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Posts tagged ‘Healthy recipe’

Let’s Stir Fry!

Want a quick meal that includes healthy ingredients, is simple to make, doesn’t require a lot of equipment and that can be

Chicken with Cashews

Chicken with Cashews

executed in a small space? Learning to stir fry properly might be your answer. All you need is a wok, a sharp knife and a stirring utensil. The Wok is used almost exclusively in many Chinese households for these very reasons. Space is at a premium, especially in poorer households, refrigerators are small and ovens are almost non-existent.

The wok makes up for a lot of these inefficiencies because it is extremely versatile. You can fry, sear, boil, steam and braise – all in one pot.

The shape of the wok concentrates the heat at the bottom. Racks are sometimes attached to the lip and used to store pieces that are done cooking (so you don’t overcook them). When frying, a wide, flat spatula works well for stirring and scooping.

With stir frying, it’s important to prepare and line up the ingredients you will need ahead of time. Each ingredient is chopped or otherwise prepared placed in the order it will be used. Stir fry is a quick preparation and you don’t have time to prep in between each addition. You want to be able to toss in the next layer of ingredients just at the moment you are ready for it.

Steamer Basket

Steamer Basket

Steaming in a wok requires a steamer basket like the one shown in the picture. The steamer is placed over water and the cover is then put on the wok to contain the vapor. You can also use individual serving size steamers, which are about 4” across. Just place them next to each other inside the wok and prepare them all at once.

Meats of choice are nearly always the fattier ones. Fat means flavor, as well as calories necessary to people living on small budgets. For example, when cooking with chicken, dark meat is usually chosen. Breast meat is frowned upon because the meat is more dry.

Cleavers

Cleavers

The knife of choice is the cleaver. They vary in size and weight and have different purposes. Lighter cleavers are for chopping and are used exactly like a French or Chef’s knife. Heavier cleavers are for chopping up bones and other tough ingredients. They are also used for smashing vegetables and garlic. Their wide surface areas are also great for picking up the chopped bits and transferring them to the wok.

In Chinese cooking, typically corn, peanut or vegetable oils are used. Olive oil has too strong a taste for the Chinese palate. Peanut oil with its high smoke point is especially suited for stir frying.

Rice

Oriental Sticky Rice

Rice is a common accompaniment for meals – especially in southern China, where it is grown. There are many varieties, but if you want to eat your dish with chopsticks, be sure and use a relatively short grain rice with high starch content so it will stick together. I use U.S. No. 1 Extra Fancy Hanmi, available in Asian stores.

Stir Fry Secrets and General Facts:

Before you begin to heat the wok, make sure the ring is centered on the heat source. This positions the wok so the heat surrounds its base evenly.

If your wok has metal handles, it’s not a bad idea to have oven mits handy or to get in the habit of wearing one when you are frying. You never know when you will need to grab a handle to stabilize it or re-position it.

Don’t crowd the pan! Too much meat in the pan will cause it to boil, not sear and caramelize (turn brown). As the meat heats up, it releases juices that can create a pool that cools the pan down and keeps the meat away from the hot surface. If you are making a lot, work in batches so this doesn’t happen.

Meat and vegetables both need to sear quickly, so keep them in the bottom of the wok, near the heat source. You can tip the wok around on the ring in different directions to get high heat contact in different places if you need to in order to help with even cooking.

Remove ingredients from the wok with a slotted spoon. This will cause any leftover oil to stay in the pan for the next batch. This also helps you to use as little oil as possible, which will keep the fat and calorie content of your dish lower.

Many sauces for these dishes contain soy sauce. Soy sauce in the U.S.A is very salty. The taste of the salt intensifies with reduction, so be careful to read labels and find the lowest sodium content that you can. If salt is called for in any recipe, taste what you have already cooked before you add it. The reduction of the soy sauce may make it already salty enough.

Marinades are widely used in China because they were originally invented to mask the smell of the meat. Marinate at least fifteen minutes before stir frying so the flavor will penetrate the meat. Stir fry is a fast method of cooking and if you don’t give the marinade a little time, instead of penetrating the meat it will sit on the outside.

