Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Poblano Mac and Cheese

The american southwest really has the best peppers.  You walk into a grocery store and instead of just one little bin of peppers you see a virtual rainbow row of them.  So many different types.  When we were driving across New Mexico we fell in love with the hatch green chili.  They roast them and dice them up and sell you these bins full of them for like $5.  Bliss.  We also came to love the deep green Poblano chili.  It's not exactly sweet, not spicy, just full of rich flavor.  (Cooking with them can be a pain because you have to get that think skin off for them to be truly delicate.)

Adding poblanos to the creamy melted cheese goodness of mac and cheese elevates your humble comfort food to something truly special.  Figuring out how to make this dish as healthy as possible is what makes me a genius.  Yes, I'm very humble.  But seriously, this one is very yummy.

First you need to prepare the peppers (2-3 large poblanos) - One way to do that is to put them under the broil of the oven for a few minutes on each side (not that peppers have sides, per se, but you get the idea) until they are charred.  Then, and this seems dangerous, slip them into a ziploc bag and seal it up.  Let them be all sauna-y in the bag for maybe 10-15 minutes and then take them out and peel as best you can.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Set them aside once peeled.

Next you want to boil the pasta - I have been using those large curly-cues but any shape will do.  About 2 C dry pasta makes for 5 C cooked pasta.  Cook, drain,  and rinse the pasta with cold water.

While your pasta is cooking make a simple béchamel sauce.  This is the white milk sauce on those tasty croque monsieur sandwiches you get in France.  The simplest method is to melt 2T butter in a saucepan and then add 2T flour.  Cook that over medium heat until it seems like a paste.  Then add 1C of milk.  If you were in France and not on a diet you'd use whole milk, but I use not-fat milk and believe it or not it sets just fine.  It will seem very watery when you add the milk, but whisk it every so often and raise the heat a bit and in a few minutes you will have a bubbling creamy milk sauce.  It won't taste like much. (If you are making béchamel for real, you'd add some nutmeg.)  Add 1/2C of reduced fat mexican blend shredded cheese and a pinch of salt and even some chipotle if you like.  Set aside.

Now, mix your pasta and chopped poblanos into the béchamel.  Sprinkle a little more cheese on top and throw it into the oven until it's good and hot.  A serving is 1C.

9 weight watchers points per serving - 5 pasta, 2 béchamel, 2 cheese

Monday, March 04, 2013

Turkey and corn salsa tortillas

One of the lessons weight watchers likes to pound into your head is the idea of power foods.  The latest variation of how the 'points' work is that all fruit and vegetables are free to eat.  Some starchy veg still has costs associated, but your basic fruit and veg is free to eat as much as you please.  The premise is of course that no one sits down and overeats on apples.  Potato chips and chocolate, yes, apples and celery, no.  It's not rocket science here - you don't overeat apples and celery because the fiber and water and nutrients do indeed make you feel full.  WW tries to get you to eat more fruit and veg at every meal so you need / want / use less of the other stuff - namely carbs and fats and even too much protein.

This meal epitomizes that premise.  If I told you I made turkey enchiladas for lunch, without a picture, you'd make a picture in you mind of cheesy, greasy, rice and beans and turkey in thick lard based tortillas - probably with a side of freshly fried-in-oil tortilla chips and hot queso dip.  I'm not saying that isn't as close to foodie heaven as it gets, I'm just saying there exists a far lighter version that doesn't put you in a food coma on your way to buy bigger trousers.

For this meal I bought a lovely turkey breast at Sprouts.  I often forget to buy Turkey.  I don't know why it isn't part of the usual rotation of proteins at home.  Is this some sort of chicken conspiracy?  I marinated the turkey with a squeeze of lime and powdered chipotle and grilled it on my grill pan and then set it aside.  Because I am going to be baking the tortilla wraps, I usually take it off the grill when it is still a bit pink so it doesn't dry out completely.  I don't know if half cooking something and then setting it aside is technically bad for you or not, but that's what I do.

I made a 'salsa' of corn (frozen corn quickly heated in the microwave), apple, tomatoes, jalapeño, cilantro, sweet onion, another squeeze of lime, and a couple spoonfuls of Trader Joes Serrano salsa for some more kick.  An entire bowl of this costs a mere 2 points for the half cup of corn - and since I made this for 2 people that's just 1 point each.

I then rolled up a large serving (maybe 1/4 C) of my salsa with a few strips of the grilled turkey breast into jalapeño tortillas.  I sprayed a glass baking tray with Pam and placed the rolled tortillas in the tray.  I put these in the oven on 400 until the tortillas were turning brown and crackling.  You don't have to heat them up - everything is cooked - but it makes it more delightful giving you a little crunch from the tortillas.  Whatever is left in that huge bowl of salsa serve on the side.

Be careful when you buy tortillas.  A really authentic tortilla, while yummy as hell, contains a huge amount of fat and carb.  Even ones that say 'carb balance' can be high.  There is huge variation out there, so read all the labels and choose what's best for you.  We recently found carb balance tortillas under the Market Pantry label at Target that are only 2 points each (5 points for 2).

10 Weight watchers points - 3 turkey breast, 6 tortillas, 1 corn in the salsa

Banana Nut Muffins

I feel like this is becoming a blog about how I cook to either annoy or appease my husband and less a blog about trying to cook healthy.  That being said, this is another post about how I might be annoying my husband with food.  You see he despises banana and I (the picky eater) love banana, so I can't understand why he won't eat it.  I keep trying to sneak it into our repertoire.  A couple of weeks ago I sliced 3 little coin shaped pieces off my banana into his enormous bowl of strawberries and blueberries. When he got to the offending slimy fruit he literally put his food down and ran up the stairs to my office to voice his displeasure.  I heard about it the entire day.  His facebook friends heard about it the entire day.  I won't be repeating that lesson.

I will however be looking for ways of cooking with banana complementing it with things like the fresh red walnuts we get at the La Jolla Farmer's Market.  mmm Walnuts.  mmmm.

I wanted to find a really low calorie banana nut muffin and when I started my search I found ones that were low fat but had tons of flour, or ones that were low carb, but had tons of oil.  So I made up my own recipe.  It doesn't produce the lightest fluffiest sweetest variation, but it is a really dense moist and low calorie option.

1 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 bananas
1/8 C brown sugar
1/4 C lite sour cream
10 walnut halves

Mix it all up - spread into 9 cupcake / muffin servings.  I used paper liners, but a spray of Pam could work too. Medium hot oven, lets call it 375 for 15-20 minutes (until they are ready- a bit brown - I can't remember how long I cooked them).

Andy ate 2 warm out of the oven.  Without butter.   Then he ate 2 more the next day **cold**  halfway through our hike on the beach.   Who doesn't like bananas now?

3 weight watchers points per muffin

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cuban pork 'sandwich'

My husband is a pig lover.  I hope that is not a reflection on me, but the boy loves all things pig.  Sometimes we would think back on the last 7-10 days and realize he hadn't gone a single day without some pork product.  Those vacations in islamic Turkey were the only times I can recall him going without the other white meat.  I myself love a good pork chop and was trolling the internet for a new way of doing pork when I came across a Bobby Flay recipe for cuban pork.  I adapted the recipe, taking out all the oil (totally unnecessary) and substituting a single pepper jack cheese slice where it calls for 2 pieces of swiss.  The result was fantastic.

You start by juicing an orange and a lime with a bit of fresh oregano, dried cumin, and salt & pepper.  Butterfly your boneless pork chop so that it is thin, but still has a long hinge.  Put it in the marinade for a couple of hours.  When you're ready to make dinner, pat the pork dry with a paper towel, but leave some of the marinade on (e.g. the pulpy bits of orange and lime).  Put a single thin slice of ham, a layer of sliced cornichons or deli pickles, and a single layer of pepper jack in the inside of the pork chop and then close the chop so it looks like a sandwich.  Season the chop with some more salt and pepper and then grill it on your grill pan or outdoor bbq.  Tip - use medium heat or you'll end up burning the outside without cooking your pork through in the middle.  Resist the temptation to flip it too many times or you could lose your stuffing.  While it is grilling, juice another orange and lime and add some chopped fresh cilantro.  When the pork comes off the grill and you're ready to serve, pour on the orange-lime-cilantro mixture.

