Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chocolate Roulade

The last holiday-appropriate dessert I'll share this week is my favorite.

Chocolate Roulade looks so spectacular it'd be easy to speculate that it's difficult to make.

There's no doubt about it, it can be fiddly, but there's a couple of simple tricks to making this beautiful dessert and one is rolling the cake.

My mother would use a kitchen towel, flipping the baked oblong cake onto the towel, and then taking the corners she'd try and roll the cake inward.

Maybe you've tried this method, and like my mother's experience, found the cake adhering to the towel in a disastrous mess.

When I was a chef, this was a very popular dessert with our clients so over the years, I probably made several hundred.

Very early on, via trial and error, one of my colleagues and I discovered a more manageable and successful way to roll the cake -- no kitchen towels and no mess involved. (See details below.)

Also, there are a number of recipes out there for chocolate roulade. Some include flour, some cocoa powder instead of chocolate; the recipe I'll share today has no flour -- only eggs, sugar, and melted bittersweet chocolate.

I like this recipe over the others because it's uncomplicated, gluten-free, and the roulade is melt-in-your mouth light and delectable.

As I mentioned yesterday strawberries, which feature as decoration around the roulade (pic above), are not in season now and because of that the container I bought were expensive, about $5 for a pound, plus their flavor and color were somewhat anemic.

Consider the alternative presentations I list below before buying out-of-season berries to decorate your roulade.

Chocolate Roulade
1) Line an oblong baking tray (approx 11 in by 17 in) with foil. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon light oil, i.e. canola, over foil. With your fingers, smooth the oil over the entirety of the foil.
2) Sprinkle about 1-2 tablespoon plain flour (it could be any flour, wheat or rice etc.) over the oiled foil. Shake the baking tray so the flour completely coats the oil which is completely coating the foil.
Note: The above two steps are very important. If the foil is not completely coated with oil then flour, you'll find that the cake, when cooked, will stick to the foil in those spots.

3) Separate 6 large eggs or 7 small eggs -- yolks in one mixing bowl and whites in another mixing bowl.
4) To the yolks, add 4 oz of fine sugar.
5) Beat the yolks and sugar until light and creamy (pic to left).
6) Into a small bowl, break an 8 oz block of good quality bittersweet chocolate. Pop the bowl into the microwave and run for a minute or so or until the chocolate has melted.
7) Using a rubber spatula, scrape the melted chocolate into the bowl of whipped yolks and sugar.
8) Gently stir the melted chocolate through the egg yolk mix with the spatula. Set aside.
9) Making sure your beaters are completely clean of egg yolks, now use them whip the whites until they're stiff.
10) Using your spatula, scrape the egg yolk, sugar and chocolate mix over the beaten egg whites (pic below to left).

11) With your spatula (or a whisk), fold the chocolate mix through the egg whites. Don't beat the mix rather, use a gentle circular motion to fold the ingredients together.
12) Pour the mix onto your oiled and floured baking tray, scraping the mixing bowl with your spatula; spreading the mix evenly over the tray.
13) Pop tray into a 350-degree oven for about 10 -12 mins.
14) Remove tray from oven and let it sit and cool on a wire rack or chopping board.
15) Once it's cooled, pull the foil away from the sides of the cake, as in the pic below.
16) Now take a couple of the foil corners and lift the cake out of the tray, laying it on a flat surface.
17) Rip off a piece of Cling Wrap, one that's a bit longer than the length of the cake, and place it over the top of the cake.

Note: This is the trick my colleague and I discovered -- Cling Wrap, rather than a kitchen towel, is the no-mess solution to rolling the cake into a "roulade."

18) Now take the two top corners of foil and Cling Wrap with your thumbs and forefingers and flip the cake over so the Cling Wrap is under the cake and the foil is now facing up.
19) Gently peel the foil off the cake.
20) For the roulade filling, whip a pint of cream and spice it with cinnamon and nutmeg, and a little icing sugar. Or melt some additional chocolate and fold it into the whipped cream. It will turn hard and fill the whipped cream with little spindles of chocolate.

I have found the whipping cream in the U.S. to be much lower in butterfat and higher in water than cream in Australia with the consequence that it doesn't whip into firm peaks. And if the cream is too soft and watery it will ruin the roulade because it will saturate the cake.

Try using mascarpone or sour cream, both of which are already quite thick, if you have concerns about regular whipping cream holding its shape.

Having spread cream over the cake, now take the two corners of Cling Wrap closest to you, and lift the cake slightly, turning it in and rolling it gently, using the Cling Wrap to guide the cake inward.
22) Have a long platter close by, and just before your final roll, use the Cling Wrap to lift the cake onto your platter, making the final rolling motion with the cake on the platter.

To Serve: Dust the top of the roulade with icing sugar. If you want to decorate the roulade with colorful berries think strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, though keep in mind they're expensive at this time of the year.

An alternative might be to top the roulade with chunks of chopped nut toffee or chopped chunks of bittersweet chocolate mixed with roasted pecan and or walnut pieces.

