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Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Faux"jitos!

I love mojitos. A bubbly concoction of rum, mint and lime, they're especially refreshing. The mojito (moe-hee-toe) is my favorite summer cocktail, and it pairs beautifully with my porch rocking chair and a nice summer breeze (did I just say that? Wow, I'm getting old!).

However, there are a couple inherent problems with my favorite drink. The first problem is that on the rare occasion that Keith and I go out for drinks, I'm usually looking at a 50/50 shot at getting a mojito, since a lot of restaurants don't stock fresh mint. The second problem is that once the bartender tops the rum with sugar or "simple syrup" (simply sugar and water!), this refreshing Cuban drink can pack a caloric punch to the tune of 200+ calories -- each!

Lucky for me, the only thing I've managed to grow successfully in my summer garden is spearmint. It's popping up everywhere, including outside the garden. I don't think I could kill it if I tried...which is good, because as it turns out, I don't have much of a green thumb. I did manage to harvest a few lovely tomatoes before the plant mysteriously wilted and my basil is doing ok. So really, my summer is pretty much complete with the endless makings for mojitos to serve with caprese salad. Yum!

OK, so now to tackle the second problem. A mojito, at its most basic, is white rum and lime juice muddled with mint leaves and sugar, then topped off with crushed ice and club soda. Once you add up 1 to 2 ounces of rum and throw in the sugar, each drink comes in around 160-200 calories -- or more (some places will top it with sugary Sprite or something in lieu of club soda or sparkling water).

My solution? The "faux"jito! Faux (pronounced "foe") is the French word for fake or false. If you're a purist in your beverage mixology, I suggest you stop reading now!

My "faux"jito comes in around 69 calories (just about what's in an ounce of rum, really). It's light enough to be diet friendly, and since it doesn't go overboard on the rum, I can have more than one and enjoy my company without tipping over (as I said, we don't get out much). I should also note that I rarely include ingredients in my recipes that contain artificial sweeteners, but it's necessary in this case. If you come up with an equally light alternative, please let me know! A classic mojito is typically served in a high ball glass, but I was feeling festive.

Lastly, I hope that you enjoy your summer, your family and your friends, but please drink responsibly. Enjoy!

"Faux"jito
serves 1

Mint leaves
Lime wedges
White rum
Diet lemon-lime soda (such as Sprite Zero, Diet Sierra Mist or Diet 7-Up)
Ice
Sugar (just for the rim of the glass!)

Muddle a few (3 or 4) mint leaves with 1 ounce white rum and the juice from 1 lime wedge (1/8th of the lime). Muddling is done by lightly crushing the mint (just until the leaves bruise) using a mortar and pestle, a muddler, or whatever you have on hand (a small wooden spoon would work just fine). Just don't shred the mint! Run the squeezed lime wedge around the rim of the glass, then dip the top of the glass in a shallow plate of granulated sugar to coat the rim. Pour the muddled mixture into your glass, fill with crushed ice, and top off with the diet soda. Cheers!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Serving up the weekend...with a side of hummus.

As I sit here eating my very first home-grown tomato sandwich of the season (so good that I actually closed my eyes when I bit into it) and munching on a local raw potato with a sprinkle of sea salt (I know, empty carbs...but it's my guilty pleasure. Yum!), I'm thinking about what I can possibly write about today that would be of interest to you. Truth be told, I'm still basking in the warm glow of a fantastic Father's Day weekend.

Granted, this was Keith's weekend. But I got to enjoy it by default! It was a weekend filled with togetherness -- enjoying the summer sun, homemade pizza and a movie, family Wii night, and lots of cooking! It just gets better and better as the kids' interest in food and confidence in the kitchen keeps growing.

Admittedly, the weekend wasn't all svelte. But such is life, right? The entire weekend was a culinary adventure, with the girls wanting to experiment. Besides The Svelte Gourmet pizza (a weekend staple) and the batch of Raisin Honey Bran Muffins I made, Taylor baked peach cobbler, Courtney learned to macerate blackberries (that she picked in the yard), and they baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I had some bananas ripening too quickly on the counter, so I sliced them up, roasted them at 400 for about 20 minutes, then tossed them with a few dark chocolate chips. Wow. I guess we were in a dessert mood this weekend.

Taylor and I enjoyed another experiment, too. We were at the grocery store picking up pizza toppings and peaches, and she picked out a small carton of calamata olive hummus in the deli section. One of her many discoveries in her new life as a vegetarian. But wait a second, $5? For that little thing? I almost detected a chuckle and eye roll when I suggested that we could make it just as good, if not better, ourselves -- and for 1/5th of the cost (I already had everything at home except the chick peas).

Me: "Just grab some garbanzo beans."
Taylor: "Huh?"
Me: "You know, chick peas."
Taylor: "Huh?"

