Monday, July 25, 2011


Most people have never heard of Panzanella, which makes me very, very sad. It's a classic summertime Italian dish, a tomato and bread salad from Tuscany. It originated to serve 2 needs: a way to use up the abundance of ripened tomatoes, and stale bread. This variation doesn't make you wait until your bread is stale, so it's perfect to make any time tomatoes are in season! This is a very flexible list of ingredients, pretty much anything you would put in a salad could work in this dish. The proportions are completely up to you as well. This is meant to be a very quick and easy dish to throw together, it's a great cold lunch in the summertime, packs up well when you're brown-bagging it, and makes a perfect side for anything fresh off the grill. Bonus points for it being pretty, colorful, and ridiculously nutritious and low in calories!

List of ingredients (as shown above):

Bread (almost anything except sliced sandwich bread will work. Preferably something crusty, like Italian or French)
Tomatoes (go for a variety of colors and sizes!)
Romaine Lettuce
Fresh Mozzarella

Vinaigrette: 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. Place in a bowl or tupperware and whisk or shake until combined well.

Cut your bread in to 1 inch cubes, place in 1 layer on a baking sheet, and cook in a 400 degree oven until they're brown and toasty. Still being slightly soft in the middle is completely ok. 1 or 2 day old bread is preferred, but not required.

While the bread is baking, cut your veggies in to approximately 1 inch cubes or slices. The onions are best to slice thinly, cut the basil in to thin ribbons, and mince the garlic up very well.

Toss the warm croutons and veggies together, then pour on the dressing and toss well until everything is covered. The tomato juice and the vinaigrette will soak in to the croutons, making them soft and incredibly delicious! This is the kind of salad that gets better the longer it sits, but I can never resist picking at it as soon as it's mixed. Waiting at least 30 minutes, if you have the willpower, is best.

Like I said, this is kind of a "clean out the fridge" salad, or a "whatever looks good at the farmers market" salad. Other ingredients that would be great include spinach, peppers (raw or roasted), provolone or parmesan cheese, pepperoni, salami, or proscuitto, carrots, steamed or raw broccoli or cauliflower, artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus, olives, and a variety of herbs.

You choose the amount of everything you'd like in your salad. The bread should take up about 1/3 of the ingredient space, with tomatoes next in line, but other than that it's totally up to you, your preferences, or what you have on hand.

This dish comes in at around 150 calories for about a cup and a half of salad. Since it's got the bread, I find it to be much more filling (and satisfying) than a "regular" salad. The CDC recommends eating 5 different colored veggies every day, and this salad will definitely help you accomplish that goal. USDA's MyPlate suggests adults eat between 2-3 cups of veggies daily. I can fill up a quart container with this salad and it will be gone in no-time! This is really one of my favorite summertime dishes, and I hope when you try it you'll like it as much as I do!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ugliest Dish I've Ever Made

This week I ventured in to another uncharted territory: casseroles. Never really made them before. Since we don't get home to eat until late at night, I've been looking for meals that can be prepared ahead of time and finished when we get home. I decided to give another one of the recipes out of my EatingWell: The Farmers' Market Cookbook a try, and settled on the Zucchini Rice Casserole. Since this recipe is also located online, I'll take the easy way out and provide you with the link, rather than re-type the whole dang thing. Here it is!:

Zucchini Rice Casserole

The first thing that appealed to me when reading the ingredients was that it had just about every food group you could want: healthy grains, seasonal veggies, dairy, and lean meat. The second appealing factor was that despite the fact it contains not 1, but TWO kinds of cheese, it's pretty low cal at only 249 calories per cup. I found that 2 cups was more than enough to fill me up! This would easily feed a family of 4, but since it's just the 2 of us it scored bonus points for having plenty left to re-heat the next night (and tasting just as good as it did the first night!).

I made a few minor changes in the ingredients to reflect what I had on hand. I used 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash. I only had 1 cup of brown rice so I also used 1/2 cup of Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley which also includes black barley and daikon radish seeds. I REALLY like the different textures the medley added, and would consider substituting it for the plain brown rice altogether. Instead of cream cheese, I used the rest of the local Daddy's Girl Dairy goat cheese I bought at the farmer's market last weekend. This cheese is worthy of a blog post all of its own. Its consistency is much closer to cream cheese than typical goat cheese, and the flavor is very mild.

I used grass fed ground bison since there was no ground turkey or turkey sausage at my local market. Bison (aka buffalo) is one of the healthiest meats around, and tastes very similar to beef. Per 100 gram serving, bison contains only 2.42 grams of fat and 143 calories, compared to beef with 10.15g fat and  219 calories, and skinless chicken with 7.41g fat and 190 calories. It's lower in cholesterol and higher in iron than beef, pork, or chicken. Bison is loaded with vitamins A, B12, and C, and are raised without drugs, chemicals, or hormones.

