Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Changes: The Farmer's Market, and Weight Watchers

Wow, it has been far too long since we have posted. But it's not because we haven't been cooking. Over the past two months, I've started following Weight Watchers, and have lost over 13 pounds so far. With Weight Watchers, you can eat as many vegetables as you want and as much fruit as you want. Everything else has point values, and you get a certain number of points per day. I've discovered that it's kind of hard to use the vegetables we've been getting in our CSA for this. It's far easier to have the kind of vegetables around that you can just toss in with eggs in the morning or with some whole wheat pasta for dinner, and summer farmer's markets have those in abundance. Plus, I'm relying on fruit to fill me up, and all we were getting in the CSA was one box of strawberries a week. Meanwhile, bing cherries, pluots, nectarines, peaches are overflowing at the market. So we decided to reduce the CSA to once every two weeks and spend more time at the farmer's market instead.

Being on WW has definitely changed the way I cook. I'm going for cheeses that have more punchy flavor in smaller amounts, and using way less grains. I'm also eating a lot more salad and a lot more fruit than ever.

Here are a few of the things I've learned so far:

1. Soba noodles seem to expand more when cooked than regular pasta- I have no idea why, but they come in handy 2 oz. packets and somehow, two of those packets (4 oz.) fills out a stir fry to make it into four servings. Which means only 1 oz. of noodles per serving -- yet it still feels like a noodle dish.

2. Feta cheese gives you a lot of flavor without a lot of points.

3. Olives, hot peppers, and all varieties of pickles are a great way to add flavor to a sandwich without using cheese or mayo or pesto.

4. Buying medium whole wheat pitas and cutting them in half is a good way to cut down on the points in a sandwich. A half pita stuffed with filling is just as satisfying as a sandwich with two pieces of sandwich bread.

5. When making a salad put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl and then use your hands to mix the salad greens with it like the do on Chopped. You need much less dressing that way, and your salad is more appropriately lightly dressed.

6. Fat-free and lowfat cheese may give you a little bulk but they don't give you much flavor.

7. Having cherries and grapes around makes it easy to fill up a bowl with fruit instead of nuts or chips for snacking during Law and Order marathons.

8. Frozen bananas take of the edge off of ice cream cravings, especially with some chocolate syrup.

9. It's hard to fit pizza into Weight Watchers -- but making your own in the toaster on whole wheat pita is yummy and satisfying. Kale makes a remarkably good topping on these- it gets a nice texture with some time in the toaster.

10. After two months without a cheeseburger, it has gotten easier...but I still want one.

This week, we went to the farmer's market and got heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, crimini mushrooms, green & orange bell peppers, onions, peaches, nectarines, cherries, pluots, zucchini, Chinese eggplant, celery, sweet basil, and fresh thyme. At the grocery store we picked up feta cheese, parmesan, fresh mozzarella pearls, and a very flavorful, nutty hard cheese called une kaas. Here are my two best recipes of the week so far:

Greek Salad (3 servings, 5 points each)

Gretchen lived in Athens for six months and she said this tasted exactly how it is supposed to taste. Apparently real Greek salad does not have lettuce. This one's good for Weight Watchers because feta cheese is low in points, and you end up with less than an ounce of cheese and only 1 tbsp of olive oil per serving. I had this with a small piece of breaded, pan-fried fish last night for a low-points dinner.

1 heirloom tomato, diced
1 small green pepper or 1/2 a regular green pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, diced
8 small olives, sliced
1/4 a red onion or 1/2 a small red onion, chopped or sliced
2 oz. feta cheese, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp + 1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 pinch dried oregano
salt and black pepper

In a bowl, whisk together olive oil and red wine vinegar with oregano and salt and pepper. Toss with vegetables & olives.

Catalan-Style Tomato Toasts-- These are good for WW because you shave the cheese on a mandolin. If you have a strongly flavored cheese, a little goes a long way. I used 1/2 oz of une kaas for this amount of tomato slices.

1 heirloom tomato
1 clove garlic
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
shaved cheese -- une kaas, parmesan, manchego, etc.
Pita or baugette

Slice tomato. Removed leaves from thyme springs. Slice garlic ultra-thin. Sprinkle salt and pepper and a drop of olive oil on each tomato. Stack tomato slices with fresh thyme and garlic slices between each tomato. Let marinate for awhile. I put them in the fridge overnight to have for lunch the next day, but they could probably just sit out for 15 or 20 minutes too.

Toast your bread of choice. Top with tomato-thyme-garlic slices and shavings of cheese.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Deliciousness Alert

Okay, so I just had the braised lamb for lunch. Forget what I said about too much chipotle, I wouldn't change a thing about this recipe, except perhaps adding more balsamic-soaked raisins. After sitting for a day, the flavors really came together well. The lamb is rich with a lot of red chile flavor and the balsamic raisins are a nice sweet and sour element.

Check out my recipe entry on food52.com: http://www.food52.com/recipes/12375_chipotle_braised_lamb_tacos_with_olives_and_balsamic_soaked_raisins

If you like it, write me a nice comment :)

Braised Lamb Tacos with Mediterranean Salsa

I created this recipe to enter this week's contest on food52.com -- your best street food. When I have cooked with achiote paste before I've just bought it already prepared from a Mexican grocery store. This time, I could only get ground annato seed, so I made my own, with tasty results. I've made a version of this dish before, but I think this one came out better- though I'd tone down the chipotle a little next time. But, I can honestly say I would be happy to get this out of the window of a taco truck, which is my highest praise for tacos. I'd suggest having these with a salad and a crisp cold beer.

Make 8 Tacos
Braised Lamb Tacos:

2 tablespoons ground annato seed
1 tablespoon orange or tangerine juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon tequila
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotles
1 pound lamb stew meat, in 2 inch pieces
2 chipotles in adobo
3 cups vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
sour cream
6 corn tortillas
Mediterranean Salsa:

1 tablespoon italian parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped white onion
2 tablespoons scallion
1/4 cup green olives, chopped
1 tablespoon raisins
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 a juicy lime
1 tablespoon sundried tomato
1 teaspoon olive or canola oil

1.Mix together first 13 ingredients to form a paste. Rub into lamb and marinate overnight, or for about eight hours. Ask a question about this step.
2.Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan and sear lamb meat. Ask a question about this step.
3.In a food processor, blend vegetable broth with chipotles. Add liquid to lamb, and add bay leaves. Ask a question about this step.
4.Bring to a boil, then cover and cook on low heat for an hour. Ask a question about this step.
5.Remove cover and cook another thirty minutes or so, until liquid reduces to a sauce and lamb is very tender. Ask a question about this step.
6.Shred lamb into sauce with a fork. Ask a question about this step.
7.While lamb is cooking, put raisins and balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Heat, then reduce to low and simmer until balsamic is reduced by at least half and raisin are plumped. Ask a question about this step.
8.Mince raisins mix together with other salsa ingredients. Ask a question about this step.
9.Heat each corn tortilla in a frying pan with a tiny bit of oil, and top with a couple of good spoonfuls of meat, a good spoonful of salsa, and a dollop of sour cream