DIY Apple-Spaghetti Squash Kugel

Go wild! Go artistic!

Go wild! Go artistic!

Happy New Year to everyone! May it be filled with good health and resolutions held firm…if possible. I’m a little late getting 2014 started blogwise, but I’m charging out of the gates with a new “blog-look” and a revised recipe. Here goes!

Back in 2012, I posted a recipe for Apple-Spaghetti Squash Kugel, adapted from one on the blog, Cara’s Cravings. It was low in calories, had no oil, and tasted yummy. Recently, I decided to make it again, but now the recipe struck me as, well, conservative.

So I went as wild as I could, considering my forever diet. I used currants instead of raisins. I added pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I exchanged regular Splenda with Splenda’s Brown Sugar Blend (I told you I went wild!).

IMGP2040The result was super-yummy and more filling than the original.  Of course, it had more Weight Watcher points, but it also made 8 servings which spread those points around.

Then I realized that I hadn’t plumbed this recipe’s possibilities. Hence, this a DIY recipe because you can mix and match ingredients to your heart’s content.

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Leftovers Cuisine: Second-Day Beef Stew with Quinoa and Beans

IMGP2033 What’s your leftovers attitude?

Mine is: leftovers are terrific opportunities to create a new, different, interesting, exciting dishes! Really. (Or, at the very least, no cooking the next night.)

For example, early this week, we returned from a week-long vacation in Jamaica (Sun! Sea! Sand! Piña Coladas!), and the spouse decided to make beef stew our first night home. It was basic: beef, potatoes, carrots, onions. After one dinner, we had about 1½ cups left—a slightly thick broth, dotted with a few pieces of beef, etc.

To be honest, it did look uninspiring, BUT…

Those Jamaican chefs had inspired me. They had raised leftovers + vegetables + mix-and-match beans to an art form. One night we had turkey as the main meat, the next day at lunch we had a tasty turkey stew with vegetables and two types of beans. Surely, I reasoned, this type of creation was in my cuisine skill set.

Their cooking also had a second appeal for me because it fit the flexible use-what-you-have-in-the-kitchen approach. My recipe uses tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, chickpeas, lentils, and quinoa. Why? Yup, you guessed it.

The result was delicious and filling, plus the spouse liked it! And he doesn’t always go for my mixtures—unfortunately, his mother cooked basic (meat, potato, veg) and served basic (no mixing) and this has had a lingering effect.

If you try this recipe, please use it as a template rather than a fixed-in-stone culinary creation. Feel free to change ingredients, vary quantities, and use your favourite spices. Continue reading

Skin-and-All Creamy Tomato Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese

Have you ever wanted to make tomato soup from scratch? But then did without the pleasures of fresh tomatoes because you didn’t feel like skinning them? If you have, count me in and please read on. This recipe might be perfect for you.

Delicious and filling--hot and cold!

Delicious and filling–hot and cold!

Okay, here’s the story. I came away from the fruit-and-vegetable store with nine large, discounted tomatoes ($1.49). Two were hardly blemished so they’ll be used in a salad, but seven squishy sad sacks definitely qualified for a soup.

Now skinning tomatoes isn’t hard, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of boiling a large pot of water, etc., etc., etc., I’ll do it for 18 tomatoes but not a measly seven.

A Hand Blender Sorta Like Mine

A Hand Blender Sorta Like Mine

Questions came to mind:

  • What if I didn’t skin them?
  • What if I just removed the tough stem sections at the top of the tomatoes, cut them in quarters, cooked them to death with that leftover, half-onion, added some soft, herbed goat cheese, and then applied my hand-blender to them?
  • Would I be supping at my soup and find myself chewing on pieces of tomato skin?

The Goddess of Cuisine smiled down on me. The hand-blender chomped the skins into tiny pieces. (See red spots in the photo.) And the results are yummy.  The goat cheese made the soup creamy and took the tartness out of the tomatoes. The herbs added a light, savoury flavor. And the shirataki noodles provided more bulk.

A great recipe when you want fast and easy-peasy!

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Shirataki with Tomato and Cheese

One of my favourite quick lunches is a package of shirataki (tofu) noodles tossed with diced tomatoes and grated sheep romano cheese and cooked for a couple of minutes in the microwave.  It’s not only tasty, the noodles have hardly any calories or carbs and even better: No Weight Watcher point-value! 

Other benefits of Shirataki: 1) The noodles don’t require cooking and that’s what makes it so useful when you’re hungry and want a meal fast; and 2) it’s not expensive because it is a noodle commonly used in Asian cooking.  You can find Shirataki in Asian food stores.

If you haven’t met Shirataki before, let me introduce you.  Shirataki is made of water, tofu, and yam flour.  However, this flour is not related to the yam we see in our grocery stores.  It comes from the Asian konjac yam and does not act like other flours. 

According to eHow Health, the yam flour creates a gelatinous mass when mixed with water, and this mass is not digestable.