Or you could present the roulade plain, dusted with a little icing sugar, and serve it as an accompaniment to the Pears in Red Wine featured yesterday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pears in Red Wine with Cinnamon and Lemon

Fruit pies are popular during the holiday season in part because winter fruits, like apples and pears are in season and abundant.

Additionally, apples and firm-fleshed pears lend themselves to cooking because their flesh doesn't disintegrate into mush when baked.

Soft summer fruits like peaches, cherries, and red berries, are not in season now. This means if they are available fresh at your grocery store, they've probably been shipped in from a distance (perhaps a hot-house farm in CA) with a winter price tag double that of their summer price.

Some summer fruits are available frozen and or tinned, and if you preserved fruit late last summer, you may well have a stash of bottled peaches, cherries etc. in your pantry.

Bottled, frozen or tinned summer fruits are great accompaniments to winter desserts, like the bottled peaches I used to decorate the baked rice pudding featured yesterday. However, I tend to think preserved summer fruits turn too mushy if cooked into pies.

The three desserts I'm featuring this week include bottled summer peaches as decoration, baked fresh pears (today's dessert), and tomorrow, fresh, out-of-season and thus expensive strawberries -- three different ways to integrate in-season and out-of-season fruit into delectable, holiday-appropriate desserts.

Pears in Red Wine with Cinnamon and Lemon
1) Choose a firm-fleshed pear like Bosc and allow half a pear per person.
2) Peel pears and then cut them in half. You can leave the cores and pips intact.
3) Lay pear halves into a baking dish (pic below).

4) Pour red wine over pears so that they're partially submerged. I used an open bottle of red wine that had been sitting about for a week or so.
5) Sprinkle the pears with soft brown sugar -- about a teaspoon of sugar per pear.
6) Add a couple of whole cinnamon sticks, or a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, and several whole cloves.
7) Slice the peel from half a lemon (just the peel and not the white pith). Toss the peel into the baking dish.
8) Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for about 45 mins. Each 15 mins, turn the pears, moistening them well with the liquid in the pan.

To Serve: Pears can be served hot or at room temperature. I served them at room temperature having transferred the pears into a serving bowl (pic at top) and left them covered and sitting for a few hours.

I could have poured the liquid from the serving bowl back into a pot and heated it, pouring it back over the pears just before serving, however, I didn't, but this would certainly be an option.

The lemon-spiced whipped cream I mentioned at the bottom of yesterday's post went well with this dessert, as would a vanilla ice-cream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baked Rice Pudding with Peaches & Buttered Almonds

Last week, I left off with a recipe for savory rice cakes using Arborio rice.

I was featuring meal ideas using complex carbohydrates like vegetables, and grains such as Arborio rice, which is a high-starch complex carb.

Because it is high in starch, Arborio rice also lends itself well to desserts since it's sweet and sticky. And so today I'm have a recipe to share which capitalizes on those qualities.

I made this dessert for a Christmas party last week, in fact all the desserts I'll share this week I made for the same party.

They present beautifully and they're the kind of non- traditional desserts I talked about in my pre-Thanksgiving posts.

For example, the holiday desserts I'm posting this week are not pies, but they are:
  • budget-friendly,
  • simple to make,
  • made up of seasonal ingredients, and
  • because they're substantial desserts, serving just one with ice cream or whipped cream for your Christmas dinner would be ample.
Baked Rice Pudding with Peaches & Buttered Almonds
1) Pour 1 cup of Arborio rice into a pot with 2 cups of water.
2) Gently cook over low for about 15 mins.
3) Now add two cups of milk, and half a cup of raisins to the rice. Stir well. Cook a further 25 mins or until the rice is soft and has a risotto-like consistency.
4) Spoon cooked rice into a large mixing bowl and allow it to cool.
5) To the cooled rice add your favorite spice or a selection such as a teaspoon of cinnamon, half teaspoon nutmeg, one-quarter teaspoon cloves, one teaspoon ginger.
6) Add a half cup of soft brown sugar or you can substitute the sugar for honey or agave or even half a cup of orange marmalade.
7) Now add half a cup of ground almonds (optional) and the zest of one lemon.
8) Pour rice mix into a food processor and blend well.
9) Do a taste test; does it need more of one spice, more sweetener, more lemon zest?
10) Pour blended rice mix back into your mixing bowl; add 3 large eggs or 4 small eggs.
Optional: If you have some leftover eggnog, or an open bottle of Baileys you might like to add a half cup of one or the other; if you do add additional liquid, make it 4 eggs rather than three.
11) Using a fork gently beat eggs (& eggnog or Baileys) into rice mix and then spoon mix into a baking dish and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 mins.
12) Sit rice pudding atop a wire rack to cool.

To Serve: I decorated the top of my pudding with peaches, which had been bottled this past summer. You could use a tin of peaches, perhaps marinade them in a cup of brandy first, pouring the marinade over the pudding once you've laid the peaches around the top.

I then tossed a half cup of slivered blanched almonds in a skillet with a dob of butter and browned the almonds, dotting the peaches and the edge of the pudding with the almonds.

