Category Archives: cooking and eating

No-Guilt Cheesecake

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I’ve been on the road for most of the past 6 months, ok, 5 years, for my job. While I occasionally get to stay in 5 star resorts, most of my time away is spent in not-so-hot spots at an Embassy Suites or such.

The last number of months have seen me in Utica, NY, a small, seen-better-days upstate New York city.

It has nothing to recommend it.

Except the food.

The descendents of the Italian immigrants who populated Utica in the early days have not forgotten the foods of their ancestors and great Italian food is ubiquitous, delicious and comes in very large portions, which I have been putting away with gusto, which resulted in, er, a few extra pounds, which made my clothes uncomfortable, which spurred me to change my behavior.

I tell you all that to tell you this:

In the course of switching to a healthier, lower calorie diet, I discovered Greek Yogurt. High protein, no fat, not so bad on carbs super food. Make it sweet or savory; it goes every where yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche and even heavy cream can go. So after a few weeks of yogurt dressings and dips and frozen-with-fruit treats, it dawned on me that it was likely possible to concoct a cheesecake with my new bff.

So I scoured the food blogs, came up with a few potential recipe candidates (here is my favorite: http://eat-your-heart-out.net/2012/04/04/lemony-greek-yogurt-cheesecake/ and, because I can never leave anything alone, did a little tweaking.

I was really intent on making this as guilt/calorie-free as possible, and while I don’t know an exact calorie count, I can tell you that it is 3 Weight Watchers points a serving. Which is somewhere between 120 and 180 calories. Anybody can do that, right?

Best part is that you would never, ever, ever know that it’s not the real deal. Don’t take my word for it; try it. Let me know what you think.

Crust:
4 Stella Doro breakfast treats crushed to crumbs (graham crackers are fine, but bump up the calories) Breakfast Treats are much like biscotti, dry, crumbly, not too sweet. Use whatever cookie crumbs you like.
2 T Olivio spread (or I can’t believe it’s not butter light) melted.
1t lemon zest
Mix together and press into lightly greased 7″ springform pan. I used parchment on the bottom

Filling:
1 1/2 C fat free Greek yogurt
4 oz softened light cream cheese
2 eggs
2/3 C Splenda
1t vanilla
1T corn starch

Mix well, pour into pan, bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Middle will be wiggly, but edges should be coming away from sides of the pan.
Refrigerate 2 hours or more before removing from pan

I wish I had a picture, but we ate it too quickly.

Ladies Who Lunch

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Not often enough, I have a chance to get together with a couple sassy, witty, bright women I have the privilege to call friends.  Lunch is at my house this afternoon.

On the menu:

  • Chicken and wild rice soup with smoked sausage
  • Pear and arugula salad with pancetta and a honey vinaigrette
  • White corn muffins
  • Flourless chocolate cake (recipes courtesy of Epicurious)

and wine. We mustn’t forget the wine.  A Pinot Grigio with the meal and a Red Zin with dessert.

I can’t wait!

Pasta Night

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Saturday night has become our nearly traditional pasta night. We start a pot of pasta and then check the fridge and pantry for whatever looks good. Tonight it was whole wheat penne with olive oil, lots of garlic, sun dried tomatoes, a red bell pepper, crushed red pepper, some oregano, shrimp and a very good parmagiano-reggiano shaved over top. A good Portuguese Syrah complimented things nicely. Yum.
Other nights it might be artichoke hearts, pancetta (or bacon) peas, diced tomatoes, a bit of Alfredo, mushrooms, you know, whatever you have on hand. Just keep some good olive oil and cheese in the house and you’re good to go.

Grandma’s Pot Roast Redux

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I knew I had made it in the kitchen when my kids proclaimed that my pot roast tasted “just like Grandma Schmidt’s”. O, happy day!
Grandma Schmidt made the ultimate pot roast. I’m sure it wasn’t present at every Sunday dinner, but it still feels that way to me.
Until I was interested enough to watch how she concocted this homey delicacy, I assumed that it involved some magical fresh ingredients and a great deal of work, after all, she started it before church and we didn’t eat until 4:00. Boy, was I wrong.

Rather than some handed-down-through-the-generations-with-no-exact-measurements recipe, Grandma related these brief instructions: “Buy a good sized bottom round or chuck roast, put it in the pressure cooker with the lid on loosely  ( a dutch oven or any heavy-bottomed pot will do), almost cover it with water and add a pouch of Lipton onion soup mix. When the meat’s tender (6 to 8 hours) add a teaspoon or so of Gravy Master and a can of Cream of Mushroom soup”.

That’s it? That’s the secret family recipe? A can of this and a pouch of that? You can actually find this version if you google slow cooker pot roast. Ugh. Terribly disappointing, but it didn’t change the delish factor. Served with mashed potatoes, it was my favorite meal as a child. OK, well into adulthood. The over-boiled vegetables I did my best to pass right on to the person next to me.

Now while this brings back all kinds of happy memories and still tastes terrific to me, I can’t, in good conscience, feed it to my family. Did you see the ingredients? There’s got to be enough sodium in there to raise the blood pressure of a small village. So, what to do?