Rather, the gelatinous mass moves through the digestive system, stimulating the peristalsis of the stomach and the intestines.  It also acts as a diet aid…Its ability to swell when mixed with water allows it to fill the stomach. It also moves through the digestive system very slowly, making the appetite feel satisfied for a longer period of time… [The yam] has an effect on diabetes as well. Its ability to move through the digestive tract very slowly also slows down carbohydrate absorption. This slowed absorption will keep the blood sugar at a moderate level. 

Although we do not digest the flour from this yam, eHow Health says it is healthy for us:

It is an alkaline food that provides several nutrients to the body. It contains water, protein, carbohydrate, lipids, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, pantothenate, niacin, fatty acid, folic acid and dietary fiber.

You can use Shirataki in any recipe which calls for pasta.  In fact, when serving spaghetti, I have regular noodles for everyone else and Shirataki for me. Does it taste like pasta?  Not really, but it does the trick, and that’s what counts for me.  Here is the recipe for my oh-so-quick lunch:

Makes 1 serving

Preparation Tip: You must drain the shirataki noodles and rinse them thoroughly.  They have a somewhat fishy smell when they come out of the package. 

Ingredients

  • One package Shirataki (8 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes and juice
  • 2 tbsp. grated sheep romano cheese

Directions

  1. Rinse noodles and put in microwavable bowl.
  2. Add tomatoes and cheese.  Mix well.
  3. Microwave at High for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Eat!

For Weight Watchers: The package of noodles and the tomatoes have no point-value.  Only the cheese counts.  This lunch is 1 point in both the Points and PointsPlus plans. 

  

Faux Lasagna, with Tofu and Carrot Noodles

This faux lasagna tastes like the real deal: tomato-y, cheese-y, and just plain delicious.  It was inspired by a lasagna that I saw at a vegetarian restaurant in Ottawa, The Table.  To make it gluten-free, the chef had replaced lasagna noodles with long carrot slices. 

For the first time, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a lasagna that would not upset my food sensitivities or have a calorie count in the stratosphere.  All I had to do was re-think the usual ingredients.  The result not only has carrots in place of noodles, it also has soft goat cheese in place of ricotta and tofu instead of ground beef.  Plus, in the spirit of “vegetables are good,” I added grated zucchini and sliced mushrooms to the tomato sauce.

Printer-friendly recipe

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large, fat carrots, sliced lengthwise (I used a Japanese mandolin slicer to achieve long, wide slices.  Since only the middle of the carrot yields that kind of strip, you’ll end up with a number of extra strips.  I cooked all of them and used the extra as just cooked carrots.)
  • 2 tbsp. chicken broth powder and ½ cup water, mixed together
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 9 oz. medium tofu, diced small
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 90 grams soft goat cheese
  • ½ cup grated sheep romano
  • 1-2 tbsp. sugar, if grated carrot has not sufficiently reduced acidity of tomatoes (although it usually does)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. Tomato sauce: In a large saucepan over medium high heat, begin tomato sauce by sautéeing onions and spices in chicken broth-water mixture.  (Add more water if pot goes dry.) When onions are just tender, add crushed tomatoes, grated zucchini, grated carrot, and sliced mushrooms.  Bring to boil and then lower heat until sauce is simmering.  Taste and add 1-2 tbsp. of sugar if tomatoes are too acidic.  Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. Carrot noodles: While tomato sauce is cooking, create the carrot noodles.  Cook carrot strips until tender.  (You should be able to easily pierce the carrot slice with a fork.)  I put mine in a glass baking pan with some water and covered with plastic wrap, microwaving them for 10 minutes.
  3. Goat cheese: Using a knife, spread one side of each of the 8 best carrot slices with goat cheese.
  4. Constructing the lasagna: Spray a shallow baking pan (mine is 10″ by 10″) with cooking spray.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of tomato sauce, then put down 4 carrot slices covered with goat cheese.  Sprinkle with ¼ cup of sheep romano cheese (see photo).  Add the next layer of tomato sauce and then the remaining 4 carrot slices covered with goat cheese.  Cover with tomato sauce and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of sheep romano on the top.  (Note: I had about 1 cup of leftover tomato sauce so I should have added more in the layers.)
  5. Bake in 325º F oven for 30-40 minutes, or until mixture is bubbling and cheese on top has melted.

For Weight Watchers: The only ingredients with point-values in this dish are the tofu (total value: 6 points), goat cheese (total value: 6 points), sheep romano (total value: 4 points), and sugar if you’ve added it to the tomato sauce.  I needed 2 tbsp. of sugar (total value: 2 points) because (confession!) I had forgotten to add the grated carrot as I usually do. 

  • With only carrot and no sugar: Each of the 4 servings is 4 points on both the Points and PointsPlus plans. 
  • With 2 tbsp. of sugar: Each of the 4 servings is 4.5 points on both the Points and PointsPlus plans. 

