Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mussels in Red Sauce

There's something romantic about a dinner of mussels, crusty bread and a green salad. Makes me think I'm in a French bistro. Or a seaside trattoria in Italy. When it comes to mussels, I'm used to simple preparations. Maybe white wine, herbs and a stir of butter at the last minute. Even a heartier Spanish presentation with saffron and chorizo comes across as "light." But this hearty "cooked by an Italian nonna" kind of recipe was delicious. The simmered tomatoes make a uncharacteristically thick sauce that burrows into the opened mussels and clings to every wonderful bite. Normally you'd use a piece of crusty bread to sop up the juices in a dish like this. This begs for a whole bed of pasta underneath.

Mussels in Red Sauce
From Cooking Light.
Makes four generous main-course servings.

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes; partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Add parsley and remaining ingredients; cook 5 minutes or until shells open, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; discard any unopened shells.

Wine Pairing: You could probably get away with a light Chianti like the Ruffino Aziano with this assertive dish. However, I'd pair the sweetness of the mussels, the acidity of the tomatoes and the bracing tang of the parsley with a grassy Sauvignon Blanc. My favorite in this style is New Zealand's Spy Valley.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cauliflower with Pancetta and Spinach

Here's another delicious way to prepare cauliflower, a healthy "starchy" vegetable that can be a great substitute for the potatoes you usually heap on your plate. It gets an extra kick of flavor from pancetta. Leave the pancetta out for a wonderful vegetarian side dish. The spinach provides a bit of color and even more nutrients.

Caramelized Cauliflower with Pancetta and Spinach
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes four servings.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 small head cauliflower (1 1/4 pounds), cored and cut into small florets
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped dill
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 ounces baby spinach
Toasted pine nuts (3 tablespoons or so) for garnish.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until the fat has been rendered, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, onion, dill and bay leaf. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and browned, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower and spinach and toss together. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Super Bowl for Your Super Bowl Party: White Bean and Chicken Chili

If you're having a Super Bowl party next weekend, you want to serve something hearty. Something that will take the chill off. (Not all of us can be in balmy Miami for the game!) But you also want it to "hold" well so that people can serve themselves when they want to...and then come back for seconds after watching for "wardrobe malfunctions" at halftime. This is perfect. A hearty chili with lots of flavor. It's easy to prepare...and actually pretty healthy too.

Note: It's great served just as described, but you could also put additional toppings out along with the cilantro and diced tomato. A little grated cheese. Low-fat sour cream. Even tortilla strips. It's a make-your-own-Super-Bowl-bar!

White Bean and Chicken Chili
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon olive (or canola) oil
2 cups diced onion (about 2 medium)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Confession: I had none, so I used Italian herb seasoning to no deleterious effect.)
3 (15.8-ounce) cans white beans (aka Great Northern, cannelini or navy beans), rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken stock or broth
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (You could pull from a store-bought rotisserie chicken to make things even easier. You could also substitute cooked turkey.)
1/2 cup diced seeded plum tomato (about 1)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Other toppings like grated cheese, sour cream and crispy tortilla strips if you'd like.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add chili powder, garlic, and cumin; sauté for 2 minutes. Add oregano and beans; cook for 30 seconds. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups of bean mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pan. Add turkey, and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper, stirring well. In each serving bowl, place some of the diced tomato and chopped cilantro. Ladle soup over. Garnish with lime wedges and other toppings, if desired.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Other White Meat: Mustard-Chili Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is such an easy meat to prepare. All you have to do is apply a flavorful rub and roast or grill for twenty minutes or so. You end up with wonderfully tender meat that you can slice into medallions. It's healthy too, with no more fat than chicken breast.

Here's a great recipe for you to try. Tangy and sweet and spicy all at the same time.

Mustard-Chili Pork Tenderloin
One tenderloin will serve three or four. Spread the same amount of sauce over two tenderloins for more generous servings. And leftovers!

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon molasses (Use honey if you don't have molasses, but the molasses adds a great richness, so it's worth buying. Keeps forever in your pantry.)
2 cloves chopped garlic
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)

Stir mustard, molasses, garlic and chili powder together in a small bowl. Put tenderloin in container and pour marinade over, coating well. Refrigerate and allow to marinade for two to four hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place tenderloin in baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until internal temperature registers 145-150 degrees.

Remove from oven and tent loosely with foil. Let stand for ten minutes. Slice and serve.

Wine Pairing:
A racy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might stand up to this, but I prefer a red with pork, especially when it has an assertive sauce like this. It's great with an earthy wine like Sangiovese (Chianti in Italy) or a spicy Australian Shiraz.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Red Apple Martini

This is a delicious drink that was born of necessity. Took inventory of our bar a couple nights ago and realized that we had some things that we simply never drank. Including some apple-flavored vodka. So, I Googled around and found this one. I am not a fan of the sour green appletinis that so many bars serve (no Midori for me, thank you!), so tinkered with it a bit and came up with this. It tastes just like a crisp apple. If you like it a little sweeter, add a splash of grenadine. Makes it sweet and helps turn it the color of a burnished apple skin.

Red Apple Martini
This one just takes two ingredients.

1 oz. apple vodka
2 oz. apple juice

Shake juice and vodka together in ice-filled shaker. Strain into cocktail glass or champagne flute and serve immediately. (You can gild the lily if you'd like and run a lemon wedge around the glass rim and dip into a mixture of 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinammon.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Spelt Salad with White Beans and Artichokes

I've been trying to eat "healthy" carbs this year, so thought I'd try this recipe that I found in January's Cooking Light. It calls for spelt (aka farro) a nutty grain with lots of protein. It's NOT wheat, so is an alternative for folks with allergies. I have to admit that I didn't think this was going to work after I cooked the spelt and tasted it. Pretty grainy. Wasn't sure it would be my cup of tea.

