Tomato Soup with Spinach Meatballs

As the weather gets colder, my taste buds yearn for hot, hearty soups.  This tomato soup is thick, rich, aromatic, and a dinner unto itself.  Two things set it apart from spaghetti sauce: the emphasis on fresh basil (it has no oregano), and the meatballs are made of spinach and three types of meat, rather than just beef.

This dish can be eaten simply as a soup or with noodles or rice.  If you’re dieting and want to add noodles, consider using shirataki which is almost pure fiber and won’t add to your calorie count.  Also, you can make the soup thicker (as I did) by using canned crushed tomatoes as well as diced tomatoes.

I was making this soup with two of my grandchildren who are avid beginner cooks.  To keep them busy and feed their early teen appetites, I decided to triple the meatball mixture called for in the original recipe.  Feel free to cut back if you prefer.

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DIY Roasted Vegetables Medley

That autumn thing is happening again.  Every once in a while we have a day with a chilly breeze, and the nights are always cool.  It’s no longer light until 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock in the evening.  And the vegetable stores are outfitted with pumpkins, squashes, and gourds.  When it comes to dieting, this is my season for hearty soups (see So Very Vegetable Soup) and roasted veggies.

Now, the thing about making a roasted vegetable dish is that what goes into it depends on what you like and what you have in the refrigerator.  Just about any hardy vegetable (does not fall to pieces) will do.  And the nice thing?  This dish doesn’t use exotic, elegant, expensive vegetables.  Nope, if you’re thinking “humble,” “cheap,” and “peasant fodder,” then you’re in the right mind-set.

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Lemon Bean “Cheesecake” with Fruit Sauce

Imagine mixing white beans with some lemon, eggs, sugar, and baking powder and baking the concoction for 45 minutes.

What would you have?

The photo of the cake in the pamphlet looked nice.  But what about the taste?  And the texture?  I wasn’t hopeful.  After all, the pamphlet was published by the Ontario White Bean Producers, and you know they’ll root for their product, no matter what.

Now imagine my surprise when I took a taste and realized I had baked a sweet white cake that was tartly flavoured with lemon and textured like cheesecake!  I was so excited I ran to the spouse and fed him a piece.  He confirmed that my tastebuds hadn’t gone around the bend.

Of course, it isn’t real cheesecake.  It isn’t as thick and it lacks that to-die-for creaminess which comes from loads of butter fat.  But for someone with lactose-intolerance who hasn’t eaten cheesecake in years, this faux version is truly a thrill.

Cooking update (10/2011): My stove died, and I don’t get quite the same results with my new stove.  The texture is more cake-like than cheesecake, but the taste is much the same.

Oh, and this dish is whole lot healthier than real cheesecake.  It’s high in protein, low in fats, and if you use artificial sugar, it’s also low in calories.

Speaking of which, if I were to make this for a dinner party, I’d use real sugar.  I could slightly taste the artificial sugar and may try it with 50% sugar/50% artificial sugar the next time I make it just for me.

More info (10/2011):

  • I did make this with real sugar for a dinner party with excellent results.
  • I’ve tried to lower the calorie/cholesterol count by using a liquid egg substitute.  Doesn’t work!  The result is soggy cake.

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Makes 8 slices

Ingredients for cake

  • 1 lemon, juiced (¼ cup) and zested
  • 2 cups white navy/pea beans (19 oz. can), drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs (don’t use liquid egg substitute)
  • 1 cup sweetener (artificial or real)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Cooking spray

Directions for cake

  1. Put lemon juice, zest, and beans into a processer and mix until smooth.
  2. Add eggs, sugar, and baking powder.  Blend well.
  3. Spray an 8″ or 9″ springform pan with cooking spray.
  4. Bake in 350° F oven for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Serve with a dollop of fruit sauce.

Ingredients for fruit sauce

  • 1 cup fruit (Fresh is best but frozen is fine.  I’ve used frozen raspberries and strawberries.)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tbsp. sugar

Directions for fruit sauce

  1. In a small saucepan, put in fruit, water, and sugar and boil for 3-5 minutes until thick.
  2. Let cool and spoon over each served slice.
  3. If you have extra fresh fruit, you can either add it to the sauce or use it as a garnish.

For Weight Watchers:

  • With artificial sugar: 1 slice is worth 1.75 points on the Points plan and 2 points on the PointsPlus plan.
  • With real sugar: 1 slice is worth 3.75 points on the Points plan and 4 points on the PointsPlus plan.
  • Fruit sauce for 1 serving: The sugar quantity per serving is negligible.  If you’re on the Points plan, calculate the points of 1/8 a cup of the fruit that you use.