Marinade components: Rice wine is added for its fragrance, light and dark soy sauces are for flavor. Cornstarch seals the flavor and thickens the sauce.

Hot peppers

Hot peppers

Peppers are also a common addition. You know your taste buds, so make sure you know your peppers! It’s very easy to make a dish too hot. Lantern shaped ones – shown in the picture – are the hottest.

Here’s a typical recipe, shown above: Chicken with Cashews

2 chicken breast halves (About 1 pound)
cut into large bite-sized pieces

2 cloves garlic, crushed, 3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle, into 1/4” pieces

1/4 cup light soy sauce, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup oyster flavored sauce

3 tablespoons corn-starch, 1 cup cashew nuts,

1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper salt (or 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1 teaspoon pepper + several shots of hot sauce)

4 spring onions, sliced on an angle or Chinese garlic stems

  1. Whisk together the soy sauce, water, oyster sauce and corn-starch.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a wok. On high heat, stir fry the chicken pieces with the garlic. Fry them in batches, until they are white all the way through, about 7 minutes. They should be browned on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and hold in a dish close by.
  3. Change to medium heat and stir fry the carrots for about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken back to the wok. Add the cashews and pour in the soy sauce mixture.
  5. Cook uncovered, over medium high heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  6. Mix in the spring onions or Chinese garlic stems. Sprinkle with the pepper salt.
  7. If desired, serve with sticky rice.

Chef Lynn’s Secrets:

  • When a recipe calls for spring (also called garden) onions, use the entire onion. They make a lovely garnish when they are cut on the diagonal.
  • When deciding on the size to cut the ingredients for stir fry dishes, think about how large they need to be in order to pick them up with chopsticks. That’s why I say “large” bite-sized pieces.
  • Remember… don’t crowd the wok!

Squelch your Snack Attack with The Incredible Egg

Looking for a high protein brunch that’s healthy and not so high in calories? Turn to the incredible, edible egg. It’s The Incredible Egginexpensive, has no gluten, is high in protein, and contains choline which promotes liver function and helps transport other nutrients throughout your body. You can also add in a number of vitamins as well as no sugar and no carbs! Add in the right kind of carbs with the recipes you choose – carbs from vegetables.

So let’s choose spinach! Spinach is a super food – providing a very dense nutritional content in relation to its calories. Besides that, its vibrant green color provides a wonderful visual contrast, making the dish colorful and appealing. After that, I’ve added in other nutritious and colorful vegetables that you probably have on hand – making this a “go to” meal that you can prepare in a hurry.

Thinking of leaving out the cheese? It helps you to feel full and ¼ cup only adds 27.5 calories. Worth it to me! Cheese also adds a little more protein. My trainer always told me to be sure to eat something with protein and carbs within an hour after working out. This recipe is the perfect mix – and I’ll mention again – it’s so quick to make! After I work out, I’m hungry and if I head for the omelet pan, I can satisfy that need before I grab something sweet that works against my goals. (I try to keep Jerky around for that reason too – something else that’s quick to grab during a snack attack!)

Here’s the recipe:

(370 calories, 21.3 grams protein, 5.4 grams fiber, 15.4 grams carb)

2 large eggs, whisked

¼ red or yellow onion, diced small

½ red bell pepper, diced small

1-1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves

¼ cup finely grated Cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon olive oil

Pinch each of salt and pepper

Garnish: A few sliced, green garden onions

Method:

  1. Place 2 cups water in a frying or sauce pan. Add the spinach and heat just until the leaves soften. Do not overcook. Remove from the pan and drain well. You can even blot it a bit with a paper towel.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick omelet pan. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until just soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the egg and as it starts to cook, scrape the sides of the pan and fold it in on itself (preferably using a heat free spatula).
  4. Just before the egg is completely cooked, add the rest of the ingredients except for the garden onions and sprinkle with spices. Fold together once more. Sprinkle with a few sliced green garden onions and serve immediately.