I served it with a side of mashed potatoes that I substituted lime juice and garlic for the usual milk & butter when I whipped them.  Not as tasty as milk & butter but easier on the calories.  And I made a salad dressing with some of the orange-lime-cilantro juice to match up on the side.

To continue the orange-lime theme, I took a bit more of the orange-lime juice mixture and added some seltzer and sprite zero muddled with mint and a tablespoon of rum for a mojito of sorts.  It may not have packed much alcoholic punch, but it gave the right flavors to make us feel like we were doing it right.

My little piggy husband says we'll be making this again for sure.

16 Weight watchers points -  9 for the big pork chop, 2 cheese, 1 ham, 3 potatoes, and 1 for a dash of rum.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snapdragon General Tsao

A few weeks ago I tried one of these Snapdragon thai mixes.  I was surprised about the low number of points associated with them, and Andy really liked the giant bowl of food that a stir fry gave him.  I've said it before and I will say it again - he's a terrible diet partner.  He's constantly moaning about being hungry and I find him in the kitchen staring at the bread and having impure thoughts.  Since he firmly believes that more is better, I've come to shrink our serving bowls and other manipulations to make him feel like he is getting more.  The snapdragon mixes really help.  So I went back to the store and bought the whole range.

This one was not good.

It started off well enough - the part that we control - the chicken and veg looked and tasted stunning.  The rice noodles never really got soft even after leaving them in the water twice as long as it said on the pack.  The horrid part though was the sauce.  It tasted more like fish sauce meets catsup than General Tsao's.  We tried to add salt and hot sauce with very little improvement.  I ended up eating about a quarter of the pack and giving up.

Thrifty 'more-ish' Andy managed to finish it, but did not advocate we buy another pack of this one.

For any of you wondering if we ever have a bad meal at our house - yes, sadly we do.  Here's the proof.

10 weight watchers points - 3 for chicken, 6 for half a box of the mix, 1 for canola oil

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Simple steak salad

 One of my favorite dinners (or lunch) is a steak salad.  I love steak, but i think I only love a little bit of steak.  When you go to a steak restaurant and order a steak, it is meat overload.  When you have just a few yummy strips it is perfection.  You may disagree and I'm cool with that.  The corollary to the rule is when a good bernaise sauce is present, then you could eat all the steak in the world.  But this is supposed to be a weight watchers type blog, and dreaming of steak and bernaise in ungodly portions is probably not a wise way to spend one's day. 

My go-to salad green is Maiche, also called lamb's lettuce depending on what part of the world you're in.  My mother used to grow it in the garden I think.  I didn't see it for decades and then was served it a bunch in the UK maybe 8 years ago.  It tastes a lot like baby spinach - a sweet delicate green - and comes in these little rosette clumps.  I think chefs likes the look of it.  What i liked was how long it lasted in my fridge.  I could buy a head of romaine and a bag of maiche and the maiche would still be good a week later.  I think because it has that little root still on the rosette maybe it doesn't die so quickly in the shipping.  I also like that they grow it in greenhouses so you can get it year round.  That is, until you move back to america, where people are saying 'paper mache what?'  when you ask about it.

So happy was I to find it in a Basha's in Tucson.  And then a whole foods somewhere and then .... almost completely reliably in Trader Joes.  Go buy some, you'll love it.  Everyone I serve it to is a convert.  Pictured is the TJ bag, while the Whole Foods maiche comes in a plastic bin and says Maiche Rosettes on it.  Hit or miss depending on your whole foods (did you know each store manager is control of their stocking strategy?)

I use a bag of maiche per every 2 people.  The Trader Joes bag is bag, so as a side salad for dinner parties it's a bag per 4 people.

In my small circle of friends I have a reputation for my salad dressing.  I think they think there is only one version because I don't offer my recipe up.  But in actuality there are many, all depending on what's at hand.  The all follow the oil & acid & sweet plan though.  I also like to add a dash of cream as it coats the leaves better.  Tonight I went for what I think is a pretty classic french vinaigrette:  for the oil I used almond oil (I prefer walnut oil, but it seems out of fashion at the moment and I haven't been able to find a bottle - I wish I could pick up more from the Santa Monica farmers market guy - that stuff was amazing) but olive oil works just as well.  The oil is costly on weight watchers - 4 points a tablespoon.  I added 1 T white wine vinegar, 1/2 T dijon mustard, 1/2 T agave (1 point), and a small clove of garlic.  I emulsified that with a  fork in a glass measuring jug.

I toss the salad leaves in the dressing before topping.  I think this serves two purposes.  First, it stretches a small amount of dressing further and applies it uniformly.  Second, I like to top the salad on the plates so that the toppings are distributed well.  When you toss everything in the bowl the good stuff always falls to the bottom.  Even if I am serving family style, I toss just the leaves with the dressing and then load the toppings over the top.  This means, if you come to my dinner party, you want the salad first before some greedy duckling has taken all those toppings.

We had a lot of extra points today since we accidentally skipped our afternoon snack, so I loaded on the walnuts and goat cheese.  I bought these red walnuts at the La Jolla farmers market and they are amazing.  Pricey at $8 a half pound, but they explode with flavor in your mouth.  10 walnut halves are a very costly 4 weight watchers points.  So you better count.  Each salad got a full ounce of goat cheese which is also about twice what you need.  I buy the honey chèvre from Trader Joes and love it.  The expiration on that is always a couple months out, so even if you can't get to TJ's often, you can stock up on this.  I made this salad for my step-father over christmas and he raved about the cheese for days.

I marinated the steak in adobo, salt and lemon juice.  Andy grilled it for a few minutes each side and then we sliced and added it to the salad.

If I stopped right there it would be a filling and nutritious dinner with about 15 weight watchers points.

But we still had 12 points left for the day, so I reached into my bag of tricks and found some cheese and leek pies I bought at the IKEA food shop a month ago.  Decadent 3.5 points each these were yummy cheesy soufflé wonderfulness.  You could always eat less than the allocated number of points on any day, but you risk your body feeling starved and turning off the magic metabolism machine.  I don't know if this is really true or how the science works, but it sounds like a lovely excuse to eat cheese and leek pies.

I often measure my success in how long it takes Andy to eat his meal.  Under ten minutes is a failure but if I can get him to still be chewing for at least ten minutes it is a success.  With a plate full of salad like this, it was a good 25 minutes til he put his fork down.  sweet success.

22 points total - 7 for the ikea pies, 6 for the steak (3.5 oz), 2 almond oil, 1 agave, 4 walnuts, 2 goat cheese

Chicken soft tacos

One of my favorite lunch dishes, this is extremely filling and not so horrible on the points.  If you are on restricted points you could have only 1 of the 2 tortillas that we eat, but otherwise this is a filling plate of food with tons of energy-goodness ingredients.

For the chicken:  i take a single organic-if-you-can-afford it chicken breast and with a very sharp knife cut it in two width wise so you have 2 large but thin pieces of chicken.  I squeeze a lime on them and then sprinkle dried chipotle and salt over them.  I quickly grill them on a hot grill pan.  No oil needed.  You'll get gorgeous caramelized lines on the chicken just from the scant natural sugar in the lime.  Note, i take them off the grill pan when they are still a bit pink inside because I finish this dish off in the oven and want the chicken to still be juicy.

