Friday, June 24, 2011

Kale Chips!

Wow, I can't believe this is my first post on kale! I have to admit, this leafy green vegetable is a bit of an obsession for me. Besides the fact that kale is one of the healthiest foods that you can eat, it is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Kale can be baked (see recipe below), roasted, sauteed, steamed, eaten raw....well, you get the point.




Today I was feeling like a little snack so I decided to bake up some nice, crispy kale chips. I seasoned them with my stand-by favorites (salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika) but you can also try variations like curry, allspice, or garlic. As soon as you bite into the chip, you get a lovely little pop of flavor and texture. The kale is no longer chewy but instead delectably and delicately crispy.

Once you start eating them, it will be difficult to stop. You may want to buy a couple of extra bunches of kale just in case....


Ingredients


3 loose cups kale, removed of stems and roughly chopped (about 1 medium bunch)
1 T olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika


Methods


1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Using a knife or kitchen scissors, cut the leaves of the kale off of the rough center stem. Wash thoroughly and pat dry.
3. Place kale in a single layer on a baking sheet. Make sure all of the leaves are spread out. Sprinkle with olive oil and the spices.
4. Place in center of oven for 10-15 minutes, being careful not to overcook. The leaves should be just getting crunchy when you take them out. Any longer after that point, and they will basically disintegrate on you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spring Shrimp Scampi

Growing up, one of my absolute favorite dinners was Shrimp Scampi. The succulent shrimp and tender pasta would be absolutely dripping in a white wine, garlic, and butter sauce that made my heart skip a beat. The smell of the garlic and butter cooking together would render me incapable of finishing my homework and I would come into the kitchen just to watch my mother cooking the meal. Of course, my siblings and I would fight over who got the largest shrimp or who ate the most garlic bread but it was all part of the experience of eating a delicious meal together. When I think of scampi, I inevitably am drawn back to these memories. 



Now that I have grown up a bit and have started cooking on my own, I am always interested in creating new interpretations of my family recipes. As always, I want to increase the nutrition in every meal I make by increasing fruits and vegetables, decreasing fat and cholesterol, decreasing salt, and introducing whole grains wherever possible. The spring vegetables that are cropping up in farmer's markets and grocery stores everywhere inspired me to add asparagus, baby tomatoes, baby portobello mushrooms, and red onions to this dish. I also use whole grain pasta and I limit the shrimp to four large shrimp per serving in order to control the cholesterol. The result is a healthy, springtime shrimp scampi that tastes and smells good enough to bring all of the childhood memories rushing back to me. 





Spring Shrimp Scampi
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
1 tsp butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1 cup asparagus, trimmed of rough bottoms and chopped into 2" pieces
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb fresh large shrimp (31-35 count per lb)
3/4 cup white wine


Methods

1. Fill a large pot with water (add salt or olive oil if desired) and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the pasta. Drain. 

2. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, tomato, mushrooms, and asparagus. Saute for about 5 minutes, and then add the garlic. 



3. Saute the vegetables for an additional 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, or until they begin to turn orange. They will cook for a couple more minutes as you make the sauce.




4. Take the pan off of the heat and add the wine to deglaze the pan and make the sauce. Return the pan to medium-high heat and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes. 

5. Pour the vegetables, shrimp, and sauce over the pasta and 'voila', you are done. Bon Appetit!











Friday, May 13, 2011

Melon and Prosciutto Salad

What a pleasant surprise! I woke up this morning to sun filtering through my curtains and birds chirping outside my window. At last Boston is seeing some blue skies after a week of depressing rain and near constant cloud cover. Warm, sunny weather always puts me in such a good mood. I opened all the windows in the apartment and went for a nice long walk down Beacon Street. I've finally finished my exams at school and it was so enjoyable just to have a moment to breathe. 


The beauty of the huge blue skies, burgeoning pink cherry blossoms, and bright green grass has inspired me to make something fresh and simple to eat for lunch. I decided on a take of the classic melon and prosciutto appetizer that is normally served on skewers with a thin slice of salty prosciutto wrapped delicately around a juicy piece of cantaloupe. I decided why not enjoy these fresh flavors as a melon salad? It would be perfect to serve as an appetizer for a dinner party or as a side dish to brunch. I added some honeydew melon for extra color and because it is just so deliciously sweet. I also added some low-fat mozzarella cheese for texture, taste, and substance. The basil lends a bright, fresh taste to the salad and complements the sweetness of the fruit. 