After I added the herbs and other ingredients though, I was hooked. The nuttiness was tempered by the milder beans and the tangy artichokes. Add the bite of lemon juice and bright herbs, and you have a wonderfully healthy salad or side dish. It could be a main course salad with the addition of chicken or some good-quality canned tuna if you'd like.

Spelt Salad with White Beans and Artichokes
From Cooking Light.
Makes about five cups.

1 1/4 cups uncooked spelt (farro), rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced red onion
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

Combine spelt and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed. (Mine took longer, so be prepared and watch it.)

Combine cooked spelt, mint, and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sweet Orange Salmon

I'll confess I am not a big fan of salmon. I know it's one of the healthiest fish to eat, but I've always had problems with its texture and sometimes strong flavor. I'm rethinking things after this delicious recipe. I asked the fishmonger for his mildest salmon and he gave me some Pacific farmed fish. Tried this sweet spicy rub on it and was blown away. Nice amount of heat and attitude to stand up to the assertive flavor of the fish. A serving of simply blanched green beans on the side and I had a meal to remember.

Sweet Orange Salmon
Adapted from Cooking Light.
(They suggest that the spice rub would be good on pork tenderloin medallions as well.)
Makes four servings.

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked Spanish sweet paprika for even more flavor.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (I didn't have any so left it out. Will try adding in next time.)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
Cooking spray

Preheat broiler.

Combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture over both sides of salmon fillets. Place salmon on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil for two minutes, making sure spice rub does not brown too quickly. Remove from broiler, turn oven down to 400 degrees and bake for 10 more minutes, or until you can flake fish easily with a fork. Serve immediately.

Wine Pairing: I'm a big fan of Crios de Susanna Balbo. The winery's Syrah Bonarda blend is my go-to wine for rich meat dishes like this. So I decided to try their Rosé of Malbec. It's another hit with me. Has the characteristic tang of strawberries, but with less sweetness and more spice than other "pink" wines. It was not the perfect match with the assertive spice of the salmon, but did better than it should have. Definitely worth a try, especially given its less than $15 price tag.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Turn Your Bathroom Into a Spa

OK...enough with food already. The detox plan has me so thinking about food and health that I'm stressed out. I know, counterintuitive, isn't it?

So I'm retreating to my bathroom "spa" this evening. I'd love to be able to whisk myself away to some exotic locale where I could be pampered with spa food and various mud treatments. Until I win the lottery though, that's not an option. So, I'm taking the simpler route and going to transform my bathroom into a stress-free heaven where I can let my worries steam themselves away. (Don't worry, no renovations needed.)

Here are some tips for you to do the same:
  • Get yourself some alone time. Let your family know that you are going into your private retreat and don't want to be disturbed. At all. Give yourself at least half an hour, but buy yourself as much time as you can.
  • Create silence. I know a lot of people like to listen to music to relax, but I like listening to the "silence." No music, just the sounds around you. The trickle and splash of water in the tub. And other sounds that you'll hear if you just listen. It's a great way to get into an almost-meditative zone. (And refer back to first tip above. Make sure the rest of your household knows you don't want to be listening to their stereos or TV's blaring either.)
  • Make yourself a warm cup of tea. Maybe something herbal with chamomile. Or pour yourself a glass of wine.
  • Set the atmosphere. I like to turn the lights out and light a few candles. Maybe aromatherapy candles. Changing the lighting from its traditional glare can help trick yourself into thinking you're somewhere more exotic. And the flicker and shadows of candlelight gives you something else to observe as you're relaxing.
  • Get your fluffiest, biggest towel and throw it in the dryer for a few minutes. It will still be warm when it's time to dry off.
  • Draw yourself a toasty warm bath. Not TOO don't want to boil yourself. And leave a trickle of warm water going. It's a relaxing sound and will keep your tub at just the right temperature.
  • Make it bubbly. I'm a sucker for bubble baths. (Stop giggling.) I love the smell and the "texture" it gives the water. There are lots of products out there--most of them reasonably priced. I love Bath and Body Works products.
  • Make your own aromatherapy bath. If you grow your own herbs, pick stems of your favorites like rosemary and lavender. Or spearmint or peppermint. Wrap them in cheesecloth and tie them to the tub faucet so the water splashes through them as the water fills the tub.
  • Add other special ingredients if you'd like. Oatmeal soothes the skin and can reduce itching. Epsom salts can help relieve muscle pain. Even a splash of vanilla extract--it's wonderfully relaxing.
  • As your bath fills, begin the relaxation process. Lay on your bathroom floor and stretch lightly. Then, starting at the tips of your toes, relax each part of your body all the way to the top of your head. Concentrate on your breathing and feel the tension slip away.
  • Your bath should be ready now, so climb in. Luxuriate in the smells, sounds and sensations around you. Sip your wine and let your mind wander. If a stressful thought creeps in, banish it immediately. It's a great time to practice the "Power of Now" philosophy and concentrate on what your senses are taking in.
  • Take your time. Don't rush. Hang out until you've washed the stresses of the day and week away.

Feel better? And it didn't cost you hardly anything. Bet you'll make another "appointment" next week.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Week Three of the Detox Plan

We're almost there! Already through two weeks of the detox plan and feeling great. If you're like me, you're so used to eating healthy now that you don't even crave things like fast food. This week, we'll add back in even more healthy protein, but keep an emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, you won't feel that you're depriving yourself of much of anything. The idea is to get used to this week's eating habits and adhering to them as closely as you can going forward. Next week, I'll give you tips for how to keep the momentum and how to allow yourself to "cheat" so that you can enjoy a little naughtiness now and then. Plus a great resource to help you keep on track.

But, for now, this week:

Add the lean protein of chicken and turkey.
Here you should concentrate on white meat. Chicken breast and turkey breast. And you have to prepare it in healthy ways. Grilling. Baking. Pan-sauteing in a touch of healthy fat like olive oil. And, of course, no heavy coatings or fatty sauces. I'll share some recipes and marinade ideas so you don't have to endure bland grilled chicken.