I cut the chicken in strips and place on the tortillas.  This week I am using Fresh & Easy's cilantro jalapeño flour tortillas.  Fresh & Easy is the US execution from Tesco.  I love love love it.  Which is odd because I never shopped at Tesco in the UK.  But they have great meat and produce and packaging that reminds me of how they do it in the UK - and that is one thing the UK has over the US.  In the UK you can buy sensible sizes of things and not be wed to 5 pound bags of green beans.  If you have a store near you, check it out.  I hear they are still losing money and I really wish them well.  Note these tortillas are 40gram and 100 calories each - so you have to account for that versus the 30 gram in weight watchers.  I count them as 1 and a 1/3 each for simplifying the math - which works out to 3 points each.

I then mix up a fresh salsa salad-y thing for inside.  Today I used 1/2 cup of frozen white corn, about a cup of cherry tomatoes halved, a finely chopped fresh apple, a whole lime, half a fresh jalapeño and maybe 1/4 cup of that serrano salsa fresa from trader joes.  The corn has points associated with it (2 points for the 1/2 C).  I put a couple big spoons of this on the chicken on the tortilla.  Then I top this off with just a pinch of reduced fat shredded cheese - in this case a mix of colby and cheddar.

I roll the tortillas up and place them in a glass baking dish and slide them into a hot oven.  One of the things I think is really important on a diet, and especially at lunch, is to try to eat hot food.  I know most people work out of the home and can't, but I feel like emotionally a hot meal seems more comforting and homey.  When the tortillas are crispy, or when Andy starts pacing in the kitchen, and I take them out and serve them with any of the remaining salsa-salad mixture.

11 Points total - 6 for two tortillas, 3 for the chicken, 1 each for the corn and the cheese.

Facebook inspiration night

It's been two years since I put anything back out here on the dinner buzz blog. I've just started on weight watchers again, and we have been eating some mighty fine food, so I thought maybe I should get them down 'on paper' so to speak before I lose these ideas. Then, if I get really busy or lame I could just go through these in rotation.

 For the last few months I have used my friends as inspiration on Sunday afternoons. I ask in Facebook for three* random ingredients and then try to make a meal out of it. This week I got cucumber, tamarind, coconut milk, pineapple and basmati rice. (*My friends are not so good at math, but I love them anyways.)

It sounded very thai, very bright, so immediately I thought about how I could combine them into a chilled gazpacho style soup. I simply took the cucumber and peeled it and chopped it up rough. To that I added a third of a giant sweet onion, and about 2 cups of fresh pineapple. I chopped up a single jalapeño for a little kick. I put it all in a blender with the juice of a single, and quite pathetic lime. Then I added 1/3 C lite coconut milk (1 WW point). I blended that and opened the top for a taste. It was brilliant and a lovely pale yellow color. Since I had to use the tamarind for the Facebook challenge, I added 2 tablespoons (2 WW points). Maybe the tamarind adds something to it, but mostly it just turns it from a nice pale yellow to a hideous vomit brown color. If you are watching your points, definitely leave it out. This made enough for 4 servings, so you still divide those 3 points by 4. Crazy low for something so tasty. Essentially 'free' if you leave out the tamarind. Or maybe just swirl it in at serving so it doesn't blend and turn the color sickly. If you aren't watching points some chopped macadamias would be brilliant to add a little texture on top.

 To accompany this bright soup, I had bought some frozen albacore tuna at Trader Joes. I had done a big shop and decided to buy one of each of their frozen fish collection to see which ones are ok from frozen. I am very skeptical about frozen fish but at $5 for 2 fillets of tuna I decided it was worth at least a test. I'll work my way through mahimahi and tilapia and salmon and cod. I will say this though - never ever buy the albacore! It was horrible. There was a pound of fish when I started but it was so mealy when it thawed that I had to fillet at least half of it off. Thank goodness Andy bought me that fish skills course back in london so I know what is, and what is not, good fish for eating. I soaked it in another pathetic lime (pathetic because it was a new bag of limes, got home and they were all dried up already - argh). Then i coated the fish in black and white pepper and grilled it on my new caphalon grill pan.

 Let me digress a moment and tell you how wonderful this grill pan is. I always owned a cast iron grill pan which i thought was the best for these sorts of things. I hardly used it because it is real cast iron and the clean up is a bitch. You have to wash it and dry it and then oil it so it doesn't rust. You then leave an oiled paper towel on it in the cupboard which never struck me as all that sanitary. So when we needed a new frying pan (sorry mom, but your engagement present to us died from overuse) I headed to Bed Bath and Beyond. Do you know decent frying pans cost about $200 each? I was shocked. I need a frying pan that I can use on the stove and then shove in the oven - that's generally how i cook the white fishes that have to actually be cooked through. Anyhow, I was walking the aisles not wanting to spend $200 and not wanting to buy a cheapie that wouldn't work for me when I spotted the very reasonably priced $35 caphalon teflon-coated square shaped grill pan. I thought - why not, it might me healthier than a frying pan in any case as the fat drips down into the ridges. It has been used almost every day. So easy to clean. So easy to get lovely grill marks.

 On the fish I placed a dollop of store-bought serrano salsa fresco from trader joes to further mask any fishiness.

 And to fill our carb-loving stomachs I made some sticky cal rose rice with another 1/3 of a cup of the lite coconut milk since the can was open and all. I added a generous teaspoon of ginger powder too since we love ginger.

  In total - 9 points - 4 for the rice, 1 for the coconut milk, 3 for the tuna, 1 for a single serving of the gazpacho.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Headline Top Chef Challenge

For some crazy reason we drove for 5 months today to go to a bbq in Oxfordshire for all of 2 and a bit hours. But it was to see Andy’s old school mates, who he hadn’t seen in a very long time. By the time we were nearing London, traffic picked up in conjunction with hunger and dinner planning inevitably came up for discussion.

I created a Top Chef challenge – I would read the top 2 headlines on BBC news on my blackberry and we would each use our headline for inspiration for dinner.

Andy’s headline “BP makes new big to plug oil leak”
Andy’s interpretation started with green apple inspired by the BP green logo, wrapped in bacon and sautéed – on the plate the bacon apples formed a sort of conceptual oil leak. Then, the actual oil was green pumpkin seed oil mixed with cream cheese to ‘cap’ the nice sourdough loaf of bread.

Beth’s headline “Rosetta probe passes space rock”
I went for the great british classic – insta-mix Angel Delight in wonderfully artificial strawberry flavour for rosetta coloring, topped with a pink and white marshmallow biscuit and Saturn-Ringed in strawberry sauce, all sprinkled with watermelon pop rocks space dust to pass the space rock.

Andy may have won on taste, but my presentation was better.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

World Cup Semi: Germany v Spain

The Davidson-Wayne household is split again across cultural lines. I’m more of Spanish rioja, and Andy is more of a Beck’s lager. I like the passionate, chaotic Spanish team, and Andy likes the orderly, tidy Germans. So dinner tonight had to be a fusion of the two – and thus Chorizo Spaetzle was born.

Growing up in Middlefield there was a local german butcher Noacks in the next town over and my first experience with Spaetzle was out of a box: a nice doughy pasta creating total comfort food. It would be nearly 25 years later before I had my first spaetzle, the ‘french fries’ to most authentic german meals – boiled pasta and that is then pan fried for a little crunch. So yummmmmmmmmmmmy.

Andy made ours from scratch tonight, using our last duck egg (will definitely be buying more of those at the farm shop) and pushing the batter through our pasta sieve (I hope he cleaned it better this time) into boiling water. He then pan fried it with olive oil and garlic, added some sautéed chorizo, cream and mozzarella and made a pasta bake of it in the oven.

To cut through the massive carb load I made a waldorf inspired salad. The dressing was cider vinegar and honey mustard with a dash of cream over maiche with apple, goat cheese and pine nuts playing the role of walnuts. No celery is welcome in my house.