OK, so we'll start from scratch. Hummus, basically, is mashed chick peas, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Then whatever other delicious flavoring you want to add. She's into calamata olives right now, as am I, so we decided on those and headed home.

Me: "Just get out the food processor."
Taylor: "The what? I thought you didn't want us eating processed food."
Me: "Ha! Not the same, dear."

So I introduced her to the food processor and off we went, whipping the ingredients into a delicious, svelte masterpiece. Commercial brands vary, but they typically come in around 100 calories and 6 grams of fat per 1/4 cup of the plain variety. Taylor's calamata hummus comes in a bit lighter with 85 calories and considerably less fat (1.5 grams) in 1/4 cup. Coupled with some celery sticks, cucumber slices, or a bit of toasted whole wheat pita, you've got a great snack with a little protein punch. Double the serving and add yogurt or an apple on the side and you have a perfect lunch. Enjoy!

Taylor's Calamata Olive Hummus
Makes five 1/4-cup servings

1 can (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans (chick peas)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt (add more to taste)
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp sliced calamata olives
1 tbsp juice from calamata olive jar
1 tbsp water

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Quick and easy! Taylor loved it and ate it all weekend. I plan to make more and have it for lunch this week. Next time, I'll experiment with adding fresh herbs, sundried tomatoes, and maybe some pine nuts. Yum!

To top off this fabulous weekend, the girls surprised us with breakfast in bed (another one of the benefits of being married to their father on Father's Day!). They made French toast, scrambled eggs, grits, cinnamon toast and coffee. Amazing. They are really turning into great cooks, and nothing could make me happier.

Happy Father's Day!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

But I skipped lunch!

It's after school and the kids really want ice cream...and I skipped lunch, so I'll just have this milkshake. It can't be as bad as if I'd eaten a meal, right? Or, instead of my normal sandwich and fruit, I'll just grab a salad at the nearby restaurant. Better? Or, I didn't eat everything on my plate, so I couldn't have had too many calories. Does this sound familiar?

I feel duped. And sabotaged.

I'm a chronic label reader, as you know. But what if there isn't a label? More and more restaurants are now including nutrition labels on their menus. But what about the ones that don't? Do you know what you're eating?

Men's Health recently reported that Cold Stone Creamery's PB&C milkshake has 2010 calories -- "the equivalent of 68 strips of bacon or 30 chocolate chip cookies" -- 68 grams of saturated fat (131 total fat grams) and 153 grams of sugar. WHAT?! Not that I've ever had one of these, but I'm sure I've had something similar somewhere along the way. Unbelievable. And is it really THAT good? I'd not only have to skip lunch, I'd have to not eat for two days to justify this type of caloric intake. And there really is no justification for all that saturated fat. The magazine states that their information is from Cold Stone's website, so I looked into it and it checks out. I did have to dig through layers of pages to actually get to the nutrition chart, but it's there. WOW. Not one milkshake has under 1000 calories. And on the preceding page, the company brags about their commitment to our health and their fresh ingredients.

I'm not going to go into further detail, because then I'd have to be fair and critique every chain. Just trust me when I tell you that I have looked into these places, and it's appalling. I used to order the "low carb menu" steak and blue cheese salad at Panera Bread, until I realized that the LUNCH SIZED portion had over 1,200 calories! Lucky for us, magazines and newspapers are starting to expose the ugly truth. It's really no wonder we have such an obesity epidemic in this country.

So digest this -- The Center for Science in the Public Interest just released their study on nine dishes to avoid, Xtreme Eating 2010. We all recognize, I hope, that fast food, fried food, desserts, and obvious "junk foods" are going to make us fat and unhealthy. But what about those items that we believe -- falsely, I might add -- to be fresher and healthier? The organization describes California Pizza Kitchen's nearly 1700 calorie Tostada Pizza with Steak as the equivalent of eating "a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza topped with SIX Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Tacos." Ha!

I know, this is no laughing matter. They go on to report that P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo has more calories than 10 eggrolls and 7,690 milligrams of sodium -- 5 days worth!!! The Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Carbonara with Chicken has 2,500 calories and 85 grams of saturated fat. More saturated fat than we should eat in four days, and terrible even if you only eat half.

Next time you're out, remember that nutrition information is based on a recommended 2000 calories and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat PER DAY. Not per meal. And if you're dieting, this number should be a lot less.

Maybe you're a foodie who avoids chain restaurants like the plague. Still, I wonder how much cream and butter those 5-star chef's are using? Most chefs care about your taste buds, not your waistline. Unfortunately, there is so much bad food out there that I could go on and on. Eating out is a danger zone for dieters. It's ok for a special treat once in a while, but any more often is certain diet sabotage. And the problem appears to be getting worse.

