Friday, February 29, 2008

What's In My Fridge III?

We are seriously down to bare bones - my current potential ingredient list includes a container of black olives that smell a bit funky, a frozen pork tenderloin, a couple of different types of leftover cheese, some sad-looking celery and parsley and a smidge of skim milk. I have been determined this week to save money and not hit up the grocery store every day, but its almost time. I'm running out of ideas. Last night might have been my final glory using only items from my kitchen. So, with that, I give you the 3rd installment of What's in my fridge....

Tortellini & Vegetable Soup
Note: this ingredient list is not, by any means, a must-follow. Feel free to delete, add, replace whatever you like. Except maybe the broth, onion and garlic :)

~ 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
5 carrots, cut into small coins
2 stalks of celery, diced
~ 1 cup frozen corn
~ 1 cup frozen lima beans
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
2 plum tomatoes, diced
~ 5 small yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (I used whatever I had - a bit of oregano or even basil would be fine too)
~ 1/2 package dried tri-color cheese tortellini (~ 3/4 cup)
~ 6 cups homemade vegetable broth (canned/boxed is fine)
~ 1 cup crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt/freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a stockpot/dutch oven on medium heat; add garlic and onion and cook until soft. Add the rest of the vegetables as you chop them, stirring each time to combine all ingredients. Add chopped thyme (or other herb).

2. Once all the vegetables & beans have been incorporated, let cook for about 5-7 minutes, until vegetables have released a small amount of their liquid and are looking less raw (real strict directions, eh?)

3. Add broth and crushed tomatoes; bring to a boil and than reduce for a simmer. Cook until vegetables are almost tender. Add dried pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente (with dried tortellini, try one to make sure cheese is cooked through).

4. Add salt and pepper to taste (amount of salt will depend on what type of broth you use). Serve with grated parmesan/romano cheese and some good crusty bread or croutons.

To see what I whipped up for the first two installments of What's in my fridge?...just click :)

What's in my fridge I - Garlic & Caramelized Onion Potato Parmesan Triangles
What's in my fridge II - Fresh Asian Chicken Salad in Wonton Cups

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beef Barley Soup

I'm laughing that I'm posting a beef-filled soup after my post on how we are going to eat less meat! But, actually, this is one of my favorite winter soups. I don't make it too often because cutting up the meat into the size pieces I prefer is definitely a chore, but it is super delicious and worth the effort. Its perfect for any fall or winter day and definitely a crowd pleaser. I've been meaning to post this for a few weeks now, so without further ado, here is the next installment of my soup arsenal.

Beef Barley Soup (adapted from Cooking Light, January 2005)

Cooking spray
~ 2 pounds beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into small pieces (larger pieces will take longer to become really soft; I prefer pretty small pieces, about 1/2 - 1 inch, but whatever you like will work)
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cups chopped leek (about 4 medium; tips for cleaning here)
2 cups chopped carrot
1-2 cups quartered mushrooms (any kind works great)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
~4 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped (dried thyme also works fine)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
2 (14-ounce) cans beef or vegetable broth (I usually use my homemade vegetable stock which has a nice rich flavor)
1 cup uncooked pearl barley

1. Coat pan with cooking spray and heat over medium-high. Add a portion of the beef (don't crowd the pan or else it won't brown), cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining beef. Remove beef from pan.

2. Heat canola oil in soup pot/dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add leek, carrot, mushrooms and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Return beef to pan. Add water and remaining ingredients, except barley. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer approximately 1 hour (the cooking time is different every time I make it). When the beef is almost ready (soft) and the broth is tasty, add barley; cook 30 minutes or until beef and barley are tender. Don't forget to remove bay leaves before serving!

I know the photos make the soup look more like a stew... I took them the following day and a lot of the broth got sucked up by the barley - just add a bit more vegetable broth to bring it back to its "soup" form or eat it like a stew. Works great both ways.

A New Attitude...

