, I’ve tried to replicate these soups using actual produce. When made right, spinach soup has a creamy texture and a rich flavor.  Its bright green color is a result of adding  spinach just before blending.

 

While some people use fresh baby spinach to make this soup, I don’t.  I tried making spinach soup that way before and it came out too watery for me. I prefer my soups deep,rich,creamy,velvety, and flavorful. This method didn’t achieve any of these desired textures.  Perhaps I have missed the mark. I find it that the results from making this soup using frozen spinach is more satisfactory (at least in my rule book of cookery).  Plus it tastes just as fresh and is just a nutritious. Generally, frozen vegetables contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts because the nutrients are locked in when frozen.  Like most of my soup recipes, spinach soup is not that much more difficult to make. I used zucchini and celery for creaminess instead of heavy cream. I suppose you can use a bit of non-fat sour cream or low fat milk for extra richness.  The choice is obviously yours. You can enjoy this delicious soup with crusty whole grain bread or home made soup croutons which basically involves seasoning and toasting bread crusts. When doing so, please keep an eye on them so they don’t burn (guilty). Burnt food will ruin the flavors you are trying to enjoy in a dish.

 

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed
  2. 1 large onion chopped
  3. 2 cloves of garlic minced
  4. 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  5. 1 large zucchini peeled and chopped
  6. 2 large stalks of celery diced
  7. 2 lemons juiced and zested
  8. 4 cups of low sodium vegetable broth
  9. 2 cups of non-dairy or skim milk
  10. 1 teaspoon of salt
  11. 1 teaspoon of white pepper

Instructions

Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven. Sauté garlic, onion, celery and zucchini for 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth and fat-free/non-dairy milk. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool slightly, then transfer soup to a blender, working in two batches if necessary. Add remaining spinach and blend (if working in two batches, use half the remaining spinach with each batch). Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.Garnish with chopped chives, soup croutons, or a dollop of fat-free plain Greek yogurt.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

Orange Chicken

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orange chickenTraditionally, Chinese cuisines tend to concentrate more on vegetables and grains and less on meat/poultry.  As it made its way towards the Western hemisphere, Chinese food has become increasingly popular in other parts of the world  such as the Americas, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa. Chinese food has also become a specialty among  the  Jewish populace (I include myself), especially on Christmas and Passover eve (guilty). Don’t ask me why because I am unable to provide an explanation among this growing phenomenon.

Orange chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I order this dish every time I go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, like a lot of other ethnic cuisines these days, Chinese food, especially chicken, tends to be saturated in oil and loaded with MSG. As delicious as they are, as someone who is health conscious, I can’t overlook the unsavory nutritious facts. And I utterly loathe greasy food.  But rather than permanently cancel out Chinese food altogether, I try looking for renditions that are not heavy in sodium and oil. That is how I’m still able to cling to the food I enjoy most whilst curtailing the calories,sodium, and fat content to my best ability.

For this recipe, I used skinless chicken breasts as they don’t nearly contain as much fat as chicken thighs and legs.  Secondly, I used fresh orange juice from oranges rather than using concentrated orange juice. Yes, it may be more labor intensive to have to manually juice each orange but it saves you calories.  I noticed that a lot of people like to use marmalade in the makings of orange chicken.  Although I happen to like marmalade myself, it is loaded with sugar. While a bit of sweetness in crucial in a lot of Chinese dishes, I prefer to minimize the usage of sugar as much as I possibly can. I find that orange zest  does just as a good job accentuating the tangy flavor in orange chicken.

But there is still that concern with MSG. A lot of Asian cuisines require soy sauce. Soy sauce does contain copious amount of MSG and sodium. So does teriyaki sauce for that matter. That is why we don’t normally use large dosages of soy sauce. I generally use low-sodium soy sauce. I like to use a small chili pepper for a bit of fiery sensation but you can leave it out if you don’t share my (heart) burning desire for some extra spice (I had to throw that lame pun in. Sue me).  And don’t forget the veggies.

A heavily protein meal must be balance out with vegetables. I used assorted frozen Chinese vegetables. If you can’t find any at the frozen section of your supermarket, you can use chopped fresh peppers,celery,onion,broccoli, long green beans, bok choy, etc. Like most Chinese food, you should use a wok to cook the orange chicken in. This chicken serves well hot with whole grain rice or noodles.  Garnish with chopped green scallions and toasted sesame seeds (optional).

