Friday, January 21, 2011

Me oh my... this is good. I'm eating WHAT?!

On an episode of Good Eats a few years ago, Alton Brown introduced me to the foundation of a recipe that has been a favorite since the first time I made it.

It's sweet.

It's creamy.

It's chocolatey.

It's decadent.

It's tofu.

What? Did I just say tofu? Why yes, yes I did.

You can make the absolute best chocolate pie with tofu. It tastes like a chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, without the dairy and less fat and with more nutrients.

Tofu is low in calories and fat, and high in protein, iron, calcium and vitamin E. The soy protein found in tofu has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride concentrations and the FDA has approved the claim that "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Chocolate + peanut butter + tofu = me oh my tofu pie deliciousness!

In short, this is one of the best desserts ever.
Me Oh My Tofu Pie
Servings: 8

12 oz. block lite silken tofu
12 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 c. reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp. honey
1 prepared reduced-fat graham cracker crust

Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together in the microwave until smooth and blended. I microwave for 30 seconds, then stir, then 30 more, then stir, and so on until the mix is just right.

Combine chocolate and peanut butter mixture, tofu and honey in a blender and process until smooth.

Pour mixture into prepared pie crust and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Top with fat-free whipped topping and serve.

Don’t tell people there is tofu in this pie and they won’t have any idea. Or, you can spring it on them: "Surprise - you're eating tofu... and LIKING it!"

It’s the best chocolate peanut butter pie you or they will ever eat, tofu or no.

For a variation, substitute 1/3 cup of coffee liquor for the peanut butter, and add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. You end up with a chocolate pie with a hint of coffee and an eensy weensy kick.

Regardless of the variation, the pie is really rich, so I actually get 16 to 20 servings out of one of these – a little slice goes a long way.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Smitten with knittin'.

Just before the Christmas holiday break, I asked a co-worker to teach me to knit. In a 30-minute session in her office over lunch, she gave me the basic rundown, showing me how to cast on and do a basic knit stitch. With that knowledge, I set to work on my very first knitting project, a scarf for Mr. Awesome. I can't count the number of times I had to unravel the thing and start over because I dropped a needle, or made some other irreversible blunder. But the more I stuck with it, the easier it became, and eventually I had the start of something resembling a scarf:

I kept at it, and eventually used up a whole skein (ball) of yarn:

I wanted to make the scarf about twice as long, but I made a rookie mistake - I didn't buy enough yarn to finish the project! What was worse was that, after going to four stores, I couldn't find the same yarn anywhere. I told Mr. Awesome I'd start another one for him - after all, this one was pretty weird looking - but he said he wanted me to finish this one. So we picked out a color that was pretty close to the original and I kept knitting.

And knitting.

And knitting.

And then I ran out of that yarn, too. But by then, the scarf was the right length. Now came time to end the scarf, or bind off. I'd heard this was sort of tricky, but thanks to the wonders of the interwebs and YouTube, I was able to learn to bind off on my own by watching some videos and reading a few tutorials.

On Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, I made my first knitted item, which we have dubbed Frankenscarf:

Much like a proud parent, I've turned my creation loose on the world to warm Mr. Awesome's neck. It will come in especially handy during these cold, snowy days.

So now that I knew the knit stitch, I needed to know how to purl. To the Internets! The DIY Network has some terrific video tutorials that helped me out a whole bunch, and Ravelry is going to prove to be indispensable.

To practice my newly learned purl stitching, I started a new project - a scarf for myself. I wanted something soft and cozy, and without reading about patterns or anything, I went off on my own and cast on 25 stitches, then did a pattern of knit 5, purl 5, knit 5, purl 5, knit 5. Here's what it looked like a few days ago:

I've since knitted two skeins into it and am working on a third. This will be a nice, long, snuggly scarf.

Once this is done I have plans for a lacy scarf, some dishcloths and towels and eventually want to take some classes on how to make hats, mittens and socks. I like knitting better than embroidery because the project is so much more contained and portable - with embroidery, you deal with cloth, hoops, needles, and lots and lots of thread. With knitting, it's a ball of yarn and (usually) a couple of sticks, all stuck to each other and easy to toss into a purse and take out in a waiting room.

I can't wait to get home tonight and knit some more!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good morning.

Christmas morning we hosted my mom, her husband and his daughter at our house for brunch and presents. Mom usually hosts, but this year, since I'm "becoming quite the little chef" as she puts it, it was my turn. On Christmas morning when I was a kid, we'd get up and bake those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and have them with hot cocoa.