I served the pudding with a bowl of whipped cream to which I'd added a little icing sugar, the zest of half a lemon, a pinch of nutmeg and a half teaspoon of cinnamon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Aborio Rice Cakes

Yesterday's post featured low starch complex carbohydrates.

Namely, three vegetarian dishes topped with nuts, seeds, oils, and yogurt and eggs added for additional protein, flavor, and texture.

When we think of complex carbohydrates, we generally think starchy carbs like breads, cereals, grains, pasta.

Yet vegetables are carbohydrates, but because of their high-fiber content the sugars present enter the blood stream at a slower rate than say the starchy sugars present in white bread.

If you crave carbs more specifically, simple sugars, and if you experience sugar crashes after eating them, it may be that you're hypoglycemic.

Alternatively, simply rectifying your diet by including more fiber in the form of complex carbs--like veggies and high-fiber whole grains-- can help regulate blood sugar so that cravings don't occur.

Arborio rice, which we tend to eat as risotto, is a short-grain, high-starch rice. The starchiness gives risotto its creaminess and that starchiness quickly enters our blood stream as sugar, unless we're eating the risotto in conjunction with a plate of fibrous veggies, and perhaps a side of protein.

I tend to find a plate of risotto inadequate as a meal; within in a short period of time I'm feeling hungry for something else. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, if there isn't sufficient fiber, plus good oils and fats in a meal, then we reach for more and often it's a dessert.

But Arborio rice is delicious and creamy and so today, rather than suggest you avoid it, if you're on a weight-loss or low-starch diet, I've come up with a way to add fiber, flavor, color and thus additional nutrients in the effort to create a more healthful way to eat this yummy grain.

Arborio Rice Cakes

1) Pour one cup rice into a lightly oiled skillet, heat over med heat, browning rice slightly.
2) Pour two cups water or stock over rice, and place lid on skillet, turn heat to low. Cook for about 10 mins.
3) Meanwhile, chop your choice of veggies to add to the rice. I had some green peppers on hand and some brussels sprouts, and I added a chopped clove of garlic and a piece of ginger.
5) Add veggies to the skillet with another cup of water or stock. Instead of plain water or stock, I added a cup of leftover carrot soup.
Note: At this point you could also add a cup full of shrimp or your choice of fish, perhaps some salmon or chicken -- you get the idea.
6) Cook for another 10 -15 mins, stirring periodically, till the rice is soft and sticky, the veggies are soft, and till most of the liquid has been absorbed.
7) Tip cooked rice into a large bowl and allow it to cool. Add two or three eggs and a couple tablespoons of whole-grain flour; gently stir so ingredients bind.
8) Using a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the mix into a skillet lined with light olive oil or canola oil. Cook over med-to-low heat.
9) Flip the cakes with a spatula at around the 10 min mark and browning both sides.
10) Remove browned rice cakes from the skillet with a spatula and place them on a paper-towel lined tray. While you cook all the rice mix, keep the cooked cakes in on the tray in a warm oven.

To Serve: As you can see in the picture above, I served the rice cake with a sliced piece of baked chicken breast, a side of greens, and a side of vegetable relish. They'd also be fabulous served with the vegetable dishes featured yesterday or try them with the baked fish and wilted greens I featured a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Entertaining with Vegetables

Last week the theme was weight loss.

This week the topic is making conscious and self-loving food choices.

My intention is to also include tips on how to integrate those choices into family-friendly meals with health, weight, budget, flavor, and interest in mind.

As it happens, I was invited to a dinner last night and the host is vegetarian and a self-taught whiz in the kitchen.

William made a sumptuous meal for 10 and it was full of complex carbs, specifically vegetables with seeds, egg, and yogurt added for protein, texture, color and calories.

Complex carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruits , nuts, seeds and grains and they should make up at least half your daily food intake with simple carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour (cookies, cake, candy, etc.) making up a very small percentage of your daily, caloric intake.

It's easy to assume that an all-vegetarian meal will be unfulfilling, leaving you wanting for more, such as a filling dessert, but that's not the case if the vegetable dishes include enough fat and or oil to satiate the appetite.

If there isn't enough fat and or oil in a meal, then we do tend to reach for more food and often that will be simple carbs, like a dessert. Therefore, it's important to get good fats and oils into our diet because they're satiating and they discourage our desire for simple carbs.

The addition of grains like quinoa and buckwheat (both of which are high in protein), rice, barley, and pulses such as beans and lentils, adds starchy complex carbs and bulk to a vegetarian meal which also helps satiate the appetite.

William's dinner did not include any starchy complex carbs and I have to say I didn't miss them.
I loved the way his dishes were simply a combination of fresh seasonal vegetables colorfully presented in large bowls, and topped with yummy things like sunflower seeds, capers, and sesame oil. (I also noticed that he squeezed agave nectar over the pumpkin dish below.)

Whether or not you're watching your weight, you might like to try one or all three of William's vegetarian dishes over the holiday season.