Enjoy eggs.
You can have an egg or two a day. Scrambled, poached or in a recipe like this. Hard-boil an egg and put on your salad. If you're being really good, use the whites only. Full of great protein and almost no fat at all.

Use low-fat dairy.
Things like sour cream, milk and cottage cheese are back in play. Just make sure you use low-fat or, even better, no-fat versions. I like to put herbs in fat-free sour cream and use as a dip for carrots and celery sticks. Cheese is ok too, but make sure it's not the full fat kind.

Keep snacking.
Stick with your four or five snacks a day. they keep your metabolism up and keep you from losing control and ending up with bad choices because you're starving. What you want to try and do now is include protein in as many of your snacks as possible. Not just carrots...carrots and a flavorful fat-free sour cream dip. Apple...with a tablespoon of unsweetened peanut butter. Even just a slice of turkey or two.

Bread and potatoes are o.k....sort of.
Feel free to have a sandwich this week. Just make sure it's on the healthiest, grain-filled bread you can buy. Look at the ingredients. If the dreaded "high fructose corn syrup" is way up there, skip it. And don't even think about chewy white bread. Sorry. You can also have a potato now and then. Much preferred to a big ol' Russet are sweet potatoes and new potatoes. I'll explain more about why next week. Hint: It has to do with good carbs vs. bad carbs.

Portion control is key.
We've added back in things that are higher in calories. So make sure you don't overdo it and blow your previous good results. If weight loss is still a goal, monitor yourself carefully. I'll keep weighing myself every morning to make sure I'm still on track. You probably won't lose more than a pound or two a week now, but you certainly don't want to gain by eating too much. It's all healthy stuff, but you can't take in more than you can burn in a day.

This is the week I'll go back to having wine. Probably not every night, but drinking in moderation is ok. I won't have a cocktail until at least next week though.

Hope you're having success if you've been keeping up with the plan. Stay tuned for the next couple of weeks for more delicious recipes that are in keeping with the guidelines of the plan.

Friday, January 19, 2007

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Cannellini beans (aka white kidney beans) are delicious and healthy, full of fiber and minerals. They are a staple of Italian cooking, especially in soups with hearty ingredients like sausage and kale. Here's a recipe that pairs their earthy-sweet nuttiness with the tang of red pepper. And a nice garlicky bite. It's yummy with crunchy sliced vegetables or crips pita chips (whole wheat pita is especially good). Try it for your Super Bowl party!

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip
Adapted from Cooking Light.
Makes about 2 cups.

1/4 cup chopped basil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 (16 ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (7 ounce) bottle roasted red bell peppers, rinsed and drained
1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

Place basil, vinegar, beans, red peppers and garlic in food processor. Process until smooth. With processor running, slowly add oil through chute.

Stir in salt, black pepper and lemon juice.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whole-Wheat Pasta with Roasted Vegetable-Tomato Sauce

Here's a deliciously hearty and healthy main dish. The vegetables are cut large enough to give texture and color, but they cook down to tender sweetness. I make the sauce and then serve over whole wheat penne pasta. With a salad on the side, you have a great meal!

Roasted Vegetable-Tomato Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings.

1 purple onion, cut into chunks
1 yellow or white onion, cut into chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1- inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 package (8 ounce) whole mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 can (28 ounces) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons Italian herb seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place vegetables and garlic in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and red pepper. Stir to coat.

Bake 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. Add tomatoes and Italian herbs and stir. Bake 20 t0 30 minutes more until vegetables are tender.

Remove from oven and serve sauce over cooked pasta. (I use whole wheat penne.) Garnish with grating of Parmesan cheese.

Note: Next time I make this, I am going to add Italian sausage to the sauce. Just slice a couple links sweet Italian sausage and brown separately in olive oil. Stir into sauce during last ten minutes of cooking.

Wine pairing: This cries out for the tastes of Italy. Try the Tuscan Sangiovese/Merlot blend Santa Cristina from the Antinori winery. It's fresh and fruity with enough Sangiovese dustiness to complement the earthy vegetables and herbs. Or upgrade to a Chianti like the Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva. It's a ratings winner with even fuller body and firmer tannins.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia Salad

Here's a healthy dinner with Mexican flair. If you're being REALLY good, omit the tortilla strips and cheese. But they add a lot of interest without too much that's bad for you, so go for it. The chili powder in each of the dish's components brings it all together with just enough smoky heat.

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia Salad
Inspired by Cooking Light.
Makes four servings.

Tortilla strips:
4 corn tortillas cut in half and sliced 1/4 inch wide
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. Place tortillas on pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, until crisp. Set aside.

Think of typical Mexican ingredients when preparing this salad mix. Pick an assortment of things like Romaine lettuce, avocado, tomato, red bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, corn, jicama, and cilantro. Enough for the number of people you're serving. Cut into salad-size ingredients and toss with dressing.

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper.

Whisk all ingredients together.

4 (6 ounce) tilapia filets
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper

Mix dry ingredients together and dredge tilpia in seasoned coating mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add coated fish and cook about 3 minutes on each side, until browned and to desired degree of doneness.

To assemble salad, mound dressed salad on plate. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of grated reduced fat Mexican-blend cheese. Top with a tilapia filet and garnish with tortilla strips.

Wine pairing: This is a good Chardonnay match. Something like the Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Chardonnay. It's crisp acidity is perfect with the smoky salad dressing and a very subtle touch of oak in the wine pairs nicely with the cornmeal crust on the tilapia.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Healthy Substitutes: Fool Your Taste Buds.

So you're trying to lose weight and doing pretty well. Suddenly you're hit with a craving for potato chips. One or two would be ok, right. Two bags into it, you realize, "Probably not a good thing." The man in your life may think a diet without steak is ridiculous. And those of you carb-lovers out there cannot live for two weeks without potatoes.

As I've tried to add full flavor to my vegetarian recipes over the last week of the detox plan, I've made a couple of interesting discoveries. Vegetables cooked a certain way that could be stand-ins for their less-healthy cousins. Try some of them and see if you agree.