Another holiday morning staple was a curried fruit compote that my mom makes. It's pretty much some cans of pineapple, peaches, cherries and pears cooked together with brown sugar, butter and curry. Serve warm and it's comforting, exotic and delicious. Mom agreed to bring that, along with some Chocovine to have in place of hot cocoa. We are adults, are we not?

What is Chocovine, you ask?

Okay - this is going to sound sort of weird, but it's a mixture of red wine and chocolate. It's thick and sweet and chocolaty and packs a punch. It's very decadent and a little goes a long way. Also - and my mom found this out the hard way - no matter what you do, DON'T mix Chocovine with other wine. The result is a separated mess that's really disgusting to look at, let alone drink. So enjoy your Chocovine on its own and you'll be a happy camper.

Back to Christmas morning. So we had Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, curried fruit compote and Chocovine. Not what you'd call healthy. We needed something more. Something that screamed BRUNCH but was also fairly healthy and filling.

Enter the breakfast strata.

A strata is like a casserole made with eggs, cheese and stale bread. To slim it down and make it healthier, we used whole-grain bread, fake eggs, reduced-fat cheese, turkey sausage and lots of veggies.
Easy Brunch StrataServings: about 4
Weight Watchers Points: 5 per serving

1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 1/3 c. fake eggs
1 1/3 c. skim milk
5 ounces Italian bread, cubed
3/4 c. smoked turkey sausage, cooked and diced
3/4 c. shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. Penzey's Arizona Dreaming seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a skillet over medium heat coated with cooking spray, sauté the onion and pepper until just soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and milk. Add the bread, sausage, onion and pepper mixture, half the cheese and Arizona Dreaming seasoning; stir until all of the bread is moistened.

Pour the mixture into the pan; sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Bake until the top is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Our Christmas morning meal was absolutely wonderful.

The menu my mom and I developed was right in line with my personal healthy philosophy - make changes where you can, but don't deprive yourself of those special treats. In this case, Christmas morning as a kid WAS Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. On any other day I wouldn't allow those in my house, but my Christmas morning menu just wouldn't have been right without them. So I had one and a half, and a big helping of strata and fruit.

Great food, great company and great memories. That's what the holidays are all about. Heck, that's what every day is all about.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I love the unknown.

Cold weather makes me crave saucy, meaty dishes. Usually, "saucy" and "meaty" equals something like spaghetti and meatballs, but last week I didn't want to go that route. The meatballs sounded alright, but I wasn't really in the mood for spaghetti.

It was a perfect time to try a new recipe: Moroccan Meatball Stew with Couscous.

This recipe has been banging around in my head for a while now but I never got around to making it happen. But a cold December night is as good a time as any to venture into the unknown.

Unknown because I had managed to make it 35 years without making meatballs. I helped my sister make some last summer, but she did almost all the work. I just rolled a few. But this time the effort was all my own ( with the usual sous chef assist from Frank) and I can confidently say that the effort was well-spent.
Moroccan Meatball Stew
Servings: 4
WW Points+: 10 per serving

1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2  lb. lean ground pork
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
2 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 (6-oz) can tomato paste
3/4 c. water
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley for garnish
2 c. cooked couscous, kept warm

Combine beef, veal, 1 Tbsp. of the cilantro, 1 1/2 tsp. of the paprika, 1 tsp. of the cumin, 1/2 tsp. of he salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a large bowl. Shape into 24 one-inch balls.

Heat a large nonstick skillet. Swirl in the oil , then add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato, tomato paste, water, the remaining 1 Tbsp. cilantro, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper; bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce thickens, 30-45 minutes. Serve over couscous, garnished with parsley.
This dish is warm and filling, and perfect for a cold day. I had fun making the meatballs - I'll have to do that more often!

I met my personal goal of dragging my sleepy butt out of bed early to exercise before work three times this week, so YAY ME (and YAY Harry Potter for being such an easy exercise read)!

Exercising has gotten easier, in more ways than one. I'm finding it easier to motivate myself to to it at all. I don't catch myself making excuses like, "I didn't get a good night's sleep and need 20 more minutes..." or "I'll do it tonight when I get home" (I've NEVER exercised after I got off work, I don't know why I think I can use this lame-ass excuse).