So, our house is making a small overhaul in terms of our weekly mealplan. Currently we eat a variety of mostly heart-healthy fats (olive oil, peanut butter, etc), vegetables, fruits, whole grains (I've been slowly making the switch from white to wheat), and primarily lean proteins such as chicken, ground turkey or pork and legumes. We don't eat any offal (although I do enjoy Chris Cosentino's informative and funny blog) or a lot of red meat - maybe some form of beef (london broil, stew, steak) about once every two weeks (for home meals, a bit more if we are eating out a lot) and we eat virtually no ground beef.

In the last few months, I have been trying to make more vegetarian meals for two reasons: 1) I have issues with the handling & slaughtering of farm animals. Have you seen this video on cheap meat (warning - its not pretty)? and 2) I feel that diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with a mix of non-animal protein and some lean animal protein is much healthier than a diet high in red meat (for us :), not trying to tell others what is good/bad for their family).

I'm definitely not against eating meat - as I said - we eat meat (including fish), but I feel like cutting down and purchasing high-quality meat (check out this information about humane standards) is really the way to go for us. Better for us, better for the animals, better for the environment.

Anyway...the point of all this (finally, right?) is - we have decided to make it official and have at least one vegetarian night per week (usually more like 2 per week) and one fish night. So, say hello to Sunday Fish Nights (check out these guidelines from Seafood Watch about sustainable fisheries) and Monday Vegetarian Nights! We are excited - I think dedicating a specific day/night to this will make it fun to find and try new recipes and we will be more likely to actually stick to it. Of course, its not like we can't trade off for a Tuesday or Thursday and the sky will fall down on us or anything :)

I'll try to blog as many of these nights as I can so be on the look-out for new, healthy ideas! Feel free to pass along any good recipes!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Simple & Light Ranch Dip

Good Morning! I have a bunch of great posts for this weekend :) The first is a great, easy ranch dip/dressing that I made last week. I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for a good dip - I have found it difficult to get really good flavor with a homemade dip, constantly forcing me to rely on hummus. Not that hummus is a bad thing (we love it!), but life needs some variety, right? Plus, my husband loves any kind of dip - ranch, hummus, dill, cheese, oil, whatever.

This dip/dressing is out of the latest issue of Everday food - a great magazine for easy recipes and fast weeknight meal ideas. If you can believe it, this dip actually tastes like ranch dressing! Not from a jar, doesn't have a ton of preservatives and other chemical crap, and its light! Try it out sometime; we served the dip with kirby cucumber, celery hearts, and toasted pita chips. I think grape tomatoes or radishes would be a great addition to the platter too. It is also perfect as salad dressing or sandwich condiment.

Light Ranch Dip/Dressing (Everyday Food Magazine)

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup light mayo
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 scallions, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Season to taste. Store in the refrigerator.

When you add the scallions - go slowly. I prefer a little lighter onion taste, so I didn't use the entire recommended amount. I also used a bit more dill. I usually edit the ingredient amounts in my posts to show exactly what I did, but for this, I didn't because I think its definitely a personal taste sort of thing :) Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Heart Tart

When I saw Zorra's "A heart for your Valentine" event - I just had to participate! After all, I did already profess my love for Valentine's Day (and all other holidays, for that matter :).

This event calls for sweet or savory recipes that are either heart-shaped or heart-decorated. I don't have a heart tart pan, so I went the heart-decorated route. The result is a Bittersweet Chocolate & Berry Cheesecake Tartlet - What do you think?

And...get this - its not that fattening! I love to make cheesecake and frequently make all different versions, but have never tried the low-fat cream cheese. I had saved this recipe awhile back and decided to give it a whirl for the filling - but change up the crust and toppings just a bit. I much prefer to make smaller, individual desserts, rather than large cakes or tarts because it is just Tim and myself in the house and we never finish the larger desserts. Plus, individuals look so cute and are perfect for a romantic Valentine's Day Dinner!

Bittersweet Chocolate & Berry Cheesecake Tartlets
(adapted from Everyday Food)

Note: I made 3 tartlets, but had enough batter to make about 3 or 4 more - the original recipe calls for a regular 9-inch tart pan. You could also use a mini-cheesecake pan - I would just make the original amount of batter (or half it) the first time to get a better handle on how much you need for whatever pan you would like to use. Then just watch the oven - the baking time will need to be adjusted.