I drank mine with my favourite white rioja – which, sadly was corked, just when I thought that this never happens – i’m hopeful that the rest of the case in the wine cellar is fine – we’ve had about 6 bottles so far and they have all been spectacular toffee wonderfulness.

Andy is still working on his giant Beck’s. He’s also still hopeful someone will score in this game – I gave up after the last spaetzle was gone from my plate.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Meat, starch, and 2 veg

I realise looking upon my past dinner posts that I tend to follow the traditional (and boring) meat and two veg approach to dinner, and often have a starch given our mutual love of carbs in the wayne-davidson house. I never heard the phrase “meat and 2 veg” until i moved to the UK, and quickly understood it to actually be meat (usually red), potatoes and 1 veg . Tell Andy that potatoes don’t really count as a veg and stand back to receive the screaming rant of a mad brit.

But tonight as i could find no better title for our somewhat boring dinner of grilled veal, carrots, left over strawberry risotto and fresh shelled pea soup, I thought it appropriate to do a little background research on ‘meat and 2 veg’. I beg you, dear reader, not to google this – apparently it means something else a la Joe Camel and Monty Python’s infamous Penis Song.

So, umm, dinner then.

Grilled veal escalopes – marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and black pepper – thrown on a hot grill for just the briefest of time.

Fresh shucked garden pea soup – garden peas brought to a boil, add a head of lettuce to wilt, throw it in a blender with some salt – top with crème fraiche and fresh mint. Neither of us really cared for this one – a little too grainy i think. Maybe a bit too healthy.

Carrots in their usual maple syrup and chipotle.

And the leftover risotto from last night with the leftover strawberry salsa from the salmon – you might not think that salsa and risotto could work, but i guess you have rice and salsa in a burrito, and that most definitely works.

Grilled Back Bacon BLT and Chilled Andalucian Gazpacho

I have come to love the BLT. I know I am late to the party on this one, but I always hated lettuce on a sandwich – something about the texture, and never liked mayo. I used to think the BLT should be a BCT – where the lettuce is replaced by cheese. But Pret’s streaky bacon BLT changed that, and it wasn’t long before I was comparing BLT’s across town and attempting my own versions.

The BLT started in Victorian times (although they used cheese), and today’s name comes from the American diner’s use of shorthand when taking orders. I read that in America it’s the second most popular sandwich after the Ham Sandwich. I would have had my money on a pb&j or grilled cheese, but if it ever comes up in pub trivia, you owe me a beer.

My version, today, utilised Spoilt Pig’s back bacon. For the Americans, back bacon is closest to Canadian bacon, but has a little nip of streaky bacon on top. It has much less fat, and is actually pretty close to simple ham. As a lover of streaky bacon, and bizarrely a hater of ham, I shouldn’t like it, but I do. I thought it would be a bit healthier in the sandwich.

I grilled the back bacon on the weber (gas – who would ever bother to get charcoal going for something as small as bacon?) and toasted the multigrain bread there too. I applied a bit of hellmans extra light mayo and then a nice big layer of gem lettuce and fresh isle of white tomatoes. Yum.

For the gazpacho, i did my usual ‘dump a lot of stuff in the blender’ but also chopped up extra onion, red pepper and cucumber finely to add back to the blended bit for a little crunch.

A festival of strawberries (or Susan's worst nightmare)

I can’t believe a year has gone by since I made a posting here. But with the annual summer slow down at work I have some free time again to write, and after the top chef dinner party, some real motivation and inspiration to try new things.

Wimbledon just wrapped up, which means one thing to me (the folks at the annual Harrod’s sale would think otherwise) – strawberry season in the UK. If you knew me when I was a little girl, you would know that strawberry season really is my favourite time of year. I can eat fresh strawberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the three snacks in between. That great lake house I grew up in, where my mom and Randy still live, is in fact credited to my love of strawberries. We went to the nearby lyman orchards to do some pick your own, and on the way home passed a strange scene – a ‘For Sale’ sign – which never happens lakefront as they get snapped up too soon. We stopped at the corner payphone and my parents made an offer without seeing the inside. (There was some real caveat emptor when they finally did see those thick shag green carpets and painted shut windows)

But back to dinner. I wanted to make an entire meal celebrating the strawberry. We have all probably had a few berries tossed onto the spinach salad, but as part of the main course and the starch? That would be a bit tricky. La Famiglia does a strawberry risotto, so I decided to start there. I did a little research on the web and learned that a strawberry risotto need not be sweet – layer it with red chillies, balsamic, parmesan and fresh basil instead – and forego stock and white wine for simple water and a bit of rose wine. It worked beautifully taste wise, but the colour could have been richer in my opinion.

For the salmon I chopped the strawberries into a simple salsa – with coriander, lime, green spring onion, red chillies, and a dash of always faithful chipotle. I coated the salmon in Katy O’s hood strawberry jam, olive oil and chipotle before pan searing it.

The accompanying salad was a base of maiche with a dressing of strawberry jam, balsamic and honey, and then a coating of goat cheese and almond slices.

We ate it with a big glass of rosé – our token single glass of rosé on a hot summer day – we say we only thirst for rosé once a year and then we’re over it. I’m hoping that the next post won’t be so long to come.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Great British Classics: Chicken Tikka Masala

For those of you who don’t know it, the number one meal in the UK is not Fish & Chips; is not Beef roast and Yorkshire puddings; is not steak and ale pie. No, the number one meal, courtesy of all the Indian take away places more common than McDonalds, is Chicken Tikka Masala. Oddly, Tikka Masala was invented in Britain and isn’t even Indian really.
From Wikipedia: “The origins of chicken tikka masala are hotly disputed. A widely reported explanation of the origins of the dish is that it was conceived in a Bangladeshi restaurant in Glasgow in the late 1960s, when a customer, who found the traditional chicken tikka too dry, asked for some gravy. The chef supposedly improvised a sauce from tomato soup, yogurt and spices. This claim has not been incontrovertibly proven, and there are other accounts and hypotheses of its origins. Although it has all the ingredients of an Urban legend, this is generally accepted as an attempt to create a pseudo-Indian dish that would initially have appealed to the British palate, but nowadays it is served in almost every "Indian" restaurant in the world, even in India.”
Not finding good Indian food in Tucson, Susan ate her fill when she was in London. I thought, therefore, that I should attempt the Tikka Masala when I was visiting her. Khushi, back in London, supplied me with her versions of the very best spices, and then I used a recipe (shock! Horror!) off the weightwatchers site to replace the high fat coconut milk and cream usually present in the Tikka Masala. But I adapted of course – how can they possibly call for simply a half teaspoon of paprika – I used closer to a full tablespoon. Spice weenies watch out.
The chicken was marinated in yoghurt, cumin, ground coriander, a dash of hot sauce (it called for chopped jalapeno and I had none), garlic and fresh squeezed lime juice. Best to let it marinate for a day, but I only had 1 hour. I then skewered it and grilled in on the grill. Even by itself, the sample I had to ‘check if it was done’, was mighty tasty.
The sauce began with two teaspoons of olive oil, cumin and ‘tandoori masala spice’ from Khushi – which was deep red and more sweet than hot I thought, so I used quite a bit. (Note to self, bug Khushi for more of that!) Then you add a can of fat free evaporated milk, a can of chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. To that you add the grilled chicken and then throw in some chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and serve over rice.
Weightwatchers points: 7 per serving (pictured above) according to the website.