Pumpkin with Green Beans & Capers
1) Thinly slice a butternut pumpkin, leaving the skin on.
2) Chop a brown onion and toss into an oil-lined skillet with the pumpkin pieces, gently cook over med heat.
3) Meanwhile, blanch a couple handfuls of green beans in a pot of boiling water for one minute, drain, and then toss the beans into the skillet with the other veggies.
4) Add some cherry tomatoes, a tablespoon each of pumpkin seeds and capers; salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with Agave Nectar if you wish.
5) Turn heat to low so veggies stay warm while you prepare the next dish.

Braised Onion, Fennel, Tomatoes & Seeds
1) Chop a Spanish onion into chunks.
2) Slice a whole fennel bulb into pieces.
3) Saute onion and fennel in a skillet with whole green beans and whole cherry tomatoes until veggies have wilted but are still slightly crunchy.
4) Season with a dash of Tamari or Braggs Amino Acids and top with roasted or raw sunflower seeds.

Chunky Spinach Salad
1) Wash, drain and rip spinach leaves into pieces, toss into a large bowl.
2) Peel and slice into chunks a couple of ripe avocados, place them atop the spinach.
3) Grate one raw beetroot, red or golden, and spread it in between the avocado chunks.
4) Liberally sprinkle sunflower seeds into the gaps between the grated beet and the avocado.
5) Squeeze juice from a lemon or an orange over the salad.
6) Dollop spoons of yogurt about the top of the salad, and then adhere half boiled eggs to the yogurt.
7) Line the edge of the bowl with peeled and sliced orange pieces.

To Serve: Place hot vegetables onto warm platters and present them with the salad plus small side bowls of additional yogurt, seeds, nuts, and lemon halves, and sesame and or olive oil for drizzling.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weight Loss: A Complex Emotional Issue

My post yesterday about the underlying emotional issues that cause weight gain hit home for many readers.

Sara Sullivan, who has made public her weight loss journey, and who I've been featuring this week, is an AB blood type, and when I researched the personality traits of ABs, I read that they're likely to have received mixed messages about emotional health.

Sara shared with me that her emotional life is complex (in the manner of an AB type) and in order to function in her day-to-life, she represses some of that complexity, which she's aware contributes to her habits and patterns around emotional eating.

However, it's one thing to be aware of emotional issues around food and eating, and another thing altogether changing one's behavior in relation to food. Yet awareness is a great place to start.

I had a message from a friend who read yesterday's post. She and her husband are on a weight- loss program, one that requires that they avoid simple carbs, like pasta, bread, cookies, cakes etc., and include complex carbs, like whole grains.

The challenge apparently, is that they crave the simple carbs and the euphoric feeling-response to the simple sugars.

I can understand that, that's why I find myself periodically mindlessly shoving handfuls of choccie into my mouth -- I crave the good feelings of a sugar high. But like my friend, the consequence of over-indulging is a blood sugar crash: fatigue, headache, no appetite, nausea, and feeling generally yuk.

A sugar high has the same effect on the brain as any mind-altering, addictive substance--we feel great initially, and then we crash. So there are unpleasant, uncomfortable, sometimes painful consequences to eating foods that are not healthful, yet we eat them regardless because we love the way they initially make us feel.

Here's something I learned from Dr. Joe Dispenza: when you respect and love yourself wholeheartedly, you refrain from causing yourself pain by making healthy loving choices.

First, though (and this is my addendum) negative emotions (which we attempt to soothe by over-feeding them sugar and other yummy treats) need to be acknowledged and made peace with, otherwise loving oneself is simply a great idea rather than a reality.

You can probably tell that I have a psychology degree. After culinary school, I worked for 8 years as a chef in Australia, England and France, returning to university in my mid-to late 20's to study psychology. And that's how I found my way to Boulder, to complete graduate work in Jungian Psychology and counseling.

The combination of a food background and psychology degree is an interesting one; I'm very aware of the emotional and behavioral challenges inherent in making healthy food choices at the grocery store, and then once home, the challenges around feeding oneself and one's family healthful meals.

Next week, I'll post on the topic of "loving food choices," like complex carbs versus simple carbs, and ways to integrate those choices into family-friendly meals with health, weight, budget, flavor and interest in mind.

And as I sign off for the week, I'd like to thank Sara Sullivan for allowing me to feature her story on this blog. Her weight-loss journey is truly an inspiration.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Emotional Eating

Making a commitment to lose weight is ultimately about changing one's behavior.

And that is as simple or as difficult, as making different choices often.

When I first talked to Sara Sullivan about her weight loss goals, she was aware of the emotional comfort and satisfaction she derives from eating certain foods over others.

In other words, she's aware that from time-to-time, she feeds her emotions, as we all do.

Understanding our emotional patterns around food and eating is enormously helpful when trying to lose weight. When you can catch yourself using food to stuff down fear or sadness, grief or anger, then it's the first step on the path to awareness around choice.