(Adapted from “Lemon Bean Cake with Fresh Fruit Sauce” from The Supreme Bean by the Ontario White Bean Producers.)

Avocado-Tomato Salsa

Avocados have been on sale.  If you’re like me and love avocados, three things then happen.  You can’t resist a sale; you buy more avocados than you should; they all ripen at the same time.  That’s avocado problem number one.

Avocado problem number two has to do with losing weight.  Avocados are incredibly nutritious (check it out at California Avocado Commission), but they are also extremely high in calories for a vegetable.  In fact, the Weight Watcher program, which allows its adherents to eat 99.9% of vegetables for free, has singled out the avocado for its high level of fats.  Good fats, of course, but fats nonetheless. 

An avocado is 8 points on the Points plan and 12 points on the PointsPlus plan.  That is, respectively, the same as eating 8 or 12 apples!

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Orange Marmalade Baked Tofu

Do you suffer from the “no cheese” blues?  If you’re dieting and lactose-intolerant, I’m sure you know what I mean.  Cheese is a high calorie food, and non-cow cheeses are high in cost.  Other people can grab some ordinary cheese for a snack while you and I just sigh with longing.

To counter these blues, you might consider baked tofu.  When you let the tofu bask in a tangy marinade before baking, you end up with a tasty, cheap, low-calorie, and easy-to-make protein alternative that you can grab as a snack or chop up and add to a salad.

Note: I also recently packed up some of this bake for an airplane trip to Florida.  Our plane from Ottawa was late to Newark, and we didn’t get a chance to have dinner.  We arrived in Florida at midnight and, thanks to tofu along with some fruit and pistachio nuts, we didn’t starve!

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Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Crispy, crunchy, tangy spring rolls filled with fresh vegetables and herbs—to be honest, I thought they’d be hard to make.  In fact, I printed out a recipe I could adapt but put it in the back of my mind. 

Then, just by chance, I spotted the wrappers in my local bulk grocery store.  Clearly, forces in the universe wanted me to make spring rolls.  And truthfully? They turned out to be easy, from making the filling to wrapping and rolling, once I got the hang of it. 

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Cauliflower-Carrot Bake

Cauliflower is in season!  When I pass by a pile, my hands get a sensation of yearning.  I wanna, wanna.  And, no, it isn’t just the great seasonal price.  Truly.  For example, I don’t get this needy feeling around the bins of broccoli, which are also in season and equally cheap. Maybe cauliflower looks like a comfort food?  Like mashed potatoes?  Or cream of wheat?  Whatever…I’ll leave it to the food psychologists. (Photo by FreeFoto)

Anyway…I want to buy lots of cauliflower, but what to do with it all?  I can always make soup, but variety is the spice of life.  Hence I was happy to find a cauliflower recipe by Stephanie Bostic, a fellow food-blogger and author of the newly published cookbook, One Bowl: Simple Healthy Recipes for OneHer recipe, “Carrot Cauliflower Purée,” adds a subtle flavouring of thyme, dijon mustard, and lemon to the vegetables.  Delicious.  Thank you, Stephanie.

This recipe also reminded me of a cauliflower recipe that my husband makes for meals when children, their partners, and grandchildren are coming over.  The cauliflower is baked after being first puréed with butter, milk, and parmesan cheese.  It’s a great-tasting dish, except for two problems: it doesn’t taste like cauliflower any more, and it’s loaded with calories.  But…but, I thought, why not refashion Stephanie’s recipe to bring it beyond a side dish and into a main course for lunch by baking the purée with a topping of cheese?

So here it is…with a few tweaks to the original to accommodate my taste and kitchen.

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Non-dieters can drink whatever cold drinks they enjoy during the hot summer months.  Those of us on the other side of the divide must avoid mint juleps, beer, fruit juices, soft drinks (other than diet), and any other delicious drink I forgot to mention.

But what about vegetable purées, which are great winter soups, acting as cold beverages when it’s sweltering?  This question would never have occurred to me if I hadn’t been having a very lazy afternoon on board our boat, the Outrageous, reading on the back deck.

I began to get nagging messages from my stomach (that demanding organ) that it wanted something more filling than diet iced tea.  My brain (another equally demanding body part) reminded me that whatever I ate had to be very low in calories.  I had brought up a container of cauliflower soup, but felt way too lazy to crank up the inboard generator and reorganize the galley so I could use the stove in order to heat up it up.  (Readers may recall that the galley is the size of a shower stall; hence the top of the stove, when not in use, provides storage for a fruit bowl among other things.)  Besides, who wants hot soup on a hot afternoon?