Grilled Portobella Mushroom
I love a good steak. Especially a ribeye...medium rare. But it's a once-a-month the most. Too full of saturated fat, and definitely not a part of the detox plan. I've learned though that a Portobella mushroom makes a great substitute. Here's how I do it.

Take a Portobella mushroom and marinate/season just as you would a steak. I drizzle both sides with olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic pepper and seasoning salt. Then I grill until well-browned on both sides, about ten minutes total. Cut into with a steak knife and you might just fool yourself into thinking you're having sirloin.

You can also prepare on the stovetop in a hot grill pan. And I have always said that the best and easiest grilled vegetables are made on a George Foreman indoor electric grill. Might as well grill a whole batch of vegetables while you're at it. Onion, squash, bell pepper...just slice and use the same marinade you do on the mushroom.

Zucchini Oven Chips
One of my favorite comfort foods is fried yellow squash. Slices of crookneck squash dipped in milk and then coated in cornmeal and fried. The crispy coating is the perfect complement to the tender fleshiness of the squash. I can eat platefuls of the stuff. Last summer, I tried this healthier alternative. When I fixed it again this last week, I realized it also could be a good stand-in for potato chips. The thin slices of zucchini end up nice and crisp with just the right amount of saltiness. (Note: The breadcrumbs, milk and Parmesan are all "cheat" ingredients in the first couple of weeks of the detox plan, but if it prevents me from grabbing a bag of Ruffles, I think the end justifies the means!)

From Cooking Light

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
2 1/2 cups (1/4-inch-thick) slices zucchini (about 2 small)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place milk in a shallow bowl. Dip zucchini slices in milk, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture.

Place coated slices on an ovenproof wire rack coated with cooking spray; place rack on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until browned and crisp. Serve immediately.

Butter-Braised Radishes
I know you think I'm crazy to say that radishes are a substitute for anything, but I was surprised when I tried this recipe last week. I expected the radishes to be slightly tender with their bite tamed a little, but was pleased to see that they ended up tasting an awful lot like boiled new potatoes. (And, of course, if you're having a total potato craving, try steamed cauliflower mashed with a little butter and garlic. Much healthier than traditional mashed potatoes.)

Adapted from Food and Wine magazine

1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds radishes with their greens removed, quartered
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, bring the vegetable stock and butter to a boil over moderate heat. Add the radishes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp-tender and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a shallow bowl.

What do you think? Did you fool yourself at all?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Healthy Snack: Homemade Granola

I use "granola" as an adjective. Like "She's kind of granola." "I didn't realize how granola that part of the city was." I mean natural. Unprocessed. Earthy. But when I grab the box of granola bars out of the pantry and look at the list of ingredients, I'm a little worried. Lots of chemicals and gourmet-industrial creations. Not the healthiest choice. But it's a choice that many of us are convinced we should be making to lose weight and stay healthy.

Here's an even better choice: make your own granola. It's easy and allows you to control the raw ingredients you use. You'll KNOW it's a healthy choice for you...and your kids too. This one includes not only grains and nuts, but protein and dried fruits.

Once you've made this healthy mix, you can keep it in airtight containers for a couple of weeks. Pack it up in plastic bags for snacking or pour a little skim milk over it for your morning cereal.

3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup whole roasted, unsalted almonds
4 tablespoons whole flaxseeds (I found this and the wheat germ in the bulk section of the grocery store.)
1 cup toasted wheat germ (If what you buy is not toasted, just put in an oven at 350 for 10 minutes before you assemble the granola.)
4 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup water (For extra flavor, you can use apple juice or orange juice instead of water.)
1 1/2 cups dried fruit (Use a mix of your favorites. Raisins or chopped dates or apricots. I used dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries for mine.)

Stir all ingredients except dried fruit together in a large bowl. Coat two 9 by 13 baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread the mixture in a thin layer in both pans and bake in a 300 degree oven, stirring every ten minutes. Granola is done when dry and lightly browned. This should take between 30 and 60 minutes depending on your oven and pans used. Let cool and stir dried fruits in.

Note: Make sure and stir often and watch for overbrowning. A burned corner can ruin the entire batch by the time it's stirred in.

Seared Sesame Tuna with Wasabi Sauce and Radish Salad

We added fish back into our diet last night as a part of the ongoing detox plan. And went for the gusto. No mild flaky whitefish here. Full-flavored rich and silky tuna. Seared medium rare. But stayed healthy too. Accompanied it with lightly sauteed Chinese cabbage (just chop coarsely and saute in a bit of olive oil for five minutes or so) and a crisp tangy sweet radish salad. It's an easy and deliciously healthy meal.

Seared Sesame Tuna

6 ounce tuna steaks (about 3/4 inch thick), one per person (Buy good quality fresh albacore or yellowfin tuna from a good fish department if you can.)
Soy sauce
Olive oil
Toasted sesame oil
Sesame seeds (white and/or black)

Place tuna steaks in shallow dish or pie plate and drizzle generously with soy sauce and olive oil. Drizzle sesame oil over sparingly. Rub marinade over steaks and make sure all sides are well-coated. Set aside to marinate for 5-10 minutes.

Sprinkle sesame seeds onto tuna (one side only) and press lightly to adhere.

Place a saute pan or grill pan on the stove and heat over high heat. When hot, place tuna, sesame seed-coated side down, into pan. Turn heat down to medium-high and sear tuna for 2 minutes until sesame seeds are lightly browned. Turn tuna over and sear on other side for 2 minutes.

Remove from pan and serve immediately drizzled with wasabi sauce (recipe below).

Note: This should give you tuna that is rare to medium-rare. To keep it that way, it's important to serve immediately. So have your sides ready to go.

If you want your tuna done a little more, cook for an extra minute or so on each side. Be careful though that you don't let the seeds burn. You can also cook for the four minutes outlined then put on a plate loosely tented with foil. The residual heat will cook the tuna for another five minutes or so.

