What could possibly be better than going on a tour of wine country with four of your best friends?

How about if those four friends also have to be phenomenal cooks?

I just got back from a trip to Sonoma with my college girlfriends, and while vineyards were certainly the high point of our trip, one of my other favorite parts of the trip was gathering with my friends in a beautiful kitchen every night and taking turns cooking and sharing our joy of food with each other.

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We were there for 3 nights, so we shared cooking duties – each of taking on appetizers, side dishes, main entrees, and of course, dessert.  Many of the meals were as healthy as they were delicious, so I thought I’d share them here.

Our first night there, Jess was in charge of the main entree.  Her meal was a variation of a recipe she’d come across in Real Simple, and it was exactly that – but very delicious too!  She grilled both London broil and chicken (catering to our various preferences) and cooked couscous on the stove.

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She also caramelized onions, tossed with pine nuts.  The onions/pine nuts were tossed with spinach, and an olive oil / balsamic mix and then the steak and couscous were placed on top.

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Simple, but delicious, and we all loved it.  (Paired with the Friends Red from Preston Vineyards.)

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A few notes about couscous if you’ve never tried it… it’s definitely a love/hate kind of food.  It’s fluffy, and a little bit like orzo or rice.  It’s a whole grain, which means it’s a great source of fiber, b vitamins, niacin and selenium.  It’s about calorically equivalent to rice.

(Picture does not represent the following… my portions were a little larger today!  But here are some stats: 3 oz steak, ¼ cup cooked couscous, 1 cup spinach with a 1T:1T oil/vinegar mix = 345 cals, 33g protein, 17g fat (3.5 sat), 10 g carbs.  Lots of yum.)

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Quiero Fajitas.

April 15, 2010

Fajitas!  Fajitas fajitas fajitas.  How have I been going on and on about my food for so long and not talked about fajitas yet?  This is an every few weeks standard in our house because: 1) it’s easy. 2) it’s fast. 3) it’s healthy.  Win, win, win.  Also, living in North Carolina, you really can’t escape falling in love with Mexican food.  When you make Mexican at home though, you don’t have to do battle with the chips basket!

You can do any combination of protein and veggies that you want, and it’s basically just a matter of chopping and heating.  I’ll give you the run down of what I made the other night, but honestly, you could open your fridge and make these tonight with what you have on hand.

(I’ll show you the sauce I made too, but you can just use olive oil, some chili powder and garlic to flavor it.)

Okay, enough talk.  Let’s HEAT!

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Here’s the cast and crew.  Some protein (chicken in this case), and veggies (peppers) and tortilla shells.

For the sauce: limes (or lime juice), Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco *Chipotle* sauce.  This a combo my friend Kate suggested a long time ago, and I’ve used it ever since to give my fajitas a smoky taste.

For those of you who like precision in the kitchen: the juice from 2 limes (~1/4 cup), 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and 1 Tbsp of the Chipotle sauce, depending on how much heat you want.

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Chop veggies up into 2-bite pieces.  I usually use peppers and onions.

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Kitchen hint!  To make clean up easier, I put a plastic grocery bag inside a bowl.  Throw all your cuttings in there, and when you’re done, just scoop up the bag and throw it out.  This will save you from having LOTS of clean up when you’re all done.  (Obviously you could compost it, too… I’m not there yet, but maybe YOU are!)

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Onwards!

Put your cut-up veggies off to the side, and get your protein out.  You will cook this first, but cutting it second prevents you from having to get a second cutting board out.  (Another kitchen tip, free from me to you!)

Cut the chicken (for whatever protein you are using) into 2-bite pieces as well.  Do ya’ll know what I mean by 2-bite pieces?  Hopefully that’s self-explanatory, but you know, a piece you could eat in… 2 bites!  (This makes it easier to eat AND cook.)

Add some olive oil to a medium-heat pan.  For fajitas for 2, I use 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Add the chicken to the pan, and cook it to almost finished.

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Add the vegetables, and cook to the texture you want.  (I like ‘em crispy.)

By the way, you probably want a bigger pan than what I used here.

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Add the sauce that you mixed up earlier.

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While the sauce simmers with the fajita mixings, put tortillas on a plate with paper towels and a little sprinkle of water.  Microwave for 30 seconds.

Scoop the fajita mixings into a bowl.  Serve with sour cream, salsa or whatever you want!

And then… it’s time to EAT!  “Vamos a comer!”

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(Directions for homemade tortilla chips to be forthcoming!)

 

Ever since living in Baltimore, I have become enamored with crab cakes.  However, most of the time when you order them in a restaurant they tend to be more filler – mayo and bread – than actual delicious, good for you crab meat.

But, I’ve got good news for you: you can make them at home, they’re quite easy and they can be healthy and delicious.

(And by the way, if you can’t eat shellfish, you can buy imitation crab which is usually another white fish, like Alaskan Pollock.)