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 4 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
  2. 1 lbs of chicken breasts cut into cubes
  3. 1 onion chopped
  4. 1 tablespoon of cornstarch plus more for dredging
  5. 1 tablespoon of fresh mince garlic
  6. 1 tablespoon of fresh minced ginger
  7. 1 small chili pepper minced (optional)
  8. 1 tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce
  9. Orange juice from 4 oranges
  10. 1 tablespoon of orange zest
  11. 1/4 cup of rice vinegar
  12. 1/8 cup of sesame oil
  13. 2/3 cup of heated broth or water
  14. Salt and pepper for taste

In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch,orange juice,soy sauce,sesame seed oil  and rice vinegar,  until well combined. Set aside. Heat a large wok over medium- high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Dredge chicken pieces in cornstarch. Place them in the wok and saute them for 1 1/2 minute or until a nice golden sear appears on each side. Remove from wok and set aside. Add the 2 remaining tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot enough, add the chopped onions and stir-fry until they turn glossy and bright, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic,ginger, and chili pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the Chinese vegetables  and stir-fry until they are glossy and tender. Add the broth/water and continue to stir-fry. Return the chicken to the wok.  Pour in the orange juice mixture and continue to cook until thick and bubbly. Sprinkle with chopped green scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Yields 4-6 servings

Buckwheat Salad

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buckwheat salad

Despite its name, buckwheat is not wheat. It’s gluten-free, and it’s safe for people with celiac disease. Buckwheat and wheat are from completely different botanical families. Buckwheat seeds are technically the fruit of a plant called Fagopyrum esculentum. Although buckwheat is not a grain, it is sometimes referred to as a pseudocereal. For processing into food, buckwheat seeds must first be dehulled. The remaining seed material, called groats, can be ground into flour. Roasted groats are known as kasha. Buckwheat is high in protein and B vitamins and rich in phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, and lysine. A great source of dietary fiber, buckwheat helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood.

Growing up, I remember my grandmother serving buckwheat as a hot side dish along with some whole wheat farfalle (bow tie pasta). Ironically, buckwheat wasn’t exactly on the top of my favorite dishes until I’ve learned about other variations. A lot of people I know tend to serve buckwheat as a side dish which is fine. I’ve seen buckwheat being eaten as it is. Some people I know would also add some tomato sauce and cheese, or ground beef.

I know that I’m long overdue for a salad recipe. I do think buckwheat would make a great and nutritious addition to salads. I’m sure a lot of you discovered a variety of buckwheat salad recipes. I initially planned to make a buckwheat salad using apples,walnuts, and cinnamon. Instead, I’ve decided to make this salad more savory at the last minute. This salad can be eaten hot or cold. You can use produce outside  of which I provide on this recipe. I don’t like abiding by the letter of the law when it comes to cooking. That is why I tend to create my own variation.

 

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 2 cup of buckwheat
  2. 1 lemon zested and juiced
  3. 1 medium red onion chopped
  4. 2 medium carrots peeled and diced
  5. 3 plum tomatoes chopped and seeded
  6. 1 large ripe avocado pitted and chopped
  7. 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  8. 1 clove of garlic minced
  9. 1/4 cup of olive oil
  10. 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil
  11. 1 teaspoon of paprika
  12. Pinch of salt and pepper
  13. Handful of chopped parsley

Instructions

Add 4 cups water for every 2 cups buckwheat. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt in the water, bring it to a boil for a couple of minutes, then turn down to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Buckwheat is fully cooked when it is dry and fluffy. Do not stir the buckwheat while it is cooking.

Mix together the dressing by whisking the lemon zest and juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil,paprika, oil, salt, and pepper. The pinch salt will bring the oil and vinegar together. Add vegetables to the dressing bowl and toss. Once the buckwheat is cooked, add it to the bowl. Add parsley, give it one last toss, and serve.

Yields 4 servings

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

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shepards pie

Cooking a dish that both meat eaters and vegetarians will compromise on can be difficult.  I was once in a predicament where I hosted someone who neglected to mention that she was a celiac and a vegetarian. Normally, I would prepare something extra for my vegetarian guests but I was only informed about this at the least minute. Suffice to say, this poor girl did not have many options. I tried convincing her to eat some chicken so she wouldn’t starve throughout the entire meal but no avail. A guest leaving hungry is every hosts nightmare.

Most meat eaters I know are reluctant to try vegan dishes, especially those that require tofu. Tofu is persona non gratta  in my household.   We tend to eat vegetarian dishes during the week and save meat/chicken for the weekends,holidays, and special occasions. I generally prefer Shepherd’s pie made from ground meat. I one time ate a vegetarian version using ground soy beef. It didn’t work for me. I came across another version that even the meat-and-potato- types will appreciate. Like any other Sheppard’s pie, this vegetarian rendition is just as filling and plentiful. I made  a sweet potato puree for the topping.  I know people (some of whom are related to me) who have an aversion to sweet potatoes. I like the contrast of sweet and savory flavors combined. If you don’t, however, feel free to use red potatoes,Idaho potatoes, or rustic potatoes. Just omit the cinnamon and ground cloves factor. I used lentils in lieu of tofu.  While lentils need 45 minutes to cook, I suggest that you grant yourself some time to prepare for this dish.

As a professed red blood male and a carnivorous meat-eater (that bit was exaggerated although he does like his meat), my hubby gave this recipe a thumbs up. In fact, we had to refrain ourselves from eating this entire dish.  As we are in Holiday season,some of you may be hosting guests,friends, or family members with dietary restrictions. Even though, meat is traditionally served in most holidays, its nice to prepare something festive that  vegetarians and vegans will enjoy as well. After all, isn’t Holiday season all about being nice and accommodating?

