Month: May 2014

Oven Baked Fish Sticks

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fish sticks

Fish sticks are very nostalgic for me for better or for worse. My kaleidoscopic memories of them jump from being served rubbery thawed frozen fish sticks for lunch at my school cafeteria to lazy Tuesday dinner nights where they were our last resort after when we couldn’t decide what we wanted for dinner. I guess those incidents are what partially turned me off from fish sticks. While I liked the convenience of heating up a package of frozen fish sticks without having to wait long, I paid for my laziness in other ways. I suppose not all shortcuts are worth taking. That is when I subconsciously decided to nix fish sticks until I recently ventured on making healthy fish sticks from scratch and it made all the difference in the world.

As someone who is health conscious, I am always in need of a healthy fix.  Commercial prepackaged frozen fish sticks always result in a mushy exterior while the fish is always soggy no matter how much you heat them. Moreover, they are laden with chemicals and artificial flavoring – you can actually taste them in every bite.  They were also incredibly greasy and just overall unappetizing.  That is why I quit the prepackaged frozen fish sticks and journeyed on healthy baked fish sticks recipes and ideas. I also decided to redeem a once favorite childhood finger food by making homemade fish sticks. Once again, my stubbornness, need of new fish recipe ideas and curiosity got in the way.

Like most things, making fish sticks is easy and quick. Once you tried this oven baked fish sticks recipe, you will never go back to that frozen soggy greasy disgrace for fish sticks.  I used hake but you can use any firm boneless white fish for this recipe such as cod, tilapia, or halibut.  Flounder results a more delicate fish stick that will fall apart.  The choice is yours. Unlike the garbage that we were accustomed to eating as kids, these healthy baked fish sticks guarantee a crispy breadcrumb exterior and a buttery moist  fish inside without the chemicals or the deep frying.  Finger food is always accompanied by a condiment of sort. Chili sauce is my choice but you can use your favorite condiment.  Kid-friendly and fun to make, these healthy baked fish sticks serve perfectly with oven baked potato wedges or roasted vegetables.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 lbs of cod fillets, tilapia, hake, flounder, or halibut cut into 1 inch strips
  2. Juice from 1 small lemon
  3. 2 large egg whites
  4. 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  5. 1 teaspoon of parsely flakes
  6. 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  7. 1/8 teaspoon of paprika
  8. 1/8 teaspoon of ground pepper
  9. 1 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs or panko crumbs (you can use grounded nuts or corn flakes for a gluten-free option)
  10. Cooking spray

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450°F and adjust the rack to the center position. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with oil. Combine all ingredients  in a shallow small bowl except for fish and bread crumbs.  Working with a few pieces of fish at a time, dip the fish in the wet mixture then coat all the sides with bread crumbs.  Spray the top with cooking spray and bake for 12-15 minutes or until crisp and cooked through.

Yieds 4 servings

 

Oven Grilled Shish Kebabs

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shish kabobs

Having been exposed to the Middle Eastern culinary culture, I am ashamed to admit that I nearly forgot about shish kebabs. It nearly would have never occurred to me to make shish kebabs until hubby recently mentioned that he had a hankering for them. Otherwise, the notion would have never surfaced. Reflecting back on that thought makes me wonder why the thought of learning how to make shish kabobs has never entered my mind even once after all these years of eating schwarmah, hummus, harif, pita, and falafel. I knew I was leaving something out but I couldn’t remember what it was. I suppose shish kebabs have unintentionally sat in the back seat for a while as it has been years since I’ve last eaten one. I only remember eating one at a Middle Eastern themed restaurant a while back when I was around 10. I nearly forgot how good they were.  I am thankful that he requested for them as it was indeed a good idea in hindsight.