And that choice might be as simple as putting the comfort food back in the pantry or fridge, and feeling the emotion instead of using food to avoid feeling.

I have a sweet tooth, and usually I keep a chocolate treat on hand. It's my comfort food. But when I eat it mindlessly, stuffing one choccie in after another, without awareness of flavor or texture, I'll catch myself and self-query along lines of, "What's going on? Somethings bothering you, what is it?"

It's an incredibly powerful exercise, listening to one's inner voice instead of ignoring it and stuffing it down. That voice has important things to say, insights that will help us on the path to making the changes we need to make around our eating habits and patterns.

That said, next time you engage in a bout of emotional eating ask yourself, "What's going on? What am I feeling or not feeling right now."

Yesterday, I proposed a number of sides and a main-meal idea that Sara could make with some of the groceries she purchased.

Another side idea, which I previously posted on this blog, and which readers have said they love, is Cripsy Kale. It's a fun way to prepare this leafy, somewhat chewy and bitter green, and because it really does come out crispy, it will add texture and interest to any meal.

Sara also bought a bulb of fennel when we shopped together. With the texture and color of celery and a subtle anise flavor, fennel is as versatile as celery. Eat it raw, in soups, or sauteed with other veggies.

Here are a couple ways to prepare fennel with the items Sara purchased.

Fennel Mirepoix
1) Chop a fennel bulb, a large carrot, and one small onion into pieces.
2) Saute in a little butter and oil and then transfer veggies to a casserole dish or Dutch oven, spreading veggies out.
3) Top veggies with either pieces of fish, chicken or pork.
4) Add a slurp of white wine, if you have an open bottle, if not, add a bit of water.
5) Toss in a sprig of tarragon or thyme or sage.
6) Bake in 350-degree oven until protein item is done.

To Serve: Spoon mirepoix of vegetables onto a plate, top with your choice of protein item, and serve with a side of crispy kale.

Fennel Salad
1) Slice fennel bulb into thin strips.
2) Drizzle with rice-wine vinegar.
3) Gently stir in the green olive, caper and lemon-peel tapenade or the deli mix of olives, feta and red peppercorns. (Sara bought these wet items at Whole Foods olive bar.)

To Serve: Try adding this salad atop a serving of the olive-oiled spaghetti squash with a piece of broiled fish, chicken or pork or for a vegetarian meal, place atop a serving of cooked, red quinoa, stirring in a serving of sauteed kale.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Adding Interest to Weight-Loss Meals

Sara Sullivan is making very public her weight-loss journey on her website SeeSaraShrink.

Having reached the half-way mark, on her way to losing 100 pounds, Sara is determined to lose another 50 pounds.

Several weeks ago, she was frustrated because she'd reached a plateau and wasn't losing weight. Then lo-and-behold, around Thanksgiving, she lost a couple pounds. I didn't ask, but I'm guessing this was a feat of sheer will power.

Losing weight can become an internal battle where the desire to eat the things you love comes up against the desire to refrain from eating the things you love --a battle that causes one to feel constantly in conflict with parts of the self.

One of the things Sara stressed when we grocery-shopped together is the importance of adding interest to her diet.

She wanted me to introduce her to new foods and ways to cook that food which would satiate her love of eating without causing her to feel conflicted about eating.

With that, and her weight-loss goal in mind, we perused fresh produce where I pointed out in-season and abundant produce such as several varieties of organic apples, and deliciously juicy d'Anjou pears. (Soft fruits are out of season and thus very spendy.)

Sara picked a tart variety of apple and we talked about the possibility of her juicing the apples with carrot and celery as a breakfast beverage, followed by avocado or egg on sprouted-grain bread.

A partially raw breakfast of alkaline-rich foods stimulates the digestion, cleanses the liver and blood and boosts one's energy.

Surveying the vegetables, I pointed out kale and eggplant on sale, a good deal on a large bag of organic carrots, conventional red peppers (though I recommend organic bell peppers), mushrooms, organic spaghetti squash, and other seasonal veggies.

Spaghetti squash is a really fun and different vegetable (pic above). I suggested Sara cut it in half, boil it gently for about 15 mins or until the flesh begins to soften and come away from the skin in spaghetti-like shreds. Drain, and then return the squash shreds to the pot with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. Its delicious plain or you can add toppings as you would to pasta.

Sara decided to try the spaghetti squash. She picked up an eggplant, though she felt concerned that by the time she cooked it in lots of oil and topped it with tomato and cheese, a la eggplant parmigiana, it'd be too calorie-laden.

Eggplant doesn't need to be cooked in a lot of oil. I proposed shallow-frying cubes in oil on high for a few mins, followed by 30 mins in 350-degree oven.

Other vegetables such as the carrot, bell pepper, even the kale, tossed in a little olive oil and added to baking tray with the eggplant, make for a colorful and tasty baked-vegetable combination.

To add interest, color and convenience, I pointed out Whole Foods 365-brand, Thai frozen vegetables, proposing that a handful tossed in with the spaghetti squash, bell pepper, and seasoned with a dash of Tamari or Soy, topped with sesame seeds or toasted almonds would make for a crunchy, tasty vegetable side.