The dish, from start to refrigerator, takes a little under 2 hours, but most of that is in the oven. It's a great dish to make if you're cleaning house and can come back to it once in a while. Once you're ready to cook & serve, 45 minutes in the oven is all it takes. Here's what the finished product looked like:

Like I said, not the prettiest thing that's ever come out of my kitchen. To make up for it, the flavors were awesome. This dish was super duper yummy. Jeremy loved it, and we both had seconds. One of my favorite parts about this dish is that it will be so easy to substitute ingredients based on what's in season or what's on hand. You could easily use ground turkey, chicken, or pork, or shredded chicken. You could switch out cheeses and go Italian with some mozz and parm, or local with some cheddar. It's hard for me to think of a vegetable you COULDN'T use in this dish. Basically, it's very simple, super versatile, and ridiculously delicious. Hence, blogworthy. Too bad it's not prettier! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quick Pickles

I bought some nice little garden cucumbers at a vegetable stand today. It was a new veggie stand I'd never been to before, on my way to 9round Charlotte. I also picked up some yellow squash, a purple and a white eggplant, a few ears of corn, strawberries & blackberries. I'm not a huge eater of raw cukes, and I don't eat as many salads as I should, but they looked too good to leave behind. When I got home I remembered a recipe in my new EatingWell in Season: Farmer's Market Cookbook I reviewed a few blogs back for quick pickles. I decided to give it a try, slightly modified with what I had on hand.

I'll give you the recipe as it's written, then let you know how I modified it, and how it turned out!

1.25 lb pickling cucumbers, cut to 1/4 inch slices
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup slivered onion
2 cloves slivered garlic
1 tsp dill seed
1 tsp mustard seed

Slice the cukes and put them in a collandar in the sink, or over a bowl. Toss them with the salt and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain, place in a heatproof bowl.

While the cukes are doing their thing, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the hot liquid over the cukes and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

I only had 2 medium sized pickles, less than the recipe called for, so I cut each vinegar down to 3/4 cup, and slightly reduced the amount of onions I used (which were Vidalia, by the way). I had dark brown sugar, so I used about 1/4 cup of that and 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw). I doubled the garlic (because there can never be enough garlic!). I didn't have dill seed or mustard seed and I didn't feel like going out to get any. I had a tsp or two of pickling spice laying around so I did my best to pick out the cloves and cinnamon and added that for my seasoning. I also added a whole bay leaf and about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper because I like things spicy! I put the sliced and salted cukes in the fridge for their 20 minute rest before I added the hot pickling liquid.

The finished product:

The verdict:

SUPER YUM! I tried them at 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1 hour after sitting in the fridge. The flavor improves with time. I'd liken them to bread & butter pickles vs. standard dills as they are a bit sweet, but they've got more vinegar than the standard B&B pickle too. The spice for me was just right. I'd definitely like to experiment with different spices and herbs, but I think the base ingredients for the pickling liquid is spot on. They were garlicky, but not overwhelming, so I think the doubling of the garlic is a good call! I'm kind of intimidated when it comes to canning (don't ask me why, I haven't done it since I was a kid), plus I'm impatient when it comes to letting canned pickles sit for weeks before they're ready. This is a winner in the categories of "easy" and "instant gratification".

As the recipe is written, it makes 16 portions, 1/4 cup each. There are 10 calories per serving, zero fat or cholesterol, 2g carbs, 1g protein, 1g fiber, and 16g potassium. Your insta-pickles will keep, refrigerated, for 10 days. Definitely a healthy and quick snack for the summer time!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Keeping it Classy- Ratatouille

After more than a week of no AC and no cooking, I'm back to it! But this time, it wasn't in my kitchen.

My best friends Beth, Robin & I typically spend our Friday nights tearing up the town. In the 2 years we've been friends, we've had a LOT of fun times together. Playing roller derby together, going to MMA fights, traveling to back-woods places in South Carolina, singing karaoke, and taking an amazing trip to Rio together, we always manage to have a seriously good time wherever we go. We're not really the type to get together for a quiet night in. But, when we were digging for plans last night and Beth mentioned something low-key, we decided maybe some wine and a movie were in order. I mentioned to Beth that I was right across from a seafood market and could pick something up for dinner, and our plans grew to included a home cooked meal.

Here's a picture of my best friends and I at one of our classier moments (I'm pretty sure one of us managed to do something very unclassy within moments of this being taken!)

Robin jumped on board with the plan and we found ourselves, at 9pm on a Friday night, gathered at Beth's house, red wine in hand. I'd picked up 2 nice tilapia fillets from a local seafood shop I've been wanted to check out for a while. I wasn't overwhelmed by their selection, but what they had was fresh, smelled clean, and looked good. I was overwhelmed when he tallied up my total for nearly a pound of tilapia and it came to $3.80. Total. I will definitely be going there for seafood again!