~ 1 cup chocolate cookies
1/3 cup almonds
3/4 cups sugar, separated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 bars (8 ounces each) reduced-fat cream cheese @ room temperature
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch salt
Berries (for decorating tart tops - I used a combination of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries)
Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)
Bittersweet chocolate, melted (a few ounces should be fine - but that depends on how many tarts you make and how decorative you would like them to be!)


For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, grind cookies, almonds, and 1/4 cup sugar until finely ground; add butter, and process until moistened. If you find that your crumbs are too wet or too dry, add either more chocolate cookies/wafers or more butter. Transfer to removable-bottom tart pan(s). Using the base of a dry measuring cup (and your fingers!), press mixture firmly into the bottom and up sides of pan. Freeze at least 15 minutes.

For the filling: Clean food processor. Place cream cheese, sour cream, 1/2 cup sugar, egg, vanilla, and salt in food processor; blend until smooth. Place tart pan(s) on a rimmed baking sheet; fill with cheesecake mixture. Bake until filling is just set, approximately 23 minutes for my little tarts (the original recipe recommends ~30 to 35 minutes for larger tarts). Transfer tart pan(s) to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, refrigerate until cold.

For the decorations! Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fill a piping bag with melted chocolate. The piping bag should have a very small round tip attached so you can write/draw words, shapes or in this case, HEARTS! Pipe out hearts - I did heart outlines and filled hearts - on the parchment. I cooled mine in the freezer so they would harden quickly.

Use berries (I patted mine dry first with paper towels to remove excess juice [I had to use frozen berries because they are out of season here]) to make two concentric circles around the edge of the tarts. Once the chocolate hearts are hard, use them to decorate the center of the tart - I pushed mine into the cheesecake and left a few around the outside of the plate. Dust the top of the tart with confectioner's sugar and EAT!

The full round-up of entries can be found here!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oatmeal Cookie Update

I love oatmeal cookies! Do you like them with raisins or without? I'm definitely in the without raisins camp - pretty much the only dried fruit that I don't like. I'm also super particular about my oatmeal cookies in general and I will only use one recipe - the original Vanishing Oatmeal Cookie from Quaker Oats. I often update the recipe by adding different ingredients - toffee, chocolate chips, walnuts, peanut butter chips, etc. instead of the raisins (you can really add whatever you like).

I decided to make a quick batch with a little Valentine's appeal for my grandparents - the outcome was Pecan, Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. They were so delicious and super easy to whip up in no time at all.

Pecan, Cranberry, & White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups uncooked oats
1/2 - 3/4 cup dried cranberries (apricots or cherries would be great too)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (if your pecans are not roasted already, you might consider roasting them quickly in the pan before mixing them in - it will bring out the flavor)
1/2 - 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

Note: The amounts for the mix-ins are very general, add as much or as little as you like - the more you add in, the more lumpy your cookies will be. You will also stretch the dough and make more cookies. Coconut would also be wonderful here.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a 2nd bowl.

2. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined dry ingredients and mix well. Add oats, cranberries, white chocolate chips and pecans and mix until fully combined (Note: if you are using a mixer, make sure you add the last step [oats, cranberries, chips, etc.] by hand or else you risk chopping them up).

3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

4. Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown. I like mine with just a hint of brown (a little chewy inside) - if you like them crisper, bake a minute or two longer. This recipe makes about 4 dozen - I always bake a test sheet first to figure out exactly how long I need to cook them as they come out a little different each time.

5. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets, then move to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

I just mailed these cookies to my grandparents - I used an air-tight, plastic, sort-of cheesy heart-decorated container to hold the cookies and lined it with glassine paper. I know I have mentioned this stuff before - but it is so great. The glassine paper is basically food-safe wax paper - it doesn't get greasy at all and comes in so many great colors.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Recycled & Natural

I'm a recent convert to recycled paper products and natural cleaning products - meaning that now I'm really trying to not buy household paper goods (paper towels, bathroom tissue, tissues, etc.) that are not at least partially composed of post-consumer waste or cleaning products that have harsh chemicals in them. In my regular grocery store, "green" products are definitely a bit more expensive, which can make it difficult to fit into your regular budget. You can get a better deal at a store like Target (where you can buy Method products), but I just bought a bunch of Seventh Generation products online for a better price than the regular, non-recycled products in the store. I'm so pumped!