As I mentioned yesterday, Sara loves fish so she picked up a chunk of Sockeye salmon. I asked how she was going to cook it, and she said she'd probably bake it.

There are many fish recipes on this blog and I reminded Sara of my most recent salmon post, Salmon with Winter Greens, Apple & Leeks.

With the produce she'd collected yesterday, this is a dish she could easily make this week.

I proposed that she could pop a piece of the baked salmon on top of a portion of buttered and seasoned spaghetti squash, then top the lot with Whole Food's green olive, caper and lemon peel tapenade.

Sara was intrigued, so she perused WF's bulk olive bar and collected two small containers, one of the tapenade, and one of a mix of olives, feta and red peppercorns in oil and herbs. Both these bulk-deli items are great for adding flavor and interest to vegetables, fish, and meat dishes.

I also encouraged her to try millet and red quinoa from the bulk dry-goods aisle. She likes quinoa, a high-protein grain, but hadn't tried the red variety.

Not only is quinoa a terrific savory grain, it makes for a delicious breakfast too. I love it hot with grated apple and a little marmalade stirred through, topped with toasted seeds, walnuts or almonds.

Sara is eating lots of salads and getting quite bored with them. I don't blame her; when it's freezing cold outside, as it is right now in Colorado, salads are not exactly enticing.

One of the things I do at this time of the year with salad greens or any leafy green and salad item is wilt them in the skillet, thereby creating a warm salad.

I pointed out that Sara could easily do this with her kale, topping the wilted leaves with sauteed apple, grated raw carrot, perhaps a spoonful of cooked red quinoa, adding light Caesar dressing, since she's also very bored with her home-made olive oil dressing.

A slurp of the Caesar dressing, mixed in a blender with the flesh of the baked eggplant, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice would make for a fun variation on the Middle Eastern dip babaghanoush.

After an hour at Whole Foods, Sara checked out with a cart of mostly fresh produce, two packs of frozen veggies, the salmon, bulk grains, the olive bar bulk items, bottled dressing, and two cartons of a probiotic juice drink.

She spent $67 dollars and bought enough items to create main-meal sides and or lunches this week for herself and the family. Her intention was to source out quality fresh produce, fish, and some different foods to add interest to her weight-loss meals.

Over the next couple of days, I'll expand on the meal ideas above and offer method recipes for Sara, and any other readers interested in creating nutritious and colorful meals on a budget for health and weight loss.

Monday, December 7, 2009

See Sara Shrink

This week I'm blogging about Sara Sullivan.

Sara is on a mission to reduce her body weight from 275 pounds to 175 pounds -- that's a weight-loss goal of 100 pounds!

She's made public her weight-loss journey on her website SeeSaraShrink.

There, her November 28, 2009 home-page update celebrates Sara having reached the half-way mark; that means she's lost 50 pounds over the past 6 months.

I'd read about Sara in the Boulder Women's Magazine, where Market to Mouth is featured as a regular column, and where a monthly column on Sara's weight loss progress is also featured.

I contacted Sara to see if she would be interested in one of my grocery shopping-cum cooking-on-a-budget consultations. She agreed to meet me.

About a month ago, we spent an hour or so at Sara's home chatting about her weight loss program, the various support people she's engaged to help her -- such as a fitness coach and a nutritionist -- and the emotional hurdles inherent in changing one's eating habits and patterns.

Sara grew up in the south where fried food is the norm, as is eating lots of seafood and bitter leafy greens. She's very aware of the importance of eliminating fried food from her diet (which she has done), whereas fish, seafood and greens are foods she can continue to enjoy.

We also spent a bit of time in Sara's kitchen, going through her fridge and pantry. It was immediately obvious that Sara keeps plenty of whole, unprocessed foods on hand for preparing simple, nutritious, home-cooked meals for her two, fit and healthy nine-year old twin girls, whom she home-schools, and her husband, who is not a big eater apparently, though when he does eat, he makes healthy choices like extra salad instead of a dessert.

It appeared to me that Sara is in an enviably position for someone wanting to lose weight: she's eliminated the high-fat, southern cooking she grew up on from her diet, and with the help of her support team, she's making healthier food choices for herself and her family, plus she's more physically active as a result of working with a fitness coach.

While we stood in front her open fridge, she prefaced the opening of her bottom crisper, with "okay, you're gonna die when you see this." She opened the draw and it was filled with lots of delicious and expensive cheese. "So this is my weakness," she said. "Cheese, oh, and we love a glass of wine occasionally."

I don't see anything wrong with enjoying cheese and wine -- I mean the French live on it! Though of course it's the amount one consumes that is important to consider when on a weight- loss program.

Once Sara had divulged her food preferences, it was obvious that she is drawn to particular foods. We all gravitate toward some foods and not others, and I tend to think there's wisdom in this. Noting that Sara's preference is for dairy and fish, I asked if she knew her blood type. She said it's AB.