Picnic by the Side of the Road

We had a long, hot drive ahead of us today from Flagstaff (elevation 7000 ft) to Tucson (elevation 2500 feet). Leaving 80 degree weather (26 C) and quickly finding ourselves in 108 territory (42 C), we knew that we wouldn’t exactly be very hungry, but we packed a nice lunch to stop along the way and enjoy.
Somewhere south of Sedona but north of Phoenix there was a rest area called Sunset Point. Family members will find the irony of our yearly destination to Sunset Point in the Adirondacks. It was hot, but we found some shade, and really it was an amazing view.
For lunch, we had cold carrot and coriander soup, some fresh cherries, and yes I may have sneaked in a hot dog roll peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am in America afterall!
For the soup, it was my usual base of onion and garlic and chicken stock. Then I added a bag of normal carrots, peeled and chopped. I added a bit of orange juice as I blended this, and then added chopped coriander (cilantro) at the end. We ate it hot on Sunday night and had these leftovers cold on Monday.
Most disappointing as I was working out the weight watchers points with WW-nazi Susan, was the learning that onions are 1 point per cup. How odd that green beans are zero points with their substantial bulk, and onion, which I thought had no nutritional value, have 1 point. This, I decided, needed some researching.
It appears that 160 grams of onion (about a cup chopped) is 60 or so calories. This is 5% of daily allowance of carbohydrate and basically all sugar. However the onion is delivering 20% of your USRDA of Vitamin C – move over orange, there’s a new kid in town. Can you imagine what the vitamin C content of carrot, orange and onion soup is then? Onions also give us B6, manganese, folate, potassium and fiber. Really we should be sneaking onions in everywhere we can. If only the fried up, beer battered rings were just a bit better for you…
Weightwatchers points for lunch: 9 as follows – 2 for the soup, 1 for the cherries and 6 for the hot dog roll peanut butter and apricot jelly ‘sandwich’.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sockeye Salmon

For tonight’s version of my weekly salmon fix, I went out on a limb and bought some fresh sockeye salmon. Normally my salmon is Scottish salmon – a local source in the UK that is probably the best in the world. I’ll miss that when we move someday. I’ve tried the frozen Scottish salmon fillets and because I really like mine on the near-sushi side of rare, the frozen fillets just don’t work. So I treat the fresh Scottish days like a dying man – eat it now before it’s gone.
In fact, that’s exactly what Andy said about the documentary End of the Line. We can’t find anywhere showing it, so we haven’t seen it, but if you’ve read any news lately you probably know that End of the Line has had the same effect on the fishing business and the general public, retail grocery chains and chefs that Inconvenient Truth had. It’s about the over fishing of waters and how our children are unlikely to have any fresh fish left because of the way our fishing industry, and the consumers that force the costs down, are behaving. Anyways, it’s the 80’s ‘I don’t eat fois gras’ or ‘I don’t eat veal’ circles and god forbid you order a sea bass at a business dinner. (I did last week, and it was sustainably farmed, and very yummy thank you very much). Andy, always one to stir the pot, says his strategy is to eat his now before it goes.
But, back to the sockeye. I had told Andy we’d be eating it and he replied about the name “It sounds like a Tex Avery cartoon character who has disagreements with Bugs Bunny”. I thought I better try a more trusted source. I was surprised to learn that it’s essentially Pacific salmon to my Atlantic salmon of Scottish salmon variety. Though that actually made sense because I said it looked more like the wild Alaskan salmon they often sell at Waitrose. And you all have no doubt seen documentaries of bears catching salmon in the rivers in Alaska. I so wish I could just jump in and get all the free sushi I want!
I was also surprised because I always thought those river fish in places like Michigan and Wisconsin were the sockeye salmon. Well, it turns out they are. While Pacific in nature, landlocked versions live in most of the states west of the Mississippi, and even into New York. Man, those fish got a little lost along the way, eh?
One last fact about the sockeye – when they swim up river to spawn they turn red with green heads and grow racing stripes along their sides. Man, don’t you wish humans had some signals like that? Or well, maybe, I think I’ve seen the red and green and stripy thing on south London public transportation, nevermind.
How did it taste you ask? To be honest, a lot more ‘fishy’ than the Scottish. I did the same honey-orange-chipotle marinade and pan fried the fillets in butter. The skin didn’t crisp as the fish was overall much less fatty than the Scottish. The texture was similar with bands of fish that delicate slide away. Sadly the fillets I bought had bones, so that was a new experience to have to deal with. I’d cook them again, but they don’t replace my beloved Scottish.
We served them with asparagus made on the barbecue grill and broccolini done Italian style with olive oil and garlic. You boil the broccolini first and then sauté them with garlic and a teensy bit of olive oil. It was Susan’s first experience with the broccolini and although not enjoying broccoli, she gave it a thumbs up. I’m sure, given it’s deep green colour, that it must be packed with good for you stuff.
Weightwatchers points: 8 as follows – 6 for the salmon fillet, 1 for the butter and ½ each for the honey and olive oil.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

4th of July Barbecue

It’s fourth of July so it’s time for great American dinners with hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob.
Standing in for the hot dogs is Mr Smoked Bratwurst. Ahhhhh so many calories and fat smushed into such a small space. And in a potato dough hotdog roll with all the yumminess of white refined flour you’d think I’d be in too much of a coma to even be able to type this up.
Playing next to the meat is corn on the cob, brushed with olive oil and chipotle, and grilled. And finally, nothing is more American than long green beans. We threw in some salad too, though minus the goat cheese as mr Smoked Bratwurst didn’t allow for much wiggle room.
We finished this all off with my super low points margaritas – just tequila, lime, ice and a fresco tonight.
I’d write more, but we’re off to see the fireworks.
Weightwatchers points: 17 as follows: 8 for the bratwurst, 3 for the bun, 3 for the salad dressing & topping, 1 for the corn on the cob and another each for the olive oil and butter.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Grilled pork with corn and tomato salsa and sweet potato fry up

In the waitrose monthly free magazine, an extended brochure of their various ranges, there was a lovely spread on summer picnics. I saw the pork with corn and tomato salsa and was inspired. Of course I did my own thing, but credit is still due to them for the idea.
I brushed the corn with olive oil and barbecue spice marinade, and grilled until nicely charred. I took the leftover marinade and chopped up some red onion, sweet potato and a little chorizo and then fried that in a big pan like you would with breakfast hashbrowns. I then marinated the pork with the same marinade plus a little honey and grilled those up.
Some of the corn we ate as it was, grilled on the cob. And some of the corn got chopped up with tomatoes, cilantro (coriander), and red onion for a little salsa.
We actually had a starter of tenderstem broccoli with the leftover beurre blanc from last night but didn’t show that here. With me going out of town tomorrow and Andy on an all-pizza-and-croissant diet I figured I better use up all of our remaining veg before I leave.
Imagine 5 veg servings in this meal alone: tomato, onion, broccoli, sweet potato and corn.
Weightwatchers points: 16 as follows: 5 for the pork, 6 for the generous amounts of olive oil used, 1 each for the sweet potatoes and corn, and 3 for the chorizo.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Last night's dinner tonight

Cod with a citrus beurre blanc

Last night we ended up effectively going to bed without dinner. I blame the heat wave in London. Given that everything was prepped last night for our cod dinner, this evening’s cooking was a breeze. And without the starchy butternut soup, I added some lovely first of the season corn on the cob.


After a great success with a meaty sauce on last week’s cod, I decided to try something more delicate. Given how low in points a piece of cod is, I could splurge and do a beurre blanc. I’ve been told that when you are learning French sauces they start you on beurre blanc (white butter) first. It’s supposed to be a simple sauce – wine and shallots, then drain off the shallots and slowly whip in the butter until it thickens. No cream, no flour, no corn starch. Mine didn’t thicken, but it tasted lovely, and I went the extra mile and added this lovely lemon peel powder I have so technically it was a citrus beurre blanc.


For the cod, I flipped the raw fillets in some flour, pan seared the outside and shoved in the oven for ten minutes.


Finally some green beans and salad made up the rest of the plate.


This was a lovely, slow to eat, fulfilling dinner: Perfect for a warm summer evening. We’ll be eating a lot of cod.


