Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Colorful Lunch that Stays Faithful to the Half-Plate Rule

We recently purchased our first electric pressure cooker. I used to have a stovetop model which I didn't use much for fear it would explode. But, inspired by a good friend's tales of effortless stews, we decided to try the high-tech kind of pressure cooker. Our debut was rice, beans, and greens. We had picked up a package of some kind of gourmet italian dry beans for a dollar at a warehouse liquidation sale for an online artisanal food product store. I got some andouille sausage and a bag of fresh southern greens from Trader Joe's figuring we could make an easy southern supper. Gretchen's recipe for pressure-cooker rice, beans, and greens makes eleven 1-cup servings, which come in at 5 weight watchers points each. Topped with your favorite hot sauce, they are a scrumptious and healthy thing to combine with a salad, another vegetable dish, or a piece of meat or fish for a filling meal. For lunch today, I grabbed a one-cup serving of rice, beans, and greens from the freezer (we divided into servings and froze in foil packets), and then made a vegetable dish consisting of the following items thrown together with a little black pepper: frozen spinach, frozen roasted corn kernels, roasted red peppers, and one ounce of feta cheese. This comes in at 3 weight watchers points (2 for the cheese, one for the corn). The result was a filling and colorful meal for a mere 8 points. For our earlier southern supper, we made a different vegetable side that was also quite yummy: baby zucchini (available from trader joe's, steamed in the bag) with roasted corn kernels and a sauce made from reduced balsamic vinegar with some butter and salt whisked in.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mango Red Pepper Slaw - 0 points

Here's a sweet, savory, and spicy afternoon snack or protein accompaniment that you can enjoy for ZERO weight watchers points:

1 ripe mango
1/2 large red bell pepper
1/2 small red onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 jalapeno
1/2 juicy lime
1/4 cup cilantro
salt to taste

Slice bell pepper into thin strips and toss them in a bowl. Thinly slice onions and finely chop jalapeno and add to bowl. Coarsely chop cilantro, and dice mango and add to bowl. Squeeze a half a juicy lime over and add cumin and salt, and toss. Done!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Southerwestern Pasta & Cauliflower Casserole

This is sort of a version of mac and cheese, but Trader Joe's did not have whole wheat macaroni. Therefore, it is a whole wheat penne casserole. Mark Bittman has a mac and cheese recipe in Food Matters where you use pureed cauliflower instead of milk. This recipe borrows form that, and from my mom's recipe, and adds chili powder, corn, pasillas, and zucchini. This recipe made a bunch of extra cheese sauce, which can be enjoyed over pasta or vegetables -- or you can double the vegetables and pasta and make a bigger mac and cheese. I also suggest adding some sausage or ham if you eat meat.

4 oz whole wheat penne, cooked
2 pasilla chiles, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ear sweet corn
1 bunch chives, chopped finely
1 cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water
5 small zucchini, chopped
2 cups baby spinach
1 head cauliflower, stem and leaves removed
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 cup panko
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded
1 tbsp chili powder
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add cauliflower, breaking up the florets. This will boil for about 25 minutes until it is really soft.

In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in another pan and add pasillas and garlic. Sautee until soft, then add zucchini and corn kernels. If the bottom of the pan begins to brown add a little vegetable broth and scrape up the brown bits. Let these vegetables continue cooking until they are cooked through but not soft, and remove from the heat.

When cauliflower is soft, combine cauliflower, cheddar cheese, grated onion, sundried tomatoes, vegetable broth, and almond milk and puree. In a saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter and then add the flour. Stir flour and butter together until well combined. Add a portion of the puree, using a whisk to incorporate the flour. Add the rest of the puree, the chili powder, black pepper, salt if desired, and spinach, and stir. Let simmer for several minutes, adding more almond milk or broth if you prefer a thinner sauce.