I think it's time to take a bowl of this Melon Prosciutto Salad and a glass of rose to the porch and continue to enjoy this beautiful day! 





Melon and Prosciutto Salad
Serves 4 (as an appetizer or side dish)

Ingredients


1/2 honeydew melon
1/2 canteloupe
1 4 oz package of prosciutto (or 1/4 lb freshly sliced from your local deli)
1/4 cup basil (a good handful)
1/2 cup low fat mozzarella (fairly firm)
1 T honey, to drizzle if desired

Methods

1. Cut the melon into cubes about 1.5" in size and place in a large bowl.


2. Rinse and dry off the basil. Rip it into small pieces or roll up the leaves and slice them in a chiffonade. I like the more rustic look of the hand-ripped pieces. Add the basil to the salad.

3. Gently slice the mozzarella into bite size pieces and add to the salad.

4. Very gently separate the slices of prosciutto. Using a sharp knife, cut each slice into 4 to 5 pieces and add to the salad.

5. Gently mix all ingredients together and serve with a drizzle of honey if desired.


As always, Bon Appetit!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Baked Eggs with Spinach

I know a chef who says that brunch is one of his least favorite meals to prepare. In fact, he says with gusto that is is one of his least favorite things to do (somewhere up there with filing his taxes). As front of house in a restaurant, I agree that brunch is never any fun. Customers tend to be cranky, needy, hungover and/or still asleep. I will fully admit that until I have at least one cup of coffee and a bite to eat, I am not worth talking to in the morning. 


However, I LOVE  to prepare brunch when I'm at home. It's an entirely different atmosphere- one that's relaxed, slow-paced, and comfortable. I can shuffle blindly around the kitchen while I sip my freshly-brewed coffee and look around the fridge for ingredients. Another great thing about brunch is that it can really be a "left-overs" kind of meal. You can mix just about anything that you have lying around the fridge with eggs and call it a day. Mix most anything from the pantry with pancake batter and 'voila'... banana walnut oatmeal pancakes. When else do you get to eat both sweet and savory foods? It's heaven. 

This past weekend I felt inspired to make something warm, earthy, and fresh. I decided to make a version of Baked Eggs with some added spinach and asiago cheese. The spinach adds all of those great vitamins (A, C, E, K, Folate, and several B vitamins) as well as fiber. As for the cheese, it adds a nice earthy bite to the eggs. If I can't find a low-fat asiago, I can add some low-fat mozzarella (and maybe some extra herbs like rosemary or basil). Try serving this dish fresh out of the oven with some wheat toast and Melon and Prosciutto Salad (see upcoming post). You'll never say no to brunch again!



Baked Eggs with Spinach
Serves 2

Ingredients

2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped spinach, steamed
4, 1/4" slices of asiago cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Methods

1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Spray the two ramekins with nonstick cooking spray.  

2. Spoon half of the steamed spinach into each ramekin. On top of the spinach, place two slices of asiago cheese in each ramekin.

3. Crack a fresh egg onto the top of each ramekin. Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 8-10 minutes, depending on the oven. The eggs are done when the whites are firm but the yolks are still loose and runny when pricked with a fork. 


Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with some crusty wheat bread and fruit. Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lavender Creme Brulee

I take in a deep breath and fill my lungs with the sweet, heady scent of lavender. The fresh, green smell of the flower remind me of walking through the woods after a light rain.  As I take in the luscious scent of the perfume, it gently covers my skin and clings to my hair. I can feel it hovering in the air as a calm falls over me and I forget all of the day's stress. I gently push my wooden spoon through a pot of warm cream and dried lavender flowers. No, I didn't have to spend a day in the spa or buy some expensive lotions to experience the benefits of this beautiful little flower. I simply had to open my jar of culinary lavender and begin cooking.