Concerned about cholesterol? WebMD says it best… “In 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA’s guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg.

The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol content. One large egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, accounting for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit.

When scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol logically became suspect. But after 25 years of study, it has become evident that cholesterol in food is not the culprit — saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products and fatty meats are examples of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and which trigger the body to produce cholesterol.”

As an aside, it’s well known that you can spread out your nutritional needs over a period of days. So, if you make this dish one day, you can keep your egg limits in check by not eating any on the day following. This applies to most people, but if you have a heart condition and your doctor has advised you otherwise, follow his/her advice!

Raw Cauliflower Salad: A MUST TRY!

Raw Cauliflower Salad

Raw Cauliflower Salad

Almost any restaurant you walk into these days will feature a signature Cauliflower Salad. Thank goodness it’s one of the top trends this year because it’s a great diet dish that’s really healthy for you.

As an aside, if you’re on a low carb diet and you steam cauliflower and puree it, it will help you not miss your potatoes. In fact, many people won’t even be able to tell the difference. Often when I serve it to guests they remark, “Wow. These potatoes are really good!” Cauliflower also contains a lot of fiber, which should help you feel full longer as well as being healthy for your heart.

Cauliflower has antioxidant properties (Vitamins C and E, folic acid, lycopene, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene). It also contains nutrients that protect you from the sun and help you to age well. It’s possible to find conflicting information on whether nutrients are destroyed by cooking, but certainly some of the less stable ones are lost. So why not eat it raw? If you slice the florets very thinly, you won’t notice so much that it’s not cooked. Mixing in other things will also help to develop an interesting taste.

Here’s a recipe that I like. It pairs well with anything – meats, poultry, pork, or fish. It’s just a little spicy but you can make it more so by adding more Peppadew pickled peppers (usually found in the deli section of your grocery store). For interest, you can use other colors of cauliflower (yellow or purple) or mix up the colors. The purple variety has even an extra antioxidant, the same one found in red wine.

RAW CAULIFLOWER SALAD 

1 head Cauliflower, florets sliced thinly

1 large Romaine leaf, sliced thinly

2 red Peppadew peppers (or more, to taste), chopped tiny

¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped tiny

1 teaspoon pepper, ½ teaspoon salt

½ cup salted and roasted cashews, rough chopped

1/3 cup sweetened coconut

1/4 cup olive oil

¼ cup Champagne vinegar

½ teaspoon ground garlic

1 teaspoon orange zest

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Method:

  1. Layer the first seven ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Mix together the oil, vinegar, garlic, zest and juice. Pour it over the ingredients.
  3. Mix by folding with your hands, trying not to break up the cauliflower too much and that’s it. Couldn’t be simpler! Can be made several hours ahead of your meal.

Love Garden Fresh Garlic Scape!

Right now, you can find an extra-ordinary herb in markets that contains a little protein, is high in interest and is rich in calcium and  fiber.  It’s called the garlic scape. You may have seen these long, curly stems at your local market and not known what they were.

Garlic scape can be chopped and added to all kinds of dishes for a delicious garlicky taste that is actually brighter than using the clove of garlic itself. My favorite thing to do with it, though, is to turn it into a pesto. I’ve shown you the basil-garlic pesto in a previous post, but if you make it with the scapes and leave out the basil, you don’t have the issue of the pesto turning brown as it is exposed to the air. In my mind, that is HUGE. Besides, the color is a lovely lime green, which I think your guests will find delightful and interesting. Pesto is a great way to add good nutrition and good fat to a dish instead as an alternative to a greasy sauce. So use the pesto to top a cooked chicken breast or other meat or simply put it out as a flavorful dip with crackers or a fresh, sliced baguette. It’s great with cheese, as a pasta sauce or as a spread on a sandwich or wrap.

Here’s a super pesto recipe from my friend, Joan Donnay of Essence on Main in Clarkston, Michigan:

1 cup garlic scapes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup walnuts
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blen until semi-smooth. That’s it! LOVE this recipe!