Preheat oven to 400. Mix together penne, vegetables, and puree in a lasagna pan. If you're not worried about points, sautee the panko in butter before scattering it across the top. If you are, forget the butter and just scatter it. Top with parmesan shreds and pop in the oven for 25 minutes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spicy Eggplant Parmesan

Last night, I was on a mission to cook something from scratch. In our efforts to save time and money by not going to the grocery store last week (the theory was that we had enough food in the house already), we ended up going out just about every day. This is my twist on eggplant parmesan, and it only required buying one ingredient we didn't have in the house- a green bell pepper. Using lemon basil makes it especially fragrant, and the cinnamon and red pepper flakes give the sauce an unusual flavor. Plus, it's only 7 WW points per serving. I used up a bunch of leftovers, which you will see reflected in the ingredient list. One seven point serving of this won't fill me up if I'm hungry, but add a salad or some steamed vegetables and you're good to go. While I was making this, I also cooked a mix of brown & wild rice and lentils that I picked up in the bulk section of a vegetarian market and turned it into a 3-point salad, recipe below.

Spicy Eggplant Parmesan (serves 4, 7 points a serving)(makes a lot of extra sauce too)

2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick slices
3 egg whites
a little water
2/3 cup whole wheat panko
1 fresh heirloom tomato, chopped
about a cup of leftover strained tomato sauce
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
approximately: 2 tbsp italian seasonings, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, lots of salt and pepper
a handful of chopped lemon basil
a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup leftover romesco sauce (see previous post)
1 cup grated parmesan

In a saucepan, heat olive oil and sautee garlic, shallots, and bell pepper until just cooked. Add tomatoes in all their forms, and spices, seasoning, and sugar. Stir, and when things start bubbling, turn it down to a simmer and leave it alone. You can break up the whole tomatoes with the end of a spatula as you go along (or you can just use diced tomatoes).

Preheat oven to 400. On a plate, combine panko, 1/4 cup parmesan, and add salt & pepper. In a bowl, whisk together egg whites with a little water. Prepare two cookie sheets by covering them with parchment paper. Then, dip each eggplant slice in the egg whites and press it into the panko mixture on both sides. It won't become completely coated but that's okay. Place the eggplant slices on the cookie sheets and when the oven is done preheating, pop 'em in. After 15 minutes, flip them, and bake another 15 minutes. When you take them out they should be crisped up and fully cooked through.

At this point, your sauce will have been simmering for at least half an hour, or more like forty minutes. Get a small square lasagna plan, and add a couple of ladlefuls to the bottom. Add a layer of eggplant, ladle on some more sauce, sprinkle half the remaining parmesan, and repeat. Pop it in the oven for another ten minutes, and then you're ready to eat!

Lentil, Rice and Fruit Salad

per serving -- double or triple as you wish

1/2 cup mixed lentils & brown and wild rice
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 apple, chopped
several large grapes, chopped
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Combine, and eat at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 Point Lunch and a Half- Shrimp, Pico de Gallo, Kabocha

Today's ten point lunch is so filling it's really more like a lunch and a half. Left over from last night, lima beans sauteed with vegetarian chorizo and cilantro, pico de gallo, baked kabocha squash, and shrimp sauteed with garlic and olive oil make for a high-protein, filling meal-plus. In fact, I couldn't finish it for lunch and it will double as a substantial afternoon snack. Kabocha squash is super-easy to prepare -- just bake it. It is very dense and slightly sweet, and you can eat the peel, which makes it far less work than any other winter squash.

Here are (roughly) the recipes:

Simple Shrimp

Get a bag of easy-peel frozen shrimp from whole foods. Defrost them by running cold water over them in a strainer, and peel off the shells. Sprinkle on a little salt. These are great because they are already deveined and really easy to peel. In fact, these are exactly the same shrimp that Whole Foods sells at their seafood counter as fresh. In general, shrimp are OK to get frozen because unless they are reaching your seafood counter within a day from being caught, they have probably been frozen and defrosted.

Heat one tbsp olive oil/butter in a skillet, and throw in a clove or two of chopped garlic. Let it cook for about a minute, then add the shrimp. Toss them about as they cook. Shrimp cook very fast -- they are done when they have turned pink and are white inside. To avoid overcooking, put them in a bowl when they are done, don't leave them in the hot skillet.

Baked Kabocha

Heat oven to 440 degrees. Put in your kabocha squash on a baking sheet. Bake 30-40 minutes, until you can poke a fork in easily. Slice into thick wedges.