The inspiration for this dish was born when a friend gave me a jar of culinary lavender that she had come across on a recent trip. Though I had occasionally seen lavender in restaurant dishes and inventive cocktails, I had never really considered lavender as a cooking tool. When I was given this gift, I was initially a little perplexed. I had to do some research to discover ways in which lavender is most commonly used in cooking. Because of the relatively concentrated scent of lavender, one has to use it judiciously to avoid a taste reminiscent of eating perfume. I'm sure we've all been there and it's not the most pleasant taste experience. I can't be the only one who thought the nozzle was pointed slightly farther to the right...

Well, I'm getting off topic now. Lavender is generally mixed with other herbs (as in the traditional Proven├žal herb mixture) or it is used to infuse a liquid. For instance, a bartender at the restaurant where I work makes a fabulous gin cocktail that uses lavender-infused honey. In this case, I decided to infuse some heavy cream with lavender to make a lavender creme brulee. The result is one of my favorite desserts. The smooth, rich texture and mild flavor of the cream custard is balanced by the floral background notes of the lavender. The crunchy caramelized sugar coating tops it off perfectly.


So get out your spoons and get ready to enjoy! Lavender creme brulee is a dessert that is at once both sophisticated and rustic, simple and impressive.

Lavender Creme Brulee


Ingredients


2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup white sugar, plus 4 T to finish desserts
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lavender flowers
pinch salt

Cooking Tools


Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Kitchen torch or oven broiler
Ramekins, preferably shallow (about 1" deep)
**Creme brulee is traditionally made in shallow ramekins but can be made in any depth ramekin. I used two different size ramekins when making this dish and saw little difference in the texture of the custard. It is just important to make sure that the water bath is at the proper height for whatever size ramekin you are using.**

Directions


1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Butter the insides of 4 ramekins and place inside a large glass baking pan.

2. Put the heavy cream, vanilla extract and lavender flowers in a medium saucepan over low to medium heat. Bring just to a gentle simmer and then remove from the heat. Allow the flowers to sit and infuse in the cream for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a mesh strainer, remove the lavender and pour the warm cream into a large bowl.

3. Put the egg yolks into a separate large bowl and whisk in the 1/3 cup sugar until light and creamy. Slowly add the warm cream into the egg mixture. Make sure to take your time with this step so that the warm cream doesn't accidentally cook the eggs!

4. Pour the custard mixture into the ramekins, filling them almost to the top (leave about 1/4" if possible). Place the ramekins into the glass baking pan. I was actually able to fill 5 ramekins with this recipe.

5. Next, add enough hot water into the glass pan to come up around the sides of the ramekins. The water should come up to about the same level as the custard inside the ramekins. This is called a water bath (or Bain Marie en francais) and is used to cook the egg mixture slowly and evenly. Think of the water bath as a protection from the dry heat of the oven. 


6. Bake in the oven for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the oven. The custards are done when the edges are set but the middle is still a little bit loose.

7. Refrigerate the custards for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. When you are ready to eat the dessert, bring out of the refrigerator and top each custard with 1 T of white sugar.
The creme brulee without the sugar topping. 

8. Now the best part- caramelizing the sugar on top! You need a flame to caramelize the sugar until it is deep golden brown. Watch it carefully as it will continue cooking after you remove the flame and as it cooks very quickly! You may use the broiler in your oven by placing the ramekins directly underneath for 30-60 seconds. Any longer, and you will begin to melt the custard :(

However, if I have an opportunity to use a kitchen torch, I will certainly take it! I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought  a small kitchen torch for this recipe. It worked wonderfully, though I did have to buy the fuel separately at the local hardware store. If you use the torch, bring it down gently over the custard and heat the sugar until it turns a deep golden brown.

I probably should not have been holding a camera with one hand and a torch with the other. 

Remember that the sugar will continue to cook for a few seconds after you remove the flame. When you are done, you should have a nice crisp top to your brulee. Go get a spoon, crack it open, and enjoy! Or as we say in the old country, bon appetit!

 The lovely finished product. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ways with Eggs: A Healthy Breakfast Burrito

It's 2:00 in the afternoon, I just got home after classes, errands, and the gym, and I am STARVING. Oh wait, I live in Boston: I am STAHHHVIN. Long story short, I look in the fridge and realize I haven't gone food shopping in much too long and all I have left is a couple of staples and a few odd remnants (things like plum jam, pickles, and that questionable cheese that you don't want to get rid of but you don't want to take a chance on). So what can I make before I pass out from low blood sugar?