Weightwatchers Points: 13 as follows: 3 for the fish, 5 for the beurre blanc, 4 for the salad toppings, 1 for the corn

Off to bed without dinner

Butternut soup starter, and as it turns out, no main meal

Andy and I spent the day emailing each other about how hungry we were. My lunch was catered as I was in a meeting and while I stayed away from the thai noodles and springrolls, I did have a second helping of the sea bass. So maybe I was just fished out after a fish starter and fish main at a business dinner the night before. We had planned to cook Cod this evening after the success a couple of weeks ago. But feeling hungry, Andy and I both agreed that some starchy soup would be good to take the edge off.

I whipped up a batch of soup base – yellow onion, garlic and chicken stock. Then poured in a bag of pre-chopped butternut and brought that to a boil until soft. I threw all that in a blender and added a bit of cream, some maple syrup and chilli powder.

As we were starving, we each went for a big bowl.

After the starter, I was feeling very full so we agreed to put off dinner for an hour or two. I had all the ingredients prepped, salad dressing made, salad washed, etc. Two and a half hours later, well passed 9 in the evening, we agreed that there was no need for dinner.

How 2 people can be so starving and then skip dinner altogether, I do not know.

Weightwatchers points: 5 points for effectively 2 helpings of soup

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pork with summer cherries and sweet potato fries

Tonight I've given Andy a turn to write the daily blog.

So, today it’s my turn to write, as I’m doing some of the cooking. We’re starting with pork tenderloin – or, as Asda calls it, pork fillet. Asda is the UK branch of Walmart, so I think we can all work on the assumption that tenderloin has too many syllables for the executives, and they need to dumb it down.

It’s a fantastic cut of meat – long, cylindrical, fairly low fat (as pork goes), easy and quick to cook.

Today I’m pan/pot roasting it. Made a crust of ground almond, rock salt and chipotle, and stuck it to the fillet with a brush of beer. Frankly, it didn’t stick brilliantly; but enough stuck. Although it might be better to go with an egg wash.
Then I fried it with a little butter to crisp up the coating and to sear the outside, and then stuck it in the oven to roast for a quarter of an hour.

Leaving it to rest out of the pan, I deglazed the pan with some cheap and crappy red wine, and some cherries that I’ve whizzed up in a blender to make a cherry juice, and some pepper, chilli and a little cinnamon. A spicy, lovely and sweet reduced sauce that works well with the spicy pork.

Meanwhile, Beth’s cooking some sweet potato fries, with more of that BBQ3000 magic, and a splash of olive oil, roasting them. And sautéing some spinach for tonight's green.

Weightwatchers points: 13 points as follows: 6 for the pork and sauce, 6 for the sweet potato fries, and 1 for the butter on the spinach

Soup and Salad a la Leftovers

Staring into the fridge I found the tupperware container of the carrot and parsnip mash staring back at me along with the 3rd steak we grilled last night, and, on the counter, the bag of mini pitas from last night’s pita chips.

So for a nice filling Saturday lunch I decided to do a little leftover alchemy.

For the soup, I started with my normal base of garlic and onions in a little butter and then added chicken stock when the onions were nice and soft. I dumped in the carrot and parsnip mash and let them all come back to a nice simmer. I took that off the heat, threw it in the blender for a whiz and then brought it back onto the stove. I finished it off with a big dose of chili powder, some more maple syrup and a bit of cream.

For the salad, I used the 2 open containers of salad – one a mix of leaves that we just didn’t finish earlier in the week and one a bag of wild rocket I bought for our sandwiches except neither of us ate very many sandwiches this week for lunch. It feels so good not to waste food! I did my usual French walnut oil Dijon dressing and then topped the salad with slices of the steak, goat cheese, granny smith apple and almonds.

Finally I prepped the pitas exactly as I did last night – they were THAT good.

We dipped the pitas in the soup and used them as bases of little sandwiches from the salad.

What a filling lunch. And way (weigh?) more points than usual for lunch but we had them to spare today after a simple breakfast of low fat yogurt and fresh berries and cherries.

Weightwatchers points: 16 points as follows: 2 for the leftover steak, 3.5 for the soup, 6.5 for the pita chips, and 4 for the salad dressing/toppings.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Grilled steak and aubergine garlic goo

When we went on our first boat trip to Turkey a few years ago, we were delighted by a Turkish dish I believe is technically called Sarimsakli. The chefs made it nearly every day with a different vegetable inclusion – sometimes just watercress, sometimes julienned carrots, sometimes, cucumber, and my favorite, grilled aubergine (eggplant, brinjals depending on what English you speak). We would eat large quantities of it and soak up any that was left with old crusty bread. We kept asking the chef what is was but our ability to learn Turkish was limited. I can just about say thank you. So we called it garlic goo and that stuck pretty well. What was so weird is that *everybody* loved this – even picky eaters Greg and Mark.

When I got back home I tried to whip up a batch and was shocked to see how much garlic you needed to get the same taste. We’re talking 4-5 cloves of garlic to a half cup of yogurt. Ouch, no vampires here I say!

So for this I used frozen slices of pre-grilled aubergines. I used to sauté the aubergines myself but that makes you use a lot of olive oil, and when I found these perfect, no oil, grilled aubergines I figured that was a nice cheat indeed. Not so ironically there was a label on the pack saying “Delia’s Cheats”. Delia is one smart woman. I added this to full fat Greek style plain yogurt. I looked it up online and even though it’s full fat it’s not actually that bad for you. And I suppose the goodness of yogurt trumps the badness of dairy fat in this case.

For a nice crispy thing to spread the goo on, I sliced up pitas, brushed on a light coating of olive oil and then sprinkled on Penzey’s oddly named “Barbecue 3000” spice blend. I broiled these in a super hot oven and found that they were a great substitute for French fries. Seriously.

Not to be completely overshadowed by the goo, our protein tonight is steak. Marinated in olive oil and more of that Barbecue 3000. It was great on it’s own, but I tended to dip even the steak in the garlic goo and was not disappointed.

And finally, we have a side salad of maiche with tomatoes and goat cheese. The dressing was the usual walnut oil Dijon with, you guessed it, a special guest star showing of the Barbecue 3000 to tie it all together.

Before you get too excited I do have to admit that the serving, as shown was well over my usual dinner allowance at a hefty 18.5 points. For my friends on 22 points, I apologise, but that was a large steak and lots of crisps, so you know where to cut.

Weightwatchers points: 18.5 points as follows: 7 for the steak, 3.5 for the olive oil, 3 for the pita, 2 for the yogurt, and 3 for salad dressing and goat cheese.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wasabi salmon, wasabi mash

Given that I have to fulfill my salmon craving the challenge for me will be to write up something new and different every time I serve it. Tonight we decided to use some of the Penzey’s wasabi powder we purchased when we were in Minnesota for Ms Rodas’s wedding. A couple of months ago Andy bumped his big behind into the spice shelves and we had wasabi explosion. He broke the lid of the container so its been wrapped in cellophane and ziplocked up.

I read once that the practice of putting wasabi on sushi originated from an antiseptic need – to kill the bacteria and such that attracted itself to the raw fish. I assume (read hope) that the sushi I indulge upon does not need the wasabi – but what the hell is sushi but a good excuse to eat a bunch of salty magnificent soy with no-spice-weenies-allowed-here wasabi?

Another interesting fact about wasabi – get this, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Inhaling or sniffing wasabi vapor has an effect like smelling salts, and this property has been exploited by researchers attempting to create a smoke alarm for the deaf. One deaf subject participating in a test of the prototype awoke within 10 seconds of wasabi vapor being sprayed into his sleeping chamber.” Now that’s a rude awakening!

Tonight the salmon is marinated in sesame oil, fresh ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. I used three teaspoons of wasabi powder in to about 2 tablespoons of liquid from the oil and soy sauce, and that was NOT enough wasabi in turns out…but if you use paste, be careful as I think that could be stronger.