I googled Eat Right For Your Type which is not a weight- loss diet per se, but information about lifestyle choices, including food and exercise programs, specifically for health and wellness for the 4 different blood types.

Apparently the bio-chemistry of blood type AB is best suited to dairy, seafood and green vegetables, with an emphasis on these foods if one is trying to lose weight. I recommended Sara peruse the information about her blood type since it appears her preferences are appropriate for her, bar a few adjustments.

Before we met at the grocery store, I also recommended Sara consider my pre- and in-store tips for shopping and cooking for health and wellness on a budget. Sara said her budget for a shop around Whole Foods for a week's worth of fruit, vegetables, some meat and or fish and any dollar-wise items which would add interest to her meals, was about $120.

With this in mind, one of the tips I emphasized was the value of shopping the periphery of the store for whole, unprocessed foods, such as fresh produce, fish, some dairy, and bulk grains, nuts and pulses.

As you can see in the picture above, Sara met me in fresh produce and that's where we began our shopping excursion around Whole Foods today. This week, I'll post about the items Sara bought, how much she spent, and some simple, delicious meals I proposed she make with the food she bought.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Salmon or Barramundi with Winter Greens, Apple & Leeks

I listed 6 ways to incorporate wilted, winter spinach or winter leafy greens into your meals in yesterday's post.

And today, I have two delicious meal ideas to share using wilted spinach (above) and wilted chard (below).

Both these leafy greens are available through the fall and winter and often on sale "two bunches for the price of one."

I discussed the merits of this kind of deal yesterday, including the importance of wilting (or slightly cooking) extra greens, portioning them into containers, and freezing them, before they deteriorate.

Recently, someone made the comment that it appears I post mostly recipes and meal ideas with fish as the main protein item. Noting that today's two recipes include fish, I'm aware that it would be easy to assume that I'm a vegequarian.

However, that's not the case. I eat a variety of protein each day, and some days that doesn't include animal protein, but instead vegetarian protein such as nuts, seeds, beans and or pulses (I'm not a big soy-protein fan).

I do eat fish at least twice a week -- sometimes 3 times -- stretching a 6-ounce fillet into two meals, eating 3 ounces at dinner and the remaining 3 ounces at lunch the following day.

I find 3 ounces of fish like salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, and barramundi, to be substantial, since these are all dense and meaty fish.

Speaking of barramundi, I confess to doing something locavores would frown upon. Barramundi is an Australian fish; I purchased it at Whole Foods in Boulder, which means it traveled a great distance to get to my plate and that's not in-keeping with my desire to be a sustainably-aware, eco-friendly consumer.

However, we all act contrary to our values periodically and apropos this story, it's the holiday season and I'm far from home in the middle of America with a hankering for the food of my country.

So I bought the barramundi because it's Australian, and at around $8 for two, 6-ounce fillets it was priced competitively -- what can I say; I couldn't resist!

Barramundi with Sweet Potato & Chard Mash

1) Boil, and then mash sweet potato with a little butter; season to taste.
2) Into the mashed potatoes, toss washed, chopped, and wilted chard (pic to left). Stir together with a little more butter.
Note: This was tip #5 in yesterday's list of ways to make the most of wilted, winter leafy greens.
3) Line a skillet or pan with equal amounts oil and butter, saute washed and chopped leek with washed and chopped celery.
4) As the vegetables begin to soften, add barramundi fillets (or your choice of fish) to the pan, placing them on top of the vegetables.
5) Pour either white wine or lemon / lime juice diluted with water over the fish and veggies.
6) If you have any herbs on hand, like thyme or dill seed, sprinkle over the fish.
7) Cook on low for about 10 mins. Don't overcook the fish, so check it at around 7 mins, perhaps adding a dash more liquid (if veggies are sticking); turning the fish over for another 3 mins if you think it needs more cooking.

To Serve: Spoon a portion of sweet potato mash onto a plate (pic above), followed by a spoon of sauteed leeks and celery. Gently place a whole 6-ounce fillet, or half a fillet of barramundi, onto the vegetables. Squeeze some lime or lemon juice over the lot (pic to left).

Salmon with Wilted Spinach and Buttered Apple
1) Wash, drain and wilt spinach as per instructions in yesterday's post.
2) Place salmon into a hot skillet lined with olive oil, turn heat to low, squeeze lemon juice over fish, and gently cook with lid on.
3) Meanwhile, wash and slice an apple, and if there's room, toss it into the pan with the salmon. If not, saute the apple in a separate pan with some butter, allowing the apple to soften and brown slightly. You might like to add a rasher of sliced, smoked bacon, in which case, saute the apple in the bacon fat, leaving out the butter.
4) Test salmon at around the 7-min mark. You want the flesh to be firm to touch, but inside, still slightly pink and juicy. There is nothing worse than dry fish, so don't overcook it.