If you are skeptical about the good buying recycled products can do, read this article from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Not only will you be saving some trees, but your house will be free of dyes and chemicals!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A is for Asparagus

Or Aphrodisiac...

Now I know a lot of you out there seem to dislike Valentine's Day (from what I've been reading anyway) because its too "commercial" or too "fake;" however, I choose to celebrate this holiday for its many virtues. I mean, red, pink, hearts, chocolate, love - what's not to like? In our house, we love any excuse to celebrate and definitely don't think of it as a day where we are required to buy gifts or be thoughtful - we like to!

I usually like to make a fancy dinner or dessert on Valentine's Day, instead of going out. For example, last year I made Tim a full box of homemade truffles and candies as a gift and he mastered the art of filet mignon for our dinner. It was great - really fun to try and make restaurant-worthy meals at home. I hope to post a few Valentine's ideas this weekend for anyone looking for something new and exciting to make.

Anyway, I saw a great event going on over at Mele Cotte - Kitchen of Love - a round-up of recipes featuring ingredients known to be aphrodisiacs! How great is that? Here is my contribution - Phyllo-wrapped Roasted Asparagus - absolutely delicious and a definite aphrodisiac (or so says my husband - although I think he is just trying to get me to make them again :). These make a great appetizer for any party!

Phyllo-wrapped Roasted Asparagus

Phyllo dough, thawed
Prosciutto (very thinly sliced)
Asparagus (ends trimmed)
Extra virgin olive oil
Canola oil spray
Grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt/pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Drizzle olive oil over asparagus and season with salt/pepper. Roll around asparagus to make sure they are equally covered in the oil and seasoning.

3. Set up your phyllo dough. Cut each sheet of dough into 4 pieces (one cut in the horizontal direction and one cut in the vertical direction to make 4 rectangles).

4. Prepare prosciutto - tear each slice into a few pieces (you only need a small piece for each asparagus). Wrap a small piece of prosciutto around the center of the asparagus and then wrap up in the phyllo. The prosciutto should be covered but the ends of the asparagus should still be visible.

5. Put spears on parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray lightly with canola oil spray (or other cooking spray) and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Bake about 15 minutes or until browned and crispy. Enjoy!

"Summer" Corn & Bean Soup

I have a secret. It's time to let it out - I am a self-proclaimed soup fanatic, especially during the winter months. I mean, what's better than soup? You can't deny soup its rightful place in the winter food line-up - usually low-calorie (I tend not to make cream-based soups), easy, one-pot, leaves lots of leftovers, hearty and reasonably cheap to make! I've decided to break out and share my soup arsenal with the world :)

I have already made a few soups/stews on this blog - check out these links:

Onto the soup at hand -- winter is definitely not the best time to make this dish. But,...I had a craving for it and it turned out great even though corn is not in season right now. The recipe hails from Cooking light originally, but after making it for the last few years, I have made quite a few changes. Oh yeah, I know the photograph really features the cornbread - I made that too, but it was just a basic recipe so I'm not posting it (feel free to email me if you are interested :).

Summer Corn and Bean Soup (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup diced sweet onion
2 thick slices of ham, diced
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained (sometimes, I add a bit more if I have them hanging around the house)
1 can chick peans, rinsed and drained
Chicken or vegetable broth (approximately 2-3 cups)
Dash of chili powder
Shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese (for topping)

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and ham, and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is softened.

2. Stir in corn and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer approximately 15-20 minutes or until thoroughly heated and combined. If the soup is too thick, add more broth.

3. Use imersion blender to blend the soup to desired consistency. I tend to leave mine a bit chunky.

4. Serve with cheese or sour cream, if desired. Enjoy!