Mexican Lima Beans

Sautee 3-4 inches of soyrizo in a little olive oil for about three minutes. Add half a bag of frozen lima beans and a cup of water. Let it cook until the water pretty much evaporates. Throw in chopped cilantro to taste.

Pico de Gallo

In the proportions you prefer, mix together chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice and salt.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Halibut, I Love You

I have been a hesitant seafood cook for a long time -- no more! I never want to buy fish that are more expensive than catfish or tilapia because I am always afraid I'll mess them up - I've generally opted to pay $20 to have a restaurant cook fish for me instead. Yesterday, however, I read an article about how to get a restaurant sear on your fish. My halibut turned out fantastic! I put a cast iron skillet on high with no oil for about 4 minutes to get it super-hot, then added some oil and slid in the halibut steak. When the steak looked like the bottom 2/3 was cooked I flipped it and let it continue cooking for about a minute. It came out lovely, with a nice crisp sear and soft and moist inside. I made a romesco sauce to go with it, this really surprisingly delicious German Potato Salad recipe from the WW website (we made it with tempeh bacon):, kale with pickled scallions, and romaine hearts with walnut-parmesan vinagrette. Here are the romesco and walnut-parmesan vinagrette recipes:

Becky's Romesco - quantities are approximate

8 quarter-cup servings, 4 points per serving

4tbsp olive oil

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup fresh tomato

1/4 cup almonds

1/4 cup hazelnuts

1 slice bread or 1/2 pita

1 very large clove garlic

1/2 to 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes

2/3 cup roasted red peppers

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp sugar

salt, black pepper

Put the nuts in a food processor first and grind them. Then, add everything else and puree it together. Pour the mixture into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for about twenty minutes. Add more seasoning to taste.

Walnut-Parmesan Vinagrette -- 6 points per serving :(

1/4 cup walnut oil

1/8 cup sherry vinegar

1/4 cup grated/shaved parmesan

1/4 cup walnuts

1 tsp dijon mustard

salt & black pepper

Put it all in a food processor and pulse. We had baby romaine hearts from the farmer's market, and we cut one in half and drizzled about 1 1/2 tbsp of the dressing over each half. Then, we threw on a little more shaved parmesan and just ate them whole like celery sticks. Yum.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Strategy for Getting Back on Track

So we have come to the conclusion of Gretchen's 3 week birthday celebration, and it's time to get back to the business of weight watchers for me. It is really hard to control portion size and to guess at amounts of butter and such going out to eat, so after a yummy last hurrah at Pattern Bar on Saturday, we spent much of Sunday shopping at the Mar Vista Farmer's Market, the Spice Station in Silverlake, and Whole Foods. We spent about $200 on groceries, but they are all organic and/or local, and many things we got should last into next week too. The goal is to eat every meal at home Monday through Friday, and we have pretty much planned out what we are going to have. Here's how we are doing so far:

Breakfast: Sliced heirloom tomatoes on toasted rosemary bread with Soledad Farms marinated goat cheese. 3 points. I prefer tomatoes slightly cooked so I spread 1/2 oz. of goat cheese on the bread, laid on the tomatoes, and then popped it in the toaster. It really helps to have super-flavorful high quality goat cheese, you have to use much less of it to add a lot of flavor.

Lunch: Chicken breast(4 oz.) marinated in herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, and paprika, whole wheat pita, arugula, and homemade dilled tzatziki (yogurt, lemon juice, dill, cucumber, garlic, salt and pepper). 9 points.

Snacks: Grapes, blackberries, orange (fruit = 0 points), and Greek salad (4 points).

Now, if I walk home from Union Station, I'll have 17 points left for dinner! It seems I may be able to have a cocktail after all...

Our plan for dinner is pan-seared halibut/tofu with romesco sauce (so easy and good, just tomatoes, almonds, hazelnuts, olive oil, roasted peppers, and red wine vinegar) and romaine hearts with walnuts, shaved parmesan, and a walnut vinagrette.

Extra romesco sauce will go onto chicken for me, and chickpea cutlets for Gretchen for lunch tomorrow, along with more romaine hearts with cheese and vinagrette and potentially German potato salad...we'll see if we get that far tonight.