To Serve: Spoon a portion of wilted spinach onto a plate. Place either a whole or half fillet of salmon over the spinach and top with sauted apple and bacon (pic above); drizzle with lime juice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tips for Making the Most of Winter Greens

Yesterday, I talked about making the most of cooked turkey meat and bones, simmering leftovers to make stock that can then be used to cook rice, pasta, lentils, or to enrich the flavor of casseroles.

I also like to use stock to cook my vegetables; it infuses the veggies and adds flavor. Try boiling broccoli in stock or brussel sprouts.

Add stock to partially cover the vegetables (don't completely submerge). Once veggies are cooked, whatever liquid is still in the pot, keep it; it's delicious.

It's also rich in minerals, so try pouring it over your meal or into potatoes with a little butter for mashing or over a piece of grilled fish, chicken, and beef -- you get the idea.

Spinach is not a vegetable that I would generally cook in liquid. It's already full of water and tossed into a skillet (above pic) over med heat and stirred gently, it wilts quickly (pic to left).

When winter greens are on sale, I'll take advantage of the sale price and buy more greens than I would eat in a week.

I bought two, organic bunches of spinach for the price of one recently, and then I did what I often suggest in this blog and that is, I wilted one bunch, divided it into portions (pic below), and froze those portions for later.

This takes a bit of forethought at the store, and prep once home, but in winter, when phytonutrient-rich leafy greens are less abundant than in spring make the most of winter sales and stock up.

Because delicate leafy greens perish quickly, it's best to take the time to wash and drain them in a colander or salad spinner, and then either store them in the fridge in the salad spinner or wilt greens -- as in the pictures above and below.

Once wilted, either freeze portions or keep portions in the fridge for use within the week. If you plan on eating spinach raw in a salad, consume it within a couple days of purchase -- before the leaf-edges begin to brown.

Spinach freezes well, since it's full of moisture. When you plan to include your frozen spinach portions in an upcoming meal, simply remove a container from your freezer in the morning and leave it out for the day.

It'll be unfrozen by the time you're ready to prepare your evening meal.

6 ways to make the most of wilted spinach:
1) Add it to a quiche or omelet. First squeeze the liquid from the spinach as you'd squeeze water out of a kitchen sponge.
2) Toss wilted spinach back into a skillet with some butter, spring onions, salt and pepper and perhaps a handful of raisins and pistachios, and serve it on top of rice and or as a side to grilled chicken, turkey, or grilled lamb sausages.
3) Toss with bacon and pine nuts, and spoon over pasta.
4) Add to soups, casseroles, stews.
5) Mash into potatoes or sweet potatoes as you would parsley.
6) Saute with other vegetables like sliced carrots, peppers, leeks, spring onions and celery.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Italian Pasta in Turkey Broth

I relish cooking during the cold weather; the over and hot plates heat the kitchen and enticing aromas fill the home.

You've probably noticed in my fall posts that my preference is for thick casseroles, stews and soups made flavorful with stock, vegetables, herbs, garlic and ginger, meat, and or beans and pulses which are rich in protein without being too rich in fatty calories.

After Thanksgiving (and then after Christmas), plump turkey wings, thighs and legs are plentiful and thus priced well.

I picked up an organic leg (pic left) from Whole Foods last week for around $5 and it made fabulous stock. As you can see I placed it in a pot of water with pieces of peeled and chopped ginger root, and a smashed clove of garlic. I simmered the leg for 2-3 hours.

Instead of making stock, a leg casseroles well with fall / winter veggies like onions, ginger root, celery, yams, turnip, and carrot. Casseroled, one chunky let will feed 3-4 people.

To casserole turkey pieces, put all the ingredients I just listed, plus a sprig of fresh thyme or sage, into a baking dish or dutch oven, add a little water or stock, and the lid, and put into a 350-degree oven for about 2 or so hours.

After Thanksgiving, I'll make stock with leftover turkey meat and bones. However, stock made from the cooked meat and bones tends not to be as flavorful as stock made from the raw meat.
So I'll use less flavorful stock to cook pasta, rice, vegetables and to add to casseroles, such as the one I mention above. (Stock made from the raw meat, I'll use to make soup.)

Pasta and rice cooked in stock is delicious. In fact, there's a wonderful Italian pasta dish which is served in chicken broth (you could use turkey stock) and topped with cracked black pepper and grated Parmesan.

Pasta in Turkey (or chicken) Stock
1) Make a turkey or chicken as in the picture, and as described above.
2) Pick the meat out of the pot and then strain the stock. Strain again through a fine sieve, removing the impurities so that the broth is clear.
3) Into a pour enough stock to cook your pasta, boil, and then add you favorite pasta, or gnocchi, or ravioli. Cook till al dente.
4) Strain pasta, return to pot and hot plate and add more stock, this time, just enough to cover the pasta, heat but don't boil.

To Serve: Ladle pasta and spoonfuls of broth into bowls. Top with cracked black pepper and grated Parmesan or your choice of a firm, dry Italian cheese.

Traditionally, this would be a starter to a main meal in Italy, since pasta is often served before the meat or fish dish. You could serve it this way or you could serve it with a side salad as a main dish or as a side to the turkey leg casserole outline above.