 Being a nutrition geek, whatever I make to eat needs to fill me up and provide a good dose of vitamins and minerals. Spotting a ripe tomato, a just-ripe avocado, a couple of eggs, a single whole wheat wrap, a bit of cheese, and some herbs, I went to work. I made what I like to call the "healthy breakfast burrito", even though I happen to be eating it for lunch. The protein and fiber in the eggs and whole wheat wrap will help to keep you full for hours to come. What's more, the tomato and avocado are satsifying and chock full of vitamins and healthy fats. You won't find any refried beans or salty rice in this meal. Just pure, healthy ingredients that come together in a tasty and satisfying morning or mid-day meal. The whole thing will only take a few minutes to prepare, making it the perfect lunch for a hungry soul like myself.



As always, I hope you enjoy and please let me know what you think.

Healthy Breakfast Burrito
Serves 1


Ingredients


1/2 avocado, ripe
1/2 small tomato
2 T cilantro, chopped roughly and stems removed
2 eggs
1-2 slices low fat cheddar cheese
1 whole wheat wrap

Method


1. Spray a small frying pan with nonstick spray and crack two eggs on the pan to cook over easy (or as desired).
2. While eggs are cooking, take out the wrap and lay the cheese slices in the middle. Melt the cheese onto the wrap using a toaster oven, microwave, or frying pan.
3. Slice the avocado and tomato and place on your plate. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the chopped cilantro.
4. Add the wrap with melted cheese to the plate and place your eggs in the center of the wrap when cooked.
5. Add the avocado, tomato, and cilantro to the wrap or eat on the side. Most of all, enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Zucchini and Meyer Lemon Soup



Ahhhhh, the sun is shining, the day is bright, and ... well... it's about 10 degrees outside right now. How I love Boston in the early spring. As the last vestiges of winter remain, I find myself daydreaming about warmer days ahead. Though I usually try to purchase food products that are seasonal and local, I just couldn't help myself from picking up some items that reminded me of sitting on my back porch with a warm breeze, a cool drink, and a plateful of fresh summer produce.

The Zucchini and Meyer Lemon Soup below is vibrant and fresh. The hint of citrus from the sweet Meyer Lemons enhances the delicate, buttery taste of the zucchini. Spinach adds extra color and nutrients and potatoes are used instead of cream to thicken the consistency of the soup. In addition, a few spices like red pepper and cumin add a smoky backsplash to the dish. Perhaps the best thing about this soup is that it can be served warm or chilled, with just about any garnish. Try adding lemon slices and greek yogurt, olive oil and "Creamy Basil Sauce" from the previous post, or crumbled blue cheese and walnuts.



Zucchini and Meyer Lemon Soup
Makes 4-6 servings


Ingredients


2 T Olive oil, plus any for garnish
1 T Butter
6 c. water or low-sodium vegetable broth
2 medium Zucchini, cut into 1/2" slices
2 medium Idaho or Russet Potatoes, chopped into 1" cubes
1/2 medium Yellow Onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 cups Spinach, washed and trimmed of stems
2 T Meyer Lemon juice, plus zest if desired
2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Method


1. In the bottom of a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion, garlic, and zucchini. Sautee the ingredients for about ten minutes, allowing the vegetables to soften and turn a light golden color. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the water or broth (I like to use a 50/50 mixture) and bring to a simmer.

3. Add the spinach and potatoes and cook until the potatoes are tender. The amount of time will depend on how large you cut your potatoes. Nice 1" cubes should cook through in just about ten to fifteen minutes.

4. Now is the fun part! Remove the soup from the heat. Take out your handy immersion (hand-held blender) and puree the soup mixture.  Alternatively, you can puree the soup in a blender or other similar device. If you want an extra smooth soup, you can also sieve your soup using cheesecloth or the like. However, I don't usually find that necessary.

5. Before serving, add the juice of the Meyer Lemon, cumin, and red pepper. Add some lemon zest for an extra citrus kick. Also, taste for salt and pepper and add if necessary. Garnish with a lemon twist, greek yogurt, feta cheese, olive oil, basil sauce, or anything else your heart desires. Most of all, enjoy :)