Here are two great accompaniments for your tuna.

Wasabi Sauce
This is great on tuna steaks, but would also be good with steamed vegetables or even Asian noodles.

3 tablespoons silken tofu
1 tablespoon wasabi powder (Note: Caution. This stuff is hot. If you're sensitive to heat, start with 1/2 tablespoon wasabi powder and add more to taste. The sauce also seems to get hotter as it sits, so let it rest for a few minutes before you taste for heat.)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon mirin (sweetened sake)
1 tablespoon water
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce (Note: This turns the sauce a brownish color, so you could omit if you wanted to keep the sauce a fresh green-white tinge. I like the added flavor the soy sauce brings though.)

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. (I found it was even better blended in a mini food processor.) Set aside. Drizzle over tuna steaks.

Radish Salad
I was happy to find this recipe in an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. It's a nice combination of crisp peppery radishes tempered with an easy tangy sweet dressing. The added herbs and sprouts bring even more flavor and crunch. It was perfect with our Asian tuna, but would also be good with chicken or a sandwich. Could also be an unusual, but yummy, addition to traditional barbecue fixings like pickles and cole slaw.

Makes two to four relish-size servings.

Eight radishes, sliced as thinly as possible. (I used a mixture of red and white globe radishes and sliced them with a little hand-held mandoline.)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint (optional)
2 tablespoons daikon sprouts or other peppery sprouts (optional)

Mix all together in a small bowl.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Week Two of the Detox Plan

If you've made it through the first week of the detox diet, congratulations! You've probably lost a pound or two (and maybe an inch or two also!) and feel healthier. At the same time, you're probably also starting to miss the variety of foods you're used to. Despite best efforts in cooking techniques and flavor-boosting strategies, we've definitely been working with a restrictive list of ingredients. Get ready though. Your horizons are about to drastically expand. Here are the more generous guidelines for this week two:

Add fish to your diet.
Fish is a great healthy source of protein and is packed with fatty acids that are good for you. So, as long as you prepare it healthily, have as much of it as you want. If you want boiled shrimp for breakfast, go for it. We're kicking off fish week tonight with a great piece of albacore tuna that I'll sear rare and drizzle with a little wasabi dressing. I'll blog that recipe for you tomorrow. And other fish recipes later in the week.

Add grains.
You'll keep with the high-fiber trend established last week by adding healthy whole-grains to your meal plans. (Still no bread, even whole-grain, this week though if you can avoid it.) Things like couscous, quinoa, and barley. These may sound exotic, but are easily found in bulk sections of gourmet grocery stores. And delicious, easy-to-prepare couscous mixes can be found in boxes in the rice section of your grocery store. (Far East brand is a favorite of mine.) Other options for you include brown rice and wild rice. Just don't go crazy; don't have platefuls at every meal and do use common sense in your preparation methods. The grains should be steamed or boiled simply, with little to no extra fat (olive oil) added. For my part, I'm going to try spelt (a kind of barley) for the first time this week. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Try beans.
If you have a favorite bean soup, fix it. Have a can of black beans over brown rice for dinner. Whir together white beans or garbanzo beans with herbs and roasted red peppers for a great dip for fresh veggies. Just don't go crazy with processed soups and beans. You still obviously want to avoid ingredients like bacon and beef. (I try and keep things pure and use vegetable stock only. Will be looking forward to adding chicken back in next week...)

Go nuts.
Not just with almonds, pecans and walnuts, but "unusual" nuts and seeds as well. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and soy nuts are just two of the things I'll have on hand this week to snack on or add crunch to salads or vegetables. Don't go overboard though. You want dry-roasted nuts without sugary coatings. And, yes, nuts are high in "good" fats, but they are also full of calories too, so a handful should be your portion size.

Keep snacking.
Keep your metabolism up by continuing to eat every three or four hours. That's a pattern you'll want to keep even after the three weeks are over. Just alter the ratio a little. My five snacks this week will break down into two fruits, two vegetables, and one snack of nuts a day. Next week, I'll establish my "maintenance" snack plan--proteins paired with fruits and vegetables for as many of my daily snacks as possible.

And keep abstaining.
I'm still a teetotaler this week. No alcohol and definitely no sugar. We'll have wine again next week, and my new healthier taste buds will be able to appreciate its beauty more than ever before. (I try and avoid potatoes and corn this week still too.)

Keep it up. By the time we finish our three weeks, you'll be a new food furnace, hungry for healthy foods that keep your metabolism revving. And keep moving. Every bit of exercise is another calorie burned.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In the Pantry: Salt

All salts are created equal, right? Not really. As I have experimented in the kitchen and at the dinner table, I've learned a lot. And upgraded my pantry stocks. Here's a little info about the various salts I keep on hand.

Good Ol' Iodized Salt
Even though I don't use it very much, I still keep a paper can of Morton's in my cabinets. This is the salt most of us grew up with. The iodine was added starting in the 1920's as a preventative for certain thyroid conditions. Interestingly enough, some countries actually require iodine to be added to salt.) Although I don't even put it on the dining room table, it's still the best for baking. Its small uniform crystals make it easy to measure and better-dissolving in recipes. (Although I have to admit I sometimes skip salt as an ingredient in cookie, cake and pie recipes. My mother always left it out of those things when we were growing up, so I am very sensitive to any kind of saltiness in things like pound cake and chocolate chip cookies.)

Kosher Salt
This is the workhorse in my salt stable. I keep it in a lidded dish on the kitchen counter and always have it on the dinner table as well. It contains no additives, and its coarser grain makes it easy to pick up with your fingers. Whether putting water on to boil for pasta or tossing a salad, I can just reach over, grab a pinch or two of salt and throw it in. I think it has a brighter, less salty (if that makes sense) flavor than iodized salt, meaning that when you use it it wakes up the flavors already in a recipe rather than adding an additional salty layer of taste. It's what I use exclusively in cooking in all non-baking jobs.