Beth is quite the greenthumb and has a very nice garden that's starting to produce some great veggies. She provided a freshly picked zucchini, some tomatoes grown in a friend's garden in Charleston, and freshly picked basil. I had 1/2 an eggplant at home waiting to be used, along with some onions, red pepper, and garlic. I realized this was exactly everything I needed to make some ratatouille to go along with our fish. How awesome that everything that went in to this super healthy, fresh summer veggie side dish came exclusively from gardens & farmers markets, and we had it all on hand. No run to the store necessary.

Ratatouille, traditionally prepared, can be quite the production. It involves cooking and seasoning each vegetable separately, then layering them in a casserole dish and baking. It can take well over 2 hours from first cut to plate. We were too hungry for that, plus, like I said, we're not that hung up on being classy and traditional. I went for the more modern, speedy preparation method: throw it all in a pan. All of the vegetables are cut in to a large dice, about an inch by an inch. You don't have to be precise, just make sure whatever size you choose is consistent for all the veggies. First went the chopped garlic (4 huge cloves) and the 1/2 an onion. Once the onion began to turn translucent, the red pepper followed. You can easily substitute green or yellow pepper, whatever you have on hand or growing in the garden. Once the pepper began to soften a bit, I added 1/2 a large eggplant.

A note on cooking with eggplant: eggplant is filled with liquid that can be quite bitter tasting sometimes. The key to making delicious eggplant is to salt it liberally after you've sliced or chopped it. Place it in a collandar and toss with a good amount of salt. Let it sit as long as possible, 20 minutes at least. The salt leeches out the bitter tasting liquid, leaving behind just the yummy eggplant flavor. It also collapses the little air pockets that make the eggplant flesh like a sponge, which causes them to soak up oil and become soggy. After salting and draining, pat the flesh dry with towels thoroughly. This will remove most of the salt and the liquid clinging to them. You're left with eggplant that will taste super and have a great texture.

Ok, eggplant has been added! It's important to stir the veggies a good bit as eggplant is notorious for sticking. Next in the pan were the tomatoes, between 2-3 chopped up. The tomatoes will release a good bit of juice that will thicken up as everything cooks. This makes a yummy sauce. If it starts to evaporate too much, don't worry. Just make sure you have a glass of red wine handy (good thing we did!) and add a bit. Last in was the zucchini, a bunch of chopped basil, salt, and pepper. If you add everything in this order, and let it cook over medium for about 2 minutes in between batches, everything should end up being cooked perfectly. Nothing should be mushy.

Beth cooked the fish in some white wine, and made some saffron rice and black beans to go on the side. The picture definitely doesn't do the dish justice, even if this isn't the most visually appealing dish ever. The smell from the ratatouille was outrageous, and even Robin, who's not a big fan of veggies, really enjoyed it. It's a really easy, quick way to make use of summer veggies that are abundant in farmers markets and gardens right now.

As we sat down at the table, which was made complete with cloth napkins, we commented on how grown up and classy this was of us. We just spent an hour together cooking a meal that smells, looks, and surely tastes delicious, and were eating at a table like civilized adults. To make sure we didn't stay too classy, Robin, who doesn't eat fish, made herself some polish kielbasa chopped up with sauerkraut and a side of mustard.

Promptly after finishing our meal, we felt the need to un-do all of the adult-like behavior we'd exhibited thus far. We popped in the movie "Despicable Me", an animated kids movie, and commenced to laughing like 5 year olds till we nearly peed in our pants. We all agreed that we could get used to doing this whole "low key, home cooking, drinking wine and watching movies at home" activity. I believe this will become as much a tradition as Thursday night karaoke once was. I'm looking forward to cooking more with my friends, but it's going to be a challenge. Beth is pretty healthy, and a pescatarian who has a deep love for all veggies and great food. Robin is rarely mistaken for a healthy eater, and has a deep love for hot ham & cheese sandwiches and isn't the biggest veggie eater in the world. It'll be interesting, but one thing I know for sure, is it's going to be fun.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


So, our AC has been out at the townhouse, and by the time it's fixed it will be one week living in a hot hell-hole. This has definitely had a negative impact on my cooking, as I don't want to be inside, much less standing over a hot stove. And my grill is still out of commission, so I've resorted to grabbing whatever is pre-made and available from my stove and finding somewhere with AC to eat it. I haven't even made any tiny donuts yet! Hopefully I'll be back to cooking tomorrow night, because it's such an easy habit to break!

