Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big Fat Salad

Let's say that someone gave you a pound of bacon. And let's say that, aside from cooking up the bacon and eating it all in one sitting, another simple presentation that might better enhance this particular pig perfection might be...the BLT? It is a perfect sandwich when prepared with perfect ingredients. Thing is, in the dead of winter (or beginning of spring) amazingly flavorful red tomatoes are nowhere to be found. Similarly, the toasted bread slices that can be the hallmark of a (particularly diner style) BLT, typically shred the roof of my mouth as if I'd just bitten into sandpaper lined with razor blades. How are you supposed to enjoy your sandwich after that experience? You don't. So make a salad instead!

It's much easier to find tasty grape or cherry tomatoes in the off season and making your own bite sized croutons IN BACON FAT...well...there are no words. But just to up the fat ante, I added some avocado. I considered adding blue cheese as well, but that begins to enter into Cobb salad territory, and I was trying to stay focused. Did I mention that you make the croutons in BACON FAT?

B(a)LT Salad

4 bacon slices
2 slices bread (of your choosing), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 avocado, sliced

1. In a large skillet cook the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally until crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove the cooked bacon to paper towels to drain. (Once cool, break apart into pieces.) Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the skillet.

2. Heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking, and cook the bread cubes with a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the croutons to paper towels to drain and cool. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. In a large bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes, lettuce, half of the bacon, and croutons. Toss to coat with the dressing. Divide the salad between 2 plates and top with remaining croutons, bacon, and avocado slices. Serves 2.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Running on Empty

This week I agreed to participate in a race with a few coworkers. I'm not quite sure why. I hate running. (It's not until June so I can still get out of it.) But I'm also bored at the gym so it will give me something to focus on other than whether or not to use the elliptical machine before or after the stairmaster or how many minutes are left in my body conditioning class.

I ramped up my treadmill mileage this weekend in anticipation of running an actual race (eventually!), so figured a little pasta post workout was acceptable, particularly with some added protein packed edamame. (The race is only 3.5 miles so I probably don't need to start an actual running routine now or my fictional need for carb consumption, but it amped up my workout so...whatever works!) I stumbled across this particular recipe in the Recipes for Health section of The New York Times (of course). It was touted as a cheap pantry meal (which it is) so if you feel like you've been spending too much money going out lately (like me!) this is for you.

Since I added the hot pepper flakes, I thought a little richness would balance the heat so I added a bit of goat cheese. (I didn't realize that until after I took the photo and finally tasted it.) Hopefully I don't keep coming up with excuses to make pasta with cheese or this race might be an even bigger mistake than I originally thought.

Pasta with Parsley and Edamame
(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)

1 large garlic clove
Leaves from 1 bunch parsley
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cups frozen shelled edamame
3/4 pound capellini or spaghetti
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, add the garlic to a food processor (or mini-prep) fitted with the steel blade. Once it’s minced and sticking to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add the parsley, red pepper flakes (if using), and a pinch salt and pepper, and process until finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the mixture to a large pasta bowl.

2. Once the water in the pot has come to a boil, add the edamame and a large pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the edamame from the pot with a strainer or a slotted spoon and place in the bowl with the parsley mixture.

3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. When it is cooked, remove 1/2 cup of the cooking water and add to the bowl with the parsley and edamame. Drain the pasta and toss with the mixture in the bowl along with the goat cheese, if using. Top with the Parmesan. Serves four.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Mentalist

No, sadly, this post is not about Simon Baker. But earlier this week I took a mental health day and was joined by my fabulous friends, Jen and Lisa, for an afternoon of knitting (actually...I read magazines and watched them knit). I think that I may have tricked them into coming over by tempting them with the potential of a home cooked meal, except that I just made sandwiches. (Sorry, guys!)

Like the pappardelle that I made last week, this recipe was also adapted from the Recipes for Health section in The New York Times. Since I don't have a panini grill, this is essentially a grilled cheese...with some other stuff too. The annoying thing is that you have to cook the greens and mushroom slices separately and ahead of time, but then it only takes a few minutes to actually construct and cook the sandwiches. And they're GOOD.