Sea Salt
I've only discovered this one in the last year or so. There are expensive ones out there (fleur de sel, for example, at almost $20 a pound. Kosher salt, by comparison costs less than a buck a pound.) but you can also buy less-expensive versions of sea salt at your grocery store. Sea salt is distilled from seawater, and some, harvested along international shorelines have trace minerals that give it as much of a terroir (flavor associated with a particular place) as wine. The minerals can also give it a characteristic color; you may have seen Michael Chiarello on the Food Network using grey salt. I have a small bag of a pinkish salt from Australia in my pantry.

Sea salt is a finishing salt for me since I think it's appeal is its texture. It's not grainy, but flaky. So when you sprinkle a little on a fresh tomato slice or steamed vegetables, it doesn't dissolve into the food, but keeps its shape and provides a salty crunch as you bite into it.

On the Horizon
There are two new trends I have noticed in the salt world. One is chunk salts. These potato-sized rocks are mined and, just as sea salts do, come in a variety if colors. It's grated as needed onto foods and used as a finishing salt. Same benefits apply: its larger flakes "sit up" on the food and provide some crunch. I'm on the lookout for a chunk or two to have for fancier occasions.

The other is smoked salt. As people branch out from brisket and ribs and now smoke fish, vegetables and other more delicate ingredients, someone threw a tray of kosher salt in and let it pick up the hardwood flavors and smells. Next time I fire up my smoker I'm going to do the same. Word on the street is that it's delicious on salmon and other fish. (Or how about rimming the glass of a delicious Bloody Mary?)

Check them out. A beautiful life deserves beautiful ingredients and having just the right salt on hand can be the thing to take a meal from ho-hum to outstanding.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Roasted Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette

Hopefully, you're keeping up with our detox plan. That means you might be growing tired of just vegetables at dinner. So, kick things up with unusual cooking techniques. Roast your asparagus instead of steaming it. And bold flavors. A spicy orange vinaigrette. Here's a recipe that is a great vegetarian main course. It's also a super side dish for roast chicken or baked fish.

Roasted Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette
Adapted from Cooking Light

Makes two "main course" servings or four side dish servings.

1 tablespoon grated orange rind
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste (optional)

1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine the first 4 ingredients; stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. If using, add crushed red pepper. Set aside.

Arrange asparagus in an even layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss well to coat.

Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, stirring well after 5 minutes. Remove from oven (do not turn oven off). Drizzle with juice mixture; toss to coat. Bake at 450° for 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.

This is also good at room temperature, so make a big batch for a dinner buffet. Or even pack some up for an elegant picnic salad.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Healthy Snacks and Drinks Too

So, we're a couple days into our detox plan. I'm already seeing...and feeling... the results. Losing a little weight and feeling a little leaner. More energy. And just in a better mood. It's amazing what health will do to you!

One of the main things to do on a plan like this is to eat more than you ever have before. Your body is like a furnace that needs its fuel. So you have to keep stoking it. Breakfast within thirty minutes of getting up. Snacks or smaller meals every three hours or so. Of course, you have to make healthy choices. And you don't have to stick to the same old baby carrots and celery sticks. (Although they're yummy too.) Here's a list of ideas that you might try. Pack them up the night before in snack-size plastic bags, and you'll have no excuses for not keeping that metabolism revved.

Vegetable Snacks
Avocado, carrot, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber (dress with a little vinegar, olive oil and dill if you'd like), jicama (a great Southwestern vegetable), radishes (I put them in a little water in the fridge so they're extra crisp and dip in a little salt when I snack), squash (yellow or zucchini). There are others out there too. Hit the produce section!

Another great find is dehydrated vegetable chips. You can find them in bulk at your gourmet grocery store. They're healthy, but crisp enough to make you think that you're eating fattening potato chips!

And in week three of the detox plan...when we can eat low-fat dairy...there are a couple of easy dips you can make to add even more variety to your vegetable snacks. I'll post them here.

Fruit Snacks
You know these the best....Apple, banana, cherries, grapes, melons, orange, peaches, pear, plums. Unusual ones you might try include kiwi fruit and papaya or mango.

And don't forget dried fruit too. Apricots, prunes, raisins and whatever else you can find. Just be careful to make sure there's no extra sugar added. And snack on these sparingly. They have LOTS of natural sugars to begin with.

Remember the ratio too. Three vegetables to every two fruit snacks.

I'm used to a cocktail before dinner. Heck, you know that...I've posted my favorites. So, to keep with the tradition, I'm having fruit juice sparklers this week. Natural unsweetened juices with club soda. I even put it into a cocktail glass to "pretend." I especially like cranberry, pomegranate and red grape juices, but you can use whatever are your favorites.

Keep on keeping on! We're making progress.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Vegetarian Main Dish: Braised Cauliflower in Tomato

We started our detox diet today. Nothing but fruits and vegetables this week. A little hungry this afternoon, but lots of snacks are keeping my metabolism going!

I don't suffer through this first week with bland steamed vegetables though. I look for ways to add the spice, richness and complexity I can. I'm already craving things I can't have. No need to deprive myself of flavor too!

Here was my main course for dinner tonight. The cauliflower is substantial enough that you feel like you're enjoying pasta with tomato sauce. I added some cabbage that I sauteed until caramelized in a little olive oil. Quite delicious.

Braised Cauliflower with Garlic and Tomatoes
Adapted from Perfect Vegetables

Serves 4.

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into about 1 inch florets
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper

In a covered saucepan with a steamer insert, steam the cauliflower florets over boiling water for about seven minutes or until tender, but still firm. Uncover and remove from heat.

In a saute pan, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, for six to seven minutes until it begins to brown. Add garlic to portion of bottom of pan and cook for one minute until garlic softens. Stir into cauliflower. Add red pepper flakes, tomatoes and herbs and stir to combine. Continue to cook for another five minutes or so until cauliflower is tender. (Cook longer if you prefer softer cauliflower.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Most Decadent Mac and Cheese You'll Ever Have! we go on detox on Monday. So let's eat in gluttonous style before then. Here's a recipe for the creamiest, crispiest, richest macaroni and cheese you might ever have. It was a HUGE hit at our pot-luck wine dinner. Enjoy.