The fresh stems of the garlic scape can also be chopped into tiny pieces and mixed into your egg salad. Use those bits also as a bright green garnish for any dish. It especially looks great on tomatoes because of the color contrast. And yes, use the whole stem, just like you would with a garden onion. Pick your own scapes or buy them at market while they are still curling and they won’t be tough. The primary garlic – the one you are used to buying at the store – grows at the base of the stalks. As the scapes shoot out, they form more little garlic heads that you can split and plant again for the next year. As they straighten up, they become tougher and not as delightful to eat. If they get too tough, they are gorgeous in a flower arrangement! Pair it with other herbs and make your arrangement completely edible. So much to do with these pretty, little shoots. The next time you see them at your market, grab a bunch and have some fun!

Fat’s Bad Rap: Getting a grip

We all want to eat healthy but have our food taste great. We all want to have soft skin and beautiful hair. We all want to feel full. We all want to digest and benefit from our vitamins. We all want to be thin but to have energy and not cravings. So how can we accomplish it? By using one element of food properly and that element is fat – an absolutely essential component of every diet. When used wisely, fat provides us with all of the above.

Current guidelines say that 25 to 35% of your diet should come from fat, with less than 7% from saturated fat (from meat and dairy). The rest should be from mono and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil. So how can we keep the amount of saturated fat down in our diets but still benefit from its wonderful flavor and other benefits? There are some tricks to using fat wisely.

1. You need to stop listening to the marketing (like bake it, don’t fry it) and pay attention to how much fat is really in your food. Did you ever notice that you never see the word FRY in recipes anymore? That’s because when fat started getting a bad rap, we thought we could just stop frying and not have to worry about it. Now we say sauté, but honestly, that’s just semantics. If you fry/sauté in 1 Tablespoon of fat or brush on 1 T of fat and bake it, you get the same nutrition results – exactly the same amount of fat in the food you prepare. OK, you baked it instead of frying it, but did you really make healthier food? Frying is actually a great way to prepare food quickly and it can be done with very little fat. Just pay attention to the amount you use. Heat it up, swirls it around and slide your fish or meat into the pan. This coats the bottom and helps to prevent sticking. If it does stick, don’t add more fat. Just loosen it by pouring in a little liquid – something that will complement the dish – like stock or juice and tip the pan so the liquid works it’s way underneath.

2. Instead of topping hot dishes (like steak or chicken or baked goods) with a pat of butter, use a pastry brush to brush on olive oil or melted butter. Because it’s applied last, the fat will coat your tongue and give you the mouth watering feeling that you are eating something very rich, yet you can use a minuscule amount. Your food will also have the added benefit of looking moist and delicious!

3. Mounting butter: This is exactly the same idea as brushing oil on solid food but it applies to soups and gravies. Stir a small amount of fat into the hot mixture last so it will sit on the top and make it glisten. Once again, the fat will be forward and give you the feeling that you are eating something very rich even though you are not.

4. One last example of the power of adding just a small amount of last minute fat is risotto. When it’s completely cooked, just stir a little through and serve immediately. You will immediately see what I mean!

Obviously, use olive oil as much as you can, but with these simple tricks you can use a little butter too. They will help you include the much needed fat in your diet in amounts that are satisfying but reasonable. You can enjoy a little indulgence and actually feel good about it!

Purées with Punch!

There are two commonly available things that really spike the flavor of food –  that give them a bright and inviting taste. Those two things are salt and acid. Any kind of salt will do and acids are products like vinegar, wine and the citric acid found in fruits like oranges, limes and lemons. You can add them to almost any recipe. Let’s take tomato soup for example. You have it all finished but it tastes bland. The flavor is not exciting or interesting. It’s just not coming out. This is where you can really see the impact of flavor enhancement. Add small amounts of salt  and keep tasting each time you add. Then add just a little lemon juice and keep tasting as you add more. You won’t believe your taste buds! These two things will make huge difference in the finished product.