The voilà moment occurred when I asked myself, “Why not drink the soup cold?” I poured some into a glass and added a dollop of yogurt.  I took it out on the back deck, sat back in chair, and drank it down to the last drop.  It was as delicious cold as when hot, delightfully refreshing, and very satisfying—all for the diet-cost of a teaspoon of yogurt.  For me, a new food category was born!

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Cooking tip for making a thick and creamy soup: The correct amount of broth is tricky because vegetables often shrink and also contain their own liquids.  To ensure that the soup will not be too thin, remove 1-2 cups of broth after the cooking is finished and before you start blending.  After a first blend, you’ll know if it needs more broth.  Add in ¼ cup increments until you reach the desired creaminess.

Ingredients

  • 1 very large cauliflower or 2 small ones, washed, trimmed, and chopped into big chunks
  • 8 cups of chicken broth (vegetables can be above the water line; they will reduce while cooking)
  • 1 large sweet onion (the onion’s sweetness is key to this soup’s great taste), chopped into big chunks
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  •  Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Before blending, remove 1 cup of liquid and hold in reserve.
  4. Purée soup with a hand blender or in a processor until smooth.  If the purée is too thick for your taste, add the 1-2 cups of liquid held in reserve.  (If not, you can throw away the liquid or save it as a vegetable broth.)
  5. Put container of soup in the refrigerator until cold.
  6. Pour out a glass and, if you prefer, mix in a tablespoon of goat yogurt or soy milk.

For Weight Watchers: Unless you’ve added a “countable” amount of yogurt or milk, any size serving is 0 points on the Points and PointsPlus plans.

Variation on Mark Bittman’s Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Those of you who are familiar with Mark Bittman’s recipes in The New York Times know that he likes to take the mystery out of good food.  His recipes are rarely complicated and always delicious.  Hence, given my adoration of watermelon, I had to make his Watermelon and Tomato Salad which, indeed, delivered a wonderful taste-and-texture mixture: watermelon sweetness plus the tart tomatoes and savoury cheese, all tied together by a vinaigrette dressing.  (I’ve added Mark Bittman’s video on making this salad at the end of the post.)

Of course, I had to start adapting the recipe immediately because his cheese suggestions—Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Maytag blue cheese—don’t work for for anyone who is lactose-intolerant.  I used goat feta instead.  My second adaption was to cut back on the oil to reduce calories.  Finally, on my third making of this salad, I decided to cut back on the cheese and add cooked quinoa. I wanted to give the salad more “heft” so that it could be a meal unto itself as opposed to an accompanying salad.  It was still delicious although, if you can afford the extra calories (or the 3 extra WW points), I’d keep the cheese at the 2.6 oz. level.  There’s nothing like cheese to take a dish from delicious to sublime.

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Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups watermelon in 1″ cubes or balls (cut over a bowl so that you can catch the juice and reserve it)
  • 1½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1.3 oz. goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup green onions, finely minced
  • ½ cup cooked, cold quinoa
  • 1 tbsp. of watermelon juice
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar (Mark Bittman suggests sherry; I had balsamic)
  • ½ cup cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine watermelon, tomato, cheese, green onions, and quinoa in a bowl.
  2. Whisk together watermelon juice, oil, and vinegar.
  3. Pour vinagrette over salad mixture.
  4. Garnish with coriander or parsley.
  5. Salt to taste.

For Weight Watchers: 5.5 points per serving on the Points plan and 4.5 points on the PointsPlus plan.  (This is cheaper on PointsPlus because the watermelon has no point value.)

Spiced Frozen Bananas

My favourite breakfast is fruit and yogurt so my idea of heaven is a berry season that goes on year-round which, alas and sigh, is not the case here in Ottawa.  So bananas are my staple for fall, winter, and spring—that is, until reader and friend, Becky, sent me this recipe.

So what turned me back onto bananas in the summer?  The small explosions of what tasted like vanilla ice cream in my fruit-yogurt mix, courtesy of frozen bananas that have been brushed with a light coating of spice. 

Of course, you can eat these bananas by themselves for an “ice cream” treat, but I found that mixing them with other fruit minimized the banana flavour (which I can get in other seasons) and emphasized the vanilla ice cream taste.

Makes 8 servings of ¼ banana each

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (pure is better than artificial)
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon (the original called for allspice which I don’t like but you may)
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger

Directions

  1. Prepare bananas by quartering them.
  2. Mix vanilla extract and spices.
  3. Using a brush, apply spice mixture on all sides of bananas.
  4. Place bananas cut-side down on wax paper.
  5. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before using.
  6. Cut into small slices and add to a fruit mixture.

For Weight Watchers:  .5 point per serving for the Points plan and 0 points for the PointsPlus plan.