Best-Ever Mac and Cheese
Serves 16 as side dish or 8 as main course.

1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon melted butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups of milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
4 cups of shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
3 cups of shredded Swiss Gruyere cheese
1 pound shells or elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions in salted water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions and set aside.

Toss the panko bread crumbs with melted butter on a small baking pan. Toast bread crumbs at 350 until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted, then stir in the flour. Heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in milk. Add the dry mustard, white and cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt, and bay leaf. Heat and stir until boiling, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf. Stir in 3 cups of the cheddar cheese and all the Gruyere until melted.

Pour the sauce over cooked pasta in a large bowl, stirring until pasta is coated. Pour the mac and cheese into a well-buttered casserole. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese on top, and then the toasted bread crumbs.

Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Put under a preheated broiler for 5 minutes to brown top.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Recipe Organization

I have a lot of cookbooks. A running joke at our house is that I could try three new recipes a day for the rest of my life and still not get through half the books. A quick check of the math proves that's probably true. And I keep getting more! Add to that a monthly stack of magazines like Gourmet, Southern Living, Cooking Light, Food and Wine, and Everyday Food (and that's the tip of the proverbial iceberg) and the recipes can get to be overwhelming. Over the years though, I've developed a pretty cool system for keeping track of them all. (Apparently very similar to the one Martha uses according to her Homekeeping Handbook.) Hopefully, you've found enough recipes you like on this blog and elsewhere that you need to put it to use. Here's how it goes.

As you find recipes you like in magazines, rip them out. No sense in keeping whole magazines stacked around. Set the recipes aside until you're ready to sort. If you find recipes on blogs or websites, print them out and put them in your "to file" stack also. Cookbooks get a little more complicated if you're like me and don't want to rip them apart. So, you can either make photocopies and put in to file stack. Or just mark recipes that look interesting with tiny post-it notes.

Every month or so, go through your "to file" stack and sort everything. You'll separate them into categories that make sense for you. For example, some of my categories include Appetizers, Chicken, Mexican, Soups, Vegetables, etc. You'll come up with your own. You can also set a few aside as "Try Now." (And even trash any that don't look as interesting any more.) Then put each stack in its own folder and file away. (I use a wooden file box on my cookbook shelves.)

Then, you can always go into a specific file for a certain recipe, but I periodically go through and create a "Soon" stack. Those things that sound good to try in next month or so. Then, I'll go through that stack and pick a couple every week to add to shopping list and try.

Notice the system at this point is just for recipes you want to attempt. Once you've made something for the first time, you have to decide if it's a keeper. If so, slip it into a sheet protector and put it into a binder which you've organized with dividers listing your categories. This becomes your Kitchen Bible. Believe me, you'll go back to it again and again. And will always know exactly where to find things.

If you don't like the recipe, chunk it. One less thing to worry about.

Try it and see if you like this system. If not, you can easily adapt to your style. Let me know your improvements by posting a comment.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Detox Diet: A Healthy Way to Kick Off the New Year!

You've seen my New Year's resolutions and that one of them is to lose weight and eat more healthily. So, starting on Monday, I'm going to revisit a very successful detox meal plan that I practiced this summer. I put it together from several things I found online--trying to synthesize a variety of ideas into something that would not actually accomplish my goals, but also that was practical enough that I'd actually keep up with it. (No crazy diets of nothing but water, lemon juice and cayenne pepper for me!) It worked. I lost weight (and inches around the middle), had lots more energy, slept better, my skin was healthier...all good, good, good. Here are the details if you'd like to play along at home.

First, the disclaimer. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and you should never go on a diet without checking with your medical professional first. That said, this one is really not crazy...just a jumpstart to a healthier lifestyle.

Overall Guidelines:
Here are things you should do throughout the program, regardless of which week you're in.
  • Get moving. You should exercise regularly as a part of this plan. Gets your metabolism going and you can sweat out some of the bad stuff. No need to run marathons though. If walking for 15-20 minutes four or five times a week is all you can accomplish, more power to you.
  • Drink lots of water. It not only makes you feel fuller, but helps to flush the toxins you're trying to get rid of out of your system.
  • No alcohol. The longer you can stick with this the better. (However, I usually add wine back in about ten days into the program without ill effect.)
  • You're going to be eating more than you think you can. Three meals (probably a little smaller than what you're used to) and at least four snacks. Here's the schedule I follow: Breakfast when I get up at 7:00 a.m. Snack at 10:00 a.m. Lunch at 11:30 a.m. Snack at 2:00 p.m. Snack at 5:00 p.m. Dinner at 7:30 p.m. Snack right before bed at 10:00 p.m. Adjust to fit your schedule, but don't skip snacks. You want your metabolism running high. Just means you'll need to plan ahead and have Zip-loc bags of healthy snacks on hand. (I'll have some tips for healthy snacks in a couple of days. Update: Here they are.)
  • No caffeine or sugar. Although you can have green tea (as much as you want!) sweetened with honey.
  • If you want to go "whole hog," use a cleansing kit that you can find at your health food or grocery store. The one I use is a three week program that includes fiber and a mild laxative, as well as milk thistle--which is supposed to stimulate your liver to work overtime.

Week One

First week is tough, but you should see dramatic results. I lost eight pounds of what I call "trash weight" when I did it last summer.