So what is a shish kebab? A shish kebab is a skewer with meat and vegetable that is normally grilled. It’s practically a meal on a stick. It consists of beef, chicken fish, as well as vegetables such as onions, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant.  Shish kebab comes from a Turkish term that translates as skewer and roasted meat – a signature Turkish dish.  Kebabs back then were a solution for nomadic tribes. A shish kebab marinade was not only used to tenderize the meat but to also neutralize the gamey flavor in some of them. Nowadays, the shish kebab has entered into most cultures in some form or another. For instance, Asian cultures have satay, roasted skewered meats served with a peanut dipping sauce. Yakitori, a Japanese version, is essentially skewered grilled fowl. Shish kebabs are also known as brochettes in France which literally means skewers. 

For a medium-rare cook on your meat, it is recommended that you use wooden skewers instead of metal skewers metal has the tendency to absorb heat more. Understandingly, getting splinters in your mouth from eating the kebabs right off the skewer doesn’t sound pleasant. Fortunately for me, I never had that problem even though I can sometimes be clumsy when eating using my hands. If you don’t like the idea behind using a skewer, you can just pan-fry the ingredients and stuff them in a pita or laffa once they’ve been cooked.

Shish kebabs are a perfect choice for a family/social gathering or a barbecue. The versatility of shish kebabs allows you to use any combination of ingredients of your choice to please the palate. While meat is an integral part of shish kebabs, you can create your own vegetarian version for this shish kebab recipe by exclusively using vegetables or vegan chicken/beef.  Shish kebabs can be prepared in advance, making it a crowd pleaser for your guests while simultaneously keeping you out of the kitchen. I used chili sauce among other condiments and spices for my shish kebab marinade but feel free to let your imagination run wild with your own marinade.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs of sirloin or flank steak cut into bite-sized cubes
  2. Onion cut into bite-sized pieces
  3. 2 peppers chopped
  4. 8 oz of button mushrooms
  5. 1 eggplant cut into bite-sized squares
  6. Cherry tomatoes
  7. 1 cup of sweet and spicy chili sauce
  8. 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  9. 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  10. 1 teaspoon of cumin
  11. 1 teaspoon of paprika
  12. 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  13. 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
  14. 1/3 teaspoon of turmeric
  15. Salt and pepper for taste
  16. Skewers

Instructions

Combine the last  9 ingredients with the meat in a bowl. Cover and marinate for several hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Thread meat, alternating with the vegetables, onto skewers.  Place an oven-proof cooling rack on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place shish kebabs on a rack and bake for 15 minutes for medium doneness. 

Yields 6 servings

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Red Berry Smoothie

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red berry smoothie

Berry smoothie recipes are on the top of my favorite smoothies. Smoothies basically constitute my breakfast. Sometimes I will whip up a berry smoothie protein shake after an intense workout. Smoothies have been my to-go quick breakfast for a while.  Fruit oriented smoothies usually consists of bananas and frozen berries.  This time, though, I exclusively wanted berries.  There are many thrifty ways of learning how to make a healthy breakfast using frozen berry recipes. Red berry smoothie is the only recipe that seems most feasible to me.

Smoothies are a healthy way to make most of the berry season with one glass of berry goodness.  Those who know me well can vouch for my compulsive berry noshing.  Fresh berries are a treat for me; I can’t ever have enough of them.  Aside for their amazing combination of sweet and tart flavors, berries are low in calories, high in fiber, and they contain vitamins and minerals your body needs to function normally. So think twice before complaining to me about overstocking on berries.

Until recently, I never gave much of a thought of learning how to make a healthy breakfast. I normally relied on a bowl of cereal and milk to keep me energized without reviewing the nutrition facts. Consequently, I would experience a frequent sugar crash. I didn’t entirely cut cereal out but I had to part ways with certain brands.  Until I moved overseas, I have been living off of Kashi cereal brands. Unfortunately, they are not available where I live. It was either oatmeal or smoothies and I don’t always have the patience or the time to cook oatmeal. Additionally, oatmeal has the tendency to leave me feeling bloated and I don’t wish to jumpstart my morning with a case of gastritis.