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 3-4 large sweet potatoes peeled and diced
  2. 1/2  cup of soy,almond, rice or unsweetened coconut milk
  3. 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
  5. 1 cup of cooked brown or green lentils
  6. 1 cup of diced carrots
  7. 1 cup of diced celery
  8. 1 cup of chopped mushrooms
  9. 1 large onion chopped
  10. 2 cloves or garlic minced
  11. 1 cup of dry red wine
  12. 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  13. 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  14. 1 teaspoon of cumin
  15. 1 teaspoon of dried parsley
  16. Salt and pepper for taste

Instructions 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Place potatoes in a pot with water.   Bring to a boil on the stove top  then reduce heat to medium to the potatoes continue to simmer. Let the potatoes cooks for about 20 minutes till fork tender.Once the potatoes have been cooked, drain them and add the non dairy milk, cinnamon, and cloves. Using a masher or a hand blender, puree till smooth.  The puree should be a little watery. Set aside.  In a cast iron skillet  over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of  olive oil. Add in onions and saute till translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and mushrooms and cook for about 4 minutes util vegetables are fragrant and tender .  Season with salt,pepper,cayenne pepper,cumin, and parsley.  Add the lentils and stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Then pour in the wine.  Cook for another 10 minutes until liquid is reduced. Transfer vegetables to a 9 inch greased baking dish. Spread evenly sweet potato puree over vegetables.  Place the dish in the oven and let it bake for about 40 minutes till the tips of the potatoes turn golden brown. Increase heat at the end of cooking for more browning, if desired. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of chopped parsley on top of the pie to garnish. Serve hot.

Yields 8 servings

Cholesterol-Free Chocolate Mousse

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chocolate mousse

If you liked my Chocolate Lover’s Mousse recipe, you are in for a real treat. When I found out that there were healthier renditions I could use to make chocolate mousse while achieving the same consistency,  I was elated. I have an irresistible weakness for chocolate and mousse is one of my favorite desserts. Aside for its creaminess and rich flavors,  this chocolate mousse recipe does not require egg yolks nor additional creams or dessert whips.  Instead, I used soy milk. You can use non-fat dairy milk as well. I also added a bit or orange zest  as it will give this mousse a tangy flavor. I also used a bit of coffee and whiskey for some depth and richness. If you don’t like alcohol, you can leave the whiskey out. Some people like to also add walnuts to for that extra  crunch but I didn’t. I’ve been using this recipe ever since  I’ve learnt about it. This dessert is perfect for the health conscious (that doesn’t mean you should have 10 helpings in one day) and chocolate lovers like yours truly.  And its really simple to make. Serve this chocolate mousse along with some fresh cut-up strawberries or cherries.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 5-6 egg whites at room temperature
  2. 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  3. 2 teaspoons of sugar
  4. 1 cup of soy or non-fat dairy milk
  5. 1 16 oz bag of semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
  6. 1 tablespoon of coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons of boiling water
  7. 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  8. 1 teaspoon of whiskey (optional)

Instructions

Place chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Pour milk into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from stove ones the sides start to bubble bubble (5-10 minutes). Be care as not to not allow the milk to boil. Pour milk into chocolate chips. Let them sit for a minute or 2 before whisking. Add some coffee,orange zest, and whiskey and mix till well combined. Set aside to cool. The chocolate mixture will thicken as it cools off. In the meantime, place egg whites in a standing mixture with the whisk attachment and beat. As its whipping the egg whites,add the cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of sugar at a time. Beat till stiff peaks form.  Fold in meringue with the chocolate mixture. Lay out 5  or 6 ramekins on a tray. Scoop in each mousse filling evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 6 hours to overnight  in the refrigerator.

Yields 5-6 servings

Orange Glazed Tilapia

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tilapia

Its been a while since I’ve done an entry on fish. Fish dinners are one of my hubby’s favorite meals. Our tastes in fish differ. I tend to prefer salmon or sea bass whereas hubby is more partial towards tilapia. We switch off every week.  Not only are they tasty if made right, they are also known as brain food.  I borrowed this recipe from a chicken dish and it worked just as well with fish ( I’m a poet and didn’t even know it ;-). I used tilapia for this recipe  but you can also use salmon,halibut, or sole as well.Like most of my fish recipes, this dish is very easy to prepare and only requires few basic ingredients that most of you already have. This fish serves well with steamed vegetables,mashed potatoes, or whole grain rice. This is a meal for two but you can double the ingredients.

 

For this recipe, you will need:

  1.  2 pieces of tilapia
  2. 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  3. 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  4.  1 cup of fresh orange juice (no pulp)
  5. 1 teaspoon of  ginger root finely chopped
  6. 1 teaspoon of low-sodium soy sauce
  7. 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
  8. Salt and pepper for taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay out 2 pieces of tilapia in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, a bit of lime juice, and sprinkle some parsley,salt, and pepper. Bake  covered for 25 minutes.  As the fish is cooking, place orange juice,soy sauce,ginger, and garlic in a small sauce pan. Simmer on low-medium heat till reduced by a half a cup. Drizzle over tilapia and serve hot.

 

Yields 2 servings