  • The basic rule is fruits and vegetables only. (But no potatoes or corn--too high in carbs for the first week.)
  • You can cook with with some olive oil and even a pat of butter (but don't go overboard).
  • Your snacks should be healthy fruits and vegetables, and the over all ratio of fruits to vegtables should be no more than two to three. More veggies than fruit. You don't want to rely strictly on fruits..they're high in natural sugars. A So grab anything from carrot sticks to cherry tomatoes to an apple to dried plums. As I said above, I'll have a whole post on suggestions in a couple of days.
  • You've got to have some protein in your diet, so I have a protein smoothie in the morning for breakfast and right before bed as my snack. But you can't make with dairy like milk or yogurt. Just throw some frozen or fresh fruit (banana, berries, peaches, whatever your favorites are) into a blender with some crushed ice. Add a scoop of whey protein powder (I buy mine at WalMart!) and whir until well-blended. Toast yourself and your new healthiness!

Warning: You'll feel like killing someone on Thursday. I joked that I would have tortured someone for a crouton. No worries; by Saturday, you'll feel fantastic and be craving nothing but more healthy food.

Here's foreshadowing of what you have to look forward to: In the second week, you'll add back in all the fish you want. Nuts. Healthy grains. And beans.

Third week welcomes back chicken and turkey. Eggs. And low-fat dairy. After that, you'll keep eating healthily. I have a great resource I'll share to keep you on track during your ongoing maintenance. But more on those next weeks later.

To prepare, hit the produce section of your grocery. Think creatively so you'll keep your taste buds satisfied. And keep visiting this blog for some great full-flavor vegetarian recipes that won't leave you feeling deprived at all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How to Turn Leftover Black-eyed Peas Into Hoppin' John Casserole

If you're like me, you have a few of your New Year's black-eyed peas left over. A great Southern tradition is hoppin' john-- a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice. Here's a delicious recipe for a casserole in that style. I add sausage or ground meat and some fresh vegetables in the complete version. For an easier, "dump" version, scroll down to the end of the post.

Hoppin' John Casserole
Makes 8 main course servings. Divide for smaller version.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 pound ground beef or sausage (I guess you could use ground turkey too.)
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas (You could use canned if you need to.)
3 cups cooked rice (cooked without extra salt or fats)
1 can diced tomatoes (I use Rotel brand with chiles.)
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I use the Mexican blend most of the time.)
Garlic pepper (or powder)

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage or ground meat and brown until completely cooked.

When meat mixture is cooked, pour into large mixing bowl. Add peas, rice, and diced tomatoes and stir gently. Add in green onion and cheese and stir to combine. Season with garlic pepper and salt to taste.

Pour into 9 by 13 inch baking dish and cook in 350 degree oven until heated through, about 25-30 minutes.

Pour a glass of earthy red wine like Merlot or Sangiovese and you have a meal to remember.

Note: For the easier version, mix together peas, rice, tomatoes and cheese. Season to taste. Pour into baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Resolutions: The 2007 Edition

I really like the idea of New Year's resolutions. I'm a planner so having goals and setting timelines appeals to me. It always seems a good idea to take a fresh look at life and see what you'd like to make better.

This year, my resolutions seem to have the theme of "Health." I have three--one about my own physical health, one about financial goals, and one about some mental exercise I need to take on. The experts say that you're more likely to be successful if you have others to keep you accountable, so I figured I'd let the world know what I have resolved. Hopefully you in the blogosphere will help keep me honest.

1) Lose weight and eat more healthily.

Last summer, I decided I needed to regain control over my expanding midsection. Regular readers of this blog know that I love my food, my wine, and my cocktails. It showed. So my other half and I decided to try a detox diet. It was quite successful: I lost weight, had newfound energy, and just generally felt great. Over three months, I lost 17 pounds. I've put a few of those back on in the last several months, so it's time to jumpstart things. I'll tell you more about our diet plan in a couple of days. Hope some of you out there will join me in the adventure.

2) Pay down those &*(^& credit card bills.

I've done a great job in the last several months reducing day-to-day expenses. (A freelance income forced one to do that!) And it's been good for me. Heck, I didn't even buy anything at the Crate and Barrel post-Christmas sale. But I am now annoyed that I am carrying credit card balances. So, I am going to do everything humanly possible to be credit card debt free by the end of the year. I think I can do it. Especially when there are tools like this out there to help.

3) Read.

I love to read. But too often I find myself looking at food and wine magazines (or even worse People) while watching TV. Meanwhile, the "good" books are piling up. So, I am going to make an effort to sit in a quiet room (or even better out in the backyard!) and read real books. I already started last night. Picked Titan back up. A great biography of John D. Rockefeller Sr. that I picked up two years ago while in New York. Still in the stack are books by Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell and Capote's In Cold Blood. Maybe I'll tell you about some of them later.

And of course, I'll keep working to make my life beautiful in simple ways. And take the time to enjoy that beauty. And tell you about it.

So, post a comment below and let us know YOUR resolutions. We're all in it together!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hair of the Dog: Bloody Mary's

Since we spent New Year's Eve safely right here at home (no driving), I had a bit too much sparkling wine last night. So I've decided to try that oldest of remedies and have a Bloody Mary to start the New Year. It should go well with our Eggs Benedict.

Mine's a simple concoction.

6 ounces V-8 Spicy Hot vegetable juice
2 ounces vodka
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of garlic pepper
Pinch of celery salt

Stir together and pour over ice. You can adjust seasonings to your taste and throw a drop or two of Tabasco in if you want more kick.

Here's a more ambitious recipe I've run across that I'd like to try sometime.

Gazpacho Bloody Marys

Makes 8 cocktails.

2-28 ounce cans Italian tomatoes (like San Marzano) with juice
2 cups cucumber, peeled and chopped (about one large cucumber)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
4 teaspoons prepared horseradish
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons celery salt
12 dashes of hot pepper sauce

Ice cubes

2 cups vodka

1 cucumber, halved crosswise, then quartered lengthwise

Working in batches, puree first 8 ingredients in blender until smooth. Transfer Bloody Mary mix to large pitcher and season with pepper. Chill for at least one hour.

To make one cocktail, pour 1/4 cup vodka into ice-filled highball glass. Top with Bloody Mary mix and garnish with cucumber spear.