Food for thought, red berries offer a higher concentration of antioxidants than most other foods, and summertime is the prime time to indulge in these red gems. This red berry smoothie recipe is a great way of using fresh or frozen berries and creating a smoothie that not only has strong impact of flavors but is nutritious for you and easy to make.   I nearly forgot to mention that they are super filling and can keep me fueled till lunchtime.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 cup of frozen strawberries
  2. 1/2 cup of  frozen raspberries
  3. 1/2 cup of frozen pitted cherries
  4. 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice or milk of your choice

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth. Serve chilled.

Yields 2-4 servings

 

 

 

Vegetable Risotto

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vegetable rissoto

Apart from making various sauces, leftover vegetable soups can be used in lieu of vegetable broth for making risotto, as I recently discovered. Everyone has their own little invention; I have my own. I normally manage to finish leftovers but for some reason, I underestimated the quantity of vegetable soup I made a couple dinners ago. Not wanting to have soup for the third time nor wanting to dispose of it, I was lost for ideas until I nearly forgot I had a surplus of risotto nesting comfortably in my dark pantry. Growing tired of serving vegetable and rice with fish, I concocted a new risotto recipe idea.  I simply put leftover vegetable soup and risotto together and voilà:  behold the vegetable risotto.  Without trying to be presumptuous, sometimes an empty growling stomach invokes creative cooking ideas.  All it takes is an empty stomach, boredom, and some wheels spinning in my head (and accessible ingredients) and I’ve already created a meal in no time with very little effort.

If you already know how to make risotto, then you know how time consuming and fussy it can be. In actuality, however, it only takes approximately 20 minutes to cook.  I used leftover vegetable soup and didn’t even bother to strain the vegetables.  Cooking with risotto is more of a technique than a side-dish. Once you get a basic understanding and feel for cooking risotto, you can create a dish that is very satisfying, easy to prepare, and doesn’t fail to impress family members and guests alike.  Once you develop the confidence in cooking with risotto, do not be afraid to experiment or apply your own technique once you have followed the basic steps.

I feel that the vegetables makes this risotto a more hearty side-dish.  While risotto is a side-dish that has become associated with swanky high end restaurants,  it is the epitome of Italian comfort food.  An easy risotto recipe is not as elusive as you may think.  There is a myriad of risotto recipes and ideas to indulge in and not just your standard mushroom or pea risotto. To turn this vegetable risotto recipe into a meal, you can add cheese, leftover pieces of chicken, beef, or even tofu.  I once made risotto pudding when I didn’t have rice in the house and it spoke for itself.  Whether you are looking for a comforting midweek dinner idea or an elegant dinner party appetizer, this vegetable risotto recipe is a guaranteed winner. I know this may seem like an overused cliche to you but I wouldn’t be publishing a defective recipe.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 onion chopped
  2. 2 cloves of garlic minced
  3. 1 1/2 – 2 cups of aborio rice
  4. 3/4 cup of dry white wine
  5. 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  6. 6-8 cups of leftover vegetable soup
  7. 1 cup of cheese (optional)
  8. Salt and pepper for taste

Instructions

Heat leftover vegetable soup in a sauce pan over low heat.  Heat olive oil  in a large shallow skillet. Add onion and garlic and saute till fragrant. Add rice and saute for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and stir constantly until fully absorbed. Add one ladle of vegetable soup with the vegetables in them a time and stir until soup is absorbed. Continue this process for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is al dente. Remove from heat.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Yields 6 servings

 

 

Spicy Orange Glazed Tempeh

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orange glazed tempeh

Just when I thought I was a food encyclopedia, my knowledge was challenged when I first met tempeh. It was a real low blow for me. I am having my midday drama flare. While I am indeed a foodie, I still have a lot to learn. I am in the toddler stages of learning how to cook vegan dishes apart from side dishes, soups, and salads. Until recently, I never heard of tempeh.

When I was first introduced to tempeh, it didn’t sound any more appealing to me than tofu. But I have seen people cook with tempeh and boast about it so I felt inclined to try. I would like to thank some of the food bloggers here who have cooked with tempeh for the inspiration. If it weren’t for you, I would never have bothered to muster up the courage nor appetite to try some for myself.