Assemble the ingredients: 1 pound lump crabmeat, 4 egg whites, 1 piece whole wheat bread, Old Bay Seasoning, olive oil.

Mash up the crab meat with a fork, breaking the pieces up.  The smaller they are, the easier your cakes will hold together – although I personally love crab cakes with bigger pieces!  So this is up to you.

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Add the 4 egg whites.

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Pulse 1 piece of whole wheat bread in a food processor or blender and add crumbs.  *You can also skip that step and use 1/2 cup of bread crumbs or panko.

Add in Old Bay seasoning.  This is a must!  Ok, if you don’t have this on hand, you can add salt, pepper, a pinch of paprika, mustard and celery seed.  But really… if you’re going to make crab cakes, you should have Old Bay seasoning.

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Shape into patties.  The smaller they are, the easy they will be to flip in your skillet.  Using a pound of crab meat should make about 6-8 patties.

Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to a hot pan, and add the crab cakes.  Cook on each side until golden brown.

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I love to serve these on a bed of green lettuce.  They are the perfect complement to greens!

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You can also serve them the old-fashioned way with tartar sauce, but try mixing in some greek yogurt to your mayo to cut down on the mayo.  Once you add in the pickle relish and a squeeze of lemon juice, you won’t pick up on the yogurt at all.

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Then, sit back and enjoy!  I like to pretend I’m sitting at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, about to get ready to go see the O’s play at Camden Yards! 

megs and dad at camden Dad & Meg, Camden Yards, 2005

(Stats: I use 2 Tbsp of olive oil total, a Tbsp for each batch of 4.  That’s included in the stats.  Each patty is 100 calories, 4 g fat,  10 g carb, 6.5 g protein.)

Fish Tacos

February 9, 2010

This is a pretty sneaky fab meal.  It’s easy to put together, but it will impres.  The key to making it healthier is the way you bread and cook the fish.  Typically, fish tacos are heavily breaded and fried.  To make it healthier, the swaps are easy and basic: egg whites for the dredge, panko for the crust and minimal amounts of olive oil to pan-fry. 

Let’s get to it.

Start with a light flavored white fish – cod is ideal, but anything without any overpowering flavor will work. You’ll want to buy about 3-4 oz per person.  Cut your fish into 1×1 inch chunks and toss them into a ziploc bag.

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You can marinade them a number of different ways, but my favorite marinade comes from Guy Fieri (Food Network).  It does involve tequila, but you can leave that out if you don’t want your fish to have too much fun before you cook ’em.

Marinade (inspired by Guy Fieri):

  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of Tequila
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • generous pinch of salt + pepper

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Mix these together and then pour over the fish in the ziploc bag.  Let it chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

MEANWHILE….

Start prepping your tortillas.  I use my grill pan and just get them a little toasty.  You can also microwave them for a few (15-ish) seconds.  Cover them with a paper towel and sprinkle a bit of water on them.  You still want them fold-able like a taco, but this will just warm them up.

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Prepare any other toppings you want for your tacos.  I like to put out sour cream, guacamole, salsa, some chopped up cilantro and a cabbage slaw.  (I’m not going to give you the recipe of the one you’ll see pictured though, because it was no bueno.) 

Once the fish has marinated, it’s time to dredge and cook.  This goes quickly so have EVERYTHING else ready to go.  (Set the table, etc.)  Get a frying pan out and add about 1 Tbsp per serving of 3-4 oz of fish.  You can eyeball it – if you think you can get away with less, go for it.  You definitely should not need more than that. 

Get out 3 more plastic bags.  Fill one with flour, one with egg whites (or skim milk) and one with panko bread crumbs.

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If you’re not familiar with Panko, this is a Japanese type of bread crumb.  You can find it in the section with the other bread crumbs.  It’s super crunchy and tastes great, but is lower in calories than a traditional bread crumb.  It’ll give your fish a really crunchy coating even without deep frying.

Transfer the fish to the flour and shake.  To the egg whites and shake.  To the panko and shake.  Feel free to dance around a little bit while you’re shaking, it helps.  Trust me, I’m an expert.

Once you’ve done the last step, get your stove a-crankin.  Once it’s hot (oil starts popping), add your fish in.  Make sure to move the fish around and flip them – the key to do this with less oil is to have high heat and keep ‘em moving.  Once you feel them starting to firm up, sacrifice one and cut it open to check.  They should no longer have a sheen on the inside and should be kind of flakey.

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Once they are done, you are ready to eat!  Serve them up with the warm tortillas and toppings.  And, if you need something to do with all that leftover tequila, I just so happen to know the perfect beverage to use it up.