Many people strive to avoid salt, so let’s concentrate on what citric acid can do. It can flavor your food without adding a lot of calories. It can give you a healthier option because you don’t have to add cream to enjoy your dish. The picture is an example of a really healthy, low calorie meal that is full of fresh taste and has elements that work well together. The peas are fresh and cooked just enough so they still have a little bite. By the way, peas are one vegetable where freshness makes a huge difference. There is no comparison between a fresh pea and even a frozen one. They are not always available, but when you can find them, buy them!

Here’s where the citric acid comes in. The squash is cooked in not quite enough orange juice to cover it and a sprinkle of white pepper. It should be cooked until very tender and easily mashed with a fork. Then it was pureéd. (If you don’t have a blender or food processor, just mash it.) During the cooking process, the orange juice reduced and added amazing flavor. Turning it into a purée makes it more interesting and helps you not miss the potatoes. Did you even notice there was no starch on this plate?

Vegetable purée is a wonderful substitute for sauce in dishes like tacos and also lasagna. Paired with fish, any kind of meat or even roasted vegetables, they can be an interesting and tasty alternative. If you want your purée thinner, just add a little more of the juice it was cooked in and of course, fresh herbs can enhance it even more, but are not necessary.

The juicy chicken is an example of fat used wisely. It was dipped in egg, then 2 Tablespoons of coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, then baked at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, until just tender and cooked through. The garnish is a piece of leftover grilled pepper. When I say the fat was used wisely, I mean that its taste is forward because it’s on the outside. The taste of the Parmesan is strong, pleasing and filling. You taste it with every bite of the chicken. The Parmesan also has an almost salty taste, which enhances your dish even more. This is a great diet meal. The plate has freshness, color, healthy vegetables, protein and only 550 calories!

Saucy Secrets

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about “diet food” lately and how to make it as fun and appealing as “regular” food. I’ve noticed that when my friends go on a diet, the first thing they throw out the window is sauces. Sauces have gotten a bad rap because traditional sauces that taste great are full of thickeners, cream, carbohydrates, butter and of course, calories.

Sauces, however, play an important role in a dish.  They finish off its look and can dramatize it with contrasting color. They can spice it up. They add flavor and nutrition. They can soothe a piece of meat that might be a little overcooked.  Their eye appeal is important and satisfying. Half the battle of dieting is not feeling like you are and having sauce on your plate helps you accomplish that. Knowing a few tricks can help you include them with very few added calories.

The first trick is reduction. Reducing the liquid in a product intensifies its taste. It also thickens it. As I mentioned earlier, if you boil a gallon of cider down to 1 cup (over about 2 hours) and then cool it, you end up with a delicious tasting jam that can be used on toast, as an ingredient in cabbage dishes, as a glaze on a pork roast, or even re-heated as a sauce. You can do the same thing with broth. Simply boil it down until it’s thick enough to be used as a sauce. If it doesn’t get thick enough, you can add a small piece of meat or a few vegetables like carrot, onion and celery and simply purée it. Make sure to add any spices or especially salt at the very end – after it’s totally reduced, because they will also intensify and you could unwittingly overdo it. The result will be a delicious and nutritious sauce with no butter, cream or thickeners. You only need a few Tablespoons of a flavorful sauce for it to work its magic.

The second trick is to look for canned and bottled items that you keep on hand in your refrigerator that can double as sauces. Specialty mustards can be thinned with a very small amount of chicken broth and quickly heated. Chutney is also a great one. Just purée it, heat it (which will thin it out slightly) and use it as a sauce for poultry or fish. Jams and jellies can work the same way. Colorful leftover vegetables can be heated, pureéd and if necessary thinned with chicken or vegetable broth. Add the broth sparingly – just literally a Tablespoon at a time because you truly do not need much.

The third trick is to take advantage of fat free mayonnaise. Thin with a tiny bit of fat free milk and add taste with herbs, spices or horseradish sauce. You can even thin it with other fat free salad dressings or use those dressings by themselves. Lately, I’ve seen some bottled in chef’s squeeze bottles, so all you have to do is take the cap off and zig zag it across your food or plate for a pretty and tasty garnish. Thicker pastes and sauces can be positioned under your meat or vegetables for a different look. The point is to use contrasting colors and tastes that complement – and you can turn even a diet dish into a work of art.