The mash potato was done with maris piper potatoes, a bit of butter and fat free milk and then it’s own generous helping of fresh ginger and a couple of teaspoons of wasabi powder – again, subtle, so we could add more powder.

And finally a simple salad of baby greens and baby plum tomatoes with a dressing of sesame oil, Katy O’s asian pear and vanilla jam, lime juice and a dash of cream to make it stick on the lettuce.

Weightwatchers points: 13 as follows: 7 for the salmon, 2 each for the butter/cream, the potato and the sesame oil

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chicken and roast asparagus gnocchi bake



Off the diet I make this gnocchi bake with fried breaded chicken breasts (done in a cornflake batter, yum) with tomatoes, beans and lots of cream and cheese. With thoughts of that running around my brain, I decided to attempt a version which is healthier and bulked out with veggies.
There is a lot of preparation to this one – but I did it all in under 30 minutes, so it doesn’t have to take eons. There are a lot of dishes to wash, but that’s generally Andy’s job when I cook.


First, boil the gnocchi and then drain and rinse with cold water to keep them from getting mushy. At the same time, dice up the chicken and sauté until nicely browned but still tender. Also at the same time, roast the asparagus under your broiler with some olive oil and salt. Chop up some tomatoes and throw in last night’s leftover green beans in a large bowl and then add the gnocchi, chicken and roast asparagus.

The sauce is simply chicken broth from a bullion cube, white wine, and a bit of corn starch to thicken. Add the sauce to the big bowl and shake. Pour out the pasta, chicken, veg and sauce into a glass baking dish.


Finally I topped this with a mixture of shredded mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs and those yummy crispy French onions. Bake in a medium hot oven for another half hour while you clean up all the preparation dishes.


Prognosis? I miss the cream for sure – this one was sharper than I would have liked. Maybe use a simple tomato sauce instead of the chicken broth/white wine , and add a little sweetener/hot sauce.


Weightwatchers points: 12 as follows: 2 for the chicken, 5 for the gnocchi, 2 for the sauce, 3 for the cheesy onion topping

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unconventional roast (cod) dinner

I’ve been meaning to branch out for weeks beyond my usual salmon and tuna purchases in the fish aisle. Back home in the states I am equally comfortable with snapper, seabass and tilapia, but upon my few trials of cooking up the usual suspects here in the UK – cod, haddock, halibut – I was very unhappy with the results. Now that I have a blog to write, and a desire to try and cook something different every day, I am boldly attempting to cook with cod.
It’s not that I am unfamiliar with this fish – I often order it, albeit usually fried up and with chips – and we often get it as one course of many in a tasting menu. It’s just that this is a fish that has to be cooked perfectly. Raw cod does not sushi make, and overcooked cod is just hideously dry. What you want is that perfect texture of flaky, juicy white fish. And so that’s why I went for the ‘roast’ option this evening. All the reading I did (and by ‘all’ I mean the 2 minutes I went online) suggests a hot oven and then something like 5-8 minutes of roasting.
And since we’re ‘roasting’ we might as well go for a roast beef metaphor. I coated mine with flour and salt and then placed this in a small drop of butter in a frying pan one minute a side. I then brushed on a marinade of Worchester sauce, gravy browning sauce (essentially water and sugar), balsamic and olive oil for a meaty taste on this delicate fish. I tucked that in the hot oven for more like 8-10 minutes. It was juicy and savory and wonderful.
What goes with roast beef? Hmmm let me think…what country is best known for their ‘roasts’…ah, I know, England. So tonight we’re teaming up the cod with carrot & parsnip mash, green beans and Yorkshire Puddings. Sure, I’ve taken out the meat grease and the potatoes and yes, well, the gravy, but essentially we have all the yumminess of a traditional English roast dinner.
Carrot and parsnip mash is made by boiling the carrots and parsnips, adding a bit of butter and seasoning and using an electric mixer to whip up.
The Yorkshire Puddings essentially follow this recipe on epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Herbed-Yorkshire-Puddings-105964 . You can follow that or make deletions – especially with regard to the eggs and whole-fat milk used. I went with 1 full egg and the rest egg whites only and low fat milk. You can also substitute in any herbs and go for dry versus fresh. Mine were made with fresh basil, plus some dried oregano, tarragon and thyme. Please do not eliminate all the olive oil in the muffin tins – maybe 1/4 teaspoon each is all that's needed-- nor try to take a short cut of heating the oil first before putting in the batter, as both of those steps are what are needed to get the Yorkshire puddings to puff up so nicely. I use a mini tartlet pan but you can use a full size muffin pan as well. Regardless of pan, they will fall on you as they cool, but they will still taste divine. (yes, Craig & Kevin, even without any gravy.)
Weightwatchers points: 13 as follows: 4 for the cod, 3 for the carrot& parsnip mash (essentially from butter), 1 for the beans (also butter), 5 (generously) for 6 of the mini Yorkshire puddings

Monday, June 22, 2009

Baked Mexican(ish) Goodness

I don’t know exactly when I invented this recipe, but I had a hankering for tex mex cuisine and couldn’t decide on doing burritos, fajitas or enchiladas. Fundamentally they all have the same underlying ingredients (Wendy, don’t kill me) so I created something that was a hybrid all-of-the-above. It’s great for dinner parties as you can do all the massive pre-work ahead and then assemble and set aside or even in the fridge and then just pop it in the oven when you’re ready to serve. I think when I served it to Ashley and Marike and they asked me what it was called we branded it “Baked Mexican Goodness” and it stuck.
To make you need to prep 4 ingredients: cooked rice, a mock enchilada sauce, salsa and some sort of meat. The rice is easy, so I won’t say anything there. For the mock enchilada sauce I cook up some chicken stock and then add some corn flour to thicken and some cheese and chili powder. Try to make about 1.5-2 cups worth of sauce, (500 mls for the metric readers). For the salsa, you could use store bought but I whipped up a simple batch of tomato and coriander (cilantro) with hot pepper sauce. And tonight’s meat is chicken – pan fried, a little on the under done side since it will cook more in the oven later and you don’t want it dry.
Then, you put all that on the counter. In a glass baking dish you spread 2/3 of the enchilada sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. For the rolls, take out a tortilla, add a dollop of rice, chicken and salsa and then roll up and place on the enchilada sauce in the baking tray. Repeat until you run out of tortillas. Then spread with the remaining enchilada sauce, a sprinkle of grated cheese and whatever is left of your salsa.
Throw that in the oven and when the tortillas are crisp and the cheese on top is bubbly you have dinner. It makes great leftovers too. Plate it with a bit of salad and you have one delightful dinner of Goodness.
Weightwatchers points: assumes you eat 2 rolls worth: 13 points – 3 for the chicken, 4 for the tortillas, 2 for the rice, 4 for the sauce/cheese.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sesame soy ginger duck with sweet potato butternut mash

A few months ago Waitrose was running a special on duck legs so I had some in the freezer shouting out to me as I sought inspiration for our Saturday evening dinner. Normally we’d be cooking these up confit style – boiled in duck or geese fat. Tonight we forced ourselves to think creatively about how best to cook these with a more healthy approach.
I did a quick look-up to see how many points the duck leg was going to account for on its own – a whopping 16 or so if I left the skin on and only 4 with the skin off. I compromised by cooking it skin on but then only nibbling on the crispy bits that were worth the expense.
So a modified cooking method for the duck is as follows: brown the skin for 5 minutes by placing it in a hot frying pan with a knob of butter. Then put it in the oven with a coating of asian inspired flavor – sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and honey. About 25 minutes.
The sweet potato and butternut is flavored with ginger and a bit of maple syrup to sweeten the mash.
And finally for a bit of green I served a rocket (arugula) salad with a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil (5 to 1 ratio), a drizzle of balsamic and a bit of parmesan over all that.
Weightwatchers points: 13 with a glass of wine and discipline about the duck skin: 6 points for the duck, 3 for the mash, 2 for the salad, 2 for the wine.