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Recap (Serving Size: 2 people, 2 tacos each)

6-8 oz of white fish, marinated in:

  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of Tequila
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • generous pinch of salt + pepper
  • Tossed with:

    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 4 egg whites
    • 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

    Pan-Fry in:

    • 1-2 Tbsp of Olive Oil (Less is more.  You can always add more as you go if you need to.)

    Serve with:

    • Warm tortillas (grill til crispy but still flexible or microwave for 15 seconds)
    • Sour Cream
    • Guacamole
    • Salsa
    • Cabbage Slaw
    • Margaritas

     

    (Calorie stats are going to vary depending on how much flour or panko you use, as well as any toppings and how many tortillas you have.  I found on average a 2-taco meal with a T of guac shared between the two was about 550 calories.)

    The easiest way to win my Dad over at Christmas time is with something homemade.  I was at a loss for what to get my Dad this year until one day, while digging in my pantry for a homemade rub, I got the idea to make a batch of rubs for my Dad, who is the ultimate grill-master. 

    I decided to put together a gift basket of 5 different homemade rubs and 6 different types of beers, sold as singles at World Market.  I got the spice jars at World Market as well, and looked up different rub recipes online and in cookbooks that I had.  This also turned out to be a great way to use up spices, since I seem to have some that hearken back to my Baltimore days.  Five years ago.  Woops.

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    This was incredibly easy.  It basically involved measuring, funneling and occasionally liking my finger and doing an impromptu taste test.  “Too much cayenne? Nahhhh.”

     

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    These were a big hit with my Dad.  I encourage anyone with a meat lover on their list to try it out for next year.  It was very easy to find different rubs online, and the ingredients and materials were quite inexpensive.  The rubs I made are listed below.  The quantity I made filled up a container about the size of an average salt shaker. 

    Last Minute Sirloin Rub:

    4 t garlic powder, 4 t salt, 2 t cumin, 2 t chile powder, 1 T pepper

    Carne Asada Rub:

    4 t paprika, 2 t brown sugar, 2 t chile powder, 2 t salt, 1 t pepper, 1 t cumin

    Cowboy Rub:

    4 t coffee, 4 t thyme, 4 t salt, 2 t pepper

    Memphis BBQ Rub:

    1 T pepper, 1 T mustard, 1 T paprika, 1 T brown sugar, 1 T salt, 2 t garlic powder, 2 t onion salt, 1/2 t cayenne

    (For the record, the Memphis is my favorite.)  Cowboy goes great on a skirt steak, Carne delicious on pork.  The Memphis goes great on chicken or pork.  Enjoy!

    Pork Tenderloin with Sage-Lemon Vinaigrette Sauce

    Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite weekday meal staples because it’s super easy to cook, as lean as white meat chicken and versatile.  I usually broil it, but on warm nights, it does great on the grill too. Pork tenderloins are really easy to cook, but they can serve a lot of people – so this is a great “company is coming” dinner.  Perfect for the holiday season!  (Even better: it’s really easy.)    I wanted to do something to spruce it up a little bit and so I started looking up some various sauces that I could add.  I came across this one, which was adapted from Bobby Flay’s Grilling for Life cookbook. 

    I didn’t follow the recipe to a T (surprise, surprise) but I followed the idea of the recipe pretty closely.  I didn’t have any shallots so I skipped that, and I only had lemon juice from the jar so there was no zest either.  But, despite those missing elements and my propensity to pour without measuring, the sauce was DELICOIUS!  It added just the right element of fancy to our broiled tenderloin.

    This would be a meal you could easily whip up for dinner guests, and the sauce adds just the extra degree of “oh la la” without too much extra effort.  I paired our pork tenderloin with local green beans sautéed in olive oil,  brown rice simmered in low-sodium chicken broth and green salads.  The whole thing took about fifteen minutes to pull together.  Who says eating healthy has to be hard work? 

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    The next day, with our leftover pork, I made one of my all-time FAVORITE sandwiches: Cuban Sandwiches.  My mom made these a few times when i was growing up, and I was always so fascinated by how she smashed together the sandwiches before cooking them.  And the taste!  I love the combination of the sweet ham with the salty pickles.  The best one I ever had was in a little restaurant on the Baltimore waterfront called Little Havana.  I know mine wouldn’t quite compare, but making them at home is easy and a great way to use pork leftovers.

    I thinly sliced the leftover pork and also used thinly sliced deli ham.  I layered both of those on a crusty sourdough bread slathered with mustard.  On top of the meats went a slice of Swiss cheese and 2 pickles.  (The pickles are the key elements – don’t skip these!!)  I wrapped the sandwiches in foil, and put them on a cookie sheet with a cast iron skillet on top to squish.  When it was time to cook them, I placed them on my grill pan with the iron skillet on top to keep them smushed. 

    THEY were delicious.  I do have to confess to you thought that not every adventure in my kitchen is a succesful one.  My plan was to serve the Cuban sandwiches along with a Black Bean Soup.  I saw a recipe in Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill cookbook that looked really good and was super excited.  I love black beans, I love soup and the recipe looked pretty straightforward. 