And don’t forget your herbs. Pestos (like the one made with basil at the left) are highly flavorful sauces that are simply chopped herbs and spices with a very small amount of oil. The more taste you can get into a dish, the more it will fill you up. So also use hot sauces liberally.

To check to see if your sauce is the right consistency, put a little on a plate and tip it slightly. If it runs all over, it’s too thin. It should generally stay where you put it.

Before you serve any sauce, or any dish for that matter, TASTE IT. This is a crucial step for anyone who wants to be a good cook. Don’t ever skip it. Salt and citric acid (like lemon, lime, wine or vinegar) can brighten up flavors in a nano second and make all the difference in your dish. Add a little at a time, taste and adjust until it’s just right. You will be so glad you did!

 

Share the love!

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and all thoughts turn to chocolate, but how about a healthy snack instead that also shows love in a big way?  I’m talking about a low calorie pizza, shaped like a heart and full of healthy ingredients. It’s the perfect solution. It sounds and looks indulgent, is quick and easy to make, tastes delicious and is full of good nutrition. Besides, shaping it like a heart makes it fun! There’s no dough in this pizza. It’s made with a wrap – yes a sandwich wrap – and if you find the right one it can even be gluten free. The wrap crisps in ten minutes and tastes like a thin crust or cracker pizza. Absolutely delicious. Your kids will think you’ve gone wacko encouraging them to eat pizza and only you and I will know the truth.

First, fold a piece of parchment or waxed paper (larger than your wrap) in half and cut out a heart. Then kept cutting it down until it’s just the right size to fit inside the wrap. Using kitchen scissors, hold this template on the wrap and cut it into a heart shape. Set it on a cookie sheet (no oil). (I used a Mex America tomato-basil wrap.) Then instead of tomato sauce, I spread some barbecue sauce all over the wrap. After that, it’s just a matter of choosing the toppings (and PS keep them healthy! No bacon or pepperoni). I used 1 cup of leftover cooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces. Then I added pieces of artichoke, corn cut from 1 leftover cooked cob and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. On top of that, I tossed 1/4 cup of low fat, grated cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup of low fat, grated mozzarella cheese.

Granted, your kids might not like this particular combination, but there are plenty of healthy choices you can use for toppings: Low fat deli meat (chopped), cooked vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, fish like salmon, tilapia or tuna or cooked pork filet. See what you have in your frig and make up a fun combination of favorite things. Covering it with cheese makes it all taste good. And by the way, 1/2 cup of cheese is enough to add the cheesy taste. You don’t need to load it up.

Then bake your concoction in a pre-heated oven at 425 F for only 10 minutes. The baking time is even less using the wrap! This is a dish to please everyone – even the cook. I encourage you to give it a try!

Pasta! Pasta!

Those who know me well know that (more than occasionally and especially in the kitchen) I can start a small project and passion will quickly turn it into a large one. Yesterday, its name was pasta! My cooking philosophy is that if you can buy a great product inexpensively, then buy it. It’s only worth spending your precious time making something from scratch if it’s distinctly yours, something special or different or saves you a lot of money. This way, you can include purchased products with yours and have the best of everything. In the case of simple pasta, Barilla and others have been there done that, but sometimes it’s fun to get creative and make your own flavor combinations – not to mention using up leftovers in the process and getting some spices into your diet. What you see here started out with, “Let’s make some spaghetti noodles for dinner!” and ended up being (counterclockwise from the front) Spinach Spirelli, Turmeric Penne, Beet Amori, Basil Pesto Spaghetti, Tomato Macaroni, and Turmeric Fettuccini with bits of fresh red bell pepper running through it. As you can see, pasta provides unlimited opportunities for creation! I can just imagine how much fun I’m going to have inventing colorful sauces to go along with these! And to me, that’s what’s fun about cooking… Imagining, creating and presenting something fun that looks beautiful on your plate.