Let’s try using real food!

Saute a sliced onion or two until it starts to caramelize in a little olive oil. Chop up some mushrooms, about 1/2 pound,  really fine and add them to the pan. Add black pepper to taste, a tablespoon or so of tomato paste and a couple teaspoons of Better Than Bullion® beef base (it really is better). It is high in sodium, but this is all the salt that’s added. Plop all this in a crock pot in which you have placed your cut of cheap meat and a cup or so of water. Let it bubble away for 6 hours. You could add some chunked-up carrots if you like, but then you’re blurring the line between pot roast and stew; simply not done in our Irish family. When ready to serve, thicken things up with a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a teaspoon of cold water or, as I do, put the crockpot lid ajar for the last hour or more and let things reduce on their own.

I recommend some smashed potatoes to go with. Maybe a salad in place of the boiled-to-death veggies.

It’s what’s for dinner at my house tonight.

And they all think it’s Grandma Schmidt’s recipe.

Risotto-Style Pasta

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I read about this method of cooking pasta in the NY Times a few months ago  and will never go back to boiling pasta in a vat of water again. The idea is to cook the pasta slowly, barely covered in stock or the liquid of your choice until said liquid is absorbed, then add more liquid, repeat until pasta is al dente. You end up with a one pot pasta meal that makes its own really tasty sauce as it cooks.  Ok, that’s the basic stuff, but here’s how to make it a great meal.

Start by sauteing your flavors du jour. I used onion, garlic, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives and roasted red peppers, but use whatever you have on hand, whatever flavor combos float your boat. Artichokes, mushrooms, whatever.  This meal came about because I didn’t want to make a trip to the grocery store and started rummaging around in the pantry and freezer. I love a well stocked pantry.

OK, now let the onions get all translucent, then add dry pasta. Where I might usually boil a pound, I use a little over a half pound; the stuff really absorbs the liquid this way. I  added enough chicken broth to cover the pasta and let it simmer away, stirring often, adding more stock/broth when it started to look a  bit dry. The pics below were taken just after I added liquid; you don’t want this to be too soupy. At times during this process I  seasoned  with black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes ( my man likes things to bite back some) and some finely grated Parmesan cheese, which also helps to thicken things up. Remember, we  started with some great flavor makers, so not much doctoring necessary. When the pasta is about 5 minutes from being done, I added a couple chunked-up chicken breasts. Bite size. Yep, raw, just dump them right in. Some broccoli at this point adds a veggie boost if you like. They cook up in a few minutes and things are ready to serve.

Add a loaf of homemade crusty bread and a salad and you’ve got yourself a fantastic meal.

I added apple pie for dessert. we don’t indulge often.

Why can’t every day be Sunday?

Dinner Conversation

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The following is an actual conversation between me and an adult man (whom I love dearly) with extensive experience in male/female relationships:

Hi honey

Hi sweetheart, how was your day?

Fine, fine.

Oh, can’t hug you, got raw chicken breast on my hands.

Ick. Whatcha doing with the chicken?

Um, ginger, garlic something.

Cool, so, why is the seasoning all just in the middle?

I was going to roll them up.

Maybe you should put some on the end you’re going to start rolling.

Yeah, I could.

Oh, but then those breadcrumbs will just be all soggy, in the middle.

Yeah, like a stuffing sort of thing.

Have you done this before?

yeahhhh… (during my 25 years of maintaining a household and raising 3 children, yes, I  have cooked a meal or two. When was the last time YOU cooked chicken?)

Are you putting them in the oven? They might get dry.

Should I not? (I take out a frying pan)

Oh, on the stove top? They’ll take a while then, all rolled up.

(I unroll them and season the other side) ok, maybe I’ll sauté them.

Honey, I wasn’t telling you what to do.

(oh really?)

What kind of oil are you using?

Olive Oil. Is that ok? Should I use vegetable oil? I don’t have peanut oil. Or anything except almond oil and you really can’t cook at higher temps with that, so, yeah, olive oil I guess (deep breath innnnn and oooouttttt, nope that didn’t work, oops, there’s a tear. Damn. And another)

Honey… what’s the matter?

Are you KIDDING ME?

(we are definitely going out for dinner tomorrow)

Bacon Jam, condiment of the gods

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Bacon what, you say? Yeah, bacon jam. You’ve never had anything like it.

Visit http://www.notquitenigella.com/2009/10/08/bacon-jam-your-wildest-dreams-come-true/ for this fabulous recipe.

I followed the recipe faithfully, adding about a tablespoon of Tabasco to my taste. When it came to the “cook for 2 1/2 hours” part, I plopped the mixture into the crock pot so I didn’t have to tend to it so much.

So far we’ve had bacon jam on toast and Triscuits, in a tuna sandwich, with avocado, mixed into scrambled eggs, as a topper on meatloaf, dolloped on a burger and a baked potato, and if the whole truth be told, right off a spoon when no one is looking.