Berry salad and wholegrain french toast - breakfast

I woke up this morning and needed a big kick of carb – nothing like French toast to satisfy that kind of craving and we had half a loaf of bread sitting around waiting to grow mold over the weekend in any case. Coincidence? I think not.
To take some of the heft out of my ordinary French toast (which would be practically deep fried in butter), I instead whipped up and egg mixture of egg whites only and threw in some fat free milk, lots of cinnamon, vanilla and even a little clove and chilli pepper.
I put a teeny weeny bit of butter in the pan and cooked the bread up – 3 fantastically carb happy slices for each of us.
And then I topped it off with leftover fruit salad from the week. Anyone who’s shared an office with me recently has had to see me chomping away on this fruit salad every day – it has a base of diced apple and nectarines, and then is finished off with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
A drizzle of pure maple syrup finishes it all off.
Weightwatchers points: about 8 – 4 for the bread, 1 for the egg and milk, 1 for the butter, 1 for the syrup and 1 for the fruit.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Grilled steak ciabatta with garlic butter and crispy onions

This one is shocking to get in with only 13 points. It’s not the healthiest of meals, but this one is a real sensory pleasure.
We got the idea from our recent trip to the Algarve in Portugal, you know the place – the vacationland region of southern Portugal made famous by the disappearance of little Madeline McCann. Anyhow, let’s just say that the Algarve should not be known by their food. The best meal we had was the can of Pringles and box of brownies we brought over from the UK. As a matter of fact, we often pass this restaurant on Trinity Road called “The Algarve” and wonder what could possibly be on the menu that is keeping them in business.
One thing on every menu at the golf courses along the Algarve coast was a Portuguese steak sandwich – and most came on garlic-buttered ciabatta with crispy fried onions. We thought there would be no way to recreate this within the scope of a weightwatchers point counting day, but we were pleasantly surprised. Quite frankly, even with the garlic butter, there aren’t a lot of bad ingredients and it’s not like we’re breading and deep frying the thing. Although I hope you’re thinking what I’m thinking: a deep fried and breaded steak and onion ring sandwich….yum.
So we marinate our steak in some olive oil and adobo spice, grilling it about a minute a side. We slice that up and put aside. We cut the ciabatta down the middle and whip up some garlic butter (1T butter to 1 clove garlic) and apply to the bread with a brush. I buy paint brushes from the homeware shop and make sure to keep them in the kitchen and not mixed up with the paint. Applying with a brush means you don’t over do it but do get enough coverage. Sprays are not ideal. I toast this under the broiler with the buttered inside sides up until nicely golden brown. Then I take them out of the oven, apply some lettuce, tomato, the steak and the crispy onions and put it all back in the oven. Adding cheese and getting it all nice and melty also adds to the experience.
Along with our sandwich we serve just a bit of salad and gazpacho tonight. The sandwich is so filling you’d be hard pressed to eat much more.
Weightwatchers points: 13 as follows: 4 for the bread, 4 for the steak, 2 for the onions, 2 for the butter, and 1 for the trace oil in the gazpacho or salad dressing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Triple green veg and chicken pasta

The three green ingredients in this fairly straightforward pasta dish are asparagus, tenderstem broccoli and rocket (aka arugula). On a whim, after last night’s chantenay carrots, I decided to type in www.tenderstem.co.uk, and I kid you not, it exists. Go check it out yourself. Susan, sadly there’s no ‘sun, sea and chantenaytagline immediately obvious, but I suspect you’ll find enough to chuckle about.
First of all Tenderstem is a registered trademark, so technically we should be giving them the respect their marketing budget has bought and typing it Tenderstem®. How this isn’t the same vegetable as Broccoli Rabe (aka Rapini, Broccoletti, etc) , which we Italians have been eating for years, I do not know. But it always surprises me how many things have completely different English names from one mother-tongue-country to the next. Don’t get me started on eggplant-aubergine-brinjal.
I’m thinking the asparagus in tonight’s meal is feeling left out, not having an a.k.a of its own. I guess because it’s such an old vegetable the name just took. There is an asparagus recipe in Apicius’s recipe book (the oldest cookbook on record from the 3rd century AD). But now this is all sounding a little academic and you don’t really need to know that much about the roots (ha, pun intended) of some green vegetable’s name.
Oh, but i can't stop now, so here’s what Wikipedia has to say about asparagus:

“The English word "asparagus" derives from classical Latin, but the plant was once known in English as sperage, from the Medieval Latin sparagus. This term itself derives from the Greek aspharagos or asparagos, and the Greek term originates from the Persian asparag, meaning "sprout" or "shoot". Asparagus was also corrupted in some places to "sparrow grass"; indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes John Walker as having written in 1791 that "Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry". In Gloucestershire and Worcestershire it is also known simply as "grass". Another known colloquial variation of the term, most common in parts of Texas, is "aspar grass" or "asper grass". In the Midwest United States and Appalachia, "spar grass" is a common colloquialism. Asparagus is commonly known in fruit retail circles as "Sparrows Guts", etymologically distinct from the old term "sparrow grass", thus showing convergent language evolution.”
Ahh those crazy kids in those fruit retail circles. What ever will they think of next? Enough about that, hopefully our hero the asparagus will feel better for not having a registered trademark or a proper a.k.a name.
So tonight I sautéed some chicken, blanched the tenderstem and the asparagus and tossed it all in a little creamy white wine sauce with some cooked fusilli. I topped all of that with some fresh wild rocket, freshly shaved parmesan and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.
Weightwatchers points: 13 as follows: 4 for the pasta, 3 for the chicken, 0 for the veg, 2 for the pine nuts, 1 for the parmesan and 3 for various sauce elements.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Grilled pork chops and 3 colour veggies

Most of us have heard that we’re supposed to be eating 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg. And most of us have heard that we’re supposed to eat ‘all the colours’ of fruit and veg to get the biggest spectrum of the vitamins and nutrients. Let’s face it, most of it is green. Nothing against green – in fact tomorrow you’re in for an all green line up, but it’s hard sometimes to think of orange and yellow and purple.

So we start tonight with a tea cup full of gazpacho. You’ll be horrified to learn that I didn’t whip up a batch from scratch but rather poured it out of a 1 liter container from Costco. But rest assured, this stuff is good – and I did add a dollop of crème fraiche and smidgen of hot sauce to help pretty it up. Frankly I’m amazed at the quality – I bought it on a whim. Pasteurized long life gazpacho in a milk-like cardboard pouring container – you *know* I had to try me some of that. It’s got olive oil in the list of otherwise completely veggie ingredients (tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and garlic) but only a smidge so if you need a treat and you open up the fridge looking for something sinful like bacon and cheese, you can pour yourself a cup of this and hope that the moment passes.

Second up, and playing for the “Orange” team, are the chantenay carrots. These little itty bitty carrots are all the rage these days. And a quick peak on http://www.chantenay.co.uk/ tells me they’ve poured a pretty marketing penny into their promotion. Who knew you could have so much information about a niche varietal of carrot. Anyhow, tonight I tossed mine in olive oil, maple syrup, chipotle and smoked sea salt and roasted them in a hot oven.

And last we follow up with French beans (snore, yawn) for the green. Nothing fancy, they were left over from the salmon dinner. I blanch mine, trying to keep them in boiling water as little as possible so they stay green and don’t go grey.

And the pork chop with its oh so tempting crackling which sadly will have to go in the wastebin, was prepped in olive oil, honey, chipotle , salt and pepper and grilled about 4 minutes a side on the gas-weber.

Weightwatchers points: 13 as follows: 6 for the pork chop, 1 for the carrots, 1 for the beans, 5 for the olive oil, crème fraiche and syrup in the prep.