Dieter’s Pad Thai

Look, Ma, no oil!

Look, Ma, no oil!

This lower-calorie, delicious version of Pad Thai includes the spicy peanut sauce but avoids the use of oil, doesn’t use an egg, cuts back on the amount of noodles, and adds vegetables. 

The trick here is to prepare all the ingredients in advance before the last step, which involves combining everything together—it only takes about 2 minutes!  Here’s how to do it.

 Printer-friendly recipe

Makes 4 servings

Step 1: Make the Sauce

Sauce Ingredients

  • ¼ cup wheat-free soy sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup artificial sugar
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • Chili paste to taste (I use 1 tsp. but we’re conservative)

Sauce Directions: Mix together all ingredients.  The peanut butter will not mix in completely but break up into small bits.

Step 2: Cook the Rice Noodles

 You can use any type of rice noodle.  My choice is rice vermicelli, which has two qualities: one good and two bad. 

  • The good quality is that it cooks in about 1-2 minutes in boiling water. 
  • The bad qualities are (1) it is packaged in incredible long strands that will clump into a ball into your Pad Thai, and (2) if you try to break up the dry vermicelli, you will have pieces of it all over your kitchen. (You can trust me on both of these!)

 Noodle Ingredients: 80 grams or 3 oz. rice vermicelli, weighed dry

 Noodle Directions:

  1. Bring water to boil in a pot.
  2. Put in rice vermicelli
  3. Cook for 1-2 minutes until soft.
  4. Drain water.
  5. Using kitchen shears, snip cooked vermicelli into small lengths.

Step 3.  Prepare the Vegetables

 You can vary the vegetables and the amounts.  However, it’s important not to add so many vegetables that you don’t have enough sauce to go around.

Vegetable Ingredients

  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1-2 cups bok choy, chopped finely
  • 1-2 cups mushrooms, enoki, shitake, or king oyster
  • 3-4 cups bean sprouts

 Vegetable Directions

  1. Prepare scallions, bok choy, and mushroom and put into a bowl.
  2. Put bean sprouts in separate bowl.  It will be added to the dish at the end of cooking.

 Step 4: Make the Garnish

 Garnish Ingredients:

  • ½ cup peanuts
  • ½ cup cilantro

Garnish Directions: Put peanuts and cilantro into a food processor.  Mix until chopped.

 Step 5: Sauté the Meat

 When it comes to the meat content, you have three choices:

  1. You can use chicken, pork, shrimp, or firm tofu. 
  2. The amount you choose depends on how many calories you want from meat. 
  3. You can start with the raw meat or used leftover meat.  If you use leftovers, just add the meat at the end of the recipe when you’re combining all the ingredients.

In this example, I start with raw pork tenderloin.

 Meat ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. chicken broth powder mixed with ½ cup water
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into small pieces

 Meat Directions

  1. Using medium high heat under a large skillet or wok, bring chicken broth-water mixture to a boil.
  2. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  3. Add meat and cook, stirring, until cooked through (about 3 minutes).
  4. Remove meat and put into a bowl.

 Keep heat under pot in preparation for the vegetables. 

Step 6.  Cooking the Vegetables

  1.  Add ¼ cup water if your pot is dry.
  2. Add scallions, bok choy, and mushrooms.
  3. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender but crunchy (about 2-3 minutes).

Step 7. Combining All Ingredients

 As you add each ingredient, stir to ensure that it is distributed evenly in the pot.

  1. Turn down heat to medium.
  2. Add cooked meat to vegetables and stir.
  3. Add rice vermicelli to meat-vegetable mixture and stir.
  4. Add bean sprouts and stir.
  5. Pour over peanut sauce and stir.
  6. Take pan off the heat.

Step 8. Sprinkle on the garnish

Garnish directions: I use a large skillet with straight sides so when I take the pot off the heat, I flatten down all the ingredients so that the surface of the pad thai is even.  I then spread the garnish over the surface.  Finally, I divide the pad thai into four parts. 

If you’re using a wok, you will have to measure the quantity, e.g., 8 cups, and divide by 4.  You may decide to divide the garnish among the four individual servings.

For Weight Watchers: For ¼ Pad Thai, without meat, on the Points plan, the point value is 6 points and on the PointsPlus plan, the value is 9 points.  To reduce the point-count, you could

  • Cut down on the amount of peanut butter in the sauce
  • Go vegetarian and not add tofu, meat, or shellfish
  • Not have any noodles
  •  Eliminate the peanuts in the garnish and just use cilantro

The breakdown of the point-value per serving is as follows: 

Per ¼ serving Sauce Rice noodles Meat Vegetables Garnish
Points 2 1 your choice 0 3
PointsPlus 3 2 your choice 0 4

 (Adapted from “Chicken Pad Thai” in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking by Kelli Bronski and Peter Bronski.)