Heads up to everyone at work: It's going to take way more than one day for my mental health to improve. But you probably already knew that.

Mushroom, Greens and
Gruyère Panini

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for cooking sandwiches
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound stemmed and washed greens (like kale or chard), coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large portobello mushroom, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup Gruyère, grated
1 ounce goat cheese
4 slices whole grain bread

1. Heat one tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Add the greens and toss in the hot pan, just until lightly coated with oil. Cook until the greens are tender, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and transfer to a plate and set aside.

2. Preheat a griddle or grill pan. Brush both sides of the mushroom slices with the remaining one tablespoon oil, and cook for 1 - 2 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Sprinkle half of the
Gruyère over two of the bread slices and top with the mushroom slices. Next, pile half of the greens on top and press down. Sprinkle the greens with the remaining Gruyère. Spread the goat cheese on the remaining two slices of bread and place, cheese side down, over the greens and Gruyère.

4. Brush the outside of the sandwich with a little olive oil. Place on a griddle (or grill pan or panini maker or nonstick saute pan) and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until the cheese has melted and the bread is toasty. Makes two sandwiches.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Punch it Up

The past two days have been such a drag, especially after having just enjoyed the gorgeous weekend NYC served up for the start of spring. In an effort to regain that seasonal giddiness, I decided to delve into tropical drinks. My concoction is a riff on the classic Rum Punch that I recently sampled in St. Lucia. My main issue with that specific island original was just how sweet it was, so my version has a bit more acidity. Grenadine is typically used to give the drink it's blush color. The kind you buy around these parts is high fructose corn syrup so adds too much sweetness...and high fructose corn syrup. I used blood orange juice to add color, but it might not be available year round. (You could also use cranberry or cherry juice for color. Or not. Mine's pretty orange and I don't mind it.) Feel free to tweak it to your liking. And cheer up. Those 70˚ plus days will be back soon enough!

Island Punch

1/2 cup pineapple coconut juice (such as R.W. Knudsen brand)
1/2 cup tangerine juice
1/4 cup blood orange juice
1/2 cup light or dark run (or half and half)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Blood orange slices
Pineapple slices

1. In a pitcher combine the juices, rum, and lime juice. Stir well.

2. Pour the punch into glasses filled with ice cubes and garnish each drink with an orange and pineapple slice. Makes 2 drinks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

And all of the idiots decided to go outside to bother me. I mistakenly thought that it would be a good idea to go for a bike ride along the West Side Highway, but so did everyone else. It could have been an enjoyable ride if anyone else was aware of the rules of the road, but I guess rules don't apply to bike paths? Riding three abreast or down the center double yellow or into oncoming traffic or while talking on your cell phone? All A-OK from what I saw! So is taking your small children who can barely ride their small bikes into high traffic areas. While you're at it, take your dog too, but make sure that it's on an extender leash so that they can run into oncoming traffic leaving you with no way to prevent it. Smart.

Good thing I carbo-loaded my breakfast before I left the apartment or my road rage might have spun out of control. Since the last thing I actually made was Pappardelle with Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta, I was able to make pancakes out of the leftovers. Well, the leftover ricotta. Broccoli rabe pancakes would be gross! These Lemon Ricotta Pancakes cook up so light and fluffy that they barely resemble pancakes at all, which to me is a good thing since I'm not a pancake super fan anyway.

I made it home in one piece, which is more than I can say for many of the bikers out there. Perfect example? The dude who whizzed past me in his Lance Armstrong Live Strong head to toe get-up. I was like, "Fine, you're a real fast rider. Whatever." Until I looked at his shoes. He was wearing sneakers! That weekend warrior was riding a hard core multiple thousand dollar bike, but didn't even bother to use pedals and shoes that clipped in. As I was contemplating his douchebaggery, I rode past a crash that could've been pretty gnarly.
The cause? Live Armstrong! Don't forget to wear your helmets, people.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup ricotta
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Unsalted butter
Maple syrup
Mixed berries

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, ricotta, sugar, and the zest. Add the flour, and stir just until combined.

2. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat the egg whites, with a pinch of salt, until they hold stiff peaks, about 6 minutes. Whisk about one fourth of the beaten whites into the ricotta mixture, and then gently fold in the remaining whites.

3. Heat a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add about 2 teaspoons of butter. Stir to melt. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the griddle and cook the pancakes for 2 - 3 minutes per side, or until they are golden, adding additional butter as necessary. Transfer the pancakes as they are cooked to a heatproof platter and keep them warm in a preheated 200°F oven. Serve with maple syrup and berries, if desired. Makes about 12 (4-inch) pancakes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Second Chances

So how is the new moon treating everyone? Personally I had a headache all day yesterday so I think the moon needs to try harder, or maybe I should give it another chance, or two, (or until the end of the month) to make it's astrological influence known. I'll let you know if anything significant occurs.

At least I'm still (kind of) trying not eat chocolate for dinner and got inspired by the recent Recipes for Health in The NY Times. If you like broccoli rabe, this recipe is for you. If not, too bad. (Kidding!) You could substitute spinach or another green of your choosing.

Pappardelle with Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta
(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)

1 pound broccoli rabe, stemmed and washed (do not dry)*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound pappardelle
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Add the freshly washed broccoli rabe and toss in the hot pan, just until the greens are lightly coated with oil. Cover and cook until the broccoli rabe is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.

3. Add the pappardelle to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes if the pasta is dried. Drain the pasta, and in a large serving bowl, toss it with the broccoli rabe, ricotta, and Parmesan. Serves four(ish).

*Note: If you do use broccoli rabe, don't thoroughly drain it after you wash it. The excess water droplets will help it cook without drying out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Moon on Monday

Get ready. There's a new moon on Monday and if you're into astrology, that's pretty significant. New moons signify new beginnings and the fact that this new moon is in Pisces...well, I don't have any idea what that means. Regardless I plan to try harder to stop eating junk (this time I really mean it!) so I made some granola bars chock full of healthy things like flax seed and wheat germ. Full disclosure: It took all of my being to not add chocolate. (The new moon phase must already be working!) I'll also be listening to Duran Duran on repeat all day (the photo above is from a concert in Central Park a few summers ago) so if you walk past me at any point during the day and overhear the same song playing again and again, just keep going.

Shake up the picture the lizard mixture
With your dance on the eventide
You got me coming up with answers
All of which I deny
I said it again
Could I please rephrase it
Maybe I can catch a ride
I couldn't really put it much plainer
But I'll wait till you decide
Send me your warning siren
As if I could ever hide
Last time La Luna

I light my torch and wave it for the
New moon on Monday
And a firedance through the night
I stayed the cold day with a lonely satellite

What do these lyrics even mean???

Peanut Butter Granola Bars

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Combine the sugar, honey, butter, and peanut butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted.

2. In a large bowl mix the oats, almonds, wheat germ, coconut, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and salt.

3. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and press evenly.

4. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into bars. Cool completely before removing the bars from the pan. Makes about 25 bars.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Salad Days

This is what I'll be eating for the next several days (or weeks). While away on a work trip at an all-inclusive island location, food was definitely not the main event, or even the opening act. Initially I thought, "This is going to be a great accidental weight loss trip just in time for summer!" The portions were so small and so not desirable that I was destined for svelteness. (Plus I came up with a hard core boot camp regime in the 85 degree heat and humidity with a few co-workers, but that's another story.) Then I discovered having ice cream for lunch. Whoops! (With 10 days of meal challenges to deal with, you can always come up with an alternate eating plan.)

You can read about my original week of salads here and here and here and here and here. The salad pictured here is not unlike my favorite beet salad but without the beets and with an addition of avocado and dried sour cherries. (Yes, I was emptying my refrigerator of random ingredients once again.) Stay tuned for photos of my island experience...