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    It was fairly labor intensive, starting with soaking the dry beans to roasting the jalapeno peppers. 

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    It also called for cooking with wine.  I love cooking with wine.  Sometimes, I even add it to the recipe.

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    In the stockpot, garlic and olive oil simmer together happily before onions and carrots join the fun.  Then the wine gets added in, the chicken stock gets added and the black beans go in and bubble away for about 90 minutes. 

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    Well, I don’t even know if I’ll go into all the details… because the end result was so disappointing.  Truth be told, I’m sure it’s something I did… Bobby Flay seems to know what he’s doing in the kitchen!  My only guess is that even though the recipe said simmer for 60-90 minutes, that I should have let it go longer.  Bobby’s soup looked creamy and thick, mine was … not.  The texture was weird, and it was a bit watery.  Although I paired the soup with the Cuban sandwiches, there were no clean bowls in this house. 

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    Afterwards, I ended up pureeing the soup and ate it this way.  (If anyone wants some pureed black bean soup… please come visit my lovely, stocked freezer.)

    S othis is the truth about kitchen experiments: you win some, you lose some.  The pork tenderloin sauce experiment was quite successful, the black bean soup… not so much.  Oh well!

    Feel free to leave me any thoughts about how I might redeem the black bean soup recipe should I try it again.  (Bobby, are you out there?  Help!!)

    Parmesan Garlic Lamb Chops

    December 8, 2009

    I don’t know about you but I tend to eat a lot of chicken and fish, and sometimes you just need to change things up.  I had never cooked lamb before, but after seeing it in a few recipes I  made up my mind to try it.  I did some homework first, and found that loin, shank and leg cuts are comparable to beef and pork with regards to calories and saturated fat.  (About 150 calories per a 3 oz serving, and 2-3 g of sat fat.)  And, as it turns out, lamb isn’t as marbled as beef so it’s easier to trim the fat away before cooking.  Well!  This all seemed quite promising, so I rolled up my sleeves and got cooking.

    The recipe I started with called for a rack of lamb, which I was all about until I got to the butcher’s counter.  WELL THEN.   If you’ve bought one, you know what I discovered.  I quickly switched my plan to loin chops, and the end result seemed just fine.   Well, more than just fine.  It was stinkin’ delicious, ya’ll.

    I seasoned the chops with some salt and pepper, then browned them in a pan with 2 T of olive oil (for about a pound of meat.)  They browned for about 4 minutes on each side, and then switched over to a plate to await their coating.

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    I mixed together 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and 1T of grated pecorino romano.  (This is what I had on hand; most of the recipes called for parmesan.)  I coated them with a dollop of Dijon mustard (officially, prob a tsp each side of each loin… but it’s mustard, mkay?) and then another tsp of minced garlic on each side.  After they got their wet bath from the mustard/garlic, I patted on the bread crumbs/parmesan mixture.  A spritz from the olive oil mister and into the oven at 450 F they went! 

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    They cooked for 15 minutes, while I prepared the sides. 

    To go along with our chops, I made these roasted veggies from Trader Joe’s.  They are quite possibly the best frozen vegetables I’ve ever encountered.  (Unfortunately, to obtain them I have to drive a mere 160 miles down to Charlotte and back.)

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    I also threw a handful of frozen spinach into the pan where I had browned the meat, with another tablespoon of olive oil.  I was thinking browned meat fat + spinach would = deliciousness.  I was wrong.  If anyone has a good suggestion for cooking spinach, please please let me know!  This was terrible. 

    BUT, spinach disaster aside, the rest of dinner was fantastic.  The loin chops had just the right amount of garlic and crunchy coating without being overpowering, and the meat was super tender.  While I don’t think lamb will show up in my regular rotation, this is definitely a keeper and would make a great dish for a special occasion.  Minus, of course, the spinach.  Sorry, Popeye.

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    Recipe* 

    (I didn’t actually use one, I just looked at three or four and got the gist of them and went from there.  This is just one example and comes from Emeril, 2003.)

    Ingredients

    • 1 rack of lamb, trimmed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
    • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
    • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
    • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

    Directions

    Season rack of lamb well on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a medium skillet over high heat and, when hot, add the oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the rack of lamb and brown well on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a plate and set aside to cool slightly before proceeding.

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

    Using the back of a spoon, spread the mustard evenly over all sides of the lamb. Spread the minced garlic over the lamb in the same manner.

    In a small mixing bowl combine the breadcrumbs and grated cheese and toss to thoroughly combine. Using your hands or a spoon, spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly all over the lamb, pressing so that the crumbs adhere to the meat.

    Place the rack of lamb on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes for medium-rare. Allow lamb to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before carving into chops to serve.