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and is a staple in Indonesian cuisine. It has a firm texture, nutty flavor, and considered to be a more nutritious way to consume soy than tofu. It’s rich in fiber, fatty acids, protein, minerals, and vitamins. Like tofu, tempeh is perfect in a stir fry, crumbled in stews or soups, marinated, and fan fried.  Whatever the instance, tempeh requires slicing or breaking down into smaller pieces prior to cooking. For this particular tempeh recipe, I sliced my tempeh into neat rectangles rather than cooking it whole.

Tempeh is very versatile and can be prepared and cooked in many ways. I initiallty thought about making smoky tempeh but then I opted for more of an Asian flavor.  I created a simple sweet and tangy orange glaze. This orange glazed tempeh recipe is similar to that of my orange chicken recipe with a slight difference in technicality. This dish serves well with rice or steamed greens and is perfect Meatless Monday vegan dinner idea which works out well for me since I seldom eat meat during the week

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 8 ounce package of tempeh cut into rectangles or 3/4-inch cubes
  2. Juice from 2-3 juicing oranges
  3. 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar
  4. 3-4 teaspoons of reduced sodium soy sauce
  5. 1 small chili pepper minced
  6. 2 cloves of garlic minced
  7. 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger
  8. 1 tablespoon of vegetable, olive, or sesame oil
  9. 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  10. 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or scallions

Instructions

Whisk orange juice, maple syrup, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and coriander in a small shallow bowl. Boil tempeh in a pot of unsalted water for 10 minutes ; drain and pat dry. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tempeh and brown on both sides.  Pour in orange juice mixture and simmer until the liquid is a thick and syrupy glaze. Serve tempeh over rice or steamed vegetables. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or scallions.

Yields 4 servings

 

 

Trans Fat Free Margarine

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margarine

Butter and margarine have been perpetually competing with each other over prime space at supermarkets in effort to win consumership from customers.  But which item is considered to be more heart healthy? Trans fat free margarine- vegetable oil spreads are more preferable above margarine and butter. The reason for this lies within the different types of fat found in both margarine and fat. Made from animal fats, butter is high in artery-clogging saturated fats. On the other hand, margarine  is gerneally made with vegetable oil and therefore contains  polyunsaturated fat.  Even though margarine has less saturated fat content than butter, the lard varieties such as stick margarine has high trans fat content.

Trans fat is nearly impossible to avoid. They are mostly found in processed and commercial goods. What arre trans fats then? Trans fats are manufactured by hydrogenation, a process in which vegetable oils are transformed into solid fats. Trans fats are used in cookies, crackers, and pasteries to improve the flavor and texture of these goods as well as to prevent them from going stale quickly.  Akin to saturated fats, trans fats have been shown to raise LDL cholesterol but can lower  levels of HDL cholesterol as well.  According to many studies, trans fat can increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.  Likewise, transfats are considered to the worst type of fats and should be avoided.

I use margarine a lot in my baking. I was elated to discover trans fat-free alternatives.  Learning how to make homemade margarine from scratch wasn’t difficult either. It’s certainly preferable to the oft-maligned version. As someone who has been monitering my cholesterol level for quite some time, I can never be too careful. Although margarine still has a second class status in the cooking world, more people are using it twice as much as they do butter. When making this vegan butter, it is no more high-tech than it was when it was first made back in 1869 by the French – a mixture of solid and liquid fats, emulsified by hand, but not as labor intensive nor nerve racking as making hollandaise sauce.  But don’t just take my word for it. This homemade dairy-free margarine recipe  is so easy to make, its is a delicious substitute to store-bought vegan margarines. You can modify the taste by adding herbs or spices of your choice. Remember, it won’t harden as much as it doesn’t contain hydrogenates or trans fats.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 tablespoon of water or coconut oil
  2. 1/2 cup of olive oil
  3. 1/2 cup of corn oil or vegetable oil
  4. 1/2 cup of coconut milk (I used soy milk)
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  6. Dash of turmeric (optional)