To try and keep myself on track I purchased 2 cookbooks. I haven't done that in years! Like I said, I don't really cook using recipes, but I'm still new to this healthy cooking thing so I'm finding that guidelines are helpful right now. Plus, all the recipes come complete with nutritional information, which is very handy.

Both books I got were from the folks at EatingWell magazine, which is a really great publication I subscribed to a few years back. Actually, it took me 3 full issues to realize it was a healthy food magazine, because all of the recipes are so.... normal!

The first book is called EatingWell In Season, The Farmer's Market Cookbook. I've just read the forward, but I had to laugh because it was basically a 6 page expansion of my 1 paragraph rant on eating locally grown fruits & veggies and supporting your community's agriculture. The book is divided in to 4 sections, one for each season of the year, and each section highlights that season's fresh fruits & veggies. Including over 150 recipes, most take 45 minutes or less, which is a plus! Just about every one comes in at less than 500 calories per serving. Each season also includes several sample menus, a combination of several recipes in season that pair well together.

The second book I purchased is titled EatingWell- 500 Calorie Dinners. 140 recipes, all taking less than 45 minutes, most taking less than 30. The opening line is "Do you love food but hate "diets"? Do you want to be healthy and fit but you find yourself too busy or simply at a loss about what to make for dinner? Then this book is for you!". Well, that describes how I feel to a T, so I had to get it. It's pretty cool because each entree recipe gives you a 500 calorie menu with options to select for sides to complete your meal. There's even a "healthy pantry" shopping list which includes lots of great standard pantry staples to keep on hand for healthy eating and impromptu meals.

I haven't had a chance to try any meals from either book, but I definitely plan on it over the weekend, assuming we've got AC by then!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Avocado Shake Recipe- Winner

I wanted to make a quick post and share a recipe for a tropical avocado smoothie I made this morning that I think is a  real winner, and 200 calories less than the original smoothie I posted.

1/2 avocado
1 banana
1/2 cup canned coconut juice
1/2 lime juice
4-5 ice cubes

This recipe is only 299 calories, 13g fat, 48g carbs, and 3.2g protein, which makes me feel a lot better about drinking it as a light breakfast.

Many of you know how I feel about coconut water.... I'm pretty much obsessed. I haven't really found any packaged for sale in the US that taste as good and as fresh as you can get it down in South America. Pure, unadulterated coconut water is nature's sports drink, containing a high level of potassium and minerals. It has more naturally occurring electrolytes than any other natural drink in the world (even more than Gatorade)!

I happened to have a few cans of "coconut juice" in my pantry that Beth accidentally purchased instead of coconut milk when we were making batida's a while back. Canned coconut juice is essentially coconut water with small chunks of coconut pulp, and unfortunately has a bit of sugar and citric acid added. I like the coconut chunks, but I'm not a huge fan of the additional ingredients. That said, the particular brand that I had in my pantry, Foco, has only 10 calories per ounce, making it a much healthier mix-in than yogurt or soy milk. Plus, it gave it a great tropical flavor!

Coconut juice can be found in the ethnic foods section of many grocery stores (don't confuse it for coconut milk!) and can also be found in Mexican and Asian groceries. 

A side note when making smoothies with avocados: avocados turn brown once they've been exposed to air. When you wrap up the 2nd half of the avocado to save for later use, rub 1/2 a lime over the exposed flesh or sprinkle a bit of lime juice on it. Make sure you remove all the air from the plastic bag to make a seal, the air will accelerate the browning. If you make a smoothie with a browned avocado, the taste will still be good, but it definitely won't have the same visual appeal! 

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Church of Tiny Donuts

This isn't really a full blog post, but something arrived that I am SO excited about and I feel the need to share it! MY TINY DONUT MAKER HAS ARRIVED! I believe it was the lovely Carrie Hanson who introduced Rachelle Loyear-Williams to the magic maker of tiny donuts, and so began a new religion. And THIS is a religion I can get behind! Gaze upon the beauty and splendor of my newly arrived tiny donut maker:

I've seen some pretty killer concoctions on The Church of Tiny Donuts facebook page. Reverend Rachelle has created some yummy masterpieces. The sweet include: cinnamon rolls, brownie batter, apple cinnamon, chocolatey chocolate chip, and strawberry with cream cheese filling. The savory includes garlic Parmesan, and some fall in between the two categories, like raisin bran and maple bacon.

I am definitely anxious to start playing around and producing some delicious donuts. Bonus points for the tiny treats being baked, not fried, to help conserve on the calories. I'm sure I could make these decadently unhealthy (and I'm sure sometimes I will!), but I'll make it a mission to create some donuts that are big on flavor and small on calories and fat. I welcome advice from those who have been members of the church longer than I, and definitely welcome ideas and suggestions for recipes to try! I look forward to being able to post many tiny donut blogs in the future!