When I am finally on my bike, the minutes go by faster and the resistance increases don't seem as severe. The first couple of times I used my exercise bike last year, I did 15 minutes and thought I was going to throw up. Now I do 23 minutes and while I feel like I'm getting a workout, I don't feel like I'm going to die. I'm going to increase to 24 minutes next week, so we'll see how that goes.

I feel better in general on days when I get up and exercise - physically, because it gets my body moving and energized, and mentally, because I know all day long that I've done something really good for myself.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Depression-era food that's not depressing.

When people think of comfort food, they don't tend to think of seafood. But one of my favorite comfort food dishes is just that - and true comfort food it is. I am talking about salmon patties with creamed pea sauce. Savory, meaty, creamy, a little crunchy, a little mushy - all the things that make up really good comfort food. Besides being delicious, a meal of salmon patties with creamed pea sauce is also nutritious, easy to make and inexpensive. One of my friends calls this "Depression-era food" and while I understand the reference in relation to cost, to me there is nothing depressing about this meal at all.

My recipe is based loosely on one I found as a kid in an old Pillsbury cookbook. The thing I like the most about it is that the cakes are baked in muffin cups rather than fried, so they aren't greasy and full of fat. Instead, they are crisp, moist and so, so good, especially with plenty of sauce.

We have this meal about once a month, usually when we're short on time or are relying on pantry staples for dinner.
Salmon Patties with Creamed Pea Sauce
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points: 5 per serving

For the patties:
1 can (14.5 ounces) salmon, drained with liquid reserved
1 c. mashed potato flakes
1/2 c. egg substitute
1 onion, diced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. margerine
2 Tbsp. flour
1.4 c. reserved salmon liquid
3/4 c. skim milk
1 small can (8.5 ounces) peas
1/2 tsp. dried dill

To make the patties, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line eight muffin cups with cupcake liners. Combine all patty ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Press into muffin liners and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until browned.

For the sauce, melt margarine over medium heat in a small saucepan. Whisk in flour, being careful of lumps. Slowly add milk and salmon liquid. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in peas and dill.

Serve pea sauce over salmon patties.
Excellent for dinner, just as good as lunch leftovers the next day.

In other news, as a New Year's gift to our home, we ordered a Sous Vide Supreme. It arrived yesterday, but unfortunately the vacuum sealer I ordered with it is on backorder and won't arrive for another two weeks. I guess I have some time to read up on recipes. I'm really excited to try it out - I'm especially looking forward to perfecting the chicken for my pho ga and experimenting with lamb. I LOVE leg of lamb, but it's so easy to over- or under-cook it. I'm thinking I can sous vide it with garlic and rosemary until it's medium or so, then brown it up under the broiler. We'll see...

New year, new post.

The last month, especially the last two weeks, have been a whirlwind of holiday festivities.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Visiting Crown Center to see the Gingerbread Village display. As a kid, I remember the one that was in the lobby of the Crown Center hotel that contained a few houses and a really beautiful cathedral. The current setup is much more elaborate, but not quite as charming or memorable as the original.

  • Three Christmases - one with Mr. Awesome's parents, one with my mom's family, and one with my Dad/sister/former step-mom. All three were filled with love and laughter.

    One of my favorite gifts received was a Miss Piggy mug from my mom. I had one just like it when I was a kid, and it broke years ago.

    Mr. Awesome got a nice jacket from his parents and a remote-control helicopter and some jammies from me. I got some great Gap stuff from my in-laws and other odds and ends from the rest of my family. Mr. Awesome did good and got me some fabulous Ecco Rise GTX boots.

  • We had our first dinner at Bluestem and hope to return for more over the next year. Each course was outstanding and I've learned that I love pink peppercorns and foie gras, together and separately.

  • Black Swan was the best movie we've seen all year. The more I think about it, the more I find to like about it.

  • Mr. Awesome started a new job (same place of business) this week, which means he's now located in another building instead of in the same office suite as me. We still get to carpool and do lunch together, so it's not all that different. But it's still weird to not get to pop into his office several times a day. I am, however, adjusting quite nicely to getting to sleep in about 30 minutes more due to a later start time.

  • A co-worker is teaching me how to knit. I knitted half of what sort of looks like a scarf over the break and have to get more yarn to finish it. Since I'm always looking for the perfect scarf/hat/glove combo, my goal is to eventually make my own.
  • As a New Year's gift to our home, we ordered a Sous Vide Supreme. I'm hoping to start using it in a couple of weeks. So excited!