Homemade pasta is great because it can accomodate any dietary needs – even gluten free. To make it, you have lots of choices. You just need flour and liquid. Your flour can be any type – semolina, whole wheat, or rice – just to name a few – or any combination thereof. Your liquid can be eggs or water or also a mix. The ratio is 500 grams of flour to about 6 eggs for extruded pasta like I made (using a machine) or if you are making it by hand, I like to use a mix – 12 ounces semolina and 4 ounces unbleached white flour with about 1 cup of eggs. (You can add a Tablespoon of oil to make the hand rolled dough a little softer if you like.) Add the liquid in gradually until your dough feels right. That’s all that’s in it. Think about how inexpensive that is. Each one of those piles in my picture uses about one pound of flour. Next time you want to support a local restaurant, order their pasta dish!

Coloring your pasta is easy. You can either add a few Tablespoons of vegetable powder or a small amount of cooked vegetables puréed in your food processor or blender. (If they are juicy, include them in your liquid amount.) Spices can be chopped very tiny if fresh or they can be dried. Realize, though, that vegetable powders don’t change the taste much. They are added primarily for color. Things that do change the taste are the things that change the taste of anything the most – garlic, hot peppers and ground pepper to name a few. The Basil pesto spaghetti I made was great because it used up some leftover fresh pesto and made the pasta a flavor creation by itself. Usually with a pasta dish, it’s all about the sauce, but this time the spaghetti stood on its own. I could heat a can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños for a sauce and it would be a beautiful dish. It would be enough.

The best way to eat pasta is fresh. It just needs to rest a half an hour and then you can cook it up. The taste is really tender and lovely – quite different than dried. However, another great thing about it is that it can keep a long, long time, so you can make a lot and use it as you need it. You can freeze it or in the case of plain pastas or those colored with vegetable powder, simply dry it and store it in the pantry – just like the pasta you buy at the store. If you dry it, just make sure you dry it quickly. (My pasta is piled up for the picture, but afterward, I moved some of it to other screened trays and spread it out so it dried out in a matter of hours.) So… there are a few reasons to give homemade pasta a try. Have fun and PS… It’s low fat!

Spring into Spring!

VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS

A good friend reminded me yesterday about a wonderful, fresh appetizer that I used to make a lot. I dug out the recipe for you because it’s very versatile and an absolute diet WINNER. You can fill up on these for a delicious vegetarian meal, use them as an appetizer or as a side with a protein like chicken. I have even successfully made them a day ahead. You just have to be sure not to pile them up or let them touch each other because the skins are sticky and can pull apart when you try to separate them.

The spring roll skins are the wonderful part because you can see your lovely ingredients through them, but they are also the tricky part. Find them in the Asian section dry food section of almost any grocery store these days, but for sure in Asian supermarkets. They look white and are round – and you will see SPRING ROLL SKINS in English on them. When you are ready to use them, the trick is not to let them sit too long in the water. So moisten one and moisten the next as you are rolling the first. Don’t plop a bunch in the water and expect them not to glom together and destroy themselves! One at a time is magical. Also, make your own fillings Use your favorite salad or seafood recipes and fold them into a lovely delicacy!

Ingredients:

1 leek, washed, trimmed and cut into thin rings
1 large carrot, washed, peeled and cut into thin julienne
1 cup Savoy cabbage, cut into fine strips
4 ounces Shiitake or Straw mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons peanut (or vegetable) oil
2 ounces soy bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon curry
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
4 pieces of rice paper
4 salad leaves
Approximately 1/4 cup Olive oil
Soy sauce or Sweet chili sauce for dipping

Method:

1. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a wok and stir fry the leek, carrot, cabbage and mushrooms (in that order) until cooked but still firm.

2. Stir in the sprouts, peanuts, salt, pepper, soy sauce and curry. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Soften the rice paper for a minute or two in water. Lay on a thin, dry kitchen towel and carefully dry off with a second towel. Fill and roll, wrapping the ends in as you go.

4. Serve with soy sauce (for dipping) and/or sweet chili sauce. ENJOY! I love these! Add seafood, especially shrimp, if you like.

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