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a food processor using a plastic blade. Blend on medium-high speed until ingredients are well incorporated and mixture has thickened. Pour mixture into a 2 cup shallow container and freeze for several hours or overnight.  Remove margarine from freezer at least 10 minutes before use.  Store in freeze for about a month.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

 

Raw Snickers Bars

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snickers

No matter how hard I try to be consistent in regards to healthy eating, fighting my insatiable cravings for chocolate is a hopeless and futile agenda. I don’t even bother to care most of the time. It’s a losing battle.  That doesn’t mean I’m constantly stuffing myself silly with chocolate confections. But the notion of having an allergy to chocolate would almost be apocalyptic, heaven forbid. Considering how I make and serve chocolate treats weekly, I am not concerned about that at the moment. I could only compromise on so many treats. I am not ready to surrender my love for chocolate yet. Thankfully, there are so many ways to make chocolate treats tasty and healthy.  I always welcome healthier alternatives for the sake of my teeth, waistline, and strong adversity to processed “goods” which have been persona non grata in my pantry.  Just because I won’t buy these commercial treats doesn’t mean I won’t attempt to make them myself.  Snickers bars are no exception.

Snickers bars come in second place to peanut butter cups on my list of favorite chocolate treats.  The combination chocolate and caramel wins me over almost every time. Nothing beats sweet and savory in one bite.  At first, I was skeptical about the idea behind healthy snickers bars.  It almost seemed like an oxymoron considering that the ingredients in snickers bars consist of corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors; ingredients I try to avoid consuming in any possible way I can.  Vegan snickers bars seemed most tangible to my dietary needs.  If I could make homemade chocolate peanut butter cups from scratch, then I can only imagine how simple making homemade raw snickers bars would be.  Words don’t even begin to describe the elation I felt when I learned that not only making healthy snickers bars was possible, but is as easy as well.

Veganizing snickers bars almost seems like an abomination. The flavors of these raw snickers bars are just as sinful but I feel that I would be doing a lot of injustice to myself by eating the commercial bought version. While these raw snicker bars may seem like an overly-simplified way to make nougat for a candy bar, it works 100 percent for me as it will for you. The heroes of this candy bar are the caramel made from dates, peanuts (I used pecans) and dark chocolate coating anyway – this simply adds a healthier, not-too-sweet base to bind all the goods together.  Sugar-free and gluten-free,  these vegan homemade raw snickers bars are loaded with only all-natural ingredients and plenty of fiber therefore you don’t have to worry about the hidden sugars and unhealthy fats. The results are so decedent that you won’t miss the processed version. I do plead guilty to eating processed snacks occasionally but I no longer have to worry about binging on them now that I’ve learned how to recreate a healthier version.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 cup of peanut or almond butter
  2. 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey
  3. 1 cup of hazelnut or almond flour
  4. 2 tablespoons of vegetable or coconut oil
  5. 1 tablespoon of low-fat milk of your choice
  6. 1/4 teaspoon of  salt
  7.  1/2 – 1 cup of caramel sauce
  8. 1/3 cup of chopped peanuts, walnuts, or pecans
  9. 16 onces of bitter or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  10. 4 tablespoons of trans-fat free margarine

Instructions

For ther nougat base, combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl. Then press the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and use your hands to create a uniform rectangle shape that is about 1/2-inch thick. Place in the freezer to set. Once firm, distribute caramel sauce evenly.  Sprinkle chopped nuts over the top of the caramel layer, and use your hands to gently press the chopped nuts into the caramel filling. Freeze for another 30 minutes to set.  Melt chocolate chips with margarine in a microwave or double boiler. Remove candy bars from freezer and slice into 6 or 8 full size bars.  Coat each bar from top to bottom with a spoonful of melted chocolate. Return bars to freezer and allow them to freeze for another 15-20 minutes before serving. The longer these bars freeze, the firmer they become.

Yields 6-8 snickers bars