So my advice is to cook and eat at home. You'll save a fortune, you'll have a better grasp on your intake, and it's not that difficult. Most of my recipes come together in less than 30 minutes -- and I know that to be true only because I usually decide what we're having for dinner just when I'm about to drop over from hunger.

But what if you're craving that milkshake? You just have to have it? Instead, have mine. It takes just minutes to make and it only has 250 calories. Keith and I like these so much that sometimes we skip lunch or dinner and have this treat instead!

PB&B Milkshake
Serves 2

2 bananas
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 cup skim or lowfat milk
ice

Puree in a blender until smooth. Done. If you want a thicker shake, slice and freeze the bananas first (maybe you already have some in there after reading my last post!) and you can skip the ice altogether.

For an entire month's worth of diet-friendly recipes, The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Break bread without breaking the bank!

The other day I was in my favorite grocery store picking up a few things for a recipe I wanted to try. "A few things." Ha! Maybe it's because I randomly run to the grocery store on a whim when I get it in my head to experiment with something new, but I rarely get out of the store for under $50. A few things. Right! Don't even get me started on how much a "normal" trip to the grocery store costs.

So anyway, I got in the checkout line behind a woman whose order was obviously not going to be quick...but I wasn't in a hurry and my curiosity got the best of me. She was meticulously separating a full cart of items into two orders. Then she handed the cashier a stack -- and I mean STACK -- of coupons. But they were on plain paper. Odd. Her first order, after the coupons, came to $3.98. Mouth agape, I kept watching. Her second order came to -$1.25. She got money BACK. What?! She got a month's worth of groceries for about $2.75. Good stuff, too! She turned around to apologize to me for taking so long, but I just congratulated the coupon-clipping genius, my mouth still agape.

And my little basket came to $17.50 for just "a few things." Wow, do I feel dumb! I asked the cashier what kind of coupons she was using. Turns out, she prints them online. Hmmm...I spend HOURS on the computer every day. Maybe this is something I should look into. So I did, and in my next trip to the store, I saved $30.

Lately, I've been looking for ways to save a few dollars. With the amount of cooking and experimenting I do -- and often with choice ingredients! -- every little bit helps. So it really burns me up when I open the produce drawer and find that all the things I had good intentions for are now starting to ripen beyond their prime. It's SO frustrating.

So now I re-purpose them. For example, pretty much any vegetable can be a great base for soup. Throw it all in a pot with some broth and seasonings and simmer away. Then freeze it and you've wasted nothing.

Alternatively, if you see that your bananas are getting a little spotty on the counter, slice them into a freezer bag and throw them in the ice box. They last for months and are great for smoothies -- and you don't need to water them down with a lot of ice, since the bananas themselves are frozen (Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie recipe coming next week!). Grapes and berries are fantastic in the freezer, too, and can be pulled out for baking or snacking.

For things like apples, pineapple, papaya, etc., consider investing in a small dehydrator. They aren't expensive at all and you can make the best dried fruit (or jerky if you have a spare London broil). My oven has a dehydrating feature, so check your manual -- yours might, too! If you have peaches or pears that are softening too quickly, simply slice them and grill them on a hot grill pan (with sides) until they release their juices and begin to caramelize. If you can resist eating them all on the spot (AMAZING dessert), then store them in the freezer as a topping for frozen yogurt or a light dessert on their own. Really fantastic.

Don't you hate it when you open a box of cereal and find that the bag you so carefully rolled down is now wide open? Or when you reach into a bag of snack food (healthy, I hope!) and find that it's stale? Talk about a waste -- and an expensive one, too. These days, we're hard-pressed to find a bag of snack food or box of cereal for under $3.00 -- so it really burns me up when they're wasted. And in my opinion, most plastic chip clips are worthless. They break, they don't open wide enough, and they're expensive. Instead, head to your local dollar store and pick up a package of wooden clothes pins. I got 50 for $1.00. They don't break, they don't crush your food like rubber bands do, and they are so inexpensive that I don't mind when the kids take a new one each time they have a snack (they seem to disappear in the couch cushions like socks disappear in the dryer). Using clothespins to keep bags closed is a trick I grew up with -- thanks Mom!

Let's face it, eating healthfully can get expensive. Fresh produce often costs more than the processed stuff, and it doesn't last more than a few days. Luckily, it's a little easier in the summer -- at least where I live! On Memorial Day, the kids and Keith and I headed out in the woods behind our house and foraged for blackberries. We had a blast, we bonded, and we didn't spend a dime. I have those berries in the freezer just waiting for a purpose. My alter ego, Dough Girl, is tempted to bake a blackberry pie. I'll try to sway her, but she's a tough cookie -- no pun intended!

What tips do you use to save money in the kitchen? Where's Heloise when we need her? After all, a penny saved means more